Puzzling Summary

Asking the participants to summarize the key points from a lecture is an effective learning activity. In this interactive lecture, you ask the participants to create a summary sentence to be converted into a puzzle. Later the participants solve summary-sentence puzzles created by others.


Deliver your lecture. Ask teams of participants to write summary sentences related to the key points of the lecture. Distribute copies of puzzles and ask the teams to decode them to identify summary sentences.


To recall key points from the lecture, write summary sentences, and solve puzzles related to other people’s summary sentences.


  • Minimum: 4
  • Maximum: Any number
  • Best: 15 to 30


15 to 30 minutes for the lecture.

15 to 20 minutes for the activity.


  • How To Solve Cryptonine Puzzles, 1 copy for each participant
  • How To Construct Cryptonine Puzzles, 1 copy for the facilitator
  • Different cryptonine puzzles constructed by you

Supplies and Equipment

  • Timer
  • Whistle

Room Arrangement

Set up seats around tables to permit teamwork.


Learn to solve cryptonine puzzle. Read the handout, How To Solve Cryptonine Puzzles and solve the sample puzzle. Then, read the handout, How To Construct Crytonine Puzzles and create a few puzzles of your own.

Create Cryptonine puzzles. Prepare an outline for a lecture on your training topic. Come up with three to six summary sentences related to key points from your lecture. Make cryptonine puzzles for each of these sentences. Make copies of these puzzle for distribution to the participants.


Explain how to solve cryptonine puzzles. Distribute copies of the handout, How To Solve Cryptonine Puzzles. Ask the participants to read the handout and solve the sample puzzle. After a suitable pause, announce the solution.

Brief the participants. Explain that you will deliver a lecture on the training topic. Encourage the participants to listen carefully to your lecture and take notes. After the lecture, teams of participants will come up with a summary sentence that are suitable for a cryptonine puzzle. Later, the teams will solve a cryptonine puzzle on the same topic, created by someone else.

Deliver the lecture. Make your presentation at a normal pace.

Form teams. At the conclusion of the lecture, organize the participants into two to five teams, each with two to seven members. It does not matter if some teams have one more member than the others.

Write summary sentences. Ask each team to review their notes, identify key points, and come up with a summary sentence related to one or more of these key points. Explain that you will convert the summary sentences from different teams into cryptonine puzzles. Announce a 3-minute time limit for coming up with the summary sentences.

Distribute puzzles. Collect the summary sentences from each team. Explain that since it will take some time for you to convert them into cryptonine puzzles, you are going to use puzzles created by earlier teams that listened to the same lecture. Give a copy of the puzzle to each participant. Distribute different puzzles to the members of different teams.

Solve cryptonine puzzles. Ask the participants to continue working in teams and solve the cryptonine puzzles. Congratulate the teams that have solved the puzzle. After a suitable pause, announce different solution.

Conclude the activity. Announce the end of the session. Thank everyone for their participation.

Distribute additional cryptonine puzzles. As a follow up, make puzzles out of the summary statements created by different teams. Distribute these puzzles as an email attachment to the participants.

Variations and Adjustment

Don’t like cryptonine puzzles? Use the instant jigsaw puzzle instead. Ask the participants to write the summary sentence on a piece of notepaper using a felt-tipped pen. Tear this paper into 16 to 20 pieces and mix up the smaller pieces. Ask the other team to reassemble the pieces of paper to discover the summary statement.

Play Sample

Recently, I used the Puzzling Summary technique in a training session on conflict management.


My initial presentation dealt with a set of principles and a step-by-step procedure for resolving conflicts. The procedure involved analyzing the conflict, establishing mutual goals, brainstorming options, selecting the best option, implementing the solution, and debriefing the experience.

Summary Sentences

Here are the summary sentences generated by the three team of participants:

  1. When mediating a conflict, be fair to both parties.
  2. While discussing a conflict, keep your mouth closed and your mind open.
  3. In a conflict, nobody wins unless everybody wins.


Here are the sentences that were incorporate in the cryptonine puzzles:

  1. If you cannot prevent a conflict, resolve the conflict. If you cannot resolve the conflict, contain the conflict.
  2. Conflict resolution has two goals: achieve results, strengthen relationships.
  3. Use a collaborative mode to achieve win-win solutions.

Game Plan

The following table displays the structure Puzzling Summary interactive lecture:

Step If you are the facilitator, do this If you are a participant, do this
Explain how to solve cryptonine puzzles. (5 minutes) Distribute the handout. After a pause, announce the solution. Read the handout and solve the puzzle.
Brief the participants. (2 minutes) Explain how your lecture will be followed by a puzzle activity. Listen to the explanation.
Deliver the lecture. (15 to 30 minutes) Make your presentation. Listen to the lecture and take notes.
Form teams. (2 minutes) Divide the participants into two to five teams, each with two to seven members. Sit with your teammates. Introduce yourself to the others.
Write summary sentences. (3 minutes) Give instructions. Identify key points and write sentences about them.
Distribute puzzles. (2 minutes) Collect summary sentences and distribute handouts with puzzles. Study the puzzle.
Solve cryptonine puzzle. (5 minutes) Keep time. Work with your team. Solve the puzzle.
Conclude the activity. (2 minutes) Thanks the participants
Conduct follow up. (5 to 10 minutes) Send email with additional puzzles. Solve the puzzles.

Reuse the Template

You can use the game plan for Puzzling Summary as a template for creating your own interactive lectures. This technique is particularly useful when your training topic contains rules, guidelines, or principles

Here is a list of training topics (and sample summary sentences) that we recently incorporated in this interactive lecture:

Topic Summary Sentence
Critical Thinking Seeing is not believing. Believing is seeing.
Personal Efficiency Understanding a piece of advice is not enough. Act upon it.
Trust Building You lose your trust when you say, “Trust me”.
Facilitation Techniques If you ask for inputs, be sure to use them.
Improving Human Performance Define the ideal situation. Define the actual situation. Find the gap.
Teamwork Techniques The success of a team is the individual responsibility of its members.
Listening Skills Listen with your mouth closed and your mind open.


How To Solve a Cryptonine Puzzle

Cryptogram puzzles are interesting to solve, but most people find them too difficult. I have come up with an easier version of cryptograms for beginners. I call this type of puzzles cryptonine because only nine letters are encrypted. Each of these letters is consistently replaced by a different number. All other letters are left as free letters in their locations without being replaced by numbers. The letters in the cryptonine message are printed in ALL CAPS to avoid confusing the letter L with the number 1.

Here are some sample cryptonine words and their solutions to give you a feel for this approach:

J3Y = JOY. (3 = O)

45NY = MANY (4 = M, 5 = A)

QU88N = QUEEN (8 = E)

PU558E = PUZZLE (5 = Z, 8 = E)


Now go ahead and solve this cryptonine message:

1234 34 5 93G21 V6743O8 OF 126 C7YP1OG75M PUZZ96.

Tips for Solving Cryptonine Puzzles

  • Begin by trying to figure out words at the latter parts of the message because you will find more free letters to help you.
  • One-letter words are either A or I.
  • The most common two-letter words are TO, OF, IN, IT, IS, AS, AT, BE, WE, HE, SO, ON, AN, OR, DO, IF, UP, BY, and MY.
  • The most common three-letter words are THE, AND, ARE, FOR, NOT, BUT, HAD, HAS, WAS, ALL, ANY, ONE, MAN, OUT, YOU, HIS, HER, and CAN.
  • The most common four-letter words are THAT, WITH, HAVE, THIS, WILL, YOUR, FROM, THEY, WANT, BEEN, GOOD, MUCH, SOME, and VERY.






How To Construct Your Own Cryptonine Puzzle

Creating a cryptonine puzzle is easy if you know how to use the Find and Replace function in your Edit menu.

Here are the steps:

1.     Type your message in ALL CAPS.

Here is my message (from my training session on Conflict Management):


2.     Use the Find and Replace function in your word processor. Replace the first letter in your message with the number 1.

This is what happens to my message when I do this. Notice all of the letter Is in the message are replaced by the the number 1:


3.     Apply the same process by replacing the second letter in the message with the number 2.

In my message, all the Ns are replaced with 2s:


Continue this process by replacing each new letter in the current version of the message with the next number.

I continue replacing more new letter with sequential numbers:



12 3 4526714T 25B5DY W12S U27ESS EVERYB5DY W12S.

12 3 45267148 25B5DY W12S U27ESS EVERYB5DY W12S.

12 3 45267148 2595DY W12S U27ESS EVERY95DY W12S.

4.     Stop when you have used all the numbers up to 9. (We don’t use the zero to prevent people from confusing it with the letter O.)

5.     Present the current version of the message to the participants as the puzzle to be solved.

Here’s my puzzle:

12 3 45267148 2595DY W12S U27ESS EVERY95DY W12S.