What is a cryptogram?

Cryptogram is a text written in code

A cryptogram is a puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text. The cipher used to encrypt the text usually is simple enough that the cryptogram can be solved without any additional resources or tools. Often used are the  substitution ciphers where each letter is replaced by a different letter or number. To solve theses puzzles, you must recover the original lettering. Cryptograms were once used in more serious applications (like military, for example) but they are now mostly for entertainment only.


History of a cryptogram

The ciphers used in cryptograms were not originally created for entertainment purposes, but for real encryption of military or personal secrets.

The purpose of cryptograms was not originally related to entertainment purposes, but for real encryption of military or personal secrets.

Interesting information is that the first use of the cryptogram for entertainment purposes occurred during the Middle Ages by monks who had spare time for intellectual games. A manuscript found at Bamberg states that Irish visitors to the court of Merfyn Frych ap Gwriad, king of Gwynedd in Wales were given a cryptogram which could only be solved by transposing the letters from Latin into Greek. Around the 13th century, the English monk Roger Bacon wrote a book in which he listed seven cipher methods, and stated that “a man is crazy who writes a secret in any other way than one which will conceal it from the vulgar.” In the 19th century Edgar Allan Poe helped to popularize cryptograms with many newspaper and magazine articles.


Where cryptograms are used?

Once used for message security, cryptograms are now typically only used for entertainment purposes

Though once used in more serious applications, they are now mainly used for entertainment in newspapers and magazines. Cryptoquotes and cryptoquips are common variations that feature quotations.

Cryptograms in newspapers and magazines are usually based on a simple substitution cipher, often replacing each letter in the alphabet with a different one. The letter A, for example, might be represented by the letter H, while the letter H is represented by the letter D. Puzzle solvers use a number of methods to help them decrypt the messages.


How to solve a cryptogram?

Frequency analysis can help solve cryptograms

Substitution cipher cryptograms can often be solved by frequency analysis and by recognizing letter patterns in words, such as one letter words, which, in English, can only be “i” or “a” (and sometimes “o”). Double letters, apostrophes, and the fact that no letter can substitute for itself in the cipher also offer clues to solve the cryptogram. Occasionally, cryptogram puzzle makers will start the solver off with a few letters.


Where to solve a cryptogram?

You can solve cryptograms in newspapers and magazines or you can also do it online

While you’ll often find cryptograms in magazines and newspapers, you can also solve them online. Here’s one cryptogram website, for example.



Try it and enjoy solving cryptograms

While not everyone might love cryptograms it’s a fun way to sharpen your mind test your solving skills. At first the puzzle might seem something too hard but after getting used to the concept and understanding the basics, solving cryptogram shouldn’t seem like an impossible mission anymore. Good luck!