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We’ve had several beautiful days here in Lexington recently, and there’s nothing that makes me eager for adventure like a sunny day.


The message started out looking like this:

I almost didn’t pick it up when I found it back in May 2011, because it looked like garbage.  It looked like a few German folks shared a bottle of wine over dinner, packed their receipts into the bottle afterwards along with a (used?) napkin, and launched it overboard.

But I’m a sucker for mystery, and those little receipts with German type on them, rolled up like tiny scrolls, were too intriguing for me to pass up. Here’s what I found inside:

Crusty Sea Scrolls

And this is why sometimes of a Monday night, I can be found pushing around flakes of sun-crisped paper on tinfoil in my message-in-a-bottle lab, which doubles as my living room.

Working in the Lab

You know how, sometimes, things start out seeming like fun and adventure, but end up complicated and flummoxing?

Yeah… so… It turns out that these scraps of paper are the thinnest, fragilest papers I have recovered from a bottle.  Each little scroll is a receipt, and of course, receipt paper is thin and fragile to begin with.  Put receipt paper in a bottle and let it cook in the sun and salty sea for several years (this message is at least a decade old), and what you get is brittle sun-burnt scraps, and disintegrated paper dust, like so:

There’s very little visible writing on these scraps, but enough that I am certain they are messages. However, this one may remain a mystery message forever, if I can’t find a name or any contact info.

All I can figure out is that this “S.O.S.” appears to be humorous:

Because this piece appears to say something in German about a (female) “beautiful terrorist”:

And this one has a little heart drawn on it, though it’s difficult to see in the photo:

Er… I hope this is meant to be humorous…

Anyway, a funny thing happens with messages like this, which is oddly like what happens when I come into a dark house from being outside on a very bright day: it takes my eyes a while to adjust.  It’s strange to say this about a piece of paper right in front of my face, but it’s simply hard to see the writing.  And every message is unique. My eyes have to adjust to the paper type, the color of ink, and especially to the writer’s handwriting, because what looks at first like an “N” may turn out to be a “U” or a “V”.  Sometimes this takes weeks of looking at a particular message; other times, the writing remains indecipherable.

I mean–for crying out loud, what is THIS supposed to say?!

Ahhh! It makes me crazy! It’s… it’s… unfair that this message should survive so long and be found on a completely deserted island, only to be indecipherable!

Maybe my eyes will adjust in the coming weeks and I’ll be able to figure this out, but I’m not betting on it. This is easily among the most challenging mystery messages I’ve found.