And Now This…

Last week I spun up a couple of cipher wheels to help my scouts learn a little about code breaking.

I made two wheels for Rot-13, a substitution cipher that I was originally introduced to online as a way Sailor Moon fan sites used to obscure spoilers. And then, since I had the Illustrator file open and I was having fun, one more for the Dancing Men, from the Sherlock Holmes adventure of the same name.

I wanted to give the kids some simple, but solvable puzzles, so I had them write their names in Rot-13 using the wheel.

Then I gave them a Dancing Men message with a clue phrase that only gave them about half the letters. They were brilliant! I had the wheel in case anyone got stuck, but they worked together and figured it out without it.

Then I gave them one more puzzle that broke my brain when I was roughly their age:


It’s the opening puzzle in Sideways Arithmetic from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (a series I really enjoyed when I was little. I had outgrown him by the time he wrote Holes, which is the book I think he is most well-known for).

This one is still a substitution cipher, where letters correspond to numbers, and the clue is in the math notation. I gave them no other clues, besides demonstrating that a sum that has one more digit must start with a 1.

This meeting was such a delight. They were frustrated and loud and a few of them whined, but when they finally worked these puzzles out they absolutely lit up!

Download the cipher wheels for your own group here. Print on cardstock and cut (I laminated mine) and connect them with a brad or a grommet.

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