In 15 minutes, Metafilter cracked a family secret that had gone unsolved since the '90s

By Nate Jones
January 23, 2014 12:35 PM

On Monday, Metafilter user JannaK asked for the Internet’s help in solving a decades-old family mystery.

In 1996, JannaK’s grandmother was in the final stages of brain cancer and had lost her ability to speak. Before she died, she filled her time entering a long unbroken string of capital letters on dozens of index cards, completely covering the fronts and backs.

JannaK and her cousins had tried to unpack the code for months after their grandmother’s death, to no avail. Their best lead had been noticing certain recurring patterns of letters: PST, PAGA, TYAGF. Could the messages be song lyrics? Their grandmother was born in 1927, but nothing from the ’40s or ’50s rang a bell.

Almost 20 years later, JannaK’s father found one of the old index cards, and instantly her interest in the mystery was revived. This time, she turned to the online discussion board Metafilter for help. Did anyone on the site have any ideas what her grandmother was trying to say from beyond the grave?

In 15 minutes, she had an answer.

The first clue came in the post’s second comment: “Was she a religious woman? The last As, as well as the AAA combo, make me think of ‘Amen, amen, amen.’ So, extrapolating – TYAGF = ‘Thank you Almighty God for ‘”

Working from there, the board quickly realized that the back of the index card – OFWAIHHBTN – was the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name ”

JannaK had never considered her grandmother particularly religious, but it soon became clear: The cards were a long series of prayers for her family after she was gone. PST was “Please see that …” and PAGA was “Please, Almighty God, Amen.”

By midnight, the board had translated most of the card. A sampling: “Please keep us all safe and sound in mind and body Please see that we are all happy and safe in our lives and in our work Please see that everyone is free from all worries and unhappiness.”

On Tuesday, JannaK returned to the thread to thank the code breakers for their help: “On behalf of my family and I, thanks for all the ideas I don’t think we need to keep decoding at this point, but thank you all so much for being part of the adventure!”

She added that the message would likely never be 100% decrypted – and that was alright. “I’m okay leaving a little mystery with this one.”

At press time, more translations were still coming in.

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