Crack the Code to Women in Science with Secret Ada

Geek Culture

Image: PanopyImage: Panopy

Image: Panopy

In this exciting time of promoting science, technology, engineering and math education, it is interesting and important to also examine women’s roles in these subjects throughout history. It’s easy to learn about them by looking them up on Wikipedia, but why not instead solve a few puzzles along the way?

To exercise your brain and learn about a few dozen women scientists, check out Secret Ada, a fun and educational app for the iPhone/iPod Touch. It contains short profiles of women who have contributed to and made achievements in science. The catch here, though, is that you have to solve cryptograms to unscramble the profiles. It’s an exercise in pattern recognition that is sure to delight.

When you start up the program for the first time, complete the tutorial. It teaches you how to decode cryptograms, then steps you through decoding the word “the”. Next, you decode a longer passage, more on your own. Once you’ve completed the entire tutorial, you can start solving the real content. You decode one profile at a time to unlock the next. Note: If you leave the tutorial at any point before completion, you will have to start it over from the beginning.

Image: PanopyImage: Panopy

Image: Panopy

In the tutorial, correct letter matches are marked in green, incorrect ones in red. In the real puzzles, the letters all stay black until it automatically does a check, or until you manually initiate a check. As long as you continue to make frequent guesses for the code letters, though, the auto-check countdown gets extended. You can also turn off the auto-check in the main settings page on the main iPhone/iPod screen.

To match letters in this game, spin the 26 (or more) wheels at the bottom of the screen, assigning correct letters to the code letters. The letters that are still to be solved have question marks on the wheels as place holders. You can page left and right to access more letters to be matched. Be careful not to assign a letter to more than one code letter. Once you select a real letter for a code letter, it automatically fills in that letter match for the entire passage. The little wheels you turn to set the letters are very nice but a little narrow, even for my very normal-sized fingers. I accidentally spin the wrong ones sometimes.

To help you solve each puzzle, touch “Stats” to look at letter statistics. This page lists details such as how many times each letter appears in the passage. That will help you determine which letters stand in for the most and least common letters in the alphabet. The Stats page also gives you some reference information about most common letters and short words in the English language. Once you get the first several letters correct in each puzzle, it’s pretty easy to fill in the rest. Completing those first few can be a challenge, though! Sometimes there are letters with special marks, such as accent marks, which add a little bit more complexity to the game.

Image: PanopyImage: Panopy

Image: Panopy

When you run the program after you’ve completed the tutorial, you can bypass the tutorial and either touch Start, to immediately start the next unsolved puzzle, or tap the image in the middle of the screen. This takes you to a menu which contains a short biography of Ada Lovelace, the woman often called the first computer programmer. It also contains your solution collection of puzzles you’ve solved so far, and the game credits. The tutorial button hides in the corner of the main screen, for others to complete in the future.

While it can take several minutes to solve a puzzle, you can stop part way through, since the game saves your work in any puzzle past the tutorial. When you think you have solved a puzzle correctly, use the Touch Here to Check spot at the top of the screen. If you have the letters correctly matched, it will tell you so and give you a little confetti party. It also allows you to clearly read the puzzle that you just solved.

This app is really great for kids to learn to solve cryptograms, perhaps making them interested in other code breaking puzzles. It is especially good for girls to play, since they aren’t encouraged as often to solve these types of puzzles, and they will also be able to read about many women scientists, perhaps encouraging them to go into science or technology fields.

Secret Ada is a lot of fun. It is really interesting to learn about some women with whom I am not familiar. Rather than a reference book, though, it feels like a puzzle game with an added bonus of learning about the women. While it wouldn’t be as fun to play it a second time, once you solved all of the puzzles it would still be nice to keep the short profiles around, to share with all the girls (and the boys) in your life.

Secret Ada is available for the iPhone or the iPod Touch in the Apple iTunes store. It is a good deal at $2.99.

Wired: It becomes a bit addictive! It’s a really fun game that trains you to look for word and letter patterns. You get to learn about a lot of famous and obscure women in science and technology fields throughout history.

Tired: Once you solve all of the puzzles, all that is left is the profiles themselves, so the code cracking part doesn’t have a lot of re-playability.

Note: I was furnished with a free code to evaluate this app.

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