Ten days ago we posted a cryptogram puzzle, set by mathematician and author Josh Holden. We’ve had a number of entries, some which were so enthusiastic they ignored that we’d said to email them in and tried to post in the comments. However, from the correctly submitted entries, we had one stand-out winner – a quick reply, with a detailed description of the solution and a worthy recipient of a copy of The Mathematics of Secrets. Here’s Josh’s explanation of the puzzle, for anyone who hasn’t cracked it yet.
Author and mathematician Josh Holden has come up with a nice puzzle — so we’re posting it as a competition. If you think you can decrypt the message below, send in the decrypted message and a one- or two-sentence description of the mathematical principle behind the encryption key to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first correct entry received will win a copy of Josh’s book, The Mathematics of Secrets.
The technical name for the “cryptograms” found in many newspapers and magazines is monoalphabetic monographic substitution ciphers — monographic meaning that they make substitutions one letter at a time and monoalphabetic meaning that the substitution rule is the same every time a given letter appears in the message.
Most often the easiest way to start solving these is to look at one-letter words which are usually “I” or “a”, then two-letter words, etc. If the breaks between the words are removed, then you might use the fact that in a typical English text the letter “e” will occur about 13% of the time, followed by “t” and “a” at 7-8% and others farther behind.
What then should we make of the following cryptogram?
YOFQX RGLQT GCQPB FFGQJ IQOFT SYVQH FSFQV FTYFC QJGQY OFRSQ YOSJG FQHOF GQYOF NQTSS REFCQ HRYOQ TQLSF TYQZS JHCQT VVFDW AFCQT WJBYQ YOFDQ TAAQV JSYVQ JIQAR YYAFQ WRSCV QTGCQ WFTVY VQTVQ HFAAQ TVQYO FQHOJ AFQMT ZXQJI QZTSC VQYOF QXGTE FQHTV QVYTG CRGLQ WFIJS FQYOF DQRGQ ZOTRG VQHRY OQTQV JACRF SQJGQ FTZOQ VRCFQ YJQLB TSCQO RDQTG CQGFT SQYOF QXRGL QHTVQ YOFQH ORYFQ STWWR YQHRY OQTQY SBDMF YQRGQ JGFQO TGCQT GCQTQ VZSJA AQJIQ MTSZO DFGYQ RGQYO FQJYO FS
The letter “Q” appears almost 20% of the time, followed by “F” at about 10%, and “Y” and “T” at about 8%. The original text is English (in fact it’s from a famous work of children’s literature) and it doesn’t have a particularly odd distribution of letters. Can you decrypt the message? For bonus points, can you figure out what is mathematically interesting about the encryption key?
The University of Manchester’s annual Alan Turing Cryptography Competition and MathsBombe Competition are now open for registration. Now in its seventh year, the Alan Turing Cryptography Competition is for year 11 and below in England and Wales, S4 in Scotland and Year 12 in N. Ireland. There’s also a competition for older students – MathsBombe is open to year 13 and below in England and Wales, S6 in Scotland and Year 14 in N. Ireland.
Every one to two weeks a new chapter of the six-chapter story is released, and each chapter has a new cryptographic puzzle to solve. Teams consisting of up to four people can win prizes for being the first to solve each puzzle, and also for being randomly picked from all correct entries for each puzzle.
The Alan Turing Cryptography Competition begins on Monday 15th January 2018, with MathsBombe starting on Wednesday 10th January 2018. For more information and to enter, visit the Cryptography Competition website or MathsBombe website.
The Association for Women in Mathematics in the USA is running its annual essay contest again, open to students in three age categories from Grade 6 to undergraduate.
Here’s the blurb:
To increase awareness of women’s ongoing contributions to the mathematical sciences, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and Math for America are co-sponsoring an essay contest for biographies of contemporary women mathematicians and statisticians in academic, industrial, and government careers.
The essays will be based primarily on an interview with a woman currently working in a mathematical sciences career. This contest is open to students in the following categories: Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, and College Undergraduate. At least one winning submission will be chosen from each category. Winners will receive a prize, and their essays will be published online at the AWM web site. Additionally, a grand prize winner will have his or her submission published in the AWM Newsletter.
The deadline for entries is January the 31st 2017, and if you want the AWM to pair you up with an interviewee, you need to get a request in by January 10th.
All the prize-winning essays from previous years are online, including this nice one about Tanya Khovanova by high school student Emily Jia.
AWM essay contest
Registration for the 2017 Alan Turing Cryptography Competition is now open!
Before Christmas, we launched a winter-themed maths competition – to design a sensible hexagonal snowflake, using a square grid, which could be used to knit a wintery jumper and not a) look terrible or b) have non-hexagonal symmetry. We had a deluge of entries, some valid and others less so – in fact, we may have had at least one entry break each of the rules we set. Below is a round-up of all the entries we received.