It’s no secret that kids love playing spy. (Get it? Secret? No? Okay.) And while a good old-fashioned decoder can provide minutes full of wholesome family fun, we’re guessing today’s tech-savvy, tiny 007s might be better served by something more advanced. Here are some of the most fun, easy ways for kids and parents to get involved in code making and code breaking.
Parents strive to treat their families to amazing experiences. Catapult, in partnership with Intel, is the field guide for the modern mom, offering tech-based at-home activities that will build lasting memories.
Codes for Kids offers a great overview for the secret code novice. This aggregation of links covers what codes are, how they are created, several codes to try, helpful resources, and even some projects to try offline, like invisible ink.
PBS’s zany, math-focused TV show “Odd Squad” is one of the shows my children and I both love. So, of course PBS comes through with this beautifully-designed, playful game, Codebreaker. It looks like any fun computer game, but requires kids to use logic to figure out puzzles and patterns. There are several levels to choose from, so the game can scale to different aged kids, which makes it a great choice for parents and kids to play together. This game is best for the pre-school set!
Of course PBS has more to offer, too — elementary-age kids will love the Cyberchase-related game Crack Digit’s Code. Another well-designed, colorful video game, this simple setup puts a secret message and a decode side-by-side.
You know who’s good with codes? The CIA. No, really. The United States Central Intelligence Agency has a site just for kids! In fact, they offer an entire Kids’ Zone. Did you know the CIA was so playful? Well, you do now. The site offers several coded messages for kids to try to crack. It’s not the most exciting web design we’ve ever seen (and we hope we don’t get put on some kind of watch list for saying that) but it’s simple and easy to use. There’s even an answer key … you know, just in case.
Another low-tech, but high-interest offering is Secret Code Breaker. This site offers some great history lessons for the budding cryptanalyst. The activities are excerpts from a series of publications that you can purchase (on diskette or CD! #retro), but they’re also just a lot of sneaky fun on their own. The focus here is on “cracking,” and what’s super cool is that there are also a series of coded secret messages actually sent by secret agents, spies, and military commanders throughout history. Parents and kids can learn together!
This math-focused site offers a bare-bones, but really useful article on “The Secret World of Codes and Code Breaking.” The article breaks down some famous codes and code breaking episodes throughout history. And — how’s this for credentials? — it’s written by the director of the Enigma Project, which takes a genuine WW2 Enigma machine into classrooms.
For older kids and parents, Black Chamber is a fascinating, complex interactive encryption and code breaking site created by notable science journalist Simon Singh. On this site, kids can learn about codes and code breaking, encrypt messages, and play with interactive enciphering programs. There is also an interactive CD-Rom available for free download (for PCs only).
History buffs will have fun with the BBC’s Elizabethan Spying Game — apparently Queen Elizabeth I and her secret service were experts at cracking secret codes! No word on Elizabeth II. (Note: You’re going to need to update your Flash player for this one.)
Another great choice for older kids and parents is Crypto Club. This site is chock full of ciphers, challenges, and games. The site even includes resources for teachers looking to teach math and logic, wrapped in enigmas. There’s also a web comic that tells the famous story of the “Beale Papers Mystery.”
Amy Shearn is a novelist, essayist, and editor. She lives in Brooklyn.
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