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How to Solve Codes



About Codes

Many puzzles, either stand-alone or as part of a larger puzzlehunt, use codes of some sort to conceal an answer. There are countless ways of encoding a final solution and trying to keep track of all of them is not so easy. To aid you in your quest to uncover those elusive solutions, we have put together a comprehensive compendium of various encoding schemes.

It might not always be apparent what sort of code you should use. While trial and error is always an option, you might also consider examining other features of the puzzle. Perhaps there are some clues with odd wording or maybe the title doubles as a hint. Other times there is an indication in what is known as the flavor text of a puzzle. The flavor text is often a short blurb that accompanies a puzzle and while it may look like a normal introduction or description, there may be a carefully veiled hint hidden inside. Here's an example: "Don't feel bad if you can't see the answer right away; we are confident that with the right touch, you will navigate the bumps in the road and arrive at the solution." Although it reads like a normal sentence, the words "feel," "can't see," "touch," and "bumps" might indicate that Braille might play a key role in unraveling the solution. While no list will ever be definitive, below are some of the most common words and phrases used to hint at particular codes.

Alphabet ABC, ABCs, alpha, alphabet, 5-bit binary, capital, character, letter, message, say, syllabary, ternary, writing, written, XYZ, 26, 27
ASCII alphabet, ASCII, binary, 7-bit binary, 8-bit binary, computer code, decimal, hex, hexadecimal, numbers
Astronomy alphabet, astral, astronomy, celestial, heavens, planets, sky, space, star, stellar, sun, any planet name
Braille blind, blindly, bumps, bumpy, dots, feel, finger, holes, in the dark, raised, see, sightless, tactile, texture, touch
Greek alpha, alphabet, college, frat, fraternity, Greek, house, math, mathematics, omega, Phoenician, science, sorority
Kitchen amount, bake, baking, capacity, convert, conversion, cook, cooking, liquid, measure, measurement, volume
Morse CB, CBer, dah, dahs, dash, dashes, dit, dits, dot, dots, gap, long, radio, Sam, Samuel, short, SOS, stop, telegraph
Music audio, aural, music, note, notes, sang, scale, sing, singing, song, Sound of Music
Nautical Flags NATO, Nautical, navigate, navy, sail, sailing, sea, ship, signal, wave
Pigpen Charlie Brown, dirty, farm, farming, intersections, lines, oink, Peanuts, sty
Semaphore angle, angles, arms, at a distance, at sea, clock, clock hands, degree, degrees, flag, flagging, flags, hands, railroad, railway, signal, signals, signaling, time, waving arms
Sign Language ASL, deaf, hand, hands, shadow puppet, sign, signs, signing
States America, capital, continental, country, fifty, president, union, united, USA
Word Alphabets Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, NATO, Western, Union
Zodiac 12, Age, animals, astral, astrology, astronomy, birthday, celestial, circle, date, dates, elements, horoscope, longitude, latitude, planets, sign, signs, stars, twelve

Alphabet position

The alphabet is, of course, a major component of many puzzles. While everyone knows the order of the 26 letters, most people cannot immediately recall that Q is the 17th letter. The position of a letter in the alphabet is always helpful but you might also need to know the corresponding letter in a reversed alphabet.

Position Alphabet Reversed
Alphabet
Binary Ternary

ASCII

ASCII stands for the American Standard Code for Information Interchange. This encoding scheme is used to represent text for communication between computers and any other digital device. It translates the 95 printable characters (alphabet, punctuation, symbols) into hexadecimal, decimal, and binary. Using one of these three notations eliminates ambiguity and allows for messages to be transmitted more easily across a variety of platforms.

CharacterHexadecimalDecimalBinary

Astronomy

Astronomy is the study of celestial bodies including planets, moons, stars, and asteroids. The table below collects information about the most well-known of these space objects. We have included the commonly accepted calculations for volume, mass, diameter, and distance from the sun, as well as the astrological symbol.

Celestial BodyVolumeMassDiameterAverage Distance
from the Sun
1.412×1018 km31.9891×1030 kg1,392,684 km0
6.083×1010 km33.3022×1023 kg4,880 km58 million km
9.28×1011 km34.8685×1024 kg12,092 km108 million km
1.08321×1012 km35.9736×1024 kg12,742 km150 million km
2.1958×1010 km37.3477×1022 kg3,474 km150 million km
1.6318×1011 km36.4185×1023 kg6,792 km230 million km
1.4313×1015 km31.8986×1027 kg142,984 km778 million km
8.2713×1014 km35.6846×1026 kg120,536 km1.4 billion km
6.833×1013 km38.68×1024 kg51,118 km3 billion km
6.254×1013 km31.0243×1026 kg49,528 km4.5 billion km
6.39×109 km31.31×1022 kg2,306 km5.9 billion km
9.1×1020 kg940 km414 million km
2.11×1020 kg544 km414 million km
2.67×1019 kg233 km400 million km
2.6×1020 kg526 km353 million km
2×1018 to 1019 kg200 km2 billion km

Braille

After going blind in a childhood accident, Frenchman Louis Braille developed the first version of his writing system in 1824. Braille consists of variations of a 2x3 grid of dots, where the pattern of raised and unraised bumps determines the character or letter. By feeling each character with ones finger, it is possible to read messages tactilely instead of visually. The following images show the Braille representations for each letter of the alphabet. The first ten can also signify the 10 different numerals when used in conjunction with the the Braille character for 'number' (see the table below.) For example, 'number' followed by the Braille character for A will indicate a 1.

Braille can be used to depict not only the 26 letters of the alphabet but also common letter combinations, frequently seen words, and punctuation. The table below lists all of the 64 unique configurations of a 2x3 grid. To read this table, combine one of the 7 possible configurations on the far left column with one of the 7 possible configurations in the top row.

Greek Alphabet

The Greek alphabet is one the oldest forms of writing and has been in use since the 8th century BC. It originally derived from the 22 letters of the ancient Phoenician language, and over time has evolved into the modern day set of 24 letters and associated symbols. While certainly used as the primary communication method throughout Greece, the Greek alphabet has a much broader reach. The names and symbols appear in mathematics, physics, and various other sciences, as well as in names of fraternities and sororities.

NameUppercaseLowercase

Kitchen Conversions

While the metric system allows for easy and quick conversions, the Imperial system unfortunately does not. It's fairly simple to switch between liters and milliliters but not too many people remember how to convert between ounces and gallons The table below shows the major imperial units and the odd relationships they share.

TeaspoonsTablespoonsOuncesGillsCupsPintsQuartsGallons
1/31/61/24
31/21/81/16
621/41/81/16
24841/21/41/8
4816821/21/41/16
963216421/21/8
19264328421/4
768256128321684
153651225664321682
61442048102425612864328
69122304115228814472369
483841612880642016100850425263
460801792089602240112056028070

Morse Code

Morse code was invented by Samuel Morse in the 1830s as a mode of communicating through telegraphy. It was used extensively with early radio communication and was crucial during World War II. Each letter or number is represented by a unique sequence of dashes and dots where a dash is three times as long as a dot. When sending a message via telegraph, a short pause equal to the duration of a dot is inserted after each dot or dash for clarity. Complete words, on the other hand, are separated by a longer pause which is equal to the duration of three dots (the equivalent of one dash.) The first table shows the corresponding sequence for each letter and number in order.

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
•-
-•••
-•-•
-••

••-•
--•
  H
I
J
K
L
M
N
••••
••
•---
-•-
•-••
--
-•
  O
P
Q
R
S
T
U
---
•--•
--•-
•-•
•••
-
••-
  V
W
X
Y
Z


•••-
•--
-••-
-•--
--••


  0
1
2
3
4
-----
•----
••---
•••--
••••-
  5
6
7
8
9
•••••
-••••
--•••
---••
----•

The various sequences of dots and dashes were determined based on letter frequency where the most frequent letters were assigned the shortest sequence. Thus the most common letter, E, is represented by the shortest sequence, one dot. This second table contains the same information as the first table, except that here the Morse code sequences are ordered from shortest to longest.


-










E
T










  ••
•-
-•
--








I
A
N
M








  •••
••-
•-•
•--
-••
-•-
--•
---




S
U
R
W
D
K
G
O




  ••••
•••-
••-•
•-••
•--•
•---
-•••
-••-
-•-•
-•--
--••
--•-
H
V
F
L
P
J
B
X
C
Y
Z
Q

Music

Written music uses clefs to indicate the pitch of the notes on the staff. The two most common clefs are shown below: the Treble Clef (or G-clef), top, and the Bass Clef (or F-clef), bottom. If the clef symbol is shown in a different position on the staff, you can tell the pitch of the notes by the position of the symbol. With a Treble clef, the G4 note line passes through the curl of the clef; with a Bass clef, the F3 note line passes between the two dots of the clef.

The piano keys below show all of the notes in one octave, the interval between a musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency. There are 7 white keys which correspond to the notes A through G and 5 black keys which correspond to intermediate notes that are either lowered (flat) or raised (sharp) by a half step. Each of the notes is also labeled with its corresponding name on the solfège scale.

Nautical Flags

The colorful flags below are known as the international maritime signal flags. They correspond directly with the NATO alphabet and can be used to spell a message letter by letter. As well as representing an individual letter, each flag also has a specific standard meaning. For instance, the yellow and red flag for O also means "Man overboard."

Pigpen Cipher

The Pigpen cipher is one of the oldest codes but also one of the most well known. It dates back to the 18th century and is associated with groups such as the Rosicrucian brotherhood and the Freemasons. Originally used to conceal message and keep records secret, it is now a common device used in various puzzles and was even featured in Dan Brown's popular novel The Lost Symbol. The geometric grids produce a simple substitution method for the letters of the alphabet. Note how the dots help eliminate ambiguities between the grids - for example, A and J use the same grid shape but can be distinguished from each other with the dot. Although there are many variations of the grids and letter placements, below you will find the most common version of the Pigpen cipher.

Here is an example of how to decode a message using the Pigpen cipher. Match each image with the corresponding section in one of the grids and you will spell out the answer letter by letter. In this case, the answer is ANSWER.

Semaphore

Used primarily for maritime purposes, semaphore is a way of visually conveying messages from a distance. As you look through the semaphore notation for each letter, imagine a naval flagman standing on the deck of a distant ship using his arms to spell out a message letter by letter. You might consider using semaphore when a puzzle involves or makes references to time or clocks, as the clock hands mimic the flag positions. Really any sort of visual representation with angles (in multiples of 45 degrees) might be a good indication that you should use semaphore.

The table below shows another way of displaying the various semaphore symbols. Match up an angle in the leftmost column with an angle in the top row to form one of the 49 possible combinations. Note that not all combinations produce a valid symbol.

Yet another way of interpreting semaphore symbols can be seen below. Each image depicts all letters that can be formed from a certain set of congruent angles. From left to right, they show the letters that can be formed with 45-, 90-, 180- and 135-degree angles.

American Sign Language

American Sign Language, or ASL, is a way of communicating using the hands and other parts of the body to express various letters, words or concepts. ASL is the primary mode of communication among deaf communities and is considered a natural language with its own syntax and grammar. Many words have a specific sign but it is sometimes necessary to spell out a word letter by letter. The images below depict each letter of the alphabet as well as the first 10 numbers.


A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

L

M

N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

X

Y

Z




1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

The United States

The fifty states have a long and storied history and collectively they form the United States of America. From Alabama to Wyoming, each state has its own climate, culture, and quirks. Here we present the basic facts including, postal codes, capitals, nicknames, and information about when each state joined the Union.

Postal Capital Statehood
State Code City Nickname(s) Date #
Alabama AL Montgomery Yellowhammer State, Heart of Dixie, Camellia State, Cotton State Dec 14, 1819 22
Alaska AK Juneau Last Frontier, Land of Midnight Sun, Seward's Folly Jan 03, 1959 49
Arizona AZ Phoenix Grand Canyon State, Copper State Feb 14, 1912 48
Arkansas AR Little Rock Natural State, Land of Opportunity, Razorback State Jun 15, 1836 25
California CA Sacramento Golden State Sep 9, 1850 31
Colorado CO Denver Centennial State, Colorful Colorado Aug 1, 1876 38
Connecticut CT Hartford Constitution State, Nutmeg State Jan 9, 1788 5
Delaware DE Dover First State, Diamond State, Blue Hen State, Small Wonder Dec 7, 1787 1
Florida FL Tallahassee Sunshine State Mar 3, 1845 27
Georgia GA Atlanta Peach State, Empire of South, Goober State Jan 2, 1788 4
Hawaii HI Honolulu Aloha State, Pineapple State Aug 21, 1959 50
Idaho ID Boise Gem State, Spud State Jul 3, 1890 43
Illinois IL Springfield Prairie State, Land of Lincoln Dec 3, 1818 21
Indiana IN Indianapolis Hoosier State Dec 11, 1816 19
Iowa IA Des Moines Hawkeye State Dec 28, 1846 29
Kansas KS Topeka Sunflower State, Wheat State, The Land of Ah's Jan 29, 1861 34
Kentucky KY Frankfort Bluegrass State Jun 1, 1792 15
Louisiana LA Baton Rouge Pelican State, Sugar State, Bayou State Apr 30, 1812 18
Maine ME Augusta Pine Tree State, Vacationland Mar 15, 1820 23
Maryland MD Annapolis Old Line State, Free State, Chesapeake Bay State, America in Miniature Apr 28, 1788 7
Massachusetts MA Boston Bay State, Old Colony State Feb 6, 1788 6
Michigan MI Lansing Great Lakes State, Wolverine State, Mitten State, Water-Winter Wonderland Jan 26, 1837 26
Minnesota MN Saint Paul North Star State, Gopher State, Land of 10,000 Lakes, Bread and Butter State May 11, 1858 32
Mississippi MS Jackson Magnolia State, Hospitality State Dec 10, 1817 20
Missouri MO Jefferson City Show Me State, Cave State Aug 10, 1821 24
Montana MT Helena Treasure State, Big Sky Country Nov 8, 1889 41
Nebraska NE Lincoln Cornhusker State Mar 1, 1867 37
Nevada NV Carson City Silver State, Battle Born State, Sagebrush State Oct 31, 1864 36
New Hampshire NH Concord Granite State Jun 21, 1788 9
New Jersey NJ Trenton Garden State Dec 18, 1787 3
New Mexico NM Santa Fe Land of Enchantment Jan 06, 1912 47
New York NY Albany Empire State Jul 26, 1788 11
North Carolina NC Raleigh Tar Heel State, Old North State Nov 21, 1789 12
North Dakota ND Bismarck Peace Garden State, Flickertail State, Roughrider State, Sioux State Nov 2, 1889 39
Ohio OH Columbus Buckeye State, Mother of Modern Presidents Mar 1, 1803 17
Oklahoma OK Oklahoma City Sooner State, Panhandle State Nov 16, 1907 46
Oregon OR Salem Beaver State Feb 14, 1859 33
Pennsylvania PA Harrisburg Keystone State, Quaker State Dec 12, 1787 2
Rhode Island RI Providence Ocean State, Little Rhody May 29, 1790 13
South Carolina SC Columbia Palmetto State May 23, 1788 8
South Dakota SD Pierre Mount Rushmore State, Coyote State Nov 2, 1889 40
Tennessee TN Nashville Volunteer State Jun 1, 1796 16
Texas TX Austin Lone Star State Dec 29, 1845 28
Utah UT Salt Lake City Beehive State Jan 4, 1896 45
Vermont VT Montpelier Green Mountain State Mar 4, 1791 14
Virginia VA Richmond Old Dominion, Mother of Presidents Jun 25, 1788 10
Washington WA Olympia Evergreen State, Chinook State, Apple State Nov 11, 1889 42
West Virginia WV Charleston Mountain State Jun 20, 1863 35
Wisconsin WI Madison Badger State, America's Dairyland May 29, 1848 30
Wyoming WY Cheyenne Equality State, Cowboy State, Big Wonderful Wyoming Jul 10, 1890 44


Flags of the States


Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

Montana

Nebraska

Nevada

New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio

Oklahoma

Oregon

Oregon (back)

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

Word Alphabets

These two alphabets consist of certain code words assigned to each letter of the alphabet. These words were chosen deliberately so as to provide clarity when transmitting strings of letters. Since the pronunciations of many letters often sound too similar, using the distinct words in these alphabets helps eliminate any confusion.

NATO Western Union
Alfa
Bravo
Charlie
Delta
Echo
Foxtrot
Golf
Hotel
India
Juliet
Kilo
Lima
Mike
November
Oscar
Papa
Quebec
Romeo
Sierra
Tango
Uniform
Victor
Whiskey
X-ray
Yankee
Zulu
Adams
Boston
Chicago
Denver
Easy
Frank
George
Henry
Ida
John
King
Lincoln
Mary
New York
Ocean
Peter
Queen
Roger
Sugar
Thomas
Union
Victor
William
X-ray
Young
Zero

Zodiac

The term Zodiac has roots in Latin and Greek words meaning "circle of animals" and most of the signs are indeed represented by animals. The 12 signs of the Zodiac correspond to the Sun's path over the course of a full year. Each day of the year falls under one of the 12 signs, each of which has its own significance and associated meanings. The pertinent information has been collected here in this table.

SignNameDate RangeLongitudinal
Interval
Associated
Element
The RamMarch 21 to April 200-30Fire
The BullApril 21 to May 2030-60Earth
The TwinsMay 21 to June 2060-90Air
The CrabJune 21 to July 2190-120Water
The LionJuly 22 to August 22120-150Fire

The MaidenAugust 23 to September 22150-180Earth
The ScalesSeptember 23 to October 22180-210Air
The ScorpionOctober 23 to November 21210-240Water
The ArcherNovember 22 to December 21240-270Fire
The GoatDecember 22 to January 20270-300Earth
The Water-bearerJanuary 21 to February 19300-330Air

The FishFebruary 20 to March 20330-360Water
 
 

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