Gang codes: The Tic-Tac-Toe cipher

The "Tic-Tac-Toe" code system is flexible, secure, easy to learn and easy to use

By Gary Klivans

Gangs with different affiliations, history, beliefs and ethnicity are using a long established type of code that does not contain recognized gang symbols.  The "Tic-Tac-Toe" code system is flexible, secure, easy to learn and easy to use.   For example, (Illustration #1) shows the use of a "Tic-Tac-Toe" type code.  The first sample we will examine, used by the Bloods gang is shown in (Illustration #2).  As we examine this document, we will look for gang identifiers and symbol patterns to help decipher the document.

The "Tic-Tac-Toe" code uses geometric designs, usually a "number sign" or "pound sign" also known as an "Octothorpe", and an "X" shape in combination with a "dot" to create symbols to represent letters of the alphabet.  The figures shown in (Illustration #1) depict a basic form of this type of code which was initially created by Freemason’s.  Letters of the alphabet are placed in the open portions of these symbols and then the letters are assigned that shape.  This type of code is very flexible because the users can place any letter in any symbol opening.  Because of this flexibility and ease of use, a number of gangs use this type of code (or one of the many variations) to send secret messages.  This code system has been in use for many decades and continues to attract new users.  The challenge here is to determine which shape represents what letter of the alphabet and to determine what variation of the "Tic-Tac-Toe" code is being used.

The shape represents the letter!

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