How To Solve A Cryptogram (2024)

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.

The example puzzle below contains an encrypted quotation by the late great Robbie Coltrane.

How To Solve A Cryptogram (1)

Getting started

These can help you start solving a cryptogram:

1 Words with the given letter

2 One-letter words

3 Words with an apostrophe

4 Letter patterns in words

5 Letter frequency in the puzzle

1 Words with the given letter

First, look at the words containing the given letter (‘G’ in the example). In this puzzle, the best starting point is probably G_ _ _G. The most likely answer is GOING (as GULAG is unlikely in a celebrity quote!). You could pencil in GOING now or look for further confirmation — up to you.

2 One-letter words

Turning to the other letters in the word G_ _ _G, we see that one of the letters (‘E’) also appears at the start of the puzzle, on its own as a one-letter word.

There are two commonly found one-letter words in English: ‘A’ and ‘I’. (‘O’ is found in exclamations only.) This message contains two different one-letter words, represented by the letters ‘E’ and ‘F’ in the cryptogram.

Substituting the letter ‘E’ in G_ _ _G with ‘A’ or ‘I’ would give ‘G_ A _G’ or ‘G_ I _G’ respectively. This again makes GOING the most likely answer. And, logically, if the one-letter word ‘E’ is ‘I’, then the other one-letter word ‘F’ must be ‘A’.

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3 Words with an apostrophe

A single letter following an apostrophe could represent ‘S’, ‘T’ or ‘D’. In a long word (as in this puzzle), the letter after the apostrophe is likely to be ‘S’.

4 Letter patterns in words

Keep an eye out for double letters and any other repeated letter patterns in words, as these are often the easiest words to decipher, especially in combination with the given letter. In English, double letters could be the vowels EE or OO, or the consonants BB, CC, DD, FF, GG, LL, MM, NN, PP, RR, SS, TT, ZZ.

In this puzzle, if ‘H’ after the apostrophe represents ‘S’, then the word HBBXH in the third row is S_ _ _S. ‘B’ in that word must represent a vowel, and it can’t be ‘UU’, ‘AA’ or ‘II’, so it must be ‘OO’ or ‘EE’. We’ve already had ‘O’ in GOING, so we can be fairly certain that ‘B’ represents ‘E’, which gives SEE_S.

SEE_S could be SEEDS, SEEKS, SEEMS, SEEPS or SEERS, so look at the words that follow it: ‘_O _E GOING’. A reasonable guess is SEEMS TO BE GOING.

Before the apostrophe is the letter pattern E-T-L, which is repeated at the end of the word we’ve guessed to be GOING. So, E-T-L is the common letter pattern I-N-G.

5 Letter frequency in the puzzle

If you’re struggling to get started with any cryptogram, look for the most common letter in the puzzle. In English texts, the most frequently occurring letter is ‘E’. In this puzzle, the letter ‘B’ is the most common letter, so you can pencil in ‘E’ as a likely substitution for ‘B’.

Taken together, this gives us the word E_E_ _ _ _ING’S, which is likely to be EVERYTHING’S.

Making progress

These will help you polish off a cryptogram:

1 Knowing how English works

2 Keeping track of letters, especially vowels

3 Guessing what the celebrity might say

1 Knowing how English works

Short words in cryptograms can be helpful, as two- and three-letter words in English are often grammatical words. For example, prepositions, such as ON, IN, TO, AT; the articles A, AN and THE; conjunctions, such as AND, OR, BUT, IF; personal pronouns, such as ME, HE, WE, SHE.

‘S’ is often found at the end of English words as a plural noun or verb form.

2 Keeping track of letters, especially vowels

Every English word contains at least one of the five vowels or Y, and many cryptogram puzzles contain all the vowels and Y. Keep track of which vowels you’ve already used, and which are still to go in. ‘Q’ in English is almost always followed by ‘U’.

3 Guessing what the celebrity might say

Unsurprisingly, quotes by famous people often have ‘I’, ‘my’ or ‘me’ in them. Film stars love to talk about films, musicians about music, and sportspeople about winning!

Practicalities

  • Jot down the letters A to Z to the side of the puzzle, keeping a note of the substitutions as you go. For example, E=I, H=S, L=G.

  • Solve the puzzle in pencil so you can erase guesses if needed.

And, in case you were wondering, here’s the completed cryptogram:

How To Solve A Cryptogram (3)

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How To Solve A Cryptogram (2024)
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