By Hudu, Brillig, and Sibyl

Errata Notes on Website tools.

 The Cryptogram 

A cryptogram, or crypt for short, is a coded message in which each letter is replaced throughout by another letter wherever it appears. No letter may stand for itself, and no letter may represent more than one other letter. For example, the message Meet me here at two o’clock, or else! might be encrypted as PXXF PX AXJX HF FIZ Z’DKZDU, ZJ XKOX!

Punctuation and the original word divisions are retained. Capitalized words are asterisked; thus, Lily Tomlin might be encrypted as *EGEC *YQNEGM; Richard III might be encrypted as *WSOTUWV *S*S*S. (This doesn’t apply to words that are capitalized only because they begin a sentence.) Words that are capitalized only because of their use are tagged with carets: ^Uncle *Remus, ^The ^Mill on the *Floss.

Enigma cryptograms are arranged roughly in order of difficulty, from easiest to hardest. However, what one solver finds easy, another will find hard; also, the editor’s guesses at difficulty may not always be on target.


Unlike answers to flats (which are tagged if they don’t appear in 11C), words in cryptograms are tagged only if they don’t appear in any of our official references (11C, NI3, and NI2).

 Rules for Cryptograms

Cryptograms in The Enigma must conform to certain rules, designed to ensure that they are fair to the solver:

  1. Each crypt must contain from 75 to 90 letters in all.
  2. A letter that is used only once (such as A, H, K, S, and W in the message “Meet me here at two o’clock or else!”) is called a singleton. You may have no more than six singletons in a crypt.
  3. Ordinarily, no more than four capitalized words should be used. (Words capitalized only because they appear in a title are not counted.)
  4. All words must appear in one of our official references or be noted as “not MW.” “Reformed spellings” (from NI2) are not allowed.
  5. The message must be a complete and coherent statement, grammatically stated and correctly punctuated. Lists of words set off by commas are not acceptable.
  6. Each cryptogram must have a brief, appropriate title, providing some indication of the crypt’s subject or theme, but not so directly as to give away the answer. If you don’t supply a suitable title, the editor or crypt-checker will write one.
 Additional Guidelines for Constructors

One or two non-MW words in a crypt are fine, especially if they’re well-known (such as topical references) or easily deduced from the rest of the message. Try to avoid singletons in non-MW words. Solvers who submit solution lists won’t be penalized for missing singletons in non-MW words if they’ve solved the rest of the cryptogram correctly.

Try for consistency and plausibility. Unless you serve the point of the message by doing so, don’t mix American and British spellings in the same sentence; don’t drop one archaic word into an otherwise modern-English crypt; don’t begin Medieval samurai inspects digital watch . . . -- unless, of course, the anachronisms are the point.

Try to make your message interesting or amusing. A crypt that’s funny, clever, punnish, or thought-provoking is more satisfying than a contrived string of words. Some telegraphese is acceptable in order to avoid short, common words like and, a, and the that can make a crypt too easy to be interesting. This clever crypt, constructed by Arachne, uses telegraphese typically: Girl drops from blue, wears ruby flats for trip down golden road toward leaf-hued city. Movie fans tickled pink. Pattern words (words with repeated letters, like the Us in usual) tend to make a cryptogram easier. Avoid them if you’re trying to make a harder crypt.

The very hardest crypts use unusual or obscure words. A typical example (by Micropod): Hindu nastika thumps mridanga, gift from Bhutani. Kali objects, dispatches death-bent demon. Even this is not an extreme example: occasionally a message is so full of uncommon words that it’s just as unintelligible after solving as it was before! The more obscure the message, the more important it is to play fair with the solver. Be sure the message makes coherent sense. Here, for example, nastika (an atheist) and Kali (a god’s name) are both words used in Hinduism, and a mridanga is an Indian drum -- all appropriate to a message about a Hindu and a Bhutani. Here, the only singletons are the L in Kali and the J in objects, well below the maximum of six. These things can help make even the hardest cryptograms more enjoyable and satisfying to solve. Usually, though, what the editor needs most are neither the very easy or the very hard crypts -- these are more often in good supply than crypts of moderate difficulty made of common words.

This page was last updated on Thursday, June 18, 2015. /webmaster