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May 29, 2006

Exclusive: unpublished section of the Da Vinci Code

Filed under: newLISP — newlisper @ 17:38

Exclusive: unpublished section of the Da Vinci Code

Here at newLISPer we’re pleased to be able to offer you a real topical exclusive for a change – a previously unpublished passage from an early draft of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ that we assume must have been deleted from later revisions; it doesn’t appear in the first hardback edition of the book. This section probably was intended to occur somewhere in what is now chapter 77. It’s great to see newLISP get a mention in popular fiction, even if it’s only in a first draft!

If you’re allergic to all things Da Vinci Code, please browse away now.

Cautiously, Sophie slid the tiny scroll out of its hiding place and unrolled it. It appeared to be a thin strip of parchment about half an inch wide, rolled up into a small coil. She laid it on the table and slowly unfurled it, scarcely daring to breath. As it unrolled, they both leaned forward and saw the characteristic italic handwriting.

Sophie reached over and picked up a mirror from the desk. Holding the mirror over the scroll, she peered at the writing, then looked up at Langdon with an expression of amazement on her face.

   ‘What does it say?’, whispered Langdon impatiently, struggling to read the tiny characters even with his reading glasses on.

   ‘It’s mostly numbers,’ Sophie replied, with suppressed but intense excitement. ‘Difficult to know what it could mean. The first word looks like a key or instruction. Yes, this could be the ciphertext that we’ve been looking for!’

What they saw in the mirror, in fact, was this:

|:az:| 858 780 694 829 768 735 394 606 563 479 144 193 526 371 332 456
300 237 911 658 635 572 1010 59 953 170 212 976 26 518 284 702 897
109 835 1027 357 423 78 7

   ‘What does it mean? Can you decipher it?’, Robert asked quickly. ‘Is it complete? Do you have enough…?’

   ‘Perhaps, given time…’, replied Sophie. She broke off, lapsing into a thoughtful silence. ‘Yes, perhaps it is possible…’ She was oblivious to him now, merely thinking out loud. ‘Not public key … The key suggests music in some way… alphabet or more than one alphabet? …. Not Vigenere… They’re unique … But why the strange frequency distribution…?’ Her voice trailed away into silence.

Out of the night came the sound of police sirens, faintly, almost imperceptibly, at first, but seeming to be getting nearer, the pitch rising slightly. They both looked up, surprised. How far away? Two kilometers? They would have only a few more minutes before they had to start running again.

   ‘We just can’t waste any more time on this, Sophie…’, Robert Langdon said, glancing up at the clock. The impatience in his voice was all too obvious now. ‘We’ve run out of time.’

   ‘But … yes, of course! The clock! Brilliant, Robert’, she cried. She leapt out of the chair ran over to the computer terminal at the other side of the room. The screen flickered into greenish life as she sat down and started to type.

   ‘What are you doing now? We haven’t got time.’ said Langdon, walking over and looking at the screen. ‘We must leave now.’

   ’Don’t worry,’ she replied. ’This won’t take long, It’s much simpler than I thought. This is the best way to do it.’

Langdon saw her type the command:


and he was about to ask what she was going to do, but she interrupted him. ‘Quickly now, read those numbers out to me – just the numbers, don’t worry about the key.’

Langdon dictated the numbers from the scroll while Sophie quickly typed them in, her long graceful fingers dancing over the keyboard. Then, when she’d entered the last one, she paused for a moment, and looked up, away from the screen, with a strange, empty expression. Her eyes shone, reflecting the green glow of the terminal. Then, as if she had finally plucked the solution out of mid air, she typed a line of instructions, slowly and carefully, mouthing the words to herself as she typed. Finally, almost hesitantly, her hand hovered over the Return key, which she then gently pressed with her middle finger.

She leaned eagerly forward over the terminal and peered at the screen, then made an impatient gesture.

   ‘What? What else did he – … Oh, of course, just rearrange them …’

Immediately she had realised what her mistake had been. Quickly she typed another word into her previous line, and pressed the Return key again, this time with more confidence.

What she saw shocked her.

   ‘No, it’s not possible. Oh, my god!’ she cried.

Langdon bent down next to her and read the string of characters on the screen. Then they looked at each other, stunned and disbelieving. Sophie slumped back in her chair and pushed her hand through her hair, her eyes starting to fill with tears.

   ‘This changes everything.’ she said.

The sound of the police sirens, closer now, hung in the air.

PS: What did she type? And what mistake did she make? And what happened next? Why did Dan Brown remove this section? Did Leonardo Da Vinci really invent the computer as well? Add your comments, but please don’t post the actual deciphered message!

PPS: Of course, this week it’s been hard to avoid Mr Brown’s ubiquitous novel and the accompanying avalanche of newspaper articles and TV documentaries. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to find out whether it was possible to write exciting prose about a programming language. Preliminary findings suggest that it isn’t, at least not on this computer. But Dan Brown could probably do it.

PPS: Fact: Just in case you’re wondering, everything in this post – as in Dan Brown’s book – is fact. Or not.



  1. >I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to find out whether it was possible to write exciting prose about a programming language. Preliminary findings suggest that it isn’t, at least not on this computer.*lol*But Dan Brown could probably do it.Actually, we found the expurgated passages featuring newLISP to be far more compelling ;-)Reading this reminded me of an ancient scroll I tried to learn Pascal from called Elementary Pascal: Learning to Program Your Computer in Pascal with Sherlock Holmes. If I recall correctly, it contained a number of crimes that Holmes solved using the Analytical Engine. Watson, as usual, needed everything explained to him :-)Glad to see you having some fun with your writing! This makes me want to get back to my Cosmic Wimpout piece (he says foreshadowingly ;-)m i c h a e l

    Comment by m i c h a e l — May 30, 2006 @ 06:35 | Reply

  2. >Yes, I’ve got that book too. Perhaps one day a newLISP version…But where’s your solution? :-)I confess that I have hardly any access to newLISP at present, which is why I decided to write fiction.Your Cosmic Wimpout piece had better have some newLISP content…

    Comment by newlisper — May 30, 2006 @ 17:01 | Reply

  3. >I wish I’d read this before I did this parody: Language Log:-)

    Comment by newlisper — June 16, 2006 @ 23:07 | Reply

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