How to Solve Cryptograms {methods & examples} - Bailey's Puzzles (2024)

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The Basic Cryptogram Rules

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A cryptogram is a puzzle where a phrase has been encoded.

You can use a cipher to keep track of your decoding. Each letter is represented by a different letter (or number or symbol).

There is only one possible solution and each letter cannot decode to itself (so H cannot be H).

Ready to learn how to decode a cryptogram puzzle? Let’s get started! We’ll be using the blank example throughout the methods.

Solving Methods

Cryptogram solving methods aren’t meant to be done in any order. Choose whatever you think will help you with a puzzle and keep trying different methods until you’re done!

One-Letter Words

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There are two common one-letter words: “I” and “a”.

There is one more one-letter word, “o” which is rarely used. You’re most likely to see it as “o’clock”. BUT, it could also be used as a stand-alone letter (such as “O Canada” although this is not very likely).

This means, one-letter words are a great place to start when solving a cryptogram.

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • Our example contains three different single letter words (how rare):
    • Y: Y’L, Y, Y
      • A single letter word with a contraction followed by a single letter only has 2 options: “I’m” or “I’d”
      • Now we know that Y is I.
    • J: J’TDJTO
      • We have “o” and “a” left available.
      • Remember up above when I said “o” would most commonly be used in “o’clock”. This looks like a perfect fit for that “o’TDoTO”.
      • Now we know that J is O.
    • W: W
      • Since we solved for I and O, W must be A.
  • Yay! We’ve solved for 3 letters.

Fill in All the Letters

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Every time you solve for a letter, you should fill out all instances of that letter in the puzzle.

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • I’ve marked every “Y” as an “I”, every “J” as an “O”, and every “W” as an “A”.

Note: going forward, I’ll be doing this automatically for the example and won’t mention it as a separate step.

Look for the Obvious

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Sometimes you get lucky with a cryptogram and there’s an obvious word that you should fill out. Every time you finish a solving method, be sure to give the puzzle a quick scan and look for these obvious words.

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • When we were filling out the single letters, we chose “o” because of “o’clock”. So let’s add in the c, l, and k.

Note: There’s no “right” order to use the following cryptogram solving methods. Some puzzles might be easiest to start with contractions, others will be easiest to start with two-letter words, others might be best to start with double letters, etc., You just have to try things and see what works.

Two-Letter Words

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There are over 100 two-letter words in English. Luckily, only a few are commonly used. Here are some of the most common two-letter words (organized by vowel use):

  • A – am, an, as, at
  • E – be, he, me, we
  • I – if, in, is, it
  • O – of, on, or, do, go, no, so, to
  • U – up, us
  • Y – by, my

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • I’ve circled all the two-letter words:
    • WM = A?
    • JK = O?
    • HU = ??
    • QU = ??
    • GU = ??
    • MJ = ?O
    • MJ = ?O
    • YM = I?
  • I like to start with the vowels: we know A, I, and O which leaves us E, U, and Y. Our two-letter words that have no known vowel are HU, QU, and GU. The vowels u and y only have two common words each (up, us, by, my) but we have three words in our puzzle so U is most likely going to be E.
  • I could keep looking at 2-letter words, but I’m not going to. If you’re doing a real puzzle, you should! But I want to make sure I can keep teaching you the other methods!

Three-Letter Words

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There are over 15,000 three-letter words in the English language. Obviously we’re not going to be considering all of them.

The most used word in the English language is “the,” which is a three-letter word. Here are the three-letter words that are part of the 100 most commonly used English words:

  • the (1)
  • and (5)
  • for (12)
  • not (13)
  • you (18)
  • but (22)
  • his (23)
  • say (28)
  • her (29)
  • she (30)
  • one (35)
  • all (36)
  • out (43)
  • who (46)
  • get (47)
  • can (53)
  • him (58)
  • see (69)
  • now (73)
  • its (77)
  • use (83)
  • two (84)
  • how (85)
  • our (86)
  • way (90)
  • new (92)
  • any (95)
  • day (98)

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • First things first, what three-letter words are there?
    • IYL = ?i?
    • MIU = ??e (three times)
    • KJM = ?o?
    • RUM = ?e?
    • WKZ = a??
    • ZJK = ?o?
  • I’m going to go ahead and guess that MIU = THE
  • Again, if doing a real puzzle keep looking at three-letter words until you can’t fill out anymore. I’m going to move on for teaching purposes!

Apostrophes

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Apostrophes are used in two ways: as possessives or contractsions.

A possessive will be a word with an apostrophe and an s. For example, “Bailey’s Puzzles” the ‘s tells us that the puzzles belong to Bailey.

A contraction shortens words by replacing letters with an apostrophe. For example, “I’m” is the contraction for “I am” and “could’ve” is the contraction for “could have.”

Check out this wikipedia article for a more complete list of contractions, but here’s some of the most common to look for:

  • _ ‘ _ = I’m, I’d
  • _ ‘ _ _ = I’ll, I’ve
  • _ _ ‘ _ = it’s, he’s, he’d
  • _ _ ‘ _ _ = it’ll, he’ll, we’ll, we’re, we’ve
  • _ _ _ ‘ _ = she’s, she’d, won’t, don’t, isn’t, can’t
  • _ _ _ ‘ _ _ = you’re, you’ve, she’ll
  • _ _ _ _ ‘ _ = aren’t, didn’t, they’d, wasn’t
  • _ _ _ _ ‘ _ _ = they’re, they’ve, they’ll

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • First, I’m going to find all the apostrophes.
    • Y’L = I’?
    • IU’Z = HE’?
    • GU’VU = ?e’?e
    • ZJK’M = ?o?’t
    • YM’B = IT’?
  • It’s pretty clear that B = S (what else could be it’?)
  • Reminder: I’m not going to do anymore because I want to keep teaching you different methods. If this was a real puzzle, you’d keep looking for more apostrophe letters you could fill out!

Prefixes & Suffixes

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The longer the word, the more likely it is to contain a prefix or a suffix.

A prefix is a group of letters placed before the root of a word. A suffix is a group of letters placed after the root of a word.

Common prefixes include:

  • de–
  • en–
  • em–
  • in–
  • im–
  • re–
  • un–
  • dis–
  • mis–
  • pre–
  • over–

Common suffixes include:

  • –ed
  • –en
  • –er
  • –ly
  • –est
  • –ful
  • –ing
  • –ion
  • –ous
  • –able
  • –less
  • –ment
  • –ness

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • This one is a little bit harder and you really have to look for prefixes and suffixes. But once you begin to recognize the patterns, it gets easier.
  • I’ve picked out a suffix. Can you figure it out?
    • BUUYKR = seei??
  • It’s the –ing suffix!
  • Reminder: I’m not looking for anymore!

Letter Patterns

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You can also look for letter patterns. There are letters that are commonly paired together, like:

  • Q = QU
  • X = EX
  • K = CK, SK, LK, KE
  • H = CH, SH, TH, PH, WH

There are also letters that commonly double up, like:

  • EE
  • DD
  • LL
  • OO
  • TT
  • SS

Any letter can double up, the length and other letters will often help you figure it out. Words like VACUUM, EGG, and AARDVARK.

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • I don’t see any of these in my example puzzle that aren’t already filled out. I’ve circled a few examples (although we filled out those letters earlier).

Letter Frequency

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In English, some letters are used a lot more than others. For example, an analysis by Cornell demonstrated that the letter E is used in 12.02% of words while the letter Z is used in only 0.07% of words.

Check your puzzle and see if you can add any letters based on their frequency. The most commonly used letters are:

  • E
  • T
  • A
  • O
  • I
  • N
  • S
  • R

Solving the Example Cryptogram:

  • We’ve already solved for 7/8 of the most common letters. Let’s look for places that an “R” would fit.
  • I’ve circled 4 words that I think could use an R:
    • ?ETTE? = –er suffix = ?ETTER (better, wetter, ?) *V=R
    • ?ECA??E = re–prefix = RECA??E (I can’t think of a word that fits…) *Q=R
    • ?E’?E = ‘re contraction = ?E’RE (we’re) *V=R
    • ?EST = REST *Q=R
  • I feel like the V is probably the R, but I’m less certain than I have been so I’m not going to mark it down.

Can You Finish the Example?

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We’ve done a lot of our example. Try to finish it up yourself (click here for a printable version)!

Go back and try the different methods yourself!

Let’s Finish the Example

I’m going to start at the beginning and see if there are any obvious words I can fill out. Then we’ll see from there!

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First things first, what letters are unused: B, D, F, J, M, P, Q, R, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

I’m missing one letter from each of my first three words and it’s the same letter: “I’_ _eeting hi_”

I’_ can only be D or M. Both letters are unused. So my first three words has to be one of:

  • I’d deeting hid
  • I’m meeting him

It’s pretty clear to me, the answer is M.

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Let’s check the next three blanks:

“I’m meeting him at the cinema at se_en o’clock on mon_a_.”

I’m meeting him at the cinema…
When? at ? o’clock. Is there a time that fits for se_en? Seven!
On Mon_a_? Monday!

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Back in the letter frequency section I thought that R might be represented by Q or V. Let’s look at both of those.

I highlighted all the Q’s in Yellow, if I put in R’s this would be my sentence:

  • “He’d rette_ not re late reca__e _e’_e seeing a movie”

I highlighted all the V’s in Green, if I put in R’s this would be my sentence:

  • “He’d _etter not _e late _eca__e _e’re seeing a movie”

The first sentence (replacing Q) just doesn’t make sense. What words will you have with rett_ or reca__e? I’m officially calling this V=R.

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Sometimes you miss a filling in a letter. When you notice, just go ahead and put in it.

I noticed that in QUTWABU=_eca__e, I already know that the B is an S but I forgot to mark it down. So, I’ve done that now.

I’ve also noticed (second last line) that I missed filling in two E’s. So I’ve done that, too.

An update/reminder: the only unused letters available now are B, F, J, P, Q, U, W, X, Z.

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Looking at those Q’s got me thinking:

  • “He’d _etter not _e late _eca?se” and near the bottom “the _est”
  • _etter could use b, p, w
  • _e could use b, w
  • _est could use b, f, j, p, w, z

B and W are the only options that work for multiple words. Let’s try them in sentences:

  • He’d better not be late beca?se + the best
  • He’d wetter not we late weca?se + the west

It’s certainly Q = B and I think it’s obvious that beca_se = because (or A=U)

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There aren’t that many empty spots left. In fact, I only need to figure out 2 more letters

Our available letters are: F J P Q W X Z

  • G = “_e’re” “_ant” “_ant” “?revie_s”

W is the only letter that fits all of the G words. So, G = W.

  • F = “_o_corn” “_revie?s” “_art”

how many kinds of “corn” do you get at the movies? This is clearly F=P for popcorn!

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We did it!

The answer is:

“I’m meeting him at the cinema at seven o’clock on Monday. He’d better not be late because we’re seeing a movie. I want to get popcorn and I don’t want to miss the previews. It’s the best part!”

Get Cryptogram Puzzles

Now that you know how to solve a cryptogram puzzle, it’s time to grab some puzzles & get solving!

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How to Solve Cryptograms {methods & examples} - Bailey's Puzzles (20)

Happy Puzzling,

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How to Solve Cryptograms {methods & examples} - Bailey's Puzzles (22)
How to Solve Cryptograms {methods & examples} - Bailey's Puzzles (2024)

FAQs

How do you decode a cryptogram puzzle? ›

A cryptogram is a puzzle with an encrypted message, where each letter in the message has been substituted by another letter of the alphabet. As you guess each substitution, add the letter everywhere it occurs in the puzzle, and the message will start to reveal itself.

How to solve a cryptogram without a key? ›

All substitution ciphers can be cracked by using the following tips:
  1. Scan through the cipher, looking for single-letter words. ...
  2. Count how many times each symbol appears in the puzzle. ...
  3. Pencil in your guesses over the ciphertext. ...
  4. Look for apostrophes. ...
  5. Look for repeating letter patterns.
Sep 27, 2021

What is the cryptogram code? ›

A cryptogram is a kind of secret code. The formal name for this particular kind of code is a simple substitution cipher. Strictly speaking, a code is a method of disguising a message that uses a dictionary of arbitrarily chosen replacements for each possible word.

How to solve a puzzle step by step? ›

Tips To Solve Jigsaw Puzzles
  1. Pick a Spot to Work on Your Jigsaw Puzzle.
  2. Arrange and Flip Pieces Upwards.
  3. Sort Puzzle Pieces by Color.
  4. Assemble the Puzzle Border.
  5. Connect Small Sections.
  6. Keep Special or Unique Pieces together.
Sep 29, 2021

What is an example of a cryptogram? ›

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 K, while the letter K is represented by the letter R.

How do you solve cryptic puzzles? ›

8 powerful ways to solve cryptic crossword puzzles
  1. Look for “anagram” clues. ...
  2. Consider whether a word needs to be reversed. ...
  3. Find the hidden answer indicator. ...
  4. Double definition. ...
  5. Soudalike. ...
  6. Don't take clues literally. ...
  7. Use previous crosswords to improve. ...
  8. Acrostic clues.

What makes a cryptogram hard? ›

The less recognizable a pattern, the tougher it is. Common patterns; Book, tool and moon would be hard to decode. Adding reel, rook and room would be a challenge, too. Isomorphs – words that never use a letter twice – can be as hard when, for example, all the words are also six letters long.

How do you solve the codebreaker puzzle? ›

The most obvious tip is to go through and write in the start letters straight away. Use the cross-off grid to keep track of which letters you have placed so that you don't accidentally place more than one letter at once. Sometimes the starting letters will give you a tip off as to a word straight away, but not always.

What is the program that solves cryptograms? ›

quipqiup is a fast and automated cryptogram solver by Edwin Olson. It can solve simple substitution ciphers often found in newspapers, including puzzles like cryptoquips (in which word boundaries are preserved) and patristocrats (inwhi chwor dboun darie saren t).

What is the difference between a cipher and a cryptogram? ›

A cryptogram is a type of puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text. Generally the cipher used to encrypt the text is simple enough that the cryptogram can be solved by hand. Substitution ciphers where each letter is replaced by a different letter or number are frequently used.

How to decode a code? ›

What is the approach to solve the questions of this section?
  1. Observe alphabets or numbers given in the code keenly.
  2. Find the sequence it follows whether it is ascending or descending.
  3. Detect the rule in which the alphabets/numbers/words follow.
  4. Fill the appropriate letter/number/word in the blank given.

How to solve cryptogram puzzle? ›

The basic strategy is to continually build on what you have, using the letters you know to help figure out other letters and words in the message. Check the list of letters you've used (which are marked off automatically at the top of the puzzle) as you go to help you think about your possibilities.

What is cryptograms substitution code? ›

General Substitution Ciphers substitute one letter of the alphabet with another letter or symbol. For example, in a piece of text the word THE may be replaced by the word FSQ, where F represents T, and S represents H, and Q represents an E. This will keep the message secret from prying eyes.

What is the hardest cryptogram? ›

What Is the Most Difficult Cipher to Crack?
  • RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) One of the first public-key cryptosystems and is widely used for secure data transmission. ...
  • Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) ...
  • Twofish. ...
  • One-Time Pad (OTP) ...
  • AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) ...
  • Camellia. ...
  • Serpent. ...
  • ECC (Elliptic-Curve Cryptography)

How do you approach cryptograms? ›

The basic strategy is to continually build on what you have, using the letters you know to help figure out other letters and words in the message. Check the list of letters you've used (which are marked off automatically at the top of the puzzle) as you go to help you think about your possibilities.

References

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