A Lesson In Ciphers

Those of you that have followed my blog have probably heard of my Cipher series.  For those that haven’t, read on for a brief summary.  I bring it up today as I prepare to place the final cache in the series…the dreaded FINAL EXAM!

A quick recap of the topic.  Back in January, I was trying to think of ideas for a cache.  For the longest time I have had a puzzle I’ve wanted to design that I just hadn’t nailed down exactly how I was going to do it.  As I once again thought of that plan a different thought came to mine.  Ciphers.

The simplest way to describe a cipher is to tell you to look at the Hint section of a cache page.  The hints are encrypted using a basic ROT13 cipher.  It is the process through which a message is encoded so that it can’t be read without knowing how to decode it.  You’ve likely come across a puzzle cache that had the coordinates writen in some form of cipher.

The thought that I had came down to understanding how ciphers work.  Many times, you can learn how one cipher works and then not be able to use it in the future because you either don’t fully understand how they work or because you run into a different type of cipher.  So I thought, “How about a series of caches that teach about ciphers?”  My friend 8601 called me a name I can’t repeat when I suggested it, using the word evil in the same sentence.  That pretty much described my thinking.

I’ve always wanted to do a difficult puzzle cache and do a nice cache series.  Why not combine them.  So I began working on figuring out some basics about ciphers and drawing up a list of cipher types ranging from simple to hard.  I planned for 10 caches, each with a different cipher used to encrypt the coordinates.  I published my first three on January 24th, 2009, with a twist.

The first two ciphers are designed to be solved on their own.  After that, the remaining eight ciphers would require a keyword to be able to decipher (unless you are well versed in cryptology…then you might be able to brute force it).  To make it interesting, I put the keywords into the caches.  Solve and find #’s 1 & 2 and you find a keyword in each that will be used on ciphers later in the series.  For ciphers 3 – 6, you wouldn’t have a clue which keyword went with which cipher.  For ciphers 7-10, each one used the keyword found in the previous cache (this would be figured out on your own by the time you reach #7).  Tricky huh?   Or maybe evil?

Cipher #10 didn’t get published until April 5th, 2009.  This was a result of a busy schedule and making sure I did things carefully.  So far, three cachers have proven up to the challenge.  Flo., GN&D, and DJ1974 have all worked hard on solving the ciphers, often working together.  They are the only three who have fully worked through every cipher, even though a few others have helped along the way.  Hockabee, another local cacher, was instrumental for Flo., who ended up being sick for a good portion of the early ciphers.  Flo. would solve and Hockabee would go find and get the next keyword.

It was in March that I first thought of doing a final cache for the series.  Seeing as I called the series “A Lesson in Ciphers”, and I was putting actual lessons about the history of ciphers and basics behind building ciphers, I decided that a “Final Exam” would be a great end to the series.  Low and behold, some of the people I’ve talked to, including the ones above, seemed more than up to the challenge.  And much to the evil name I’ve developed by building these puzzles, I have an evil plan.  The plan will begin this weekend.

This weekend, I will be heading out to a location to being scouting out the Final Exam.  This one will be different.  My plan is to build a multi-puzzle cache that will require ciphers to be solved in the field.  Then, as an added bonus, the stages will be strung out around the area such that backtracking will be inevitable.  I’m taking a page right out of another cache called “The Journal” located in Peoria, IL by planning this large multi-stage design.  How many stages will I use?  I haven’t decided yet.  Which ciphers will I use?  I haven’t decided yet.  How long will the hunt take?  Yep, you guessed it…I haven’t decided yet (well, I’ve at least decided that combined with solving the ciphers, it will take at least several hours to complete the cache).

This series has proven to be the largest scale I have used for a cache before.  The Final Exam will be my grandest cache to date.  And if done right, the Final Exam will not make much sense and be next to impossible to complete without having solved the previous 10 lessons.

They are all right.  I am evil.


P.S.  –  Want to see the first ten lessons?  Check out the links below:

Lesson # 1

Lesson # 2

Lesson # 3

Lesson # 4

Lesson # 5

Lesson # 6

Lesson # 7

Lesson # 8

Lesson # 9

Lesson # 10

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2 Responses to A Lesson In Ciphers

  1. golfgunny says:

    I don’t necessarily like ciphers associated with caches, but I keep finding myself drawn to them…Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. My favorite so far was a puzzle cache that included the statement, “You didn’t expect me to play fair, did you?”

  2. I’m the guy who made the cache and quote in the previous comment, “You didn’t expect me to play fair, did you?”… I was actually thinking of doing a multi-puzzle cache titled “Total cipher” where each stage is a new puzzle or code to break. I like your series and though I’m on the other side of the earth from them and can’t find them immediately, I’ll see if I can wrap my brain around them just for the fun. I’m (unlike golf gunny) drawn to cipher caches. The harder the puzzle, the more I obsess over it. One cache I’m working on is called “The Key to the Cryptonomicon” (GCXBFC) and I’m eager to get it figured out. I think (read: hope) I’m 80% through it, but you never know.

    Long story short, I enjoy your blog, thanks for the puzzles.


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