The Navy’s Newest Recruiting Tool Is An Elaborate Online Cryptology Game For Puzzle Nerds Only

This isn’t your grandma’s crossword puzzle. Or is it…?

To attract new members, the military generally stations uniformed soldiers in high school cafeterias and malls. Then there are the Army-sponsored online video games–a kind of drearily real Call of Duty–meant to simulate the experience of combat. This week, the Navy is taking a more elaborate approach to targeting potential enlistees. With agency Lowe Campbell Ewald, the military entity has created a nine-day online cryptology game called Operation Sleeper Shark, meant to simulate the work of military code breakers. Anyone with an Internet connection can play–and presumably, the winners will be added to the Navy’s shortlist of new recruits.


Operation Sleeper Shark features the fictional Lt. Commander Clark, a former Navy SEAL who now works in Intelligence, and his Commanding Officer, Cryptologist Captain Molly H. The duo are hot on the trail of the
Abyssal Plains Research Group, a shadowy entity that has been engineering oceanic disasters to turn a profit. Captain H has managed to get Lt. Clark inside APRG, where he’s been able to send out social media posts without the group’s knowledge. These puzzles and ciphers appear daily on the Navy’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Solving each one is vital to cracking the overall code and, often, codes are embedded within codes. Just when you think you’ve solved a puzzle, you realize there are three more to complete.

Many of these tasks can be completed alone, but some require help from the entire online community of participants. On February 14, after the final clue is revealed, the first 10 people to email in the correct answer will win. The distinction comes with a certificate, which itself includes yet another puzzle. Apparently, to be a navy cryptologist you don’t just need to be an MIT math wiz; you also have to give up any semblance of a life. On the upside, you get to foil bad guys.

In advance of this year’s game, the Navy released a recap of last year’s cryptology challenge, which helps explain just how the initiative works.

About the author

Jennifer Miller is the author of The Year of the Gadfly (Harcourt, 2012) and Inheriting The Holy Land (Ballantine, 2005). She's a regular contributor to Co.Create.