Code & Cipher Lessons

Oh, well done. You’ve turned up at just the right place on the site to take some ‘Code and Cipher lessons’!

If you are going to be part of Team Veritas and therefore an expert Secret Breaker it’s important you work hard at mastering the power of the code. You never know when you’ll need the skills we cover here. They may certainly come in useful when you try and take part in some of the competitions that run regularly on this site. And understanding how to use codes can give you hours of fun. Imagine being able to send messages to your friends that only they can read! Don’t tell your teachers I told you!

So before we get down to some basic code cracking, here’s a few words of wisdom from a true Secret Breaker, Mr Oscar Ingham…otherwise known as Sicknote. He knows a thing or two about the beauty of code.

‘Codes are like people. There’s different types and different kinds.…

…We see the outside of the person and we may think we know them. But it’s looking from another angle, seeing things differently, that helps us really understand. What we see on the surface isn’t what’s inside. Reading codes is like reading people. First impressions aren’t important. They’re just for fools. If you want to read codes you just have to learn to look carefully.’

(Extract from Secret Breakers Book One ‘The Power of Three.’) Show the full extract

So are you set…notebooks ready….brain power fully charged? Let’s break some codes! There are five basic lessons. You can do them all now…or keep popping back and developing your skills. Up to you! Happy code cracking!

Lesson One:

Code Word Subsitutions

This is a fairly simple way of swapping code words for other words in messages. For this to work, both the writer of the code and the reader have to know about the code words. You could have them on a separate list…or hide them at the bottom of your coded message. Here’s a good example of a ‘code word swap code’ which Hunter Jenkins would particularly enjoy.

Hunter’s Poison

  • Take two frog’s legs and place in the bottom of a cauldron
  • (Line the inside of the cauldron with tar to make the poison extra effective.)
  • Add blended blood and a sprinkling of flaked bones
  • Serve chilled

(poison = special shake; frog’s legs = scoops of rocky road ice cream; cauldron = glass; Tar = chocolate sauce; Blood = milk; Bones= nuts)

Can you have a go at writing your own recipe using code word replacements? Make your recipe as scrummy in real life as you can…and as horrible and as gory in code form as you dare!

Lesson Two:

Morse Code

One of the most famous types of code is called Morse Code. It was invented by Samuel Morse who invented the telegraph system which was a way of sending messages along a wire! The system takes each letter of the alphabet and turns it into a series of dashes or dots, (or dits or dahs). The system was first used in about 1844 so it’s pretty ancient…but it is such a simple and effective code it is still used today.

The code works best for short messages. If you have to encode every letter of your message you wouldn’t want your message to be too long. And to save time you really need to only send the most important words in the message. The international Morse code for ‘help…we are in serious trouble and need rescuing’ just involves sending the letters SOS which stands for ‘save our souls’! If you sent that message…people would get the point!

This is how the code was first invented. Telegraph message were sent using an electromagnet fitted to a small machine. This picked up electric current and pushed a stylus (which is like a pointer) onto a moving strip of paper tape. Each time the pointer moved it made a small dent in the paper. When the current was switched off the electromagnet pulled back the stylus. When this happened there were no marks on the paper. So basically, something like a pen was making dents in paper on and off, on and off, as the surge of electricity through the machine changed. Got it!

The strips of paper were then read with the length of the marks equalling letters. It was soon found though that telegraph operators recognised the length of sound the machine took to make each letter and so eventually the tape was no longer needed. The operators of the machine just listened to the dit and dah sounds and worked out which letters they stood for and were able to work out the message! The system works so well that flashing lights can be used instead of dashes and dots so you can send the code over a huge space. Ships can use lights to flash Morse code while they are out at sea…and you can have great fun with torches sending code.

This sounds really tricky I know, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be using Morse Code all the time. You can tap a message out across the dinner table…Whoops…that’s something you probably shouldn’t tell your parents I was encouraging!

Now we’ve managed to get hold of one of Brodie’s log book pages where she kept her notes from Sicknote’s lesson on Morse Code. Have a look…and then have a go!

She’s left you a message at the bottom…can you read it?

Notes from Sicknote’s lesson on Morse Code

Lesson Three:

The Pigpen Cipher

Now doesn’t this code have the best name? Pigpen cipher…sounds a bit wild! It’s a very old form of cipher which sometimes has the more serious name of the Masonic Cipher. This is because it was believed to have been used by a group of people called the Free Masons many centuries ago. Letters (pigs) are arranged inside grids (pens) and messages are written which show where the letters are placed on the grids. The cipher does change from place to place so it isn’t an international code. You have to be careful the person you are sending your code to speaks the same ‘pigpen’ as you! Brodie has left us some notes from her lesson on this code. Her notes show one of the ways to use the pigpen cipher.

The letters are shown by copying the section of the grid where the letter appears. It looks tricky to start with…but does get easier…honest!

When you think you’ve got the hang of it…try writing your message in pigpen. If you want to be really sneaky…you can make up your own way of arranging the letters on the grids…or the pigs in the pens…and then you will have developed your very own secret code that only you and those you tell will ever be able to read!

See Brodie's notes on the Pigpen Cipher below

Brodie's notes on the Pigpen Cipher

Lesson Four:

Book Codes

These are a great way to send messages in code as they are quite easy to do....but almost impossible for your enemies to break! You need two copies of identical books. A dictionary is an excellent choice as all the words you could need to put in code will be in alphabetical order and therefore easy to find. Another great book to use would be a copy of Secret Breakers....but of course I’m a bit biased!

First write out the message you want to send. Then swap each word for one in the book using the page number, line and position to show which word you have used. For example if you want to encode the word ‘dog’ look it up in the dictionary. Say it’s on page 40. Write this down. Then count down to see what line the word ‘dog’ is on. Say it’s line 7. Finally count along to see what number in the line the word ‘dog’ is used. Say it’s word 4. You can now write the word dog as 40, 7, 4.

As you can imagine this code takes quite a time to write and there are lots of chances to make mistakes so you have to be extra careful with your counting! Hunter loves this code because of the numbers, Brodie likes it because it uses books, and Tusia loves it because it’s all about how things are arranged in space! In’s such a good code for Secret Breakers you should look out for its use. Maybe I’ll use it sometime in the future when I have something important to let you know....

Lesson Five:

The Pinprick Code

This is the code that was used to send Brodie, Hunter and Tusia their invitations to join Team Veritas. It’s a really brilliant code because the knowledge really comes from the light. Letters are marked out in seemingly ordinary messages by placing a pinprick underneath certain letters. (If you haven’t got a pin handy then a dot below each letter can work just as well.) Sometimes the initial message you write has to be quite long because you need all the letters you mark out with pinpricks to be in the right order for your secret message to make sense. Have a look at Brodie’s Birthday card which she was sent at the very beginning of her adventure to see how the code works.

Brodie's Birthday Card - It’s a great code to use…but be careful with those pins!

Conclusion To Code And Cipher Lessons

Congratulations! You’ve now successfully completed your basic training in the use of codes and ciphers. Now you are set for any challenge! Talking of challenge, you should really check out the ‘Secrets to Break’ part of the site as this is where some of the major unsolved codes that Secret Breakers deal with are explained. It’s the place to find out about the most incredible unbroken code in the world…the Voynich Manuscript…code name MS 408. Now you’ve completed your lessons…you might just be able to crack the code that has baffled the greatest minds in the world for centuries!

Even if you don’t think you’re quite up to cracking the Voynich yet, there will be other codes and ciphers on this site. I’ll be setting challenges and competitions so look out for those. And I’ll also explain a few more codes and ciphers on my blog as the books progress. That’s the beauty of codes…there’s so many of them!

Until then, well done with your lessons. Happy Secret Breaking!