1. Archive

Iwaxxnawf kojplc eowjcf aj ea iwmbeaswhgx // Headline decrypted: Crossword junkie turned on to cryptograms

I have to admit it. I was a real crossword junkie for years.

Relatives and friends from across the country would send their Sunday crosswords to me _ puzzles from the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and many more.

Then, about three years ago, during our Christmas telephone chat, my nephew Robert (he's just a kid at 63) asked me if I enjoyed doing cryptograms. Well, I had seen them near the crossword puzzles and the "Jumble" puzzle in the papers, but the coded messages were just so much "garbage" (as the computer folks would say) that I never gave them the time of day. So I told him that I, at the age of 84, wasn't about to take on the work of learning how to do them.

He said "Okay," and we went on to talk about the year's happenings.

About a week later, I got a letter from Robert. Well, sort of a letter. It was all in code! It was a cryptogram! Scared the death out of me. Was he expecting me to solve it? No way I could do that, I knew. The second page of his "letter" had hints and clues on how to figure it out. So I dove right in and _ what do you know? _ I did it! Robert was really sneaky. D'ya know what the message said? It was a quotation. Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli, who was Britain's prime minister when my mother was a girl there. The quote was:

"The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages are perpetuated by quotations."

My goodness! And I was smack dab in the middle of the " ... wisdom ... and the experience of the ages ... " I was truly hooked on cryptograms. And Robert must have known I'd be hooked, 'cause a little while later, he sent me a booklet he had made up that had 99 cryptograms in it, and solutions to all of them. (Just in case, he said.)

I asked him "Why 99? Why not 100?" He said "I didn't want to spoil you." Oh, well. Ever since, on the first day of each new season of the year, another cryptogram book appears in my mailbox.

I told some of the ladies at the club about the cryptograms and many of them became interested. I made up a little instruction sheet for them and shared some of the puzzles from the book Robert sent me. Before long, they, too, were hooked. Now, when we can't get out on the golf course, we have a "decoding session," just like other groups have their quilting sessions, bingo parties or whatever.

Now I would like to share my "cryptogramming" with a wider audience. That's why I wanted to write this article. So _ let's go.

What's a cryptogram? The word is from the Latin "crypta" meaning "to hide" and from the Greek "graphein," to write; thus, "hidden writing." The words are "hidden" by substituting letters for the letters that appear in the original message. Thus the word "people" could be encrypted as "tlftzl."

Cryptograms date back to the fifth century before Christ. They are found in the Old Testament, and in early Babylonian and Assyrian writings.

The cryptograms we find in the daily newspapers and in puzzle books are usually quotations, sayings, limericks, proverbs, poems, mottoes, aphorisms, rhymes, maxims and adages. The author, or source, is cited. You will quickly develop little tricks and twists to aid you when solving cryptograms, but, to get you started, I'll lead you through my thinking on how to solve them. Let's take a look at a cryptogram:






As I look at it, these thoughts cross my mind:

There is a single-letter word: L _ it has to be either I or A.

There is an apostrophe _ the word is either a possessive (like "car's," "one's" etc.) or a contraction (like "don't," "wouldn't," etc.). At any rate, the letter following the apostrophe is either an S or a T.

There are three instances of the coded word EZC. The three-letter word that occurs most frequently in English is THE. We'll guess that THE is the word.

Finally _ look at the author of the quote. XLW looks suspicious _ like a title, not a first name. It does not have a period after it so it's not abbreviated (such as the feminine of Saint, which is Ste.). Now _ if it is a title and L is an A or an I, couldn't the title be SIR? And isn't L an I? (Don't go away, now ... it gets easier, honest.) Let's assume XLW is SIR.

Let's put all of this together by lightly penciling our guesses above the coded letters:

1) Pencil in I above all of the Ls (because of the I in SIR).

2) We believe that EZC is THE, so pencil in T above each E; H above each Z; E above each C.

3) We believe that XLW is SIR, so pencil in S above each X; and R above each C. (You have already penciled in I above each L).

Let's take a look at what we have ... Hm. I see some words forming, don't you? Let's take a small step forward to see what happens:

At the end of line 2 you have T-EA. The A can only be an O. Pencil O over each A in the puzzle. Now look at the end of the last word in line 3: TIO-. The blank can only be an N. Pencil N over each J. See the author's first name? It surely is Winston. See the UU at the end of the last name? (You are probably way ahead of me at this point.) Sure _ Winston Churchill is the author, so N=W, I=C, O=U and U=L. Pencil them in.

Now stand back and take a close look. Some of the words are easily guess-able: OR-ER is ORDER, so F=D; -RITISH is BRITISH, so D=B; BECO-E is BECOME, so G=M. Pencil them all in. Now, -RESIDE is PRESIDE, and B=P; H_E is certain to be HAVE, thus H=A, Y=V; -IRST is FIRST, so V=F. Plug 'em in. Now put a Q in LI-UIDATION.

Finally, if Sir Winston became somebody's first minister, who could it be? Sure, the KING'S. Plug in the K and the G.

You've worked your first cryptogram! Easy, huh?

Kaye Theobald lives in Largo.

Headline decrypted: Crossword junkie turned on to cryptograms