The Cipher Solver Series is a collection of cipher puzzle books, written by D. H. Bernhardt. Each of the books teaches about various cipher techniques and then provides examples that help the reader master them. So far, there are 3 volumes released, and a fourth one is on its way.
Each book in the series starts with a short history on ciphers. Then, it provides 2 chapters on how to encode and decode specific ciphers, followed by 2 chapters with puzzle-examples. Finally, the books end with hints and solutions.
Volume 1 and 2 focus on the so-called Route and Rail ciphers, while volume 3 introduces us to the Pen and Polybius ciphers. The former are examples of transposition ciphers, those are ciphers in which the symbols are preserved, but their order is scrambled. The latter are examples of substitution ciphers, those are ciphers in which the original symbols are replaced with new ones.
Rail Cipher Example
The following example of a Rail cipher is taken out of the first book in the series. Let’s say the task is to encode the phrase “Beware of the attack from the North”. To do that, we create a rectangular grid and starting from the top left corner, we enter the letters of the phrase in a zigzag manner. We add some “X” letters at the end as padding, if necessary. This results in a route-like structure inside the grid, consisting of alternating diagonal rails.
Then, if we read the letters line by line, top to bottom, we get the encryption:
BOCT TXEE FAKM HRHX XWRA TFOE OXXA TRNX
To decrypt an encoded phrase, we just need to determine the dimensions of the grid and the size of the rails of the route. You can practice your route ciphering skills with the following puzzle from the book:
The transposition ciphers are fun but quite easy to solve, especially the Route ciphers. They all have been chosen with identical grid widths, so the only unknowns there are the route rails sizes. I recommend getting just one of the first two volumes, since the novelty in the second one lies mostly in the introductory chapter.
The two substitution ciphers are harder to solve and require more careful analysis. However, it is worth noting that the decoding procedure works identically for both of them, even though the ciphers use different encryption symbols.
Despite the remarks above, I think the books are educational, well-structured, and would be engaging to new cipher enthusiasts. I hope once the author completes his series, he considers combining the content in one larger edition divided into sections based on cipher type, such as transposition and substitution.
- a great presentation on various ciphers
- engaging educational chapters in the book introductions
- the route ciphers could have used various grid widths
- the substitution ciphers decoding works identically