What’s an Atbash Cipher (Plus Fun Activities to Try!)

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I love teaching secret codes and ciphers to my kids. They have fun with the mystery and intrigue of what a secret message might reveal. Even when it’s a worksheet full of silly dad jokes, they have so much fun decoding the answers.

If you have younger kids or if they’re new to secret codes, the Atbash cipher is a great one to start with. It’s super easy to learn so your kids can get started writing messages right away. As long as your child can read and write, they can do this cipher.

If you’re looking for other great beginner ciphers, check out the Caesar Cipher, the A1Z26 Cipher, the Scytale Cipher, and (my kids’ personal favorite) the Pigpen Cipher.

This article is originally from www.dadstuffsite.com

What is an Atbash Cipher?

An Atbash Cipher (sometimes called a Mirror Cipher or Reverse Alphabet) is a simple substitution cipher. It is made by replacing the letters of the alphabet with letters of the alphabet in reverse. For example, in an Atbash Cipher, A=Z, B=Y, C=X, etc.

In a substitution cipher (like the Atbash cipher), the order of letters in the original message (or plaintext) remains the same. Each letter is substituted by another letter or symbol into a coded message (or cipher text). 

The Atbash cipher is one of the oldest recorded ciphers and has its roots in the Hebrew language. The name Atbash is from the Hebrew alphabet. If we take the first, last, second, and second-to-last letters (אתבש), we get the following transliterated letters: aleftawbet, and shin, or Atbash.

Examples of the Atbash cipher can be found in the book of Jeremiah, particularly with the King of “Sheshach.” When you decode “Sheshach” using an Atbash cipher, it translates to “babel” (that is, Babylon), and refers to the king of the Babylonian Empire.

The Atbash Cipher is “monoalphabetic” in that each letter is replaced by one and only one letter or symbol. Therefore, the Atbash Cipher is easy to break. While not used in professional cryptography anymore, it’s fun to do and super easy to teach your kids

If you want to learn about another cipher used in history, check out The Scytale Cipher (What It Is and How to Teach Your Kids).

How to Encode and Decode Messages Using an Atbash Cipher

The simplest way to learn the Atbash Cipher is to take two alphabets, one written above the other. The top alphabet is written normally from A to Z. The bottom alphabet is written backward from Z to A.

To encode—that is, to convert the plaintext message into ciphertext—take the corresponding letters of your message from the top row (plaintext) and replace them with the letters of the bottom (ciphertext). 

This article is originally from www.dadstuffsite.com

Let’s encode the following example:

I used to play piano by ear. Now I use my hands.

Using an Atbash cipher, the first letter “I” is replaced with “R”. The second letter “U” is replaced with “F”, and so on. The final ciphertext message will now look like this:

R fhvw gl kozb krzml yb vzi. Mld R fhv nb szmwh.  

To decode, simply work the other way. Take the corresponding letters of your coded message from the bottom row (ciphertext) and replace them with the letters of the top (plaintext)

If you want to make things look a little fancier than a chart, you can also hand your kid a cipher wheel. Here’s a free downloadable cipher wheel with corresponding numbers. If you want to add some mystery, age the paper with some old coffee or tea (check out how to age paper here).

Another great cipher that uses a decoder is the Caesar Cipher. To learn more, check out The Caesar Cipher (What it Is and How to Teach Your Kids)

Atbash Cipher Activity Ideas (Plus a Free Worksheet)

The great thing about the Atbash cipher is its simplicity. It takes little explanation to teach your kids. Simply write out the alphabet and its reverse equivalent (or hand them the cipher wheel above) and watch them go to work.

Another great simple cipher is the A1Z26 Cipher. To learn more, check out A1Z26 Cipher (What it is and How to Teach Your Kids).

When coming up with activities to do with your kiddos, there are lots of options. If you’re looking for a worksheet, then you’ve come to the right place. Check out the one below (and it’s for real free. No email required.)

Learn more: 6 Secret Codes and Ciphers to Teach Young Kids

To make things more hands-on, make a scavenger hunt. Include a list of places around the house, but encode them using an Atbash cipher. Each location can have an item your child can collect. It can be as simple as a post-it. Or maybe the pieces to a model rocket they have to put together for an afternoon of rocket launching.

If you’re interested in model rockets but are new, check out Model Rockets with Kids (What to Get and Where to Launch).

Want to make things more interesting? Leave a photo of your kid’s favorite stuffed animal with a ransom note. When they decode the secret message, it’ll lead to a location with another message. Make a couple more messages and before you know it, you’ve created your very own treasure hunt!

You might also like these Treasure Hunt activities:

Gregory Grabowski

Greg Grabowski is the principal creator of DadStuffSite.com, a website for dads by dads. Inspired by his two boys Ben and Sam and his wife Dianna, Greg loves to make things, learn things, and loves doing fun stuff with his family.

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