GUEST POST: AM I AS SMART AS A FIFTH GRADER…when it comes to cracking codes? (Penny Warner)

I’ve been a fan of puzzles and codes since I was a kid. I used to talk to my friends in Pig Latin, write the secret notes in Alpha-Numeric Code (each alphabet letter matches a number), and learned the American Sign Language Manual Alphabet so I could communicate with my friends in class without the teacher knowing.

After writing several mystery series for adults, I wanted to write a mystery for middle-grade kids, and thought it might be fun to include a code for the readers to solve in every chapter. THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB: SECRET OF THE SKELETON KEY was just published last week and it’s full codes for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders to solve, such as Morse Code, Braille, Fingerspelling, Alpha-Numeric, Caesar’s Cipher, and even Semaphore. Each reader I meet gets a code-busting kit to go with the book.

The story revolves around thirteen-year-old Cody Jone’s odd neighbor, “Skeleton Man.” The old man has always been a little strange, spying on them from his upstairs bedroom window. But when the Code Busters notice something mysterious going on at his house, they think he’s sending them a message about a hidden treasure. They’re right—the codes are Semaphores that spell out “HELP.”

While most codes have been around for centuries, one of my favorite codes is called the LEET Code, also known as 1337 Code. It’s a recent high-tech creation based on computer keyboard symbols—and it’s just as challenging for adults as it is for kids!

Try to decode the following message in LEET Code. If you can’t, read hints below. If you can solve it, then you’re welcome to join the Code Busters Club, where you’ll find more codes to solve (

Here goes:

( 4 /\/ \|/ () (_) ( |2 4 ( I< + # 3 ( () I) 3 ?

For some people, this is as easy as ABC to decipher the code, but for others, it looks like nonsense. If you’re having trouble reading the sentence above, here’s a hint: Each letter of the alphabet has been replaced by a keyboard symbol that resembles the letter. For example, the parenthesis ( becomes the letter C. Now can you see what’s right before your eyes?

Still stuck? All right, here’s the key:

A = 4 B = 8 C = ( D = |) E = 3 F = |= G = 6 H = # I = ! J = _|

K = |< L= |_ M= /\/\ N = /\/ O= () P = |* Q = (,) R= |2 S = $ T = +

U=(_) V = \/ W= \/\/ X = * Y = \|/ Z = 2

I hope that was fun. Now you can communicate with your friends via email, using the LEET Code—and all you need is a computer keyboard!

Penny Warner is the author of the new middle-grade series, THE CODE BUSTERS CLUB: SECRET OF THE SKELETON KEY, and the adult mystery series, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY. Her latest is HOW TO PARTY WITH A KILLER VAMPIRE, set in a cemetery and featuring a Vampire-themed party. She can be reached at or

Penny is also willing to give a copy of her book and a Code-Busting kit! To enter, email Penny directly at: pennywarnerink (at) yahoo (dot) com. Entries will be accepted through October 26th!


  1. Aha, I cracked it! (That was hard...)

    The book looks great, Penny!

  2. Good for you, Lisa!
    Kids are usually better than adults for this one!-Penny

  3. What a great idea for a series, Penny!

  4. Sounds like it will be a fun book to read. I like the cover.


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