Solving Cryptograms


Solving cryptograms is not quite as difficult as you might think. Upon first glance, a cryptogram looks like a senseless arrangement of random letters. But if you know a few things about the English language and learn a some expert tips, you will be solving cryptograms in no time at all.

Cryptogram Basics: In any type of standard cryptogram puzzle, one letter of the alphabet is substituted with another letter. The same substitution is used throughout a single puzzle. If A = Z, it will always equal Z in that puzzle. But you should not assume that Z = A. It probably does not. Every new puzzle uses a new code.


  • The most commonly used letter in the English language is E. All the letters of the alphabet in order from most to least frequent are: E, T, A, O, I, N, S, H, R, D, L, U, C, M, P, F, Y, W, G, B, V, K, J, X, Z, Q.
  • Usually, the only one-letter words are I or a. (Rarely, o is a word.)
  • An apostrophe indicates either a contraction (doesn’t, they’ve) or a possessive noun (Fred’s, the family’s).

With these facts in mind, here are a few tips on solving Cryptograms.

  1. Always work in pencil, at least until you are really confident in your abilities.
  2. Look first at the 1-letter words and the 3-letter words. The 1-letter words are either I or a. The most common 3-letter words are the & and. Other common 3-letter words are not, for, but, are, you, all, can and any. If a 3-letter word follows a comma, it is probably the word and or but. A 3-letter word at the beginning of a sentence is often The.
  3. Contractions or possessives most often end in n’t or __’s. If two identical letters follow an apostrophe, they are probably the letter L, as in we’ll.
  4. Once you have read through the entire passage, make your best guess at some 1-letter, 3-letter words, and words with apostrophes. Pencil in the substitutions for one or two of those words throughout the rest of the selection.
  5. If the letters you have substituted are correct, you will see some other words begin to emerge. If nothing looks right, erase and start over.

Look at this example:

(Three *** represents breaks between words.)

B M Q B ‘ P *** B M J *** S Q D *** B M J *** L R R D N J *** L K X A G F J P.

You see two identical 3-letter words. You guess they might be AND. If you replace all the Bs with As, all the Ms with Ns and all the Js with D, you will have:

AN _ A’ _ *** AND *** _ _ _ *** AND……..You think to yourself, what could that first word be????

Then, since you took my advice and used an eraser, you quickly erase those ideas and start over. Now you assume that BMJ is THE.

Now you write:

TH _ T’ _ *** THE *** _ _ _ *** THE…..

which looks much more reasonable. Now you can conclude that Q is A and P is S to spell THAT’S. Then you replace the other Qs and Ps with those letters and you’re well on your way.

Of course, this is a very short example, so you may be hard-pressed to solve this entire sentence. But in case you are curious… THAT’S THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLES.

Source by Ann Richmond Fisher


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