- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

The scientific craft of making and breaking codes has been helping countries around the world protect vital secrets and transmissions from its enemies since the days of Julius Caesar.

In the United States, cryptologists work at the National Security Agency and Central Security Service, playing a vital role in the nation’s protection. They even may have changed the course of history during wartime, thanks to their painstakingly detailed abilities.

The organizations have put together a Web site catering to the child enamored with keeping secrets and learning about the people and techniques used in the encrypting and decrypting of information.

NSA/CSS Kidsand Youth Page

Site address: www.nsa.gov/kids/intro.htm

Creator: The Web site was designed and developed by an employee at the National Security Agency at Fort George G. Meade, Md., whose background is in graphic and Web design and development.

Creator quotable: “We created this site to introduce youth of all ages to the world of cryptology in a fun, interactive, contemporary and (most important) educational way. The NSA Kids site isn’t just about reading page after page of historical information and looking at pictures. It’s an experience where children get to be the code makers and code breakers. And some of the secret messages are tough to decrypt,” says Jane Hudgins, public and media liaison at NSA.

Word from the Webwise: Hosted by Crypto Cat, a cool blue feline dressed in an overcoat and hat, the site offers little in animation, narration, video clips or online games but uses simple designs, links to the NSA/CSS main site and plenty of printable pages to explore the world of cryptology.

Of the 10 sections available, the ones most worthy of an extended investigation include NSA/CSS History Timeline, Codes & Ciphers, Games & Puzzles and Coloring Book.

Of these, junior historians will love the NSA/CSS History Timeline, which features events, people, places and technology in cryptologic history. Visitors will learn about folks such as Agnes Meyer Driscoll, who worked as a Navy cryptanalyst and broke Japanese naval codes in World War II, and encryption units such as the Army’s Sigaba, which was the only machine system used during World War II to remain completely unbroken by an enemy.

For those seeking some message-breaking lore and exercises, a stop by Codes & Ciphers should suffice. It features a history of “Yardleygrams,” a book written by U.S. cryptologist Herbert Yardley in 1932 that taught readers how to decipher codes. The section also offers the chance to solve some symbol-laden cryptograms and crack the Caesar cipher.

Finally, Games & Puzzles presents six logic challenges combining word problems with symbol interpretation and a word find, while Coloring Book offers six pages to print and enjoy away from the computer.

Ease of use: The site works on both the PC and Macintosh platforms, which only need a current browser version and the Macromedia Shockwave plug-in. Disabled visitors using a screen reader such as Window Eyes or JAWS also can access the site.

Don’t miss: The only online game available, the Language Memory Game, tests brain retention skills in a Concentration-type presentation. The player has 10 seconds to study 20 cards, which come in pairs and display written greetings from 10 languages. The player then flips the cards over, two at a time, looking for matches.

Family activity: Besides setting up a trip to the National Cryptologic Museum, located next to NSA Headquarters, the clan can print out and assemble a cipher disc that has been used since 1470 to disguise messages.

Cyber-sitter synopsis: The design and activities never match the creativity of the cryptologists and science to which the site pays tribute, but the site does offer a very simple overview of cryptology that should briefly stimulate some its targeted demographic.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it’s accurate and updated.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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