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At first this might seem a simple cipher, but taramnntigsiteogetidohniltl (14/13). Our rail fence system is one of the earliest methods of transposition, based on placing letters in a series of levels, or, imagining that they have been written up and down the rails on a fence.

Let’s have a look at a few quotes from this guy as examples to see how it works.

Fencing for beginners Our most basic version of this has just the two levels. Start with your text: “Elementary, my dear Watson” Take out all the punctuation and spacing (note: this isn’t always the case – make sure you and the message recipient know what the plan is!): ELEMENTARYMYDEARWATSON And then we alternate letters on a higher and lower levels, going down then up then down then – you get the idea.

From here, you can: squash all the letters up in one big unpronounceable monstrosity; turn the lines into two chunks (which will help decoding); chop it up into our classic five-character block (with filler Zs); or even trick onlookers with random spacing. EEETRMDAWTOLMNAYYERASN EEETRMDAWTO LMNAYYERASN EEETR – MDAWT – OLMNA – YYERA – SNZZZ EE ETRM DA WTOLM N AY YER ASN

Advanced Fencing We can add a bit of extra in with further rail levels. Have a go at zigzag reading this quote over three levels:

Oh, did that one come out weird? Maybe we should look back on it…

Figuring it out Our main task is to determine how many rails, or levels, the hidden text needs to be spread across in order to decode it. When our message has been split to two levels, it is easy enough to then divide our text into two equal (or close enough) groups. When it has been split over three or more rail levels, it can be a bit more fidgety. Have a look at this jumble of letters: IUTU TCTTNR HMNAIAR IRAO I MIHATIASO TFSOTTM OMNFE CYNI Your coding comrade has previously given you the number pattern 6/12/12/12/6. How convenient. In this case it means we can count out numbers of letters per level: 6 – 12 – 12 – 12 – 6. IUTUTC TTNRHMNAIAR IRAOIMIHATIA SOTFSOTTMOMN FECYNI Writing it out on our rail fence going up and down would give us this quote:

Escape Rail In your Escape Rooms, you can spot this system by squiggly lines indicating our need to read up and down the letters, hints towards a zigzag or the word ‘rails’, maybe even a fence marked curiously. There could be a numbering pattern marked like 7-13-13-12-12-6 that could help determine your letters-per-rail level. Would be a big help in something like the jumble below. Good luck!

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