Hidden Codes, Messages and Signs in everyday Life that you don’t even realise are Codes


  1. The meaning of the number of the beast

In Chapter 13 of The Book of Revelation, it reads: “Let the one with understanding reckon the meaning of the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”

666 is being used as a code, and one you would easily crack –  if you were alive at the time of the New Testament.

In the original text the letters of 666 are written in Hebrew, which places a higher significance on numbers meaning words and words meaning numbers than ancient Greek.

Sure enough, if you translate the Hebrew spelling of 666, you actually spell out Neron Kesar – the Hebrew spelling of Nero Caesar.  Nero was despised for many evil deeds including killing his mother, and probably his stepbrother.


  1. Code-A-Cola

An Israeli team of researcher have come up with a secret code that and combines encryption, steganography, and password protection – and soda

Spies have long tried to make coded or encrypted messages even more secure by hiding them in something seemingly innocuous, from the secret wax writing tablet devised by Demaratus, King of Sparta, to the ‘lemon juice spies‘ of World War I.

Their method, published in the journal Nature Communications, goes something like this :

To encode the message, you use a simple cipher, where each letter is a set of numbers. So if your message was ‘open sesame’, to encode the word ‘open’ you could use:

O = 4350

P = 4650

E = 1350

N = 4050

You also assign a wavelength of light (measured in nanometres, nm) to each letter.

O = 500nm

P = 520nm

E = 540nm

N = 560nm

You then put the molecule in your chosen chemical, for example cola, and measure the amount of light that it gives off at each wavelength.

Adding the value of this measurement to the cipher numbers gives you your final code. So if you measure 689 at 500 nm, you add this number to 4350, giving a final value of 5039 for the letter O.

Here’s the cool bit –  The molecule could be concealed by drying it onto a letter.  All the recipient would need to do is place the letter in the correct brand of cola and measure the light released to decode the message.

The encryption is specific to the chemical you’ve used to create it. So if you tried to decode the message using mouthwash rather than cola, the resulting letters wouldn’t make any sense. So make sure you use the right brand!


  1. Sign that means “Save me, I’m insured”

Back in the 18th and 19th Centuries, you could be trapped in a burning building and completely ignored by the fire service.

There was no public fire brigade, so you had to pay a fire-fighting team to insure against fires.  People would fix badges to the front of their houses displaying the relevant company logo to prove the insurance was paid.

For most of the 18th century in the UK, each insurance company maintained its own fire brigade, which extinguished fires in those buildings insured by the company and, in return for a fee to be paid later, in buildings insured by other companies.

By 1825, those fire marks served more as advertisements than as useful identifying marks.

Fire Insurance has over 200 years of history in America. The early fire marks of Benjamin Franklin’s time can still be seen on some Philadelphia buildings as well as in other older American cities. Subscribers paid firefighting companies in advance for fire protection and in exchange would receive a fire mark to attach to their building. The payments for the fire marks supported the firefighting companies.


  1. Hobo Graffiti

Susan Phillip an anthropologist at Pitzer College was looking for modern graffiti when she came upon graffiti drawn in the 1910s by itinerant men, the Associated Press reports.

“Hobo graffiti” was a code that let travellers tell each other where they were headed and what conditions were like at this location. The pieces that Phillips found included stylized arrows—“little heart things”—that pointed the direction a person was headed. She found messages from men with names like Oakland Red and Tucson kid, dated back to Aug. 13, 1914, and July 1, 1921.

The most notable graffiti are the signature “A-No. 1.” A-No. 1, or Leon Ray Livingston, was one of the most famous hobos of his time; he wrote twelve books on hobo life. Maybe he left his mark here. Or maybe someone else was just using his traveling name, which happened from time to time.


  1. Secret Codes on the Tube

If you’ve ever wondered what the person on the London Underground tannoy was talking about when they referred to “Inspector Sands”, you are not alone.

Inspector Sands is a mysterious figure who turns up when the fire alarm has been triggered.   The Inspector Sands voice message is an automated message that warns the staff that they have two minutes to come to the control room – if they don’t check it automatically evacuates the station.

The numbered codes are for cleaning staff, and are used by station announcers to direct them to the mess.

Here are the codes and what they mean:

Code 1: Blood

Code 2: Urine/Faeces

Code 3: Vomit

Code 4: Spillage

Code 5: Broken glass

Code 6: Litter

Code 7: Anything not fitting these categories (doesn’t bear thinking about!)


  1. Prison Inmate codes

A US prison was recently able to detect and prevent inmates from carrying out illegal business by using artificial intelligence to analyse calls made into and out of the prison for unusual patterns.

According to New Scientist, when the prison wardens looked at the analysis report created by the software, they discovered that one of the most popular phrases being used by inmates was the phrase “three way”.

Initially the wardens assumed that the phrase was some sort of sexual reference, but because the word was used so often in phone calls they investigated further, and realised that the phrase was actually a secret code word.

All inmates are only allowed to call a few people on a previously agreed list of numbers. So if the prisoner wants to deal with illegal business and call someone else, for example, gang members on the outside, they need to call a friend or family member on the agreed list of numbers and then ask that person for a “three way”, i.e. to dial the person they actually wanted to speak to into the call.

The Intelligent Voice machine learning system is so clever that it taught itself to transcribe speech by analysing the inmates’ phone conversations and comparing them to recordings of the US congressional hearings (no criminals there!)


  1. Understand Russian criminal tattoos

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Arkady Bronnikov visited prisons all over the Soviet Union and photographed thousands of tattooed inmates to decode their body art – and helped solve many crimes by identifying criminals based on their ink.

He certainly gives new meaning to rose, cowboys and snakes tattoos.  A rose on a man’s chest means he turned 18 in prison.  A gun-toting cowboy shows a thief that is prepared to take risks and exploit any opportunity.  A snake around the neck is a sign of drug addiction.

A bow tie tattoo on the neck may seem innocent but was often a punishment forced on pickpockets who had broken the thieves’ code and sided with the authorities. The dollar sign on the bow tie shows that the man is either a safe-cracker or money launderer.

Epaulettes on the shoulders show a negative attitude to the system, and are worn by high-ranking criminals who often have a corresponding nickname such as ‘major’ or ‘colonel’. Epaulettes with three stars or skulls mean: ‘I am not a slave of the camps, no one can force me to work’; ‘The strong win – the weak die’ and ‘Horses die from work.’

The skull and crossbones show that a prisoner is serving a life sentence. The girl ‘catching’ her dress with a fishing line is commonly worn by rapists. A tattoo of a mermaid often indicates a sentence for child molestation.

A dagger through the neck means that a criminal has committed murder in prison and is available to hire for further killing. The drops of blood can signify the number of murders committed.


  1. Chimp Gestures Decoded

In their paper published in the journal Current Biology, a team videotaped a group of chimps living in a forest in Uganda and then studied the gestures of the chimps.  All in all, they recorded 66 gestures that conveyed 19 unique communication transactions.

They created a dictionary of sorts, with gestures related to explicit meanings such as “take what I am giving you”, “follow me” or “stop doing what you are doing.”

The researchers report that some gestures mean different things in context—grabbing someone else, for example, can mean stop doing something, get away, or take a ride on my back.

Nibbling on a leaf, while making sure to be watched, was always part of a sexual advance, though!

At least a third of these gestures may be shared with humans and these similarities may help us to discover how humans evolved language.


  1. Secret Message inside Chinese URLs

In China, URLs are made up mostly of numbers.  The massive online retailer Jindong Mall is at 3.cn. Check out 4399.com to see one of China’s first and largest online gaming websites.  Buy and sell used cars at 92.com. Want to purchase train tickets? It’s as easy as 12306.cn.

For many Chinese, numbers are easier to remember than Latin characters.

Digits are even more convenient when you consider that the words for numbers sound the same as other words. The URL for the massive e-commerce site Alibaba, for example, is 1688.com, pronounced “yow-leeyoh-ba-ba”—close enough!

The number one is pronounced yao, which with a different tone means “want.” So the job-hunting site 51job.com sounds a lot like “I want a job.” To order McDonalds’ delivery online, just go to 4008-517-517.com, the “517” of which sounds a bit like “I want to eat.”

This kind of number-language has become a unique shorthand among Chinese web users: 1 means “want,” 2 means “love,” 4 means “dead” or “world” or “is,” 5 means “I,” 7 means “wife” or “eat,” 8 means “get rich” or “not,” and 9 means “long time” or “alcohol.” The numbers 5201314, for example, “I will love you forever”; 0748 means “go die”; and 687 means “I’m sorry.”


  1. Interpret cryptic messages in the NY sidewalk

Below your feet in the heart of Manhattan lie the mysterious Toynbee Tiles.

These tiles appeared around the East Coast in the 1980s and soon spread across the US and into South America. The tiles usually feature a message along the lines of TOYNBEE IDEA – IN Kubrick’s 2001 – RESURRECT DEAD – ON PLANET JUPITER. Many had footnotes as strange as the message itself, such as “Murder every journalist, I beg you,” and “Submit. Obey.”

The tiles all mention “Toynbee,” most likely Arnold J. Toynbee, a religious historian born in England in 1889. Some of the tiles mention Kubrick, the filmmaker responsible for 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The tiles are now believed to have originally been created by a 70-year-old Philadelphian carpenter by the name of James Morasco (aka Severino “Sevy” Verna) and copycat tiles now span the globe. The recent documentary “Resurrect Dead” tells the full story of the tiles and is the basis for the Severino “Sevy” Verna claim.

Similar tiles have appeared in many US cities, including Washington DC, Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore and Boston. Some have even shown up in South America; in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile.

Did 70-year-old James Morasco install the tiles, then pass the legacy on to another to continue after his death? Is a copycat or copycats continuing his strange legacy?  That remains a mystery.

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.