The goal of research on how letter identity and order are perceived during reading is often characterized as one of "cracking the orthographic code." Here, we suggest that there is no orthographic code to crack: Words are perceived and represented as sequences of letters, just as in a dictionary. Indeed, words are perceived and represented in exactly the same way as other visual objects. The phenomena that have been taken as evidence for specialized orthographic representations can be explained by assuming that perception involves recovering information that has passed through a noisy channel: the early stages of visual perception. The noisy channel introduces uncertainty into letter identity, letter order, and even whether letters are present or absent. We develop a computational model based on this simple principle and show that it can accurately simulate lexical decision data from the lexicon projects in English, French, and Dutch, along with masked priming data that have been taken as evidence for specialized orthographic representations.