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

Maryland Public Television
2005 Webby Award Winner!
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Secret Writing
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Secret Writing
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Interactive Secret Writing

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In this section, use the page numbers to navigate. Along the way, you will find several points where you can try to decipher message. Click the 'Interactive Secret Writing' tab to open a new browser window where you can work on these puzzles.

1. Introduction

If you received a note like this, what would you think?


Obviously, someone didn't want everyone to know what was being said. That's why he or she wrote the message using a kind of secret cipher. What's a cipher?.

The message is written using a simple substitution cipher. One letter here replaces another. The spaces divide the cipher into words.

Here's how you can decipher the message above.

Like many writers, Poe was also very interested in secret languages. He prided himself on his ability to create and solve cryptograms, and often wrote about this process. In fact, one of the cryptograms he may have created was just solved in 2000.

Poe built his short story "The Gold Bug" around a cryptogram. The main character has to know how ciphers work in order to solve this mystery.

How do your think your deciphering skills rate? Here's the cryptogram that unlocks the key to Captain Kidd's treasure in "The Gold Bug." Can you solve it?

Read how the story's main character Mr. William Legrand broke the code and found the treasure in this excerpt from the short story.

Try your hand at solving some other cryptograms — straight from the works of Poe.