The KnowHow Book of Spycraft by Falcon Travis and Judy Hindley

Apparently this book and it’s mysterious writer Falcon Travis were rather unpopular with the Russians as it might have given away a few KGB secrets. Now, you’ve got to admit, that is rather cool for a Kids book…

Publisher: Usborne Children’s Books
ISBN: 9781409562917
Published: 1/6/2013

One of the first books that children’s publishing powerhouse Usborne published way back when 40 years ago (and it’s aged rather nicely, I must say!), this is one of THE books for budding spies. Jam packed with code machines, disguise tips and ideas for hidden hideyholes, this book explains it all.

Guided by the Black Hat Spy (who I beleive is based on founder Peter Usborne and hispenchant for a certain wide-brimmed black hat), the reader is taken through enough code machines, secret messages, hidden compartments, fake beards and nifty hiding places and enough of them to ensure that Q’s feathers should be pretty ruffled to see so many tricks of the trade go public. To top it off, every secret is explained rather neatly and demonstrated very clearly in that Usborne fashion we’ve all come to know, love and expect.

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Care to try some invisible ink?

It’s interesting too. I mean, it’s not until you’ve read and tried out a book like this that you realise how much you miss as you go through every day. Take for example the clock code. The positions of the the hands on a display of clocks in a shop window could be used to spell out a message from one spy to another. I can just imagine that being used in some World War 2 film, when one actor-cum-shopkeeper with shifty eyes and a close-up tweaks his clock display to send out a message to the deceptively innocent (but rather handsome, naturally) leading man/spy across the road.

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Tick, tock, tick, tock…

Even better though, the book tells you how the code works, then gives you the chance to use it yourself. On the page above for example, you get to use the code you just learnt for the clock faces to decode this shop window. I bet you’ll never look at a jewellers the same way again!

Hidey holes and secret compartments are also covered:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI especially love the books on the book shelf and the microdot postage mark.

The section on changing your appearance is interesting too, and makes a good point. It is deceptively easy to change your appearance, even just by changing your hair colour. A quick trip to Boots and suddenly your entire complexion and ethnic background has changed! Certainly I’ve noticed it – my own hair is dyed emerald green (the ’emerald’ part of that is very important) in places and it does change the way I look significantly. It also gives a new impression of me to people who don’t know me: after changing my hair colour from brown to green, people did talk to me differently because they were judging me by my hair colour. Before I could ahve been anyone, afterwards I was either a) a whole lot cooler and jazzier, or b) someone who’s obviously a madwoman and should be approached as carefully as possible. Sounds odd, but it’s true – hair colour does play a part in how people see and judge you!

As well as making you look like a potential madwoman, a change in your hair can also;

  • make you look paler
  • can make your face wider or longer with a new parting
  • can make you look older or younger (ok, this I admit I got from hair adverts!)

And if changing your hair doesn’t appeal, the book does show you a couple of other tips, like using a cushion to gain an extra stone or two, or the ingenious double-sided scarf, best used when someone’s tailing you and you need to change your appearance in a hurry.

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A quick change of your scarf could render you invisible to anyone hoping to ctach you…

Regardless, The KnowHow Book of Spycraft obviously isn’t just a bunch of sort-of-works tricks pulled together to make a book, there is theory behind it and true observations (not that you’d expect shoddy sort-of-works books from Usborne anyway).

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See? New parting = Instant face change!

The real stars of the show though are the number of different codes in the book. I’ve already shown you the watch codes, but the ones I like best are the ones that look like nothign so much as gibberish on a scrap of paper. The kind of thing that you look at and eiether dismiss out of hand or give it up for not knowing where on Earth to start. The stuff that’s utter gobbeldygook…that is until you manipulate the paper in a certain way and the code is suddenly revealed!

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A square of jumbled up letters made sense of with a simple grid – ingenious!

I mean, using potato juice to write with as invisible ink is one thing, but I personally like this code machine a lot more – it’s just got more of fun feel to it for me! If I want to have a secret message, I want any enemy spies trying to read it to know they’ve been outfoxed, and they can’t know that with invisible ink!

Like I said in the video, with this type of code it’s best not to follow the pictures in the book to the letter, or you do end up like me with grids that double up on the squares they reveal. However, part of the fun of playing about with this sort of thing is learning from any mistakes you make and perfecting your secret-message skills, so I don’t really count this as a flaw in the book.

If the grid doesn’t take your fancy, you could always try a bit of sempahore?Or perhaps you’d prefer something a little more musical?

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Nope, not a crazy new dance routine, its semaphore!

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Music notes as letters

Or perhaps you’d care to use this remarkable code, where the words mean nothing and the bees mean everything:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAltogether an absolutely astonishing piece of work that I know I’m going to use as one the prime examples why kids books really shouldn’t all be dismissed as they so often can be. The sheer amount of stuff packed in to this book, plus the fact that the activities and tricks actually work, makes it easy to see why Usbourne chose to republish this for thier birthday this year and I for one will definately be making a note of it for future years.

Find the frankly marvellous KnowHow Book of Spycraft here.

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