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The Power of Cryptograms

When I was a boy, a relative bought me and my siblings a copy of a book about solving cryptograms, which described techniques for solving substitution cyphers and gave a lot of cryptograms of varying difficulty to play with. I really enjoyed the book. At the time, it seems like many newspapers would publish a daily cryptogram, though I don't see them very much any more. My local newspaper, the Boston Globe, publishes a daily crossword, a Sudoku, a Kenken, and a few other puzzles, but no cryptograms. I think that's a loss. The kind of thinking used to solve cryptograms is very similar to what is used in solving mathematical problems of all kinds, and cryptograms is something that can be enjoyed both by mathematically-oriented people and literature-oriented ones, since the quotations that are encrypted can be quite memorable. Also, an interest in simple cryptograms could lead to a long-term interest in cryptography, the importance of which in today's Internet-driven world can scarcely be overestimated.

I'd suggest anyone teaching math in the middle grades think about challenging their students with cryptograms. As a starting point, I found Simon Singh's web page at to be a nice introduction.