Secrets of Decoding Revealed

by scattergirl

During the recent Volcano Mystery plot, one of the clues found was this coded letter. Reactions were mixed, and broke into two main camps: the "Oooh, fun!" camp, (which included about 3 people) and the "Oh no, this is too hard" camp (population 4,933,234).

The idea for this article was born of the desire to even out the camps, and to give those on the "Oh no" side the tools to attack their next code with joy, instead of despair. Decoding, if you know how, is really fun! Wanna know how it's done?

Big Secret #1: THE
Yes, that's right, THE. This little bit of text is the most common word in the English language, and though in other respects that makes it boring and lame, in the realm of decoding, it becomes a very precious commodity.

Big Secret #2: E, T, A, I, N, O, S.
The most common letters in English, in descending order.

There! Now you have everything you need, and can happily solve any alphabet code you wish. Thanks for reading!!

--Ok, there's a little more to it than that, but not much. Seriously, if you forget everything else from this article, remember those 2 secrets, because they're a giant base to start from. Let's look at the Volcano Mystery clue and see how they apply.

First, I started by building a text in a word program, putting an x for each symbol in the letter, not forgetting the punctuation:

xx,
xxx xxxx xxxxxxx. xxxx xxx xxxx xx xxxx
xxxx, xxx xxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxxx xxx xxxx
xxxxxx xx xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxx. xxxxxxx xxx
xx xxxxxxx xxx, xxx xx xxxxxxxx.
xx xxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxx xx xxxxxxxxx xxx
xxxxxx xx xx xxxxx. xxxx xxx xxxxx xxx xxxx,
xxx xxxxxx xx xxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx,
xx xxxx. xxxx xxxxx xx xxxxxx, xxxxxx xx xx
xxx xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx. xxxx xxxx xxx xxxx
xx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxx, xxxx
xxxxxxxx, xxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx
xx xxxxxxx. xx xxxxx x'xxxxx xxxxx xxx xxx
xxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx. xx xx xxxx xxx
xxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx xxx xxxxxx xxx xxx
xxxx xxxxxxxxx.
x.

Then, invoking the great powers of Secret #1, I studied the original code for a group of 3 symbols that could stand for the word "the". Lo and behold, I found one such group that repeated no less than 10 times. So my text now looked like this:

xx,
xxx xxxx xxxxxxx. xxxx THE xxxx xx xxxx
xxxx, THE xxxxx xx THE xxxxxxxx xxx xxxx
xxxxxx xx xxxx THE xxxxx xxxx. xxxxxxx xxx
xx xxxxxxx xxx, xxx xx xxxxxxxx.
xx xxxxxxx xxx xxxxxxx xx xxxxxxxxx THE
xxxxxx xx xx xxxxx. xxxx xxx xxxxx xxx xxxx,
THE xxxxxx xx THE xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx,
xx xxxx. xxxx xxxxx xx xxxxxx, xxxxxx xx xx
THE xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx. xxxx xxxx xxx xxxx
xx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxx, xxxx
xxxxxxxx, xxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxx xxxx
xx xxxxxxx. xx xxxxx x'xxxxx xxxxx xxx xxx
xxxx xxxxxxx THE xxxx. xx xx xxxx xxx
xxxxx xxxx xxxxxxxxx xxx THE xxxxxx xxx xxx
xxxx xxxxxxxxx.
x.

But wait! If the first symbol in THE is a T, then we can replace that symbol with T anywhere it appears in the text! And the same is true for the H and E symbols. If we hunt down all those symbols, we'll now have this:

xx,
xxx  xxxx  xxxxxxx.  xxxH  THE  xxxx  xx  xHxx
xxxx,  THE  xxxxx  xx  THE  xxxxxxxx  xxx  xxxx
xxxxxH  Tx  xxxx THE  xxxxT  xxxx.  xHxxxxx  xxx
xx  xxTHxxx  xxx,  xHE  xx  Hxxxxxxx.
xx  xxxxxxx  xxx  xxxxxxx  xx  xxxxxHxxx  THE
xxxxxx  xx  xx  xxxxx.  xHxx  xxx  xHxxE  xxx  xxxx,
THE  xxxxxT  xx  THE  xxxxxxx  xHxxx  xxxxxxx,
xx  xxxx.  xHxx  xxxxx  xx  xxxxxx,  xxxxTx  xx  xx
THE  xxxxxx  xxxxxTxxxx.  xxxx  xxxx  xxx  xxxx
xx  xxxxx  xHxxx  xxxxE  xxxx  xxxxxx,  xxxx
xxxxxxxx,  xxx  xxxxx  xxxxx  xExxxEx  xxx  xxxx
xx  xxxxxxx.  xx  xxxHx  x'xxxxx  xxExx  xxx  xxx
xxxT  xxxxxxE  THE  xxxx.  xx  xx  xxxx  xxx
Hxxxx  Txxx  xxxHxxxxx  xxx  THE  xxxxxx  xxx  xEx
xExx  xxxxxxxxx.
x.

Now there is a small problem here. I wish there wasn't, because it would make this article simpler for everybody, but the Neopets Team decided to get a bit tricky on us. Why do I say that? Because at this stage, having found the symbol for E, we should be seeing it everywhere. Remember Secret #2? E is such a common letter that if this was a normal, straightforward code, we should be plagued with E's like Neopia is with toy sail boats.

But we're not. At this early stage, I decided to trust Secret #1 and that my E's were correct, but reserved the possibility that another symbol might also be E. As it turned out later, that was the case.

But since there's no way at this point to know which other symbol's E, let's look at the text we do have, and what other clues can be squeezed from it. Which brings us to...

Big Secret #3: When there's no other possibility
Look at the third line:

xxxxxH Tx xxxx THE xxxxT xxxx. xHxxxxx xxx

See the second word, Tx? That's a big find. You can try all the vowels after that T, but only one makes a word, O! And look at line number 4:

xx xxTHxxx xxx, xHE xx Hxxxxxxx.

We know xHE is not THE, so what else could it be? Again, if you try any letter, the only one that makes a word is S. (Well, it could be the word THE with a new symbol for T, but at this point, I took a chance and chose S. What's the worst thing that could happen? I could be wrong, fail the puzzle, get rejected by friends and family, and die alone in shame and poverty. *shrug*) So our next mission, should we choose to accept it, would be to replace these symbols with O and S wherever they appear.

Big Secret #4: Words you recognize
Once you have the O's, look at the 4th to last line:

Ox xOxxOxx. xx xxxHx O'xxOxx xxExx xxx xOx

See the word with the apostrophe? Does it remind you of anything? I couldn't see it be anything but "o'clock", so I tried that, replacing the appropriate symbols with C, L, and K everywhere in the text.

It's at this point that I really began to believe that some letters, like E, were replaced by two different symbols. In the 4th line, I now had:

xO xOTHxxx xOx, SHE xx HxxxLxSS.

It seems clear that the word "she" is followed by "is", and that the last word ends in "less". So I took a leap of faith, and replaced all those symbols with I, S, and E.

A recap of where we are after all these substitutions:

xx,
xOx  xExE  COxxECx.  xIxH  THE  xOxx  Ox  xHEx
xOxETHE  xOxEOTHE  xxCIExxS  xxS  xExK
ExOxxH  TO  OxETHE  xIxST  SExL.  xHxIxxx  Cxx
xO  xOTHIxx  xOx,  SHE  IS  HxxxLESS.
xx  xIxIOxS  xxE  xOxKIxx  Ox  xxExCHIxx  THE
SECOxx  xS  xE  SxExK.  xHEx  xLL  xHxEE  xxE  xOxx,
THE  SECxET  OTHE  xOLCxxO  SHxLL  xExOxxS,
xx  LOxx.  xHEx  xOIxx  OSxxxxI,  SxxETIS  Ox
THE  xxxOSIxxOxTxxCE.  xxKE  SxxE  xOx  xxCK
xx  LExSx  xHxEE  LxxxE  xIxx  LExxES,  xIxE
xIxxxxxS,  xxx SExEKxxKx  xExxIES  xICxSE
O
x  xOISOxx.  xx  EIxHO'CLOCK  ExExx  xxx  xOx
xxST  xxExxxE  THE  Cxxx. IIS  OxLx  xxO
HOxxS  TILL  xIxHxxxLL  xxx  THE  ISLxxx  Cxx  xEx
xExx  xxxxExOxS.
x.

From here on, using Secret #4, we can solve the rest of the puzzle by recognizing words, and replacing symbols with the new letters found. Do you see any words you recognize? The ones I saw were: SECOxx (second, which gave me the N and D), SECxET (secret, which reveals the R), CxSE (case, A), and EIxHx (eight, before o'clock, G and new T). After that, I recognized even more words, and the puzzle pretty much solved itself:

xS,
YOU WERE CORRECT. WITH THE FOUR OF THEM
GONE, THE POWER OF THE ANCIENTS WAS WEAK
ENOUGH TO OPEN THE FIRST SEAL. JHUIDAH CAN
DO NOTHING NOW, SHE IS HARMLESS.
MY MINIONS ARE WORKING ON BREACHING THE
SECOND AS WE SPEAK. WHEN ALL THREE ARE DOWN,
THE SECRET OF THE VOLCANO SHALL BEYOURS,
MY LORD. WHEN GOING ON SAFARI, SAFETY IS OF
THE UTMOST IMPORTANCE. MAKE SURE YOU PACK
AT LEAST THREE LARGE PIAN LEAVES, NINE
PINANNAS, AND SEVEN KRAKU BERRIES (IN CASE
OF POISON). AT EIGHT O'CLOCK EVERY DAY YOU
MUST PREPARE THE CAMP. IT IS ONLY TWO
HOURS TILL NIGHTFALL AND THE ISLAND CAN GET
VERY DANGEROUS.
J.

See, that wasn't that hard, was it? :-) I will leave you with one last secret.

Little Secret #5: Oops, nonsense
In figuring out any code, there will be times when you have to guess a letter. Make the leap, but carefully study the text after a doubtful substitution. If a word starts looking like "EHEIxxQS", you might consider backtracking or starting over. ;-)

Now go forth and decipher!!