# Puzzles in Plain Sight: Coded Puzzles!

Given the nature of my line of work, I think about puzzles a lot. But, as it turns out, even when I’m not thinking about puzzles, puzzles seem to find me anyway.

As followers of our Instagram account know, last night I was reading a collection of supernatural short stories, Dark Detectives, edited by Stephen Jones. Partway through a story titled “Vultures Gather,” I encountered the following passage:

That’s right, an encrypted passage smack dab in the middle of my supernatural mystery story!

As it turns out, our investigators uncover a message left behind by the deceased, indicating that he was murdered! Not only that, but he makes a cagey reference to one of my favorite horror movies in order to provide a method for both exposing and punishing his duplicitous attackers.

It all starts with a letter and two pieces of parchment with Greek lettering. The letter entrusts the paper and their secret contents to the two men, in case anything suspicious should happen. (Fortuitous!)

The investigators, with the help of two of their friend’s books — The Boy’s Book of General Knowledge and The Boy’s Book of Puzzles and Brain Teasers — try to crack it with a simple transposition code, meaning one letter or number represents another. This is the basis of standard cryptograms and many other crypto-puzzles.

[Leela tackling an alien code in Futurama.]

But this only yields gibberish. That is, until they remember something from the letter he left them: “The locks are my favorite books, the key is seven.”

The seventh letter is G, meaning that should be the starting letter of their transposition pattern.

Unraveling the encryption reveals some sinister-sounding magical incantations, which they put aside for the moment.

Then they turn their attention to the remaining bits of code in the letter: the strings (5,2,2,5) and 831214926142252425798. Assuming their friend would want these codes cracked quickly, they employ a simple alphanumeric cipher.

Now, alphanumerics can work several ways.

• Sometimes, the numbers coincide with those of a push-button telephone, meaning 5 can be J, K, or L.
• Other times, the numbers represent that letter’s position in the alphabet. A is 1, B is 2, Z is 26, etc.
• They can also be transposition codes, where each letter corresponds to a random number. This is the case in Codewords.

8312149261422524225798 uses the second style of alphanumeric code. So 8 would be H, 3 would be C…

Wait, that doesn’t work! Unless you remember that “the key is seven,” as mentioned above. Which means that G would be 1, H would be 2, etc.

So now, with some trial and error, 831214926142252425798 becomes 8/3/1/2/14/9/26/14/2/25/24/25/7/9/8, or NIGHTOFTHEDEMON. As it turns out, (5,2,2,5) is a hint to breaking up your answer into words, like the indicator of word length that follows a British-style crossword clue or cryptic crossword clue. This makes the answer NIGHT OF THE DEMON.

[Unfortunately, no one in the story seems to notice that THE is 3 letters, and the clue should’ve read (5,2,3,5). Oops.]

So, in the end, not only did I get a great supernatural detective story (with mystical revenge to boot!), I got a brief refresher on some of the most popular encryption styles employed by puzzlers today.

Not too shabby at all.

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# PuzzleNation Book Reviews: The Code Busters Club, Case #3

Welcome to the ninth installment of PuzzleNation Book Reviews!

All of the books discussed and/or reviewed in PNBR articles are either directly or indirectly related to the world of puzzling, and hopefully you’ll find something to tickle your literary fancy in this entry or the entries to come.

Let’s get started!

Our book review post this time around features Penny Warner’s third Code Busters Club novel, The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure.

I regularly get questions from fellow puzzlers who are looking for fun ways to get their kids into math, science, history, and other subjects through the media of board games or puzzles. Sadly, I don’t always have the picture-perfect recommendation for them prepped and ready in my back pocket, gift-wrapped for delivery.

That’s what makes stumbling upon a book tailor-made for encouraging both reading AND a love of puzzles such a delight. And if you’re looking for a gateway book for scavenger hunts or coded puzzles, look no further than The Code Busters Club series.

When there’s a puzzle to be unraveled or a code to be cracked, you can count on the crafty quartet known as the Code Busters. Friends Cody Jones, Quinn Kee, Luke LaVeau, and M.E. Esperanto are ready at a moment’s notice to put their codecracking skills to the test, and a field trip to Carmel Mission might be the perfect opportunity. There are some shifty characters lurking about, but with rumors of a pirate’s treasure hidden nearby, what else would you expect? Can the Code Busters make history and solve the riddle of de Bouchard’s gold?

If you’re looking for a fun way to introduce coded puzzles to younger readers, you’d be hard-pressed to find a book that employs as many different styles of coding as The Mystery of the Pirate’s Treasure. Warner has clearly done her research, employing everything from Morse code and semaphore to symbols, skip codes, Caesar ciphers, alphanumerics, and more.

[A quick interlude for coded-puzzle newbies:

• A skip code is a message wherein you skip certain words in order to spell out a hidden message concealed within a larger one.
• A Caesar cipher, also known as a shift cipher, works by shifting the alphabet a predetermined number of letters. For instance, if you shift the alphabet 5 letters, A becomes F, B becomes G, etc.
• An alphanumeric code (in its simplest form) replaces the letters in words with their corresponding digits on a telephone keypad. So an A, B, or C becomes 2 while G, H, or I becomes 4.

End informational interlude.]

As a puzzler with plenty of experience with coded puzzles and cryptography, I was impressed by the breadth of codes and secret messages Warner had snuck into book that’s less than 200 pages, including illustrations and a sizable typeface.

The story itself is a bit threadbare, but considering the brisk storytelling pace and the sheer number of puzzles included, it’s easy to forgive the author for providing just enough impetus to get the Code Busters (and the reader) from one puzzle to the next. After all, this is a book about friends solving puzzles, and the puzzles are dynamite introductory-level puzzles for young readers.

I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for further Code Busters Club adventures.

[To check out all of our PuzzleNation Book Review posts, click here!]

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