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I read this story over thirty years ago in my 7th algebra textbook (of all places, right?). That textbook used to put in all sort of short stories to get kids into math and this was one of the stories.

It was about radio astronomer who is trying to decode a mysterious alien signal. Everyone keeps trying to crack the code using math, but in the end, they learn the signal was, in fact, a representation of the periodic table.

Any idea who wrote it and the title?

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    That was the idea of H. Beam Piper's novelette "Omnilingual" except that the periodic table was found in an old book on Mars, not a radio signal from another star. Do you think your algebra textbook used "real" professionally-written stories, not things the author made up himself? I suppose the stories were really short, no more than a couple of pages? – user14111 May 11 '18 at 3:08
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    I’m almost certain it was a reprinted short story. Maybe something from a magazine like Analog? And I’m sure it was signal picked up by a radio telescope. – Patrick May 11 '18 at 5:11
  • Does the story have a plot? Is the whole point of the story that the alien radio code is based on the periodic table instead of prime numbers or something like that? Or is there more to the story? – user14111 May 11 '18 at 6:39
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    @user14111 - Actually, I'm pretty sure that Omnilingual's periodic table was found on a wall. – Jeff Zeitlin May 11 '18 at 11:24
  • Yes, the whole story was about decoding the signal I distinctly remember them printing the code in the story. – Patrick May 11 '18 at 13:43

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