Do you like word games? Try to use English language to crack codes

If you’re the type to solve crosswords and word searches in your daily life or on your phone app, here’s another wordy puzzle you should try: cryptograms!

Originally used for military and personal secrets, cryptograms are puzzles that contain a short piece of text encrypted by a number. These ciphers are normally fairly easy to solve by hand. The most frequently used is monoalphabetic substitution cipher, in which each letter of the original text is replaced with a different letter or character. Here is a short guide on how to decipher one of these monoalphabetic codes using English language trends.

Letter frequencies

In your encrypted text, a certain letter may appear more frequently than other letters. Each occurrence of this letter will go back to a single letter of the original text, but how do you determine which is this original letter? Letter frequency is the number of times the letters of the alphabet appear, on average, in a written language. In English, the absurd expression “ETAOIN SHRDLU” represents the 12 most commonly used letters in descending order. Therefore, these letters are distributed in such a way that they remain the most frequent in almost all samples of English text, although they may not be in exactly the same order. The other 14 are just as necessary to crack the entire code, but using this knowledge of letter frequency, you will probably be able to guess which letters are left after solving the most frequent ones.

Word length

The length of each individual word in your entire encrypted text can tell you what the word itself may be, which can make letter matching easier. For example, if the encrypted word is a single letter, it can be translated as “I” (the pronoun) or “a” (the indefinite article). Two-letter encryptions can be translated into words such as “to”, “from”, “is” and “he”. With encryptions consisting of three or more letters, decoding becomes more delicate, but you can refer to it listing to see the most frequently used words in the English language and their number of letters.

Punctuation

Although the letters change in a cryptogram, the punctuation remains the same. Therefore, you can observe punctuation marks to determine which words surround it. Apostrophes indicate that the word is either a contraction, such as “cannot”, “not” and “was not”, or a possessive noun, where a “being a being Commas can point you in the right direction depending on their location in a sentence. If a comma is near the start of a sentence after one to three words, then the words are probably transitional phrases such as “therefore”, “after all” and “further”. If there is only one comma in the middle of a sentence, the next word is probably a conjunction (and, or, but). While there are more punctuation marks that can refer to different terms and expressions, the apostrophe and comma are, in my opinion, the most useful for solving cryptograms.

Ready to take the challenge ? Try to decipher some cryptograms here! With these tips and practice tricks, you’ll be a decoding pro in no time!

Contact Annie Lin at [email protected].


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