Gregory V. Bard

Associate Professor of Mathematics
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Cryptograms!


Cryptograms can be great fun for someone interested in mathematics, statistics, linguistics, or all three. They can be a enjoyable way to pass a snowy afternoon, or they can be superb in-class activity or Science Olympiad event. Below you'll find some resources that I've developed (partially in collaboration with Prof. Seth Dutter) for those who wish to play around with a few cryptograms.


Here's an example, so that you know what we're talking about:

BCU YSZO TZNXBSGZFXCN TSEUV KZSE GZUUL. BCU YSZO LZNXBSV EUFIV "VUTZUB" FIO BCU YSZO GZFXCSV RIORTFBUV "YZRBRIG." BCUZUKSZU, TZNXBSGZFXCN RV BCU VTRUITU SK VUTZUB YZRBRIG. TZNXBSGZFXCN CFV HUUI REXSZBFIB BS IFBRSIFA VUTWZRBN VRITU BCU UZF SK DWARWV TUFVUZ, YCS CFV F TRXCUZ IFEUO FKBUZ CRE.

Which actually translates into

The word cryptography comes from Greek. The word KRYPTOS means "secret" and the word GRAPHOS indicates "writing." Therefore, cryptography is the science of secret writing. Cryptography has been important to national security since the era of Julius Ceaser, who has a cipher named after him.

Here are some resources for those who would like to play with Cryptograms.

  • In collaboration with my colleague Prof. Seth Dutter, the following examples have been made available for you with an interactive web-based interface.
    1. This one is an easy imaginary encrypted telegram.
    2. This one is of "normal" difficulty, but with a hint, which makes it easy.
    3. This one is of "normal" difficulty.
    4. This one is of "normal" difficulty, too.
    5. This one is of "normal" difficulty, as well.
    6. This one is of "normal" difficulty, yet again.
    7. This one is of "normal" difficulty, just like its friends.
    8. This one is a hard encrypted telegram, because all the spaces have been taken out.
    9. This one is also hard, because all the spaces have been taken out, but you have a hint.
    10. This one is just plain hard, because all the spaces have been taken out, and there are no clues.

  • I would also recommend the following three books:

    • Simon Singh. The Code Book: How to Make It, Break It, Hack It, Crack It. Second Edition. Published by "Delacorte Books for Young Readers" in 2002. This book is ideally suited for young people who find cryptograms to be fun. The book claims to be good for students in 7th grade and up, but perhaps "9th grade and up" is a more realistic claim.

    • Abraham Sinkov. Elementary Cryptanalysis: A Mathematical Approach. Published by the Mathematical Association of America in 1966, but reprinted many times since. This is a fairly accessible book, covering a lot of classical code-breaking (such as solving cryptograms) but it is rather readable. A student with two years of high-school algebra will have an advantage over a student with only one year, but the book is really approachable.

    • Wade Trappe and Larry Washington. Cryptography with Coding Theory. Second Edition. Published by Pearson/Prentice Hall in 2005. This book starts out with fun and simple problems (like cryptograms) in Chapter 2, but before Chapter 9 is over you're well versed in modern, real-world encryption systems such as the RSA algorithm. We use this book for Math-380: Cryptography here at UW-Stout.

    • Do Not Purchase: Gregory Bard. Algebraic Cryptanalysis. Published by Springer in 2009. I wrote this one myself, but this book is intended for PhD-students in mathematics attempting to break real-world modern ciphers. The Trappe-Washington text would be a pre-requisite, along with a few 300-level or 400-level university mathematics courses.

  • There is also the website Puzzle Baron which includes cryptograms, along with many other fun puzzles.

Last updated November 1st, 2013.