Tip: If you are serious about improving your spelling, then Troy and I highly recommend you try the popular spelling program, Ultimate Spelling. Click Ultimate Spelling for further information.*
And just in case you were wondering, solving cryptograms is a great way to practice your spelling!
Here's the cryptogram that we'll work on:
V GJQO J BCOJS COKFOIS ETC SGO ORBHVKG HJRBLJBO. V JX TRO TE VSK KLFFTCSOCK, VSK FCTXTSOCK, VSK OHOQJSTCK. V MTR'S MOBCJMO VS. J KHVF TE SGO STRBLO ZTLHM NO SGO XTKS SGJS UTL ZTLHM BOS ECTX XO. XJCP SZJVR
Most "puzzle book" cryptograms will provide you with a quotation, and the author's name at the end, and this is what I'm giving you here too. So keep in mind that those last two words (XJCP SZJVR) are probably the author's name.
Step 1: Look for single letter words. These will almost definitely be A or I.
In this cryptogram the letters V and J appear as single letter words. So let's pencil in V= A or I, and J = I or A.
Step 2: Look for apostrophes. They can either indicate possession or contraction, so the letter following an apostrophe will probably be an S (as in Fred's) or a T (as in can't or won't), an M (I'm) or LL (I'll, we'll). In our puzzle above, there is one word with an apostrophe, MTR'S. Now, no letter is encrypted as itself, so S doesn't equal S. So that means it's possible that S=T or M. But T is more likely.
Step 3: Look for pattern words, especially 1-2-3-1. Are there any words following this pattern in the quotation? Yes! SGJS, in the last sentence. Now, given that we think that S=T (from Step 2), this is looking more likely, because SGJS is likely to be THAT, and this confirms our S=T hypothesis!
This also adds G=H and J=A. J=A also ties in with our first step. If J=A, then the other single-letter word, V must be I.
So now we can pencil in some letters over the cryptogram. In this example I'm writing the "plaintext" letters in lower case, and leaving the "ciphertext" in upper case letters (ignoring the niceties of punctuation for the moment).
i haQO a BCOat COKFOIt ETC thO ORBHiKh HaRBLaBO. i aX TRO TE itK KLFFTCtOCK, itK FCTXTtOCK, iSK OHOQatTCK. i MTR't MOBCaMO it. a KHiF TE thO tTRBLO ZTLHM NO thO XTKt that UTL ZTLHM BOt ECTX XO. XaCP tZaiR
OK, we're really making progress now!
Step 4: Look for nearly complete words, and see whether you can figure out what they are. Don't forget that English reads as, well, English ... so keep in mind common turns of phrase and combinations of words.
So, we've now got some good partial words to work on. thO is the biggie here - this word appears three times, and there aren't that many candidates. The O has to be a vowel, as there isn't a vowel in the word yet, and while it could be THY, THE is much more likely! So O = E. Since E is such a major letter, let's put it through the cryptogram now.
i haQe a BCeat CeKFeIt ETC the eRBHiKh HaRBLaBe. i aX TRe TE itK KLFFTCteCK, itK FCTXTteCK, iSK eHeQatTCK. i MTR't MeBCaMe it. a KHiF TE the tTRBLe ZTLHM Ne the XTKt that UTL ZTLHM Bet ECTX Xe. XaCP tZaiR
Is that author's name looking at all familiar? The surname is t-ai- ...
OK, back to nearly-complete words. The first few words are helpful. "i ha-e a" - the second word could be HALE, HARE, HATE, or HAVE. In terms of words that fit into the sentence "I ha-e a", only HATE or HAVE really fits. It has to be HAVE, though, because T is already solved (S=T, remember?). This gives us Q=V. There are only 2 Qs in the cryptogram, which ties in with a less common letter (V) as the solution.
i have a BCeat CeKFeIt ETC the eRBHiKh HaRBLaBe. i aX TRe TE itK KLFFTCteCK, itK FCTXTteCK, itK eHevatTCK. i MTR't MeBCaMe it. a KHiF TE the tTRBLe ZTLHM Ne the XTKt that UTL ZTLHM Bet ECTX Xe. XaCP tZaiR
"i aX" is probably "i am", so X=M. "itK" is a bit of an odd word, but it can't be much else apart from ITS, giving us K = S.
i have a BCeat CesFeIt ETC the eRBHiKh HaRBLaBe. i am TRe TE its sLFFTCteCs, its FCTXTteCs, its eHevatTCs. i MTR't MeBCaMe it. a KHiF TE the tTRBLe ZTLHM Ne the mTst that UTL ZTLHM Bet ECTm me. maCP tZaiR
We keep repeating this process until the cryptogram is solved, basically. You can see that by chipping away at one word here and there, you can make a big dent in the quotation overall.
I'm not going to reveal the full answer now, so you can have the fun of figuring out the rest of the quotation. I know you can do it! If you need to see the answer, it's here.
Pro Tip 1: Always use a pencil and eraser when solving cryptograms! There is no shame in making mistakes and false starts!
Pro Tip 2: If you can't get any way in using the steps above, then do a tally score of each letter in the cipher, and try E against the most commonly occurring cipher letter.
Pro Tip 3: In short cryptograms of less than 100 letters, the letter frequency may be skewed, so E might not be your most common letter, although it would still probably be in the top five. Longer cryptograms are actually easier to solve for this reason.
*Troy and I recommend only products that we have tried and tested. These include Ultimate Spelling. We have agreed to receive a commission from some sales of Ultimate Spelling software because we are happy to endorse that software.