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’.

How To Solve A Cryptogram (2)

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!


  • 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)


How do you decode a cryptogram puzzle? ›

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.

How to solve cipher cryptograms? ›

Cryptography 101: Basic solving techniques for substitution ciphers
  1. Scan through the cipher, looking for single-letter words. ...
  2. Count how many times each symbol appears in the puzzle. ...
  3. Pencil in your guesses over the ciphertext. ...
  4. Look for apostrophes. ...
  5. Look for repeating letter patterns.
Sep 27, 2021

How do cryptogram puzzles work? ›

Substitution ciphers where each letter is replaced by a different letter or number are frequently used. To solve the puzzle, one must recover the original lettering. Though once used in more serious applications, they are now mainly printed for entertainment in newspapers and magazines.

What is the strategy for solving cryptograms? ›

The basic strategy is to continually build on what you have, using the letters you know to help figure out other letters and words in the message. Check the list of letters you've used (which are marked off automatically at the top of the puzzle) as you go to help you think about your possibilities.

What is the cryptogram code? ›

A cryptogram is a kind of secret code. The formal name for this particular kind of code is a simple substitution cipher. Strictly speaking, a code is a method of disguising a message that uses a dictionary of arbitrarily chosen replacements for each possible word.

How do you solve the codebreaker puzzle? ›

The most obvious tip is to go through and write in the start letters straight away. Use the cross-off grid to keep track of which letters you have placed so that you don't accidentally place more than one letter at once. Sometimes the starting letters will give you a tip off as to a word straight away, but not always.

What is an example of a cryptogram? ›

Cryptograms in newspapers and magazines are usually based on a simple substitution cipher, often replacing each letter in the alphabet with a different one. The letter A, for example, might be represented by the letter K, while the letter K is represented by the letter R.

How do you solve a puzzle puzzle? ›

5 steps to solve ANY puzzle
  1. Edges first! Assembling the edges first creates a frame you can start building your puzzle in. ...
  2. Smart sorting. ...
  3. Start from the obvious. ...
  4. Shapes are clues too. ...
  5. When you're stuck, take a break and consult the image.

What is the easiest cipher to solve? ›

In cryptography, a Caesar cipher, also known as Caesar's cipher, the shift cipher, Caesar's code, or Caesar shift, is one of the simplest and most widely known encryption techniques.

What is cryptograms substitution code? ›

General Substitution Cryptograms

General Substitution Ciphers substitute one letter of the alphabet with another letter or symbol. For example, in a piece of text the word THE may be replaced by the word FSQ, where F represents T, and S represents H, and Q represents an E.

What is the formula for cipher decryption? ›

Caesar Cipher is one of the simple methods in cryptography. This method requires two inputs one a number and a plaintext. The Time Complexity and Space Complexity both are O(N). The encryption formula is En(x) = (x + n) mod 26 and the Decryption formula is Dn(x) = (x – n) mod 26.

What is the best way to start a cryptogram? ›

#1. Start with the one-letter words.

In the english language, the only two commonly used one-letter words are I and a, so it's usually a safe bet that any single-letter word in your puzzle can be decoded to one of those two.

Are cryptograms hard? ›

Cryptograms are usually jokes or famous quotes, but each letter is substituted with a different one, so THAT might become XFRX. Even though cryptograms might look like a mess of scrambled letters, solving them isn't too hard if you recognize some of the patterns.

How to solve puzzle box trick? ›

Here are the steps to solve wooden puzzle box with beams type:
  1. Count how many beams surround your box.
  2. Find the wooden seams along the shorter edges of your box has 2 beams.
  3. Pinch opposite corners next to the seams.
  4. Pull forward until the storage compartment slides out.
Apr 8, 2021

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