Can you read this? Ppziid Fmqbmcowy. It’s not nonsense; it’s enciphered.
Ciphers are reworkings of letters to confuse the interceptor of a message. They differ from codes, which are seemingly innocent messages that have other meanings, such as those used before the D-Day invasion. Ciphers range from simple to incredibly complex that require years to master, and they fall into some basic categories.
Substitution ciphers involve replacing letters with other letters, numbers or symbols. The number substitution cipher, in which letters of the alphabet are represented by 1 through 26, is one of the simplest and is one I learned in elementary school. A is 1, B is 2, and so on. Morse code and Braille are substitution ciphers. Another substitution cipher involves substituting letters for other letters, as seen on the comics page in the Cryptoquote. The decipherer determines the solution by looking for common letters and combinations: E, T, A, O and N make up 45 percent of English; more than 50 percent of English words start with T, A, O, S or W; and more than 50 percent end with E, S, D or T. Common two-letter and three-letter combinations such as in “th” words help Cryptoquote solvers.
A cipher wheel contains two circular alphabets, one outside the other. Align the A on the outer wheel to a letter on the inner wheel and encipher by looking at the original letter on the outer wheel and writing the inner letter. If A is placed over B, for example, B would be C, etc. This type of cipher was used for the name of the computer Hal in “2001 A Space Odyssey,” the letters of Hal being one letter below IBM. Another variation on this is moving one letter left or right on a computer keyboard.
Accomplished decipherers can easily break such ciphers, so the trick is to use more than one cipher, using a keyword, in a message. Write the keyword repeatedly beneath the message and use the letter substitution indicated by the keyword. For example, write GOAT repeatedly beneath ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA. G cipher is used every place where the G falls below letters of the original message, in this case below E, C, A, A, T and I. O cipher is used where O falls below letters and so on. The A code retains the original letters. Four ciphers are used, and the cipher-breaker must know the keyword to decipher. The result is Mbcrizoigsdbg Prbzongoqa.
The transposition cipher involves rearranging letters rather than substituting. The rail fence cipher is one of the simplest. Write the message on two lines, the first letter on the top line, the second on the bottom, then back to the top, etc. If the second line is shorter than the first by one letter, add any letter to make the lengths equal. Using Encyclopaedia Britannica as an example: ECCOADARTNIA NYLPEIBIANCF Each line is 12 letters long. Move the bottom line up to the right of the top line and divide into equal lengths: ECCO AEAR TNIA NYLP EIBI ANCF, and it looks like nonsense. This is the 12-by-2 rail fence cipher. The message may also be divided into 8-by-3, 6-by-4, or the inverse of each of those, where the columns are taller than the rows. The 6-by-4 would look like this: ECAATI NLEBAC CODRNA YPIINF Reading vertically, you can see the original message. The words may be left in six-letter groups or changed to four-letter groups. The decipherer who sees Ecaa Tinl Ebac Codr Nayp Iinf must know the key in order to decipher.
Substitution and transposition ciphers may also be combined, and ciphers are as varied as the imagination of those who encipher. Rumors have persisted for years that Shakespeare did not write his plays, which were said to be written by a number of people, the most popular being Christopher Marlowe. Encripted messages in the plays supposedly indicate the true author of the plays. The movie “National Treasure” included ciphers in the clues to finding the subterranean Masonic treasure trove.
- American Indians
- C. History
- Civil War
- D. Books
- E. Clothing
- Historical Clothing
- Historical Festivals
- Musical Instruments
- Ohio History
- Old West
- Revolutionary War
- World War II