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myWordCount Solves Poe's The Gold Bug Riddle

How the character counting feature in myWordCount
helps solve the riddle in E.A. Poe's The Gold Bug

The Gold Bug
Edgar Allen Poe wrote the mystery short story The Gold Bug in 1843. It recounts the search for hidden treasure using a decrypted message and is one of Poe's most widely read stories. It inspired Robert Louis Stevenson in his well-known book, Treasure Island, as well as later generations of cryptologists. You can read more about this short story at The Gold Bug wikipedia link. We have an excerpt of the short story that contains the specifics of the encrypted message and its solution that you can download here. It is a MS Word doc file. You can also download the complete story from Project Gutenberg by clicking here.

The Riddle
The story revolves around the main character, William Legrand, finding a strange cryptic message that he feels is the key to a great treasure. He uses some basic cryptology skills to decode the message and eventually finds the treasure. We took just the encrypted message from the story and put it in a separate file that you can download by clicking here. We had to change some of the strange characters used in Poe's original writing to characters that could be represented in text and doc files but the encoding doesn't change. The message that Legrand had to decode was:

Solving the Riddle
Legrand's solution was to count the total number of occurrences of each character and place them in a table. He then compared this list to a list of the normal frequencies of letters in the English language, which was:
e a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z
Using his table of character frequencies from the cryptic message, he was able to start substituting letters, starting with the most common normal letter 'e' being substituted for the most common character in the cryptic message, which happened to be '8'. Using similar techniques and knowledge of common grammar and usage, he was able to decrypt the message.

Using myWordCount to help solve the riddle
myWordCount's character counting ability could have saved Legrand some effort. By opening the text file containing just the riddle into myWordCount, we ran the Character Count feature and instantly ended up with a character frequency table of the riddle. It was then just a short step to solving the entire riddle. The result of the myWordCount counting is shown below. You can see that the character 8 was the most frequent character, followed by the semi-colon, and so-on. Now, we just have to figure out how to get electricity and computers invented back in 1843 for Legrand to use...



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Use myWriterTools writing software to help your proofreading to find and fix common grammar and style problems so you can focus on your writing. The built-in style guide will answer all your questions. myWordCount counts words and phrases to help you find overused items, and highlights long sentences and sentences with high Flesch-Kincaid scores that make your writing harder to understand.

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Perfect for manuals and documents that must be gender neutral. This is required for many government publications. Use myWriterTools GenderBender to find and fix improper gender language. More information about running GenderBender to make your writing gender neutral.

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