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Students to unlock codes at Crypto Rally

October 04, 2011


Didn’t you hear me? I said “XEVRBETYPSLNECM.”

What the heck does this mean?

You’ll have to find a cryptologist to find out.

And where can you find a cryptologist in Tempe? At the Crypto Rally, Oct. 8, of course.

On that day, students from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and any other students who are interested, will be challenged to solve a series of ciphers – words turned into a secret code such as “XEVRBETYPSLNECM.”

The rally begins at 10 a.m. at the School of Mathematic and Statistical Science on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Students in teams of two will be given a cipher to solve, which will lead to yet another cipher hidden on campus, and then to yet another.

The first team to arrive at the final destination will win a prize, and then, at 3 p.m., all the participants will enjoy pizza and browse industry information on careers in cryptography.

The event is being sponsored by Apriva, a secure mobile communications company based in Scottsdale. Apriva will donate $500 for Sun Devil Bookstore gift cards for textbooks to the first three teams to finish.

The event is directed by Nancy Childress, professor of mathematics, who teaches cryptography and has run a crypto rally with her class for the past two years. She decided this year to make it a university-wide event.

The rally will use five types of ciphers: Shift, Affine, Vigenère, Playfair and Hill. (For examples, go to

Cryptology, the technology of making and breaking codes and ciphers, is an important field of study today, according to Childress. “Cryptology applies anytime one is concerned with information security, whether the information is personal, financial, proprietary, or defense-related.”

Computer security, obviously, is an extremely important field, but cryptologists also work for the CIA, NSA, and other spy agencies. And, numerous other businesses require cryptography, such as cable TV companies, who encode their signals, forcing the viewer to rent their decoding devices in order to turn the signals back into a television picture. Banks also employ cryptography in order to protect the privacy and integrity of their transactions, according to a Duke University Website.

So does one have to be a mathematical wizard to learn cryptography?

Not necessarily, Childress said. “Creativity and good reasoning skills are a must. And one definitely needs to learn the math! The math involved is interesting in its own right – there is a significant amount of current mathematical research related to cryptography.”

For more information on the Crypto Rally, contact Childress at (480) 965-3951 or

And now, back to “XEVRBETYPSLNECM.”

It is a Vigenère cipher that means “Gene Kelly’s Dance.”