Data Investigations: Codemaking & Codebreaking

Featured Topic: Mathematical Codes

Codes and puzzles such as cryptograms often use letter substitutions to encode messages.   Decoding these messages involves looking for patterns and often the simple ones can be decoded by analyzing letter patterns and frequencies.

Many different types of codes have been used throughout history to encrypt messages so that enemies could not intercept them. Caesar is said to have used a simple shift cipher to encode messages.   The enigma machine, pictured to the right (from, is an example of how encryption was used in WWII Germany.   The Navajo Code Talkers used their native language to help the Allied forces encode messages that were difficult to decode.

Cryptology or cryptography is the mathematics of codemaking while cryptanalysis refers to the mathematics of codebreaking.   This field of mathematics has become increasingly complex and important with the pervasiveness of internet access to business and personal information.   Mathematical encryption is used to ensure that personal information is transmitted across the internet and stored safely so that it cannot easily be read by others.

Navajo Code Talkers

Codebreaking Activities

Cryptography Resources

Codemaking and Codebreaking Tools


These puzzles are familiar sayings that have been encrypted.   Use letter frequencies, letter patterns and your best analytical skills to decode these familiar puzzles that can be found in many puzzle magazines or online.


These lists were designed to introduce students to codebreaking.   Each list contains words that relate to the topic.   Use letter frequency and your best analytical skills to decode these lists.   Remember that each list uses a different code to encrypt all of the words in that list.   Hint: use tally marks to record frequency of each letter in the coded list, then use letter frequency information to break the code.   Each activity includes an answer key.