The X&Y cover image is a graphical representation of the Baudot code, an early form of telegraph communication that relied on a series of ones and zeroes to convey messages (and thus, was probably the first truly “digital” means of communication). Developed by Frenchman Émile Baudot and patented in 1874, the code was the most widely used method of terrestrial and undersea telegraph communication for the following 70 years, until being replaced by Morse code in the mid-20th century.
The Baudot code assigns five “bits” for each letter of the alphabet, an arrangement of ones and zeroes (“11000” is A, “10011” is B, etc), as well as coding for numbers and symbols, like question marks or commas. To differentiate between numbers and letters, Baudot further broke the code down into “upshifted” and “downshifted” sections. Switching from numbers to letters — downshifting — would be identified by inserting “11011” into a message stream. To relay messages, operators tapped keys on a Baudot multiplex telegraph transmitter, with a “one” meaning a hit of the key and a “zero” meaning no hit. For example, “A” would be transmitted as two successive hits followed by three beats of silence.
Coldplay were kind enough to supply fans with a chart showing the entire Baudot alphabet in X&Y’s liner notes (since multiplex telegraph transmitters are presumably in short supply these days), with vertical arrangements of colored blocks replacing the ones and zeroes. When the chart is applied to X&Y’s cover image, it’s revealed to spell out (duh) “X&Y.” The image on the last page of the liner spells out “Make Trade Fair,” the name of the international organization aimed at eliminating Third World debt through reformed trade laws, which Martin ardently supports .