How To Solve Cryptograms in 7 Steps (2024)

A cryptogram is a puzzle that is written in code or cipher. Straight out of a spy movie, cryptograms ask us to figure out an unknown letter substitution cipher to decode the meaning of a jumbled word or phrase. But do you know the best ways to start decoding these puzzles?

Most cryptograms are encoded with single-transposition keys, where one letter is substituted for another. This seems to create complete gibberish on a screen, such as:

  • Ygua ua gpq smtpmr xsm zrsem gpq yp apzbr xetoyphesna.

However, there are actually very clear and deliberate ways to figure out exactly which letters are substituted to find the meaning of the cryptogram.

The key, so to speak, is to look at some of the conventions of the English language and play a game of percentages and educated guesses.

Look for Popular Letters

The first step is to realize that the most common letters in the English language are E, T, A, O, and N, with I and S a close second.

So, to solve a cryptographypuzzle, you shouldlook at what letters occur most often in the gibberish word, and work with them.

Let's usethe example from above:Ygua ua gpq smtpmr xsm zrsem gpq yp apzbr xetoyphesna.

M, R, and S appear three or four times each. Now, we can begin the process of trial and error by substituting the popular letters in this cryptogram for some more common ones.

Solve the Short Words

Solving for the short words can help you put a longer cryptogram sentence all together. Thisis especially effective for short words that have only two or three letters.

The most common two-letter words are:

For three letters, it gets a little more complicated. The most common three letter words are:

  • and

  • the

  • for

  • his

  • not

  • but

  • you

  • are

  • her

  • had

However, there are quite a few other three-letter words – for example (and to provide a hint to the solution) the three-letter words in the above cryptogram are actually canand how(one of them, GPQ, appears twice).

Spot the Repeated Letters

Other conventions of the English language can also provide clues. Only a few letters are actually ever repeated twice in a word: RR, LL, NN, MM, and fewer of these are in small words.

So, if there is a three-letter word containing repeating letters, such as SZZ, that word is almost certainly the word all.

Another very common pattern is the letters TH – they appear in boththe and that, as well as this, those, them, and more.

Look for Digraphs

The technical term for two-letter combinations that commonly appear in the English language is digraphs.

The most common digraphs are:

  • TH

  • HE

  • AN

  • IN

  • ER

  • RE

  • ES

  • ON

  • EA

  • TI (this one is especially useful in discovering the common four-letter word ending –TION)

So, in the above cryptogram, the first word is this (spoiler alert). Now you know that the letter combination YG is actuallyTH. YGdoesn't appear at the beginning of any other words, so you now know that none of them are words with TH at the beginning.

Go for the Unusual

Knowing what the words can't be is sometimes as useful as knowing what they can be. Also, knowing unusual words, such as those that begin with X, can give you a great advantage in solving cryptograms.

Don't Overlook the Obvious

Other conventions of cryptographic puzzles are also useful to know. Sometimes, cryptogramstry to throw in non-transposed letters, so that all would be encoded GLL. The trick is thata person can spend forever trying to figure out what the letter L represents (the answer being itself).

Many cryptogramsbegin with phrases like "The best…", or "Some of the…", or "The only…", and knowing that can give you a few options to try right away.

Look for the Pattern

It all comes down to making systematic educated guesses until the pattern emerges. Usually, after the vowels are figured out, it is easy to finish solving the puzzleas the phrase becomes clear.

One frustrating problem can be a cryptogram with errors in it, whether grammatical, spelling, or an encoding error;however, that can be seen as just another bit of the puzzle to figure out, above and beyond the basic cryptographic algorithm.

So, What Is the Code?

Using these step-by-step processes, you can figure out that the puzzle at the beginning of the article uses the following substitution cipher:

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

S V X F R D H G U K J Z N M P O W E A Y I B Q C T L

So the translated cryptogramreads: "This is how anyone can learn how to solve cryptograms."

Can't get enough word puzzles? Try your hand atanagramsor create your own word with our Word Maker tool.

How To Solve Cryptograms in 7 Steps (2024)

FAQs

What is the cryptogram code? ›

A cryptogram is a kind of secret code. The formal name for this particular kind of code is a simple substitution cipher. Strictly speaking, a code is a method of disguising a message that uses a dictionary of arbitrarily chosen replacements for each possible word.

What is the trick to solving puzzles? ›

Sort your pieces by color and pattern. These are the most easily-distinguished features and they offer a way to break the puzzle into a series of manageable sub-tasks. Also, set aside corner and edge pieces. Optional tip: Divide your piles into smaller collections of pieces based on their number of tabs and blanks.

What are the rules for cryptograms? ›

A cryptogram is a puzzle with an encrypted message, where each letter in the message has been substituted by another letter of the alphabet. As you guess each substitution, add the letter everywhere it occurs in the puzzle, and the message will start to reveal itself.

What is cryptogram math? ›

A cryptogram is a piece of arithmetic using standard algorithms—standard long addition or standard long multiplication, for instance—with some digits replaced by letters. If a letter is repeated, it means that the same digit appears in those places.

What is cryptograms substitution code? ›

General Substitution Ciphers substitute one letter of the alphabet with another letter or symbol. For example, in a piece of text the word THE may be replaced by the word FSQ, where F represents T, and S represents H, and Q represents an E. This will keep the message secret from prying eyes.

Are cryptograms good for the brain? ›

Cryptograms can improve memory, focus, and concentration. To solve the puzzle, it's necessary to pay close attention to details and use their brains in a variety of ways. Solving cryptograms requires students to use logical thinking, deductive reasoning, and trial-and-error to decode the encrypted message.

What is the easiest code to decipher? ›

Caesar ciphers are especially popular for children because they're easy to understand. Plus, they're a great way to practice the alphabet. All you have to do is rotate the alphabet by a number of your choice so each letter can be translated to a different one.

What is the hardest code to decipher? ›

The Vigenère cipher is one of the most difficult codes to decipher. Crypto analysts love this type of ciphers.

What is the program that solves cryptograms? ›

quipqiup is a fast and automated cryptogram solver by Edwin Olson. It can solve simple substitution ciphers often found in newspapers, including puzzles like cryptoquips (in which word boundaries are preserved) and patristocrats (inwhi chwor dboun darie saren t).

What is a cryptogram answer? ›

A cryptogram is a word puzzle featuring encrypted text that the user decrypts to reveal a message of some sort. Once used for message security, cryptograms are now typically only used for entertainment purposes in newspapers and magazines. Cryptoquotes and cryptoquips are common variations that feature quotations.

Do cryptograms help your brain? ›

Cryptograms can improve memory, focus, and concentration. To solve the puzzle, it's necessary to pay close attention to details and use their brains in a variety of ways. Solving cryptograms requires students to use logical thinking, deductive reasoning, and trial-and-error to decode the encrypted message.

How do cryptogram puzzles work? ›

Substitution ciphers where each letter is replaced by a different letter or number are frequently used. To solve the puzzle, one must recover the original lettering. Though once used in more serious applications, they are now mainly printed for entertainment in newspapers and magazines.

How do you solve the codebreaker puzzle? ›

The most obvious tip is to go through and write in the start letters straight away. Use the cross-off grid to keep track of which letters you have placed so that you don't accidentally place more than one letter at once. Sometimes the starting letters will give you a tip off as to a word straight away, but not always.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Arline Emard IV

Last Updated:

Views: 6420

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (52 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Arline Emard IV

Birthday: 1996-07-10

Address: 8912 Hintz Shore, West Louie, AZ 69363-0747

Phone: +13454700762376

Job: Administration Technician

Hobby: Paintball, Horseback riding, Cycling, Running, Macrame, Playing musical instruments, Soapmaking

Introduction: My name is Arline Emard IV, I am a cheerful, gorgeous, colorful, joyous, excited, super, inquisitive person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.