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I firmly believe that there exists an inborn connection between the fields of mathematics and language. This understanding has always come to me intuitively, and yet every English teacher I’ve ever had has asserted his or her dislike or even downright loathing for numbers. My math teachers, too, often justify typos in handouts by saying, “That’s why I’m not an English teacher!” Only my Algebra II teacher in eighth grade, Ms. Steffero, confirmed my theory that the two disciplines can in fact coexist peacefully.
Whenever I see any word, phrase, sentence, or paragraph, I immediately find myself searching for patterns and hidden meanings in the text. Perhaps there is a higher being that slips these hidden messages into the writings of humans and entertains itself by watching us puzzle over them. Every aspect of writing has special significance for me: I scrutinize sentence structure, capitalization, and even the spacing between words to see if I can extract another meaning from the combination of letters that lies before me. Couldn’t every sentence in existence arguably have been created by the proverbial monkey on a typewriter? Why, then, should there not be multiple meanings to every supposedly random sequence of letters and words?
Gnikaeps sdrawkcab si rehtona tibah fo enim (speaking backwards is another habit of mine). By challenging our perceptions of the English language, I believe it is possible for humans to expand their linguistic capabilities. Words shouldn’t be interpreted linearly; they can take on multiple meanings, even beyond those of synonyms. My habits of rearranging, reorganizing, and reversing words have unquestionably strengthened my command of the English language. I can instantly glean certain facts about any word, including the number of letters it contains, most of its possible anagrams, and what it sounds like backwards. Believe it or not, these peculiar practices have helped me to recall the definitions of words more quickly and better guess the meanings of words I don’t yet know.
My experiences in mathematical logic and cryptography courses taken through Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth program one summer formed my initial interest in the field. The final exam for my cryptography class consisted of an all-day scavenger hunt that trailed through the campus’s bookstore, cafeteria, and library. The journey culminated in my group’s excursion to the bottommost floor of the library, where we found and cracked a cipher detailed in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Gold-Bug.” This process of analytical thought and gradual discovery is what intrigues me about the field of cryptography, and has inspired me to prepare for a career in cryptanalysis by researching in mathematics, computer science, and linguistics as an undergraduate. A few years from now, if you stop to wonder who ensures the security of your e-mails, or to curse the aggravating puzzlemaker who wrote that cryptoquote you can’t solve, it might just be me.
Because many different fields can lead to a career in cryptanalysis, I feel I would be able to pursue meaningful research and prepare for my field in a number of different Carnegie Mellon schools. My ideal study would be a Discrete Mathematics and Logic Concentration at the Mellon College of Science; the research opportunities offered to undergraduates at MCS would adequately prepare me for graduate work in cryptography before entering the workforce. Alternatively, a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree from the School of Computer Science, in addition to a minor in Linguistics or Language Technologies, would also ready me to pursue cryptanalysis. Lastly, studies in English and Linguistics at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences would give me the strong background in language necessary to analyze, create, and destroy ciphers.
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