Dodgson's "Frogs Manuscript" Decoded

A coded manuscript, with the single uncoded word "Frogs" written in the margin, was present in the papers bequeathed by the Reverend Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) to the Oxford Bodleian Library. Ever since this "Frogs Manuscript" was published in 1903 by the Royal Cryptography Society there have been numerous attempts to crack Dodgson's code, including a postwar effort by the chaps at Bletchley Park. Remarkably, it was not decoded until recently, this by a California teenager using three Captain Marvel secret decoder rings distributed as cereal box premiums in the 1950's. The decryption suggests that Dodgson had considered introducing a new version of chess that employed the Chinese line pieces now known among problemists as the Pao, Vao and Leo. Dodgson narrates a tale of a second visit to "Wonderland" by Alice (Alice Liddell) in which she encounters animated chess pieces, as in his second book, Alice Through the Looking Glass. She is charged with high treason by the Red Queen and placed on trial. The decryption is made public here for the first time. Solutions to two chess problems posed near the end of the text are presented by Daniel VanArsdale. 

    "Where is the King?" the Red Queen demanded of the White Rabbit. "We are all waiting for him."
    "He is in his counting house Your Highness."
    "Well go get him or you will be short one head," she replied.
    Soon the Red King and Queen were seated side by side, front and center in the great Hall of Justice. The King was acting as the judge, the Queen as the prosecutor. The floor of the Hall was covered with a checkerboard pattern of large white and gray marble squares. Alice was sitting alone at a table near the front. As she looked about she saw four turtles lined up to guard the jury. But the first in line was slowly wandering from his post, and the last was sound asleep with his head inside his shell. The White King was present in the spectator's gallery at the rear of the Hall. At a nod from the King the White Rabbit blew three shrill blasts on a trumpet and announced:

"Oh yes, Oh yes, King's court is in session. Silence in the court."
    "Herald, read the accusation!" said the King.
    The White Rabbit blew one blast on his trumpet, unrolled a parchment scroll, and read:
Hark, Hark, the dogs do bark
Poor Alice has come to town
    She plays with fools
    And breaks the rules
And dreams of wearing the crown.
     "Alice, is your attorney present in the court?" asked the King.
    "No Your Majesty, or Your Honor. I am acting as my own attorney."
    "Then your attorney is present in the court," replied the King.
    "Yes, and what a sight he is," the Queen said mockingly, "a barrister in a maid's dress, and such an ugly wig!"
     The King then announced: "We shall sentence the accused to death, hear the evidence and select a jury."
    "Point of order," cried Alice, not being sure if that should be said in Court or in Parliament.
    The King consulted with the White Rabbit and then said: "Point well taken. We will select a jury, hear the evidence and sentence the accused to death. Bring out the prospective jurors."

    Out came two Chinese acrobats, both of whom Alice had befriended in Wonderland before she was arrested. One was a young man wearing plain loose clothes and a floppy hat. The other was a very old Panda Bear that was noisily munching Bamboo leaves. The two sat down in the jury box.
    The Queen approached them and addressed the man, "Juror number one, what is your name?"
    He replied slowly, "My name is Zhidaowunan Weixianjianze, but I am called the Chinese Bishop."
    "What is your occupation?"
    "In this realm I work as an acrobat."
    The Queen then stared at the man and spoke: " We are here to try Alice, the witch, for high treason. She was sent here by the Devil to do great harm to this fair Kingdom. The punishment for treason, and for all those who support it in any way, is painful death. Now tell us, what will be your verdict?"
    "Guilty, or not guilty, Your Highness," said the Chinese Bishop.
    The Queen did not like this answer. "Let me rephrase the question. Mr. Zhidaowunan Weixianjianze, imagine if you were in a realm ruled by a fierce and willful queen. A single wrong answer, like to the next question you are asked, and your head would be off in a minute. Imagining that to be the case, what verdict would you report?"
    "Neither guilty, nor not guilty, Your Highness."
    As the Queen thought about the answer she began to scowl. Turning to the King she said, "I wish this Juror to be excused." The Panda immediately spoke up: "Begging the court's pardon, but that was not the Bishop, that was me. It's the bamboo leaves. It is I who should be excused instead."
   "No, you will remain seated, but Mr. Zhidaowunan Weixianjianze is excused," said the King. The Chinese Bishop left the jury box to take a seat among the spectators.
   The White Rabbit, who was quivering his whiskers, then volunteered, "As Royal Fan Bearer I can deal with this issue." He began fumbling about his waistcoat, but could not find his fan.
    Ignoring the White Rabbit's puzzlement, the Queen addressed the Panda, "Juror number two, what is your name?"
    "I have no name, I only know when people call me."
    "What do people call you?"
    "I do not know now, but I know when I am called," answered the Panda.
    "What do you call yourself?" the Queen asked impatiently.
    "I have no need to call myself, for I never wander away from where I am."
    "Perhaps you will take a few steps away from your head," the Queen said. "Now what shall we call you?"
    "Panda, Your Highness."
    "Panda, will you find the defendant Alice guilty of high treason?"
    "Yes, if it please the court," the Panda replied.
    The Queen smiled and asked the Panda, "Have you ever met the defendant Alice before?"
    "Yes, we met a week ago, and traveled about together with the Chinese Bishop. Alice got her act from the Bishop and me. I've been leap frogging about for a thousand years."
    "So you are saying that Alice's act is not her own?" the Queen asked.
    "Yes, she combined what the Chinese Bishop and I do," replied the Panda.
    "Stolen from the both of you!" the queen exclaimed, and turned to Alice and said: "Young woman, you can bring great harm to yourself by stealing in this Kingdom. We already know about you from the familiar verse:

Kleptomaniacal Alice
Stole a dynamite stick from the palace
     Her nose was found
     In Puget Sound
And a big toe landed in Dallas."
    Alice, who was still fuming from the Queen's remark about her appearance, responded testily: "My toes are a perfectly normal size. I'll have you know that the Reverend Dodgson greatly admires my feet." She then wondered if her friend the Panda was going to cooperate with the King and Queen. And was he a white bear with black patches, or a black bear with white patches? Or was he a bear at all?
    At this point the Queen turned to the King and said: "This juror is acceptable to the prosecution. We wish that he be seated."
    The Panda squirmed and said, "Thank you Your Highness, but I am already seated."
    "That you are," said the King. "The jury is now complete. Dismiss the other prospective jurors."
    "Objection," said Alice. "It is not fair that only one person serve on the jury."
    "Nonsense," said the Queen. "With but one juror we are assured of a unanimous verdict. Your Honor, this foreigner wishes to divide our Kingdom."
    "Objection denied," the King said. "Bring out the first witness."

    The Red Knight, clad in full armor, took the witness stand. "Swear the witness in," said the King to the White Rabbit.
    "Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth or be damned?" asked the White Rabbit.
    "I do," replied the Red Knight.
    The Queen then addressed the witness, "What is your name?"
    "People call me Joe or Percival."
    "Then we shall call you Joe."
    "No one calls me that," said the Red Knight; "my name is Percival and that is what everyone calls me."
    "Very well Percival. What is your occupation?"
    "I am the King's Knight."
    The Queen then said gravely: "There is someone in this room who has consorted with foreigners, broken our established  rules of conduct and sought to usurp the authority of your Queen. Do you know who this person is?"
    "Yes, Your Highness."
    "Please point to that person."
    To the astonishment of all present the Red Knight pointed to the Queen herself. The Queen, recovering her composure, addressed the court, "Let the record show that the witness pointed to Alice."
    Alice protested, "Objection Your Honor, he pointed to the Queen."
    "May the court reporter read the record concerning this matter,"  the Queen retorted.
    The White Rabbit (who was writing down everything that was said) placed his finger on his scroll and read, ". . . the witness pointed to Alice."
    "There you have it," the Queen said triumphantly; "the record speaks for itself and is never wrong."
    "Your Honor, that is foolish," Alice said. "The record does not speak for itself - it just records what is said."
    The King, looking a bit confused, questioned the White Rabbit, "Court reporter, what say you? Does the record itself inform us on this matter?"
    The White Rabbit briefly studied his scroll, then pointed at an entry and said, "Yes Your Honor, it states as follows: 'the record speaks for itself and is never wrong.' "   
    "Objection denied," the King intoned. "Proceed with the examination."
    "Have you met the defendant before?" the Queen asked Percival.
    "Yes Your Highness, she was with those two foreign acrobats. They were jumping about like courting frogs. As I was talking to a Pawn, Alice suddenly came flying over the little fellow, landed on my square and captured me. I was out of the game for a whole day. "
    "Did she explain by what rule she made this capture?" asked the Queen.
    "Yes Your Highness, she said that she could move about just like you, but could capture only by leaping over another player first.
    The King commented: "What outrageous conduct. If this were to be tolerated I suppose our footballers would start throwing the ball over the heads of their opponents. Percival, did she speak of harming the Queen?"
    "She said nothing of that to me Your Majesty."
    "So she keeps secrets," the Queen said. "Tell us, what have you heard from others about Alice?"
    "Well, I heard that she carries about cookies, and I heard that every one of her cookies is poisoned."
    Alice quickly spoke out, "Objection Your Honor, that is hearsay."
    "Nonsense," the King replied. "The testimony does not dispute any of the Seventy Eight Articles of Faith, as promulgated by the Four Bishops of the Realm. Objection denied."
     Alice was puzzled by the King's ruling. Finally she proclaimed: "Your Honor, I have never possessed a single cookie in your kingdom. All your horses and all your men searched, and no cookies were found."
    The Queen said, "So by your own admission," she then paused, and suddenly, shaking her finger at Alice, continued, "every cookie you have is poisoned!"
    "How very true," the King intervened. "There is not one of her cookies that is safe to eat. But if you ate every one, I dare say there would not be enough poison to cause any grief at all."
     "Poison is poison, whatever the amount," the Queen said. "I have no further questions for the witness."
     Alice then addressed the King,
"I wish to cross examine the witness Your Honor."
    The Red Knight sneered and said, "Examine this!" and drew his finger across his neck menacingly. He then sang the following verse from a popular ballad:

Today there are three Alices,
   Tomorrow there'll be but two.
There'll be Alice Matthew and Alice, a statue,
   But none the likes of you.
    Alice thought "Oh dear, I have heard that song," and she sang to herself another verse:
Oh little did my mother know,
   The day she cradled me,
The distant seas I'd sail upon,
   The strange lands where I'd pee.
    The Queen then warned Alice, "You had better cross yourself before you cross a knight of this realm!"
"Courtesy in the court must be maintained!" the King said sternly. "There will be no cross examinations. Both the witness and the jury are dismissed. The verdict is guilty of high treason, for imagining the death of the Queen. I shall now pronounce sentence."

    The King adjusted his robe and crown, assumed a solemn pose and read from a parchment.

"At noon tomorrow the traitor, Alice, will be dragged to the place of execution by two horses. There she will be hanged by the neck but cut down before death. Her intestines will be removed and displayed to her and those assembled. Likewise her heart. She will then be beheaded and her body cut in four parts. All parts will be burned, except her head, which will be secured to the town gate, fully visible to all who pass by, for one month thereafter."
    The King then raised his gavel, but before he could bring it down Alice protested: "Objection, the jury has not given its verdict, this is a travesty of justice. Who do you think you are anyway? Why, you are all nothing but a bunch of chess pieces!"

    The King responded angrily: "In my reign of over 600 years I have sentenced many traitors to be drawn and quartered. But your discourteous outburst is the most uncivilized display I have ever seen. I was simply following the uniform sentencing guidelines for imagining a monarch dead. For contempt of court your sentence is hereby doubled: instead of being drawn and quartered you shall be drawn and eighth ... uh duh, eighththth ... uh ..., you shall be drawn twice and quartered."

    Alice was beginning to realize that all this could not be real, that only grown men should be drawn and quartered, not a little girl. And could any man, even a King, live for 600 years?  She must be dreaming it all. "Now what must happen to turn all this about," she mused. Just then a murmur rose in the court as a skinny woman in tattered clothes entered the hall.
    "Who dares to interrupt these proceedings?" the King asked.
    "Don't you recognize your first Queen, Ferzina, your Persian Princess?" the woman asked. "Five hundred years ago that woman by your side came to this Kingdom as a stranger and raced about the land breaking our rules and capturing all who opposed her. She was mad, 'enraged' we all said. She wanted to take my place so she captured me and secretly enslaved me for centuries. I finally escaped just yesterday, with the help of the Chinese Bishop. I appeal to Your Majesty: may my place in the court be restored. And may Alice be set free. The Queen has falsely accused her of the very crimes she herself committed."
    "I thought you were dead Ferzina," said the King. "And look at you, you look like a sack of bones."
    Before Ferzina could answer the Queen said, "I gave her a penny a day for food."
    "Four farthings a day, that is not much for a Queen," said Ferzina.
    At this point the White Rabbit interrupted, "For the record, was that a penny or four farthings?"
    "Four farthings equal a penny, 240 pennies equal a pound, there is no difference," said the Queen impatiently.
    The White Rabbit answered her: "Beg the Queen's pardon but there is a difference as to counting, or carrying. And there is a huge difference if it is for food. I would much rather eat a pound note than 240 pennies."
    "You stupid rabbit!" said the Queen. "She used the pennies to buy stale bread and a pig's ear every Saturday."
    The King interrupted, "Farthings, pennies, pounds - all these confusing moneys. You are all forgetting that last year I decreed that we convert to the decimal system. Let the record read that Ferzina was provided with .00396825 guineas a day for food."
    "Even if she had given me a hundred guineas a day, nothing is better than the King's favor," said Ferzina sadly.
    "A pig's ear is better than nothing," the Queen replied.
    The King suddenly demanded silence and had the White Rabbit read parts of the transcript: "
A pig's ear is better than nothing, nothing is better than the King's favor."  The King stood and confronted the Queen: "Your syllogism is clear: a pig's ear is better than the King's favor. Today I spent hours counting our guineas as you lay about the parlor eating bread and honey. If my favor has such meager value to you, you can feast on stale bread and pigs' ears for one month." He then declared: "Ferzina may rejoin the court as a free person. And the verdict against Alice is reversed: she is found innocent of all charges." The King turned his back to the Queen and walked away.

    By now Alice knew for sure she was making up the plot for what happened. "It's my own invention," she said to herself. And in a twinkling she was back home, looking down at a chessboard with pieces on it.

    Alice studied the board and realized it was the very courtroom she had just experienced. The Red [Black in the diagram] King and Queen were seated at the front. Next to the King was the Red Knight, on the witness stand. The  turtles were Pawns, guarding the sole juror, the White Panda. And there was Queen Alice, at the defense table all alone. Behind the bar (the vacant fourth rank) were a few spectators including the Chinese Bishop. Ferzina had just entered the hall and stood in the central aisle confronting her adversary, the Red Queen. The hopping pieces had been carefully tipped over on their sides. Alice pondered, "Now how can I play the red pieces four times, with no checks, and then play a white piece once and checkmate the Red King?" [Can the reader solve this series helpmate in four moves?]


    Alice was able to solve this problem, and checkmated the Red King. But when she looked at the final position a second time  she was shocked to see that it was no longer a checkmate, not even a check, for the Panda was no longer in the jury box, nor anywhere to be seen. Then she heard a tiny voice saying, "Is something bothering you Alice, maybe something is missing?" It was the Red King, and he chuckled as he put his purse back inside his robe. "Well," he said, "what will be the next move?" 



    As Alice studied the board she saw that White was at a great disadvantage. "I will just move the pieces about as I alone would have it," she thought. And soon enough she found a way to move a Red piece first, white replying, Red again, and then on the next move white could checkmate the Red King again. [Can the reader solve this helpmate in two moves?]

But before she moved a piece she found herself getting drowsy, and she worried, "What if the Red King cheats again; or worse, what if I can not control the Red Queen? And even if I do win this game, will there then be another, and another?  I had better not go back into that Hall." Then she heard the Red Queen speaking to her, as loud as if she were a real person.

    "It's time to get on with it Alice. The rules may change but the game goes on."

by Daniel VanArsdale
With Apologies to Charles Dodgson.

Diagram A. Series helpmate in four (Black moves four times and White then responds with a single move that checkmates Black. Legal moves only - a King can not be left in check.)
1. Ke8-f7   2. Kf7-g8   3. Kg8-h8    4. Leo d1-b3,  Leo c6-h1 checkmate.

    It is easy to overlook that the final position is a checkmate since it appears the Knight on f8 can interpose at h7. But this is an illegal move since it activates the Pao on h6 producing a check. Now in this final position, remove the White Pao on h6 to produce the next diagram.

Diagram B. Helpmate in two (Black moves first, white responds, Black moves again and White then checkmates Black. Legal moves only - a King can not be left in check.)
1. Leo b3-g8  Vao a2-e6  2. Kh8-h7  Vao e6-h3 checkmate.


A photograph by Charles Dodgson of Alice Liddell as "The Beggar Maid."

Text of "Alice Through the Looking Glass" that includes the author's preface: a
a series of chess moves that roughly correspond to events in the book.

Chess with Chinese Pieces by Daniel W. VanArsdale.

Index page for Daniel W. VanArsdale.