Knowing Poe: The Literature, Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe... In Baltimore and Beyond

Maryland Public Television
2005 Webby Award Winner!
border border
Secret Writing
Random Raven
Secret Writing
1 2 3 4 5 6
Interactive Secret Writing

2. Solving the message

There are some things you can tell about this cryptogram without knowing what it says. You can collect clues by looking for patterns. First of all, the phrase ends with a question mark, so it probably is some kind of a kind of sentence. Secondly, there are spaces between the groups of letters. This means that the groups of letters are probably words.

The message is written using a replacement letter for each letter in the cipher.

Those in the trade call this a simple substitution cipher with a shift to the right.

If the letters were written on two pieces of paper that were lined up, they would look this way:

When the bottom paper is shifted one to the right, it looks like this:

The top row gives the letters in the cryptogram. The bottom row contains the letters in plain English, or plaintext that the top letters represent.

Each letter in the cryptogram replaces the letter that's right before it in the normal or plaintext alphabet. "B" in the cryptogram equals "A," "C" equals "B," and so on. "Z" is shifted so that, instead of at the end of the alphabet, it now starts it out. So, if you saw this word in the cryptogram — PXM — and you knew they were using this substitution cipher, you would know the writer was talking about an OWL.

You can even make up your own ciphers. Experiment with shifting the letters to the 25 spaces to the right or 25 spaces to the left. It might be helpful to use two paper copies of the alphabet to do this. Use the Interactive Secret Writing tool to make and decipher your own cryptograms!

Now can you see what the message says?



Back to Top