One of my favorite encryption techniques isn’t really an encryption at all: it fails in the basic sense that if you know the method of encryption, you can easily decrypt the message. But it does reduce every message to a fraction, and I like that. I can envision entire conversations consisting of phrases like “73/9”. Here’s how it works. You start by replacing each letter with a number: say, A=1, B=2,…,Z=26, and perhaps (space)=27, plus whatever punctuation that you want. Then you write your message as a continued fraction (that is, a nested fraction where each numerator is 1). For example, to write “HELLO” you’d let H=8, E=5, L=12, L=12, and O=15 and write:

.

Then you’d simplify it before sending it. For example, the fraction above simplifies to:

and then

all the way to .

To decrypt, use division to write the fraction as a continued fraction (keeping in mind that words that end in “A” will turn out to be ambiguous unless you develop a way around it). Want to have some fun? Try decrypting (or the longer ).

*I don’t know if the guy in the painting by Lesser Ury is really a spy, but I kind of think he looks like one.*