I am a fan of puzzles and brainteasers.
One of my weekly activities is to tackle the crossword puzzle in the Sunday magazine of The Washington Post. I am positive this affinity for the crossword grid comes from my mother as I have good memories of her sitting on our couch working her way through a puzzle (in ink…she’s that good!). She would then become stuck on some aspect of popular culture that she was not privy to – usually something to do with The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, or Star Wars – and she would ask for my assistance. When your age is in the single digits, it feels awesome to be able to help out your parents.
As much of a fan of mental conundrums as I am, there is one aspect of puzzletry (a word not in the dictionary, but should be) that I have never been a fan of…mostly because I am bad at it.
It is any puzzle that has to do with codes.
I am simply horrible at cryptography or any mental challenge that requires any sort of deciphering.
An example of how frustrating this inability to translate a code is in my senior yearbook from my high school. I had a friend, Aaron, who was a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He was so much more a devotee of Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth that he taught herself how to write the Elvish language using the appendices provided at the end of the third book, The Return of the King
On Yearbook Signing Day, he inscribed something in the language of Legolas and Galadriel that I have been unable to translate after all these years. At the time, I asked him what he had penned. During the few years after high school that we kept in touch, I would again plead with him to reveal what it was that he had written. All of this was to no avail and he never told me. For all I know, he had either hoped that I wouldn’t change, wished me an excellent summer, or gave me a recipe for tandoori chicken.
Whatever the actual answer, the script he wrote in is wonderfully fluid, exquisitely beautiful, and as mysterious as its uncovered meaning.
There is another example from my past that illustrates how codes have befuddled me.
This is my story.
This example comes from fifth grade where Tanya and Marjorie, two classmates of mine in Mrs. Forkey’s class, liked to pass notes to each other. As I sat between them, I literally (and here I am literally using the word “literally” as it was literally meant) was their middleman. Since they did not want me sneaking any peeks at whatever secrets eleven year old girls have, they devised a code that consisted of various geometric symbols that stood for each letter of the alphabet.
One day, I came back to the classroom early during lunch and found an index card on Tanya’s desk that contained their code. I took a piece of paper from my desk and quickly (and sloppily) copied the cipher. Later, I would write out a message to Marjorie that supposedly came from Tanya. Using their symbols, I wrote (as Tanya) saying that I (Tanya) thought this code was stupid and that we should stop passing notes to each other.
I realize now that the hiccup in my brilliant plan of subterfuge was that it was I who physically handed the bogus correspondence to Marjorie with the incredibly inept cover story of, “Tanya asked me to give this to you.”
This is why I work in the world of information technology and not as a cameraman for the New England Patriots.
I’m positive that it took Marjorie all of a beat under three seconds to determine that the note was a forgery and that I was the guilty party. The next time I saw notes pass between them, I noticed that they had changed their code because the symbols were all different. I’m also sure that the notes contained illuminating messages such as “Brian is stupid” or “Brian is a nosy giraffe”.
That’s my story.
P.S. If you actually want to see what Aaron wrote, that’s a picture for another day.
BONUS PUZZLE: For this who have made it this far in this post before clicking the “Back” button on your browser of choice, I have this bonus feature. Yes, even though I stated above that I am no fan of mental challenges that deal with codes (especially cryptarithmetic), I offer the following puzzle (an original little ditty created by yours turly) for you to solve.
The rules for this puzzle are:
One) Each of the ten letters in the above puzzle (C, E, I, M, N, P, R, T, U, Y) represents a different digit zero (0) through eight (8). If a letter appears twice (i.e., “M”, “T”), it is always represented by the same digit. For example, if the “P” in “PUTIN” is “7”, then the “P” in “TRUMP” would also be “7”.
(By the way, the “P” is not “7”.)
Two) The exception to Rule One is that the “0” in “COMEY” is not a letter and is an actual zero. It should be treated as a zero for this equation. One of the other letters in this equation is also represented by the digit zero.
Three) This puzzle has a slight twist. To honor one of the complaints made by the winner of the 2016 presidential election, one of the digits gets to vote twice in this puzzle. There is one digit that is actually represented by two letters.
hint: The digit “8” is used twice.