Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Can You Break the Code?

Each year the design group Pentagram issues a small holiday book as a greeting to its friends and colleagues. The partners take turns researching and designing these books, which usually contain some kind of game or activity. The most recent edition is Decipher, designed by Harry Pearce, who chose as its subject cryptography, the science of writing, or encrypting—and breaking, or decrypting—secret code.

The book features 14 cryptograms of varying methodologies and difficulty that conceal short phrases; through symbols, numbers, patterns and simple letterspacing, the cyptograms challenge the reader to decipher their meaning. “It’s astonishing how much you can hide in type,” says Pearce.

Now they have adapted the book’s content online and are pleased to present the 14 cryptograms in a minisite here. This is the introductory text from that site:
Cryptography is the science of writing in secret code. It is an ancient art, practically as old as writing itself. There is an example of an Egyptian scribe using non-standard hieroglyphs to put his inscription into code over 4,000 years ago.

The main idea of using a code is that nobody can read a message except the person or people it is intended for—and they have to know the key.

The other way of reading an encrypted message is by breaking the code. This is a bit more difficult: you just get there by using your brainpower. Basically it is a matter of working out the series of logical steps that were used to create the code, and putting them into reverse.

Some of the codes here are more difficult to break than others. But there’s a clue for each one to get you started. Answers and explanations are revealed by rolling the mouse over each cryptogram.

Can you break the code?

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