Sunday, September 16, 2007

Here’s a picture of the 1937 Radio Orphan Annie Silver Star Member "Secret Message" Ring. Way back then (gee, seventy years ago!) in order to achieve Silver Star status, young consumers, er, listeners were supposed to tell at least three friends about the benefits of drinking Ovaltine, and get each friend to give them an inner seal from an Ovaltine container, and then mail in all the seals. These special members received an official folder of "Special Secrets". Each year there was a slightly different silver-plated Silver Star ring. If you happen to have one of these in your drawer at home, take care of it – it’s worth several hundred dollars these days.

Use your 1937 Radio Orphan Annie "Sunburst" Decoder Badge to solve the secret message on the ring. If you don't happen to have a 1937 decoder, you can probably figure it out with a pencil and paper, plus this decoding primer that I lifted from somewhere (I forget where). Here's a helpful hint: the secret message starts off with: "I am a Silver Star Member".

How to solve a cipher

Solving substitution ciphers might seem hard at first, especially when you have no clues to go by, but it's not as difficult at it seems.

The key is to look for familiar elements. For instance, look for two-letter words, which most likely will be words like an, so, it, to, is, etc.

Also, look for double-letter combinations within words, which most likely will be oo, ss, ee, etc.

If you see the same three-letter word combination more than once within a phrase, chances are it will be the word "the", although other words are possible.

It also helps to remember the frequency with which we use letters of the alphabet. Here are the top 10 letters of the alphabet in order of frequency: E T A O N R I S H D. In a cipher, if you see one letter used often, chances are it's E, T, A or O.

The best thing to do is just plunge ahead with a hunch and see if it leads you anywhere. For instance, if you think a particular letter equals E, put down E on all those letters and work from there. You might have to backtrack and use other letters, but that's part of the fun of solving ciphers.

Facts to remember:

Most common 2-letter words - of to in it is be as so we he by or on if me my up an go no us am

Most common 3-letter words - the and for are but not you all any can had her was one our day get has

Most common 4-letter words - that with have this will your from want been good some time very when come here just

Most frequent letters - e t a o i n s r h l d c u m f p g w y b v k x j q z

Most frequent double letters - LL EE SS OO TT FF RR NN PP CC


More than 50% of all English words begin with: T, A, O, S, or W.

* More than 50% of all English words end with: E, S, D, or T.

* When F is the final letter of a word, the letter before it is usually O.

* When H is the final letter of a word, the letter before it is often G.

* When G is the final letter of a word, it is frequently part of ING.


1 comment:

ilamfan said...

Set your 1937 decoder to "I-13" to decode this message, Ralphie...