PBS KidsZOOM Home Back to Activity
Science Rocks!

Scytale Messages


your results

Sent in by:
Amit of Los Angeles, CA

Scientific secrets! Send a secret message to a friend.

Materials Needed

  • paper
  • scissors
  • tape
  • pen or pencil
  • soda can
  • paper towel tube, broomstick, or other cylinders



  1. Have you ever written a secret note to a friend, only to have someone else find it and read it? Next time, try writing your message in code. You can make a coded message called a scytale message by writing on strips of paper wrapped around a soda can.
  2. Start by cutting a piece of paper into a couple of long strips. Then tape them together so you have one really long strip. The longer your message is, the longer the strip should be.
  3. Next, tape one end of the long strip of paper to a soda can. Wrap the strip around the can and tape the other end in place. Make sure the paper doesn't overlap as you wrap it around the can. Instead, wrap it in a spiral so it looks like the stripes on a candy cane.

  1. Write your message across the can. Write one letter on each "stripe" of paper. The letters should all be next to each other. If you have more than one word in your message, leave a space in between.
  2. Now here's the sneaky part. Write some nonsense letters above and below your message, where the paper is blank. This will make your message look like it's in code when you unwrap it.

  1. Unwrap the message. It's hard to read, right? No one will be able to figure out what the message says unless they wrap it around a cylinder that's the same size as the one it was written on. That's because when cylinders are two different sizes, the circumferences, or distances around the cylinders, are different and the letters won't match up.
  2. Try writing scytale messages on other kinds of cylinders besides a soda can. You can try a broomstick, a paper towel tube, or a flagpole. Test it out, and be sure to send your results to ZOOM!

Some of your Results

Logan, age 9 of Clackamas, OR wrote:
I tried it on my sister and she didn't get it. She didn't get it because I put three messages on there and on differant cans so she got confused.

Kelly, age 13 of South Westerlo, NY wrote:
When I first did this I showed it to my friends and they were like WHAT?!? Then after I showed thm the "trick" they were like OHHHH?!? I told them where I got it from, and now they are planning to watch ZOOM now.

Kris, age 11 of Lexington, KY wrote:
I did it... the first time it worked... my class mates it might work on... My best friend/neighbor tried to read it the first time... no clue... the second he got it right away! (It was short it said "hi")

Susan, age 7 of Cincinnati, OH wrote:
It worked! Before I fit my strip to match the size of the cilindyr it was about 20 feet long!

Chelsea, age 13 of Delphi, IN wrote:
It really worked!!! I wrote my name on it and showed it to my friends and they didnt figure it out 'til I showed them!!!

Ashley, age 13 of Yellowknife, NT wrote:
I had to use 3 rolls of towel rolls. It was really awsome, my friends had no clue what to do. I had to show em, I gave them the site to see other kewl things.

Erin, age 10 of Phoenix, AZ wrote:
I followed the instructions carefully and made a really long strip. I wrapped it around a glue pen and tested it out... and it worked!!! Thank you Amit, your idea has probably the best ever!

Leah, age 12 of Oklahoma City, OK wrote:
I did it with my big brother and he was flabbergasted when I showed it to him. At first, he didn't get it until I showed him the answer on how to make it, He showed it to everyone!

Nora, age 11 of Chicago, IL wrote:
I have a friend who is moving away, and she loves codes. She will have a really confusing time trying to figure it out. Now I am anxious for her to move, so that we can write like that.

Alicia, age 10 of Bronx, NY wrote:
I sended a messege to my dad and brother. My dad got the messege, but my brother didn't.

Petra, age 11 of Barbados, WI wrote:
I tried it, it really works, one of my friends that weren't supposed to read it read it in front of the class. The class was confused because my message was in a code.

Rachel, age 9 of Freeland, MD wrote:
I tried it on my Great\Grandmothers caregiver and after a while she figured it out. It was so cool.

Dana, age 12 of Zanesville, OH wrote:
I tried it on my brother and my message was "meet me on the porch at noon". He did and it was so cool. We always use scytale maeesges now.

Taylor, age 9 of Circleville, OH wrote:
When I tried out this experiment I did it with my dad. At first he had no clue. I kindof told him where to start but it still took him awhile. Later on he kindof got the hang of wraping it around the bottle I used. He figured out that I wrote "What's Up People".

Kristina, age 11 of Wytheville, VA wrote:
My sister and I created a scytale message. We used a water bottel that had the same circumference around. It worked out really great!!

Jessica, age 10 of Westminster, CO wrote:
I did it on a water bottle it is so cool!

Kohana, age 11 of New York, NY wrote:
I did it on April fools day to my mom and she said that if her life depended on it she wouldn't be able to figure it out so I showed her and now she's doing it to her employee's at work!

Brittany, age 16 of Richland, MO wrote:
I was really fum to make!!! My mom figured it out by the first cylinder she choose!!

Emily, age 11 of Hampden, MA wrote:
When I saw the show, I researched Scytale messages online. It turns out that they were used by Spartan commanders in Ancient Greece. The message would be written wound around the Scytale, or tube. Then, they would unwind it and send it to another commander who would wind it around the same size Scytale to decipher the message. If enemies got hold of it, they wouldn't know to wrap it around a Scytale! They were pretty smart!

Allan, age 11 of Philadelphia, PA wrote:
It was fun!!! Now I can write sercret messages in a secret code.

not yet implemented