Writer’s Workshop: Riffing On “cry-“

Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

The prompt is to write “A blog post inspired by the word: cry.” At least, that’s the one I chose.

Now, I didn’t want to write about crying, because it’s a bummer of a topic. So I asked myself “what’s another way I can use the prompt?” The idea that came to me was to search for words that contained “cry,” so I searched for that and came up with cryptography. I could also have used cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin), which was a hot topic last year when a Bitcoin was selling for roughly $10,000. You don’t hear about it much now, because the price of a Bitcoin is now under $4,000. I mean, the price has sunk like a rock. Sure glad I didn’t invest in Bitcoin, or any of the thousands of other cryptocurrencies out there, which all appear to be way down from their highs not that long ago. I bet a lot of folks who bought when Bitcoin was high are crying now…

Anyway, let’s talk about cryptography, the art and science of secret writing, i.e. codes and ciphers. When I was in about fourth or fifth grade, I found a book in the St. Ignatius School library that changed my life. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was key to sparking my interest in cryptography. The book was Alvin’s Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks.

Cover of *Alvin’s Secret Code*. Source: Amazon.com

I read the book and was fascinated by the idea of breaking codes, not that there was any code to break. I tried to interest some friends in it, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. (They did that pretty often. You might even say with alarming frequency. Because, let’s face it, I am.) Still, I remained interested in the world of codes and ciphers, a world where I could take this:

Gvz vf n ovt obbtreurnq.

And turn it into this:

Tim is a big boogerhead.

I learned all about simple substitution ciphers, like ROT13, which turns A into N and N into A, B into O and O into B, etc. In the old Usenet days, this was the way you could shield the punch line of a joke in a message (particularly when the punch line was unsuitable for younger and more sensitive viewers). And it just got more complicated from there, which I promise I won’t go into, but as you can probably imagine it can get really complicated. Not as hard to figure out as the Enigma machine, maybe, but still, pretty hard. I still remember most of what I learned, but I’ll spare you.

I used to take Alvin’s Secret Code out of the school library once a year. I didn’t realize it until I looked at the card in the back of the book, where you would sign your name and give it to the librarian so she knew you had it, and saw that I had signed it out in most of the previous years. I was pretty much the only person to take it out of the school library. Maybe I should have swung a deal and gotten the librarian to just give me the book.

One day many years later, out of curiosity I looked for Alvin’s Secret Code at Amazon.com, and they not only had the book, they had a Kindle version of it. So I bought it and read it again. It made me so happy, I almost cried…

If you liked this little essay, you might like this one, too.

21 thoughts on “Writer’s Workshop: Riffing On “cry-“

  1. My major was in English and I spent a semester decoding Old English into Modern English. I found that fascinating, but I’m pretty sure learning coding could only make me cry sad tears. 😉

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    1. Chaucer, right? My roommate suffered through that, too.

      I guess there’s coding and there’s coding, and like you I’m sure trying to decode Chaucer would bring me to tears, whereas learning computer languages for me is no big deal. The aforementioned roommate was a computer science major with a minor in English, so neither was hard for him…

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  2. I love a good challenge and mastery, but have actually never gotten into code in that way. I would likely just confuse myself, although I find the subject quite interesting and would probably like it if not for the aforementioned inevitable confusion. Very interesting post and topic, though!

    Kim

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    1. A feature of the Dell puzzle magazines is Cryptoquotes, where you get a famous quote in a simple substitution cipher (i.e. each letter of the coded quote corresponds to a letter in the actual quote). I used to play with those a lot.

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  3. I don’t know a thing about Alvin’s Secret Code, but I can see how as a child you’d be thrilled with that book. As a kid i was all about sign language because I thought it was a great way to say something [mean] without getting caught.

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  4. I love your take on the prompt. I’ve never read that book, but I did enjoy cryptography too. Reading about you as a child took my thoughts to Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Have you watched that scene? He wanted to cry after solving the puzzle too. Glad the book still brought you joy after all these years!

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  5. I find these codes fascinating but I know I suck at it. I can’t help but think of the zodiac killer who used a code that was cracked but I also think of that old piece from the 14th or 15th century??. I can’t remember the name but no one can figure out what it means. It has plants drawn on that do not exist and symbols etc… no one knows why it was done or what it means.

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