Introducing Apscitu Puzzles
By Duane Thresher, Ph.D.
March 14, 2020
I invented a new kind of puzzle, a crossword puzzle for the
digital age, called an Apscitu Puzzle. If you, like myself,
are the kind of puzzler who enjoys figuring out puzzles cold,
without any hints on how to solve them, then download
a PDF of
Apscitu Puzzle #1 here
and try doing it before reading
I've always liked doing crossword puzzles and codebreaking
(cryptanalysis), which require similar smarts. In fact,
during World War II British intelligence used a timed
crossword puzzle as a test to recruit codebreakers to crack
the German Enigma code.
Recently, I was doing a crossword puzzle in a book of New York
Times Sunday Crosswords I bought. I was disgusted with that
particular crossword puzzle because there were far too many
foreign words and obscure names as answers, and far too many
unimaginative clues, all signs of a lazy crossword puzzle
author. I know this annoys many other puzzlers as
I'd also recently reread The Code Book
by Simon Singh,
whom I met in New York City while I was getting my Ph.D.
Columbia University when the book first came out. The book
was useful for understanding encryption, such as that used in
, but was
quite rereadable because it was so fascinating.
I was thus inspired to create a puzzle that combined the most
interesting aspect of crossword puzzle solving -- figuring out
words from possible letters -- with the most interesting
aspect of codebreaking -- figuring out letters from a
Digital data -- and nowadays it's all digital data -- is just
a stream of binary digits ("bits"), 0's and 1's. The
characters (letters, numbers, punctuation) in the digital data
have to be encoded as groups of bits (e.g. 8-bit bytes) with
each unique combination of bits in the group corresponding to
a specific character.
ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) is
one of the most well-known ways to encode characters with bits
(7). For just the 26 capital letters, plus the space, only 5
bits are necessary (5 bits can encode up to 32 characters).
The Legend in an Apscitu Puzzle shows this.
ASCII is well-known so the characters are not really
encrypted. However, from my experience as an electrical
engineer (I have a B.S.
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT) I knew
that sometimes streamed digital data has noise that causes
random missing bits. For important no-repeat messages you
might need to figure out what the missing bits are, and thus
what the character is ... or could be, which is the crux of
the "figuring out letters from the code" part of an Apscitu
Unlike much codebreaking, including popular cryptogram
puzzles, in an Apscitu Puzzle knowledge of what one character
is does not help you with other characters (except if it helps
you figure out a word). This is actually a characteristic of
unbreakable codes, like the one-time pad. Consequently,
complicated (and boringly mechanical) codebreaking algorithms
like frequency analysis won't help much so you won't need to
know and use them. Good crossword and pattern matching skills
are all that is necessary. This characteristic also makes
Apscitu Puzzles harder and more fun than cryptograms because
it isn't over until you figure out every message character in
Codebreakers use any clues they can find (or steal),
particularly known character repetitions. Repetitions were
how the British codebreakers broke Enigma (actually Polish
codebreakers first broke Enigma). Character repetitions won't
help with an Apscitu Puzzle though.
In Apscitu Puzzles, the puzzle title is the biggest clue,
albeit a clever one, but reading through the Apscitu
, Apscitu Mail
, and Stop IT Incompetence
websites will also help with most puzzles, as will knowledge
of topical IT issues, which the Apscitu websites
When I was a kid doing newspaper crossword puzzles, I would
sit and do them with the encyclopedia. I learned a lot from
doing that. I would look up a crossword answer in the
encyclopedia and then read the whole article. You can think
of the Apscitu websites as an IT encyclopedia.
Many Apscitu Puzzle answers will reveal important little-known
information, much like real encrypted secret messages, and so
give Apscitu Puzzles the same sense of urgency as in wartime
codebreaking, unlike most puzzles (particularly cryptograms,
with their usual boring old quotes).
Don't be put off by the initial strange appearance of Apscitu
Puzzles. You probably had the same reaction when you first
saw a Sudoku puzzle -- or even a crossword puzzle, if you can
remember first seeing one -- which you now might be addicted
Puzzles and puzzle concept are copyright © 2020 by Duane
Thresher Ph.D., Apscitu Inc. and may not be used without
permission. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for