Secret Codes

Cool Secret Codes for Kids: The Mix-O-Matic

The key to a really useful secret code is simplicity. Spies are busy people. They have secrets to uncover, death-defying acts to perform, and super-powerful spy gadgets to deal with. The last thing most spies need is yet another thing to complicate their lives. That’s why, if you took a poll of spies, you would find that a large majority of them, in a pinch, would rather use something simple that they can remember than something difficult that takes time, effort, and an elaborate key to encode and decipher.

In my last post I discussed substitution codes. There’s nothing more simple than a substitution code, but sometimes a secret agent might feel like exercising a little variety in her choice of codes. Just like we all like to eat something different for dinner every day (well, most of us do), most spies like to have a few options when sending secret messages. Otherwise, life can get boring.

So for the secret agent seeking variety and simplicity, let me present a code that I call The Mix-O-Matic. There’s nothing the mix-o-matic can’t do. It can slice and dice, mix and chop, blend and puree. And in the end, it is as reliable as any other secret code. Your results, of course, may vary.

Using the mix-o-matic is like making a smoothie with a blender. Take the primary ingredient, the sentence you wish to encode:

i like spumoni ice cream

Now, decide what flavor of code you want by picking a single letter from the alphabet. I have a craving for the letter “e” today, so I’ll choose that letter and I will add it to the end of each of the words in my sentence. Now it looks like this:

ie likee spumonie icee creame

Then I hit ‘blend’ and smash all the words together like this:


That sentence is already looking hard to read. I’ll make it more difficult by hitting ‘chop’ and chopping that super-long word into 4-letter segments like this:

ieli kees pumo niei ceec ream eqwr

You’ll notice that I had an extra ‘e’ at the end, so I just added a few random letters to the end. My fellow agents do that sort of thing all the time. Now, we have a pretty good secret message. We could send it like this. Or, we could make it more complicated by putting the four-letter segments in reverse order and then blending them back into a single long word like this:


Now, all another agent needs to know is the number of letters per segment (4) and the fact that I’ve reversed the order of the segments. That’s easy enough to remember, and makes for a pretty tasty secret message. Yum.


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Cool Secret Codes For Kids: Substitution Codes

There’s no getting around it: secret codes are cool. Spies use them to protect secret messages and that is very cool. George Washington used secret codes during the Revolutionary War, and there is no doubt that a white-wig-wearing future President of the United States writing in secret code was mighty cool. I feel cool just writing about secret codes.

Spies and secret agents use codes for a clear purpose. They have information to protect, intelligence they don’t want to share with an enemy, or sometimes even the fate of a nation to safeguard. But those of you who are not yet spies or secret agents can use secret codes just for fun. And what is more fun than disguising a message in a secret code that only you and a trusted friend (or perhaps a fellow agent) can understand? That’s right: nothing.

Here’s something I don’t need to write in code: this month’s topic is secret codes. You probably figured that out already. Very smart, you are.

One of the easiest codes to learn is a simple substitution code. To convert your message into a secret code using a substitution code, you simply replace each letter with a letter or number using a consistent pattern. For example, a very simple approach would be to replace each letter with a number corresponding to its place in the alphabet. So ‘A’ would be replaced with ‘1’, ‘B’ with ‘2’ and so on. To say ‘Hello’ in this code, I would write this: 8-5-12-12-15.

That is a simple example. The code can be made much more complicated. There is no need to start numbering at ‘A’, for example. A super smart spy could start with the letter ‘X’ as ‘1’ and continue until the end of the alphabet, wrapping around and continuing at the beginning of the alphabet. An even more super smart spy could number backwards. The smartest of super smart spies might even substitute letters, such as replacing each letter with the one that follows it by 3 letters in the alphabet.

The secret to deciphering all these codes, though, is knowing the key. It does a spy no good to send a coded message if the person on the other end cannot decode it. That is why spies often agree on a secret code and memorize the key in advance.

That way, when one spy sends another spy a message like this:


The other spy knows that it means…. (oh, come on, you can figure that one out, can’t you? Here’s a hint: A=B)

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