Past challenges

Christmas Special: Fill in the Gaps Challenge

It has been quite a year for the Dickens Code! Thanks to the amazing work of the Dickens Decoders, six shorthand texts have been fully or partially transcribed for the very first time. This includes the Morgan Library & Museum‘s tricky ‘Tavistock’ letter – the shorthand copy of an angry letter that Dickens wrote to the editor of The Times, J. T. Delane – and several short pieces from the notebooks of Dickens’s shorthand pupil, Arthur Stone. In this trove of material, from the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia, we found two ghost stories called ‘Anecdote’ and ‘The Two Brothers’; ‘Nelson’, which offers an alternate account of the death of Admiral Nelson; ‘Travelling’, which reflects upon the benefits of travel; and ‘Sunday Night 5 February 1860’, which transcribes into shorthand part of philosopher Sydney Smith’s essay ‘On the Beautiful’. You can find out more about these discoveries and download line-by-line shorthand transcripts here. Thank you so much to everyone who has taken part in the monthly challenges and helped to crack the code! You can find out more about the achievements of the Dickens Decoders via our Roll of Honour.

John Leech, ‘Mr Fezziwig’s Ball’, from A Christmas Carol (1843). For Dickens, Christmas was a time for people to come together and celebrate the season with feasting, festivity, and games of various kinds.

As Christmas approaches, we wanted to pose a fresh challenge that allows everyone to get involved – whether you’re an experienced decoder or completely new to deciphering Dickens. ‘Here is a new game’, as Scrooge puts it in Stave Three of A Christmas Carol. This challenge, which runs until the end of January 2023, is all about ‘filling in the gaps’ and solving the symbols that have so far eluded us.

In keeping with the Christmas theme, we have an ‘appetizer’ course of 5 missing symbols from the transcripts of Stone’s notebooks, and an entrée for those with an appetite ‘for more’, featuring 48 missing symbols from the ‘Tavistock’ letter. You can take part in just one of the challenges or both – don’t worry about leaving gaps.

To have a go, download a competition entry form, study the symbols, and fill in the answer sheet before emailing it back to us by midnight on 31 January 2023. Good luck!

Entry form: Appetizer

The entry form is provided in .docx and .pdf format for your convenience.

Entry form: Entrée

The entry form is provided in .docx and .pdf format for your convenience.