This is an incomplete chapter-by-chapter summary of Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. The pages numbers are from the 2002 Avon Books paperback (ISBN 978-0-06-051280-4).
28 November 1941, Shanghai. It’s a Friday afternoon, so the streets are crowded with coolies transporting boxes of bank bills. A boom from the river empties the streets of the coolies, but not the boxes and bamboo poles. Corporal Bobby Shaftoe of the Fourth Marines comes up with haikus for the event.
A young Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse figures that his church organ must be very complex to be able to produce such complex music, and learns all about its mechanics. He majors in mechanical engineering at Iowa State College and plays glockenspiel in the band. He gets a scholarship to Princeton and befriends Alan Turing, who is building a machine to calculate values of the important Riemann zeta function. Alan proposal to have sex with Lawrence is rejected. There’s a German guy named Rudy whom Alan has sex with. When the three of them take a bike ride to the Pine Barrens, Alan tells Lawrence about:
Alan thinks brains are Turing machines. Alan goes back to England and gets secret work. Due to his poor grades, Lawrence becomes a glockenspiel player in the Navy in Hawaii, but not before becoming published in a mathematical journal.
28 Novus Ordo Seclorum
Avi Halaby tells Randall “Randy” Lawrence Waterhouse about Epiphyte Corporation, their new business to take advantage of the Philippines’ rapidly developing economy. Randy is on his way from California tp Manila. Novus Ordo Seclorum is the cryptographic software that they use to communicate.
As the Fourth Marines leave Shanghai, Bobby reminisces on entering a Nipponese restaurant to eat sushi, which leads to a brawl and to befriending Nip Goto Tengo. Some of the Marines have gone “Asiatic”. Bobby Sergeant Frick happens to be one of them. In Manila, Bobby meets with his girl Glory, just when war reaches the city.
In Manila, Randy wants a 4096-bit key pair for Avi, ridiculously secure because he wants their messages to “remain secret for as long as men are capable of evil.” (67) We learn that Randy used to be really into tabletop role-playing games with Avi and that he started programming in UNIX for RPG simulation, after being loosely inspired by Andrew “Andy” Loeb.
When Avi offered to buy Randy’s software, Andrew meddled, costing Randy much money and frustration. As the son of a divorced lawyer and cultist, and as someone who purportedly suffered from sexual abuse and hypnosis, Andrew is messed up.
We also learn how Randy met his girlfriend Charlene and that they were involved in a “War as Text” conference before he left for Manila.
Lawrence is with the band on the USSNevada during the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. After a few days in the hospital, he is sent along with the band to work in a building. This building houses the machine Commander Schoen built that decrypts the Nipponese cipher Indigo (in real life it was called PURPLE), as well as Electrical Till Corporation machines performing frequency counts on Nipponese messages.
The now unkempt and mentally unstable Commander Schoen talks to the band about cryptology, mentioning the book Cryptonomicon by Wilkins. Lawrence breaks the code written on the board and gets promoted.
Cryptonomicon also refers a collection of everything Schoen and hence the United States knows about cryptology. For 10 months, Lawrence adds to this collection and breaks a bunch of Nipponese codes. He earns what he believes to be the highest security clearance level, Ultra/Magic.
Lawrence writes papers on information theory about how the American military can decide what to do and not do with the decrypted messages so that the Nipponese don’t realize their cipher is broken. He gets sent to London by an ULTRAMEGA message.
93 The spawn of Onan
Randy shaves his beard, remembering that his girlfriend Charlene did an academically attractive study on how much beards suck. We learn that Randy went to grad school for astronomy, but became stuck helping the department with UNIX. When he dropped out, Randy joined Avi’s RPG company. When they hit it big, their investors forced a sale. Randy made ~$200K, spent most of it on a house with Charlene, and has been working on the tri-university network since.
At a dinner during the “War as Text” conference, a professor attacked the information superhighway. Randy knew to shut up in these situations, but he argued, thereby pissing off Charlene. This was when Avi called him to fly to Manila.
Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur sends the Fourth Marines away from Manila, a decision Bobby vehemently disagrees with.
In Manila, Randy has been walking around (with his GPS receiver) instead of cabbing. At the Epiphyte office in the top floor of a four-story building, the sight lines let him know why Avi chose this place in Intramuros.
After a battle at Guadalcanal, Bobby is delusional and gets rescued by Enoch Root.
Randy and Avi meet with important businesspeople to show them a video laden with references to appeal to each of them, promoting submarine communications cables.
The crew of Glory IV, a ship run by America “Amy” Shaftoe, has been hired to set the cables. Randy tells Amy about the Epiphyte product Pinoy-grams, video messages to be sent by overseas contract workers to their families back home, to be viewed in convenience stores.
A nightmare-infested Bobby is interviewed by Lieutenant Ronald Reagan and spews off unpleasantries about a giant lizard and General MacArthur. After a brief stay in his hometown of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, He gets sent to North Africa as a sergeant because they don’t trust his mouth to tour the country as a war hero.
Walking down the irregular streets of London, Lawrence thinks about finding patterns in seemingly random noise. At a meeting, he is informed about RAF Special Detachment No. 2701, which has to be changed to 2702 after Lawrence points out 2701 = 73 * 37 is a product of primes. It turns out Alan’s old friend Rudolf von Hacklheber is behind the German intelligence.
Amy Shaftoe shows Randy the crates of silver that were dropped under Corregidor during World War II, revealing that she is also a treasure hunter. They notice the billionaire investor Dr. “The Dentist” Kepler’s ship, Rui Faleiro.
Avi tells Randy that The Dentist will be predictable in regards to the Phillipines because he is a masochist under his wife Victoria Vigo, a plant by the Bolobolos.
Amy’s father Douglas MacArthur Shaftoe proposes to Randy that they exploit whatever treasure they find on the ocean floor, on the condition that they hide this information from the Dentist.
Lawrence arrives in Bletchley Park, England’s secret location for decrypting Axis messages. He meets with Colonel Chattan and Leftenant Robson, the latter of whom now has to change the Detachment’s number.
Chattan presents Waterhouse with a dilemma: They have to use tall women to operate Turing Bombes, which is an anomaly that the Germans might detect through personnel records. To make the bell curve look normal, they insert records of ficitonal women with appropriate heights.
In Algiers, Bobby’s men are painting 2s over 1s when Lieutenant Ethridge notices that they are throwing away all 36 stencils (from A to Z and 0 to 9), which the enemy can use to deduce that they’ve used only the “2” stencils. So Shaftoe orders them to paint over all the stencils as well.
Bobby is surprised to see Enoch Root serving as a chaplain for the Detachment. They being transporting the frozen body of a butcher, under the cover that the body needs to be sent to the United States to test for a new kind of food poisoning.
The new German cipher Triton/Shark with four rotors instead of three, which started being used on 1 February 1942, has the Allies stumped. Lawrence and Alan Turing take a break by going on a bike ride to a forest, where Alan tries to detect silver bars that he has buried.
Lawrence calculates, given the weak link on Alan’s bike, when the chain falls under varying initial conditions. The bike corresponds to a periodic polyalphabetic cipher, like the multi-wheel Enigma.
Lawrence tries to explain the sound of airplanes with the claim that they have an odd number of cylinders.
Alan is pissed that the Allies have been using decrypted information to sink convoys left and right, with seemingly obvious covers as to how they found those convoys.
Alan says he is off to the United States to work on voice encryption with Bell Labs.
Bobby dreams of his giant lizard encounter. Enoch Root explains that the Guadalcanal islanders were killed after the Nipponese decrypted Root’s message that he had found Shaftoe. After Root made a fuss about this, he was sent to Algiers.
They are in flight towards an enemy convoy. Ethridge gets shot and dies. Root takes a look at the documents attached to the frozen butcher before they drop it into the ocean. They fly away and arrive in Malta.
Randy and Avi meet with
- Eberhard Föhr, biometrics expert;
- John Cantrell, cryptologist and creator of Ordo;
- Tom Howard, computer engineer, VP for systems technology;
- and Beryl Hagen, rich CFO and consultant
to recruit them into Epiphyte(2). Avi explains that Epiphyte(1) has the Phillipines project, while Epiphyte(2) will be involved in a data haven in the fictional country of the Sultanate of Kinakuta in the Sulu Sea. Avi has a connection with the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.
Wandering around Bletchley Park, Lawrence sees men building a Turing machine and learns about the decryption process taking place inside the huts.
Randy is on a flight to Kinakuta City. The plane is filled with Nipponese, most of whom are going to visit a walled garden over the graves of 3500 Nipponese who died there on 23 August 1945.
Lawrence meets with the Duke of the fictional Qwghlm, who approves of the Allies using one of his castles to locate U-boats via Huff-Duff. In reality, Detachment 2072 is relocating there.
258 Electrical Till Corporation
At Sydney Harbor, Major Comstock recognizes ETC crates because he used to work for them.
Off the flight, Randy meets businessman Goto Furudenendu (“Ferdinand Goto”). Randy takes a cab to the cavernous Ministry of Information, where their data haven, the Crypt, is being built. There, Tom Howard shows him a Nipponese-hidden chest of books from World War II that Randy recognizes from his grandmother’s attic.
Randy reads from Sergeant Sean Daniel McGee’s war memoir that the Nipponese had enslaved the natives on the island. After the Nipponese surrendered to the Americans on the island, the natives disarmed the Americans and slaughtered the imprisoned Nipponese.
Bobby and company are smuggled through Italy to an old farm building, where they plant evidence that they have been spying there for a while. Corporal Benjamin is in charge of transmitting gibberish in Morse code.
Root reveals to Bobby that the documents attached to the frozen butcher contained stolen information about Axis convoys in the future.
283 The castle
Lawrence settles in the Qwghlmian castle, using a one-time pad to request two-by-fours.
The fictional lantern galvanick lucipher is powered by aqua regis.
Near Epiphyte’s first anniversary, Randy has been featured in TURING Magazine. He reads some email from the Secret Admirers mailing list.
For the past while, Randy has been ensuring that data gets transmitted through the cables even during disasters. John Cantrell postulates that the data haven is going to be shared with other companies, rendering the Phillipines cable unnecessary.
Tom Howard and John Cantrell talk to Randy about his old rival Andrew Loeb. Due to being a Digibomber suspect, Andrew found out about the Internet. Andrew managed to convert some Eutropians, people who believe that “technology has made us post-human,” to his side with his hive mind theory. Now Andrew is bashing the Crypt.
313 Retrograde maneuver & 322 Pages
Trapped in New Guinea, Nipponese soldiers leave codebooks behind as the books cannot be burned lest the soldiers be discovered. The Allies find the codebooks and process them in Brisbane.
As the only member of Detachment 2702 in Qwghlm, Lawrence spends most of his time moving the antenna pretending to detect U-boats. Being incredibly horny, he has sex with the servant Margaret, whom he supposes to be a spy.
On 13 December 1942, Bletchley Park deciphered Triton/Shark, learning that the Germans in turn had deciphered Allied merchant shipping codes. Lawrence proposes that they collide into foggy Norway a ship containing their merchant shipping codebooks, so that they have an excuse to abandon those codes.
At the Italian farm, after waiting until being positive that the Germans have spotted them, Bobby and company shoot their way across the land to rendezvous with a plane. They are equipped with a Vickers machine gun. They successfully fly back to Malta, where they meet Lieutenant Monkberg for further orders.
On their way to Norway, Monkberg orders Bobby to hastily pry open crates as if they are escaping. After they crash, Corporal Benjamin refuses to leave their codebooks behind, accusing Monkberg of being a German spy. Root contemplates both sides of the argument, and finally decides to leave the codebooks behind, ordering Bobby to lead the way to Sweden.
Avi confirms to Epiphyte that two other cable companies will be working with the Crypt, and that the Phillipines cable is unneeded, though they have to keep working on it due to the Dentist’s power.
354 Spearhead & 364 Morphium
Detachment 2702 has finally arrived to Qwghlm. Colonel Chattan, Lawrence, and Bobby head to a grounded U-553, where they find papers and a safe. Bobby manages to retrieve the safe while the U-boat is torpedoed.
Randy bumps into the Dentist in the elevator, who wants to talk to him later.
Back at Qwghlm, Lawrence breaks open the safe to find a gold bar stamped with Chinese characters, and non-Enigma encrypted messages.
Epiphyte attends a big meeting held by the sultan for all the groups of businessmen. Harvard Li, who needs to hide money electronically, wants to talk to John Cantrell.
The sultan says that his government will not restrict the information flowing through its data haven. The Minister of Information, Mohammed Pragasu, is introduced. Taking a look around the room at a suspicious character, Randy realizes Epiphyte “has fallen in among thieves.”
Goto Dengo watches as his convoy gets sunk by a new type of American bombs. Most of his comrades and friends refuse to try to escape with him. He realizes that Nippon has lost the war.