Cryptograms: Other Solving Approaches 
By Sibyl

Cryptograms are often deliberately constructed to outwit a single solving method: it’s not hard to write a message, for instance, in which Q’s and Z’s have higher frequencies than E’s and T’s. But it’s impossible to disguise every telltale characteristic of the language and still be writing meaningful English.

Titles can suggest words that may be in the text. The title of the Hindu nastika thumps mridanga . . . crypt above was “Atheism rewarded.” If you look up atheist in a large crossword-puzzle dictionary, you’ll find nastika and other words; trying nastika in all the possible positions will quickly lead to a solution. Similarly, faced with a hard crypt titled “Old fanfare,” you might start by checking out the names for old trumpets.

Prepositions are the hardest words to hide. As Ajax suggests, try from, with, into, and so on.

Some solvers look for pairs of words with many letters in common.

Somewhere the crypt must have a noun plus a verb; therefore somewhere there’s a likely -s -- either at the end of a plural noun or at the end of a singular verb (faun grabs or fauns grab). Or there will be a past-tense -ed. Constructors may disguise plurals and past tenses (children, seraphim, fish; brought, spent, came), but these variations are limited, and the disguises are penetrable.

Crypts tend to be limited in syntax. The first three words of a crypt, for example, are frequently adjective, noun, and verb (as in Hindu nastika thumps . . .)

The hardest crypts often begin: adverb (often -y), adjective (often -ic), noun, and then verb plus adjective and noun object (Weirdly myopic faun grabs prim maid). Try that pattern; try it also without the opening adverb (Myopic faun . . . )

Use the crypt’s punctuation to help solve. If, for instance, the mark after maid, above, is a comma, the next word is probably a verb referring to the subject, faun: . . . grabs prim maid, dances hotly.

But if it’s a semicolon, the next word is likely to be a noun, often a synonym for maid (grabs prim maid; damsel squirms). Or the word following the semicolon may be a new, third noun (grabs prim maid; chaperon slaps).

There may be another adjective first: grabs prim maid; squealing damsel squirms; or grabs prim maid; watchful chaperon slaps . . . .

The word preceding a colon is often result, upshot, object, or an equivalent. Similarly, you can make assumptions about a word preceding a quotation mark or a comma plus quotation mark.

For more solving hints, read the article on construction.

As Ajax suggested, keep trying. One right guess at a word can solve a crypt that seemed impossible a minute earlier. Even a wrong guess may have two or three correct letters, enough to set off a chain of reasoning that leads to the solution.

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