When attempting to solve a puzzle, one of the first things that is recommended is to figure out what type of puzzle you are solving. To do this, try to evaluate the intro or clue text for hints, look at the puzzle itself, and see if you can identify any patterns or numbers that stand out. There are many types of puzzles, but here are a few that are most commonly used, so these are good steps to try first:
Anagrams are a type of word play, where the solver rearranges the letters of a word or phrase to make an entirely new word or phrase, using each and every letter exactly once.
The original word or phrase is called the "subject" of the anagram and sometimes (but not always) hint at the solution, which could be a synonym or antonym, a relevant topic, joke, or definition. For example, William Shakespeare anagrams to I am a weakish speller.
Sometimes anagrams in puzzles will have an extra letter (and sometimes a missing one, though less common). What do you think can be done with that extra letter?
Other types of word play puzzles are crosswords, acrostics, cryptograms, and jumble puzzles.
One of the most commonly used puzzle devices is called Indexing, in which the solver must find letters within the given text, which will then spell out a word. There are many ways that puzzles give indexing clues, from the very simple numbering system of 1=1st letter, line, word, etc., 2=2nd letter, line, word, etc,. and so on, to much more complicated systems where a solver must complete various steps of mathematics to find the indexing number in the first place. Sometimes, a series of numbers are given with clues, and the solver must use the clues to figure out what text they need to index!
Indexing is a good first step to try when you see a series of blocks or lines of text with a number next to each one. If your indexed letters start to spell something, you're on the right track!
Cryptography is the discipline of using codes and ciphers to encrypt a message and make it unreadable unless the recipient knows the secret to decrypt it. Encryption has been used for many thousands of years. Codes and ciphers can be learned and used to encrypt and decrypt messages by hand. After some practice, these will be easy to spot and a ton of fun to solve! There are many different types of ciphers, but we've listed the ones that are used most often.
Monoalphabetic Ciphers – A monoalphabetic cipher uses the same substitution across the entire message. For example, if you know that the letter A is enciphered as the letter M, this will hold true for the entire message. These types of messages can be cracked by using frequency analysis, educated guesses or trial and error. Some examples are the Caesar Cipher or Atbash Cipher. Sometimes, a symbol is used and enciphered as a letter. Examples of these are Pigpen Cipher, Braille, Morse Code, and Naval Signal Flags. Lastly, many puzzles will use fictional languages as ciphers, so look out for interesting fonts, and brush up on your Klingon!
Polyalphabetic Ciphers – In a polyalphabetic cipher, the substitution may change throughout the message. In other words, the letter A may be encoded as the letter K for part of the message, but later on it might be encoded as the letter W. Examples of these are Vigenère Cipher or Beaufort Cipher.
Quite often, pieces of puzzle information will leave the solver with either missing or extra information. If you find yourself with an extra letter in each section of a puzzle, try to do something with those extras! Quite often it will spell out something important - perhaps your answer.
Conversely, if a puzzle seems to be missing some obvious and well known information (such as, say, a word from a famous quote or a color from the spectrum of the rainbow), there is a good chance that the puzzle wants you to see the missing information as part of your solve.
Numbers are often expressed in the well-known base 10 numbering system, but some puzzles will use alternate base systems, such as Binary (base 2), Octal (base 8), or Hexadecimal (base 16). To write numbers in higher base systems, letters are added to represent digits larger than 10. For example, hexadecimal uses A-Z to represent 11-15. Sometimes spotting these types of combinations will clue you in to an alternate number system in the puzzle!
Cut the Knot has a great online converter that will convert between different number systems up to base 36.
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