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.
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.