# Decoding Scrambled Messages

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#### Updated on May 02, 2013

Sensitive information is often coded before it is transmitted. These codes are designed to be difficult to break in order to keep this information safe from unintended recipients. A simple coded message may scramble the letters in a word or replace one letter with another. These are easy to break and not useful for sensitive information, though they can be a fun way to communicate in secret with friends. In this experiment, you will discover how quickly a person can unscramble a coded message to determine how difficult the code is to break.

Research suggests that most people are able to unscramble the letters in a word, provided that the first and last letters are in the correct place. This experiment aims to discover experimentally whether this is true and whether people can also decode scrambled messages if the first and last letters are also scrambled.

### Problem:

Can people decode scrambled messages?

### Materials:

• 20 or more subjects that know how to read well.
• Scrambled messages
• A timer

### Procedure

1. Find a number of people willing to participate in your study. You will get more accurate results if you chose people who are strong readers.
2. Have your subjects participate separately from one another. Your study will not work if your subjects hear each other’s answers. Work with one subject at a time in a closed room.
3. Tell your subject that they must attempt the puzzle for at least two minutes after which time they can choose to give up.
4. Start the timer.
5. Have your participant read aloud a sample with the middle letters scrambled, such as the one below.
6. Stop the timer after the subject successfully reads the message.
7. Record the total time it took for them to decode the message.
8. Start the timer.
9. Have your participant read aloud a sample with the middle and last letters scrambled, such as the one below. It is important that this message be different from the first one but of comparable length.
10. Stop the timer after the subject successfully reads the message.
11. Record the total time it took for them to decode the message.
12. Start the timer.
13. Have your participant read aloud a sample with all the letters scrambled, such as the one below.
14. Stop the timer after the subject successfully reads the message.
15. Record the total time it took for them to decode the message.
16. Repeat steps 3-14 with each of your subjects.
17. Compare the results.

NOTE: Stop the timer if your subject gives up and mark the time as incomplete and greater than the time you stopped at. Have your subject work on the puzzle for at least twice as long as it took them to decode the previous message.

Sample A: Middle Letters Scrambled

Tihis is a spilme tset to dteenmire wethehr you can sltil raed tihs stencene eevn tghuoh the ltreels are in the ireorcnct oderr.

Answer: This is a simple test to determine whether you can still read this sentence even though the letters are in the incorrect order.

Sample B: Middle and Last Letters Scrambled

Teh qciku bnrow fxo jpduem oerv teh lzay dgo woh coedtinun to sepel all tohrhug teh dtbceniusra bcsueea he wsa vyre tredi.

Answer: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog who continued to sleep all through the disturbance because he was very tired.

Sample C: All Letters Scrambled

Ti saw a kdra nad tosrym hting enhw eth amn rrdavie ni eth ookysp acslet heewr a blto fo ntggliinh nanondeuc sih rivalra.

Answer: It as a dark and stormy night when the man arrived in the spooky castle where a bolt of lightning announced his arrival.

Writer and educator Crystal Beran is rarely seen without a pen. Her adventures have brought her to four continents and her quest for answers has led her to discover more questions than she could fill all the pages with. She currently resides in Northern California, where she can be found sipping tea and writing books.