Pigpen Ciphers & Decoder Rings

At Brain Chase, we love decoders and secret codes.

One of our favorites is the Pigpen cipher. The Pigpen cipher not only looks cool, it has a long history. No one is really sure who invented the cipher, but variations of it have been used by different groups since the 18th century. During the Civil War, the code was used as a form of communication between Union soldiers being held prisoner by the Confederate army.




Hopefully, you’ll won’t find yourself in a dire situation requiring the use of codes, but you can still make good use of codes and decoder rings in your every day life. Here’s how:

  1. Secret codes keep your brain sharp. Decoder rings are the perfect brain teasers! They stretch your mind and make you see everyday things (like letters and numbers) in different ways. Add secret message encryption to the pantheon of brain exercises like crossword puzzles, sudoku, and those fun airplane magazine MENSA quizzes.
  2. Learning about codes and ciphers is a great way to learn world history. History, especially war history, is riddled with secret codes (pardon the pun). From the days of Julius Caesar to the Navajo “code talkers” in WWII, cryptic messages have changed played a pivotal role in the rise and fall of empires.
  3. Encoding and deciphering messages is perfect training for studying a foreign language. Think about it: breaking apart words and phrases, translating them into new segments of data, and using them to communicate with others – what are secret codes if not another “language?” Decoder rings can be an excellent way to prepare young minds for later language study.
  4. Secret codes make great internet passwords. You no longer need to feel guilty about a password like “1234” or “password!” Find a way to encode even the most mundane of words, and you’ll have airtight online security every time.
  5. Decoder rings are great for journals and diaries. We usually think of secret codes as a way to send messages to others, but this doesn’t always need to be the case; sometimes you have some information that you would just prefer not to share. Improve your privacy by using simple codewords or ciphers to encrypt your personal writings.
  6. Secret codes make passing notes more fun. Texting may have made note-passing a bit obsolete, but there’s still nothing quite like receiving a secret message. And secret notes aren’t just for biology class – you can send notes to pen pals, put them in a child’s lunch box, leave a note on a spouse’s pillow, or yes, even send a secret message via text.
  7. Learning codes and ciphers is excellent training for a life of espionage. I have a number of friends who now work for the government, doing things they’re not allowed to talk about. Those guys are always the coolest folks in the room at dinner parties. Use decoder rings to prepare now for a 007 life down the road.
  8. Learning codes can help with… coding. We can’t all be super spies, but we should all be learning to code. Just like decoder rings are an excellent primer for studying a foreign language, they can help train the mind to convert concepts and ideas into binary segments, making them a perfect prerequisite for coding instruction.
  9. Codes can bring a group together. Every kid needs a secret clubhouse. And by definition, these clubhouses need clubs. There’s nothing more fun or socially bonding than belonging to to a group of kids that has their own decoder rings.
  10. Secret codes go hand-in-hand with treasure hunts. My children love to send each other – and me – on treasure hunts. We’ve found from personal experience that decoder rings can add an element of magic and mystery to what could otherwise be a fairly ordinary set of clues.

summer 2016 decoder

Are we missing anything? How else should we be using decoder rings in our daily lives? Send us a note at with your ideas.

Good luck, and happy decoding!

Team Brain Chase