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A Puzzling War

 

To celebrate the launch of our Puzzle Academy, we’re delving into the puzzling world to see what we can learn about the codebreakers of World War II and how they shaped one of our favourite pastimes – puzzling!

 


Morse and More

 

We’ll have to step a little further back than the war to look at how internationally recognised codes and communications grew in popularity. Invented by Samuel Morse in 1844, Morse Code is a versatile way to communicate without words.

Using dots and dashes to replace letters and numbers, Morse Code allows you to transmit a message no matter what situation you’re in – whether by a telegraph wire as an electronic communication or banging out SOS distress signal by hitting an object in an emergency.

 

Morse Code Guide | A Puzzling War
Morse Code, formed from lots of dots and dashes that were tapped at super speed to convey messages.

 

Morse Code via radio communication played a vital role in military and naval history, particularly back in the late 19th and early 20th-centruries when it wasn’t possible to transmit voice over the radio. The code and radio transmission even helped troops in the wars to get long-distance messages to each other when in the field – it wasn’t always possible to build telegraph wires in time with how quickly the troops moved!

Believe it or not, Morse Code was still used for maritime distress up until 1999! Although no longer used and monitored, some military and naval personnel are still trained in Morse Code in case it is needed.

 

Morse's Telegraph Station | A Puzzling War
Morse’s Telegraph Station, exhibited at the PTT Museum in Belgrade, Serbia. Credit to Milica Buha – Own work, [CC BY-SA 4.0].

 


Curious Cryptography

 

Of course, the use of coded communications didn’t just spring up in time for WWII. There have been centuries of cryptography in various forms; looking back through history, a number of popular cipher techniques crop up:

  • The Substitution cipher, where letters would be substituted from the normal alphabet to a ‘cipher alphabet’ to create hidden messages;
  • The Caesar Cipher, where the letters in the alphabet are shifted so A=E, B=F, C=G, etc. – possibly the simplest cipher;
  • The Book Cipher, where the sender and receiver decide on a book to use as their key (the Bible proved popular) and the code would point the receiver to certain pages and passages to convey the message.

 

A Caesar Cipher | A Puzzling War
A Caesar Cipher with a right shift of three… Can you figure out what your name would be if you followed this method?

 

This got a little trickier in the lead up to both WWI and WWII, as more advanced techniques were implemented, and mechanical cipher machines were built. Although codebooks and manual techniques were still used occasionally, these machines allowed encrypted messages to be created at faster speeds and with more complex ciphers.

One well known electromechanical rotor machine, which caused a lot of problems for the allies in the early stages of WWII, was the Nazi-favoured Enigma.

 

An Enigma Cipher Machine | A Puzzling Autumn
An Enigma cipher machine, like the ones used by Nazi Germany in WWII. The set of letters at the top would light up when the bottom keys were pressed.

 

The cleverly designed Enigma allowed the user to type in their covert message as normal, and the machine would light up the letters it was substituting, so another person would write down the code to create the encrypted message. All the receiver would need to do is enter the encrypted message into their Enigma, and the real information would be revealed.

It may not seem too tricky to crack for the boffin codebreakers who intercepted these communications, but the Nazis had a trick up their sleeves as they developed the machine – the code changed daily. It may have hampered the efforts of the allied cryptanalysts, but it didn’t stop them from cracking it in the end…

 


Bloomin’ Brilliant Bletchley Park

 

One place you can’t avoid talking about when it comes to wartime codebreaking is Bletchley Park; ironic, considering how few people knew what classified operations had taken place there until the mid-1970s!

 

Bletchley Park mansion | A Puzzling War
Bletchley Park mansion in Buckinghamshire, home to some of the top codebreaking minds during WWII.

 

The historic country house and estate in Milton Keynes housed the Government Code and Cypher School during WWII. The best and brightest were recruited to play their part in the war effort by using their code-breaking skills to turn encrypted enemy messages into vital military information.

The personnel at Bletchley formed a massive library of index cards, filled with encrypted and deciphered information that could prove useful against the Nazis. It wasn’t just German signals that were monitored, though – teams were set up to keep their eye on Italian, Soviet and Japanese coded messages too.

 

Punched Card Machines and Index Storage |  A Puzzling War
Photos from inside Bletchley Park, taken in 1945, showing the punched card machines and part of the extensive storage library for the Central Index.

 

Machines were invented to counteract the methods used by the enemies, including the Bombe – developed from the Polish machine known as Bomba and initially designed by now-famous recruit Alan Turing.

The Bombe would help the allied codebreakers to discover the daily settings of the German Enigma encryption machine, allowing them to overcome the previous frustrations of having to try to crack the new code every day before they were even able to decipher the crucial transmissions.

 

Rebuild of the British Bombe | A Puzzling War
A rebuild of the British Bombe at Bletchley Park.

 

At its peak, Bletchley Park had nearly 10,000 personnel – both men and women – all of whom were sworn to secrecy after signing The Official Secrets Act. They couldn’t divulge the work they were doing to anyone – even family or colleagues stationed in other areas of the base.

The secret was kept for nearly 30 years after the war ended, until the publication of The Ultra Secret by F. H. Winterbottom in 1974, which sparked discussions in the public’s knowledge about what really happened. It still took until 2009 for any Bletchley personnel to be officially recognised for the work they did.

However, many former students and employees still kept themselves bound in silence – they did swear themselves to secrecy, after all – and took the truth about their wartime activities to their graves.

 


Cracking Cryptograms

 

How has this inspired our puzzling pastimes, we hear you ask? Well, a popular puzzle seen all through the brainteasing world is the cryptogram.

 

A Cryptogram | A Puzzling War
A Cryptogram puzzle! Can you crack it? (Scroll to the end to find the solution!)

 

Cryptogram puzzles give you a string of encrypted text, and your challenge is simple – you’ve got to crack it! Often, these ciphers are easy enough to crack without too much of a headache, unlike the original ciphers used in the military or to hide personal secrets.

Admittedly, the history of the cryptogram spans way beyond World War II. These puzzles surfaced in the court of Merfyn Frych ap Gwriad, a Welsh King who died in 844AD, and were a popular pastime for monks in the Middle Ages. In fact, the famous 13th-century monk Roger Bacon even wrote a book about ciphers!

Following the pattern of historic authors loving a good mind-boggling puzzle, one big advocate for cryptograms was Edgar Allen Poe, who takes a lot of responsibility for popularising the puzzles and getting them featured in magazines.

 

Edgar Allan Poe | A Puzzling War
Edgar Allan Poe, the famous 19th-century author (and part time cryptanalyst).

 


Watch and Learn

 

The brave work of these super-secret codebreakers hasn’t just impacted our brainteasers but has also inspired popular culture in the decades since. Countless television shows, films, podcasts and books have been created to tell the tale of these wartime heroes.

We’ve mentioned before how much our Resident Wordsmith Rachel enjoyed sitting down and trying to tackle the mind-boggling codes in Sinclair McKay’s Bletchley Park Brainteasers quiz book. But here are three other ways we’ve enjoyed adding a little bit of crypto history into our lives (apart from on our Spy Mission Trails, of course).

 

The Bletchley Circle

 

The Bletchley Circle was a popular television series following the post-war lives of four female codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

 

The Bletchley Circle | A Puzzling War
The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014) and The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco (2018).

 

Set seven years after the war, Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin) learns of a spate of killings in London and notices a pattern in the crimes. Unhappy with how these cases have been handled, she gets back in touch with her colleagues Millie (Rachael Stirling), Lucy (Sophie Rundle) and Jean (Julie Graham) to ask for their help.

Susan’s friends are initially sceptical, after putting their deciphering time behind them and moving on with their lives. But, eventually, the four women club together to use their unique set of skills to solve a deadly mystery.

There were two series original series, broadcast by ITV between 2012-2014. It wasn’t renewed for a third series, but a popular spinoff, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, was released in 2018 featuring Millie and Jean using their code-breaking and mystery-solving skills across the pond.

You can watch The Bletchley Circle and The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco on Amazon Prime.

 

Enigma

 

Enigma is a fictional novel by Robert Harris, first published in 1995, and explores the work of protagonist Tom Jericho as he tries to crack German Enigma ciphers.

 

Enigma Novel | A Puzzling War
Enigma by Robert Harris (1995).

 

A young mathematician and talented cryptanalyst, Tom is called back to work at Bletchley Park after taking time off sick to recover from the pressure of his job. But, his return to the office is vital: they’ve been locked out of the Naval Enigma and need his top-notch brain!

Tom jumps back into it to find a workaround to get the team back into the Enigma, while juggling his work-based stress, deciphering a stash of curious-cryptograms he stumbled upon and trying to work on a rollercoaster relationship with his ex-girlfriend, Claire.

Although it doesn’t show an accurate portrayal of what it was like to work at Bletchley Park, the high-paced novel will have you on your toes with its twists and turns.

You can get your hands on Enigma via Amazon or Waterstones, or contact your local booksellers to see if they have a copy in stock.

 

The Imitation Game

 

Speaking of the Enigma machine, the award-winning 2014 film The Imitation Game follows the life and work of Alan Turing, the famous mathematician who built a machine to crack the Enigma.

 

The Imitation Game | A Puzzling War
The Imitation Game (2014).

 

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins the team at Bletchley Park at the start of the war and works with a team of cryptographers who are trying to crack the Enigma machine used by the Germans to send their coded messages.

Turing works in isolation to create a machine that will break the code, which gets funded directly by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. But he faces a problem – the Germans change the code daily, making it seemingly impossible to crack. After having an epiphany, Turing takes a different path to recalibrate the machine to finally discover what information is being transmitted by the enemy.

The film, adapted from the 1983 biography Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, takes a lot of creative licenses and isn’t historically accurate, and skims around the subject of Turing’s personal life. However, it honours the important work done by Turing and the rest of his team during this dark time in our history.

You can watch The Imitation Game on Amazon Prime.

 

Bonus Historical Insights

 

Okay, we know we said three ways we’ve been exploring the wartime code-breaking history… But, if you’re interested in learning more about this time in British history, the team at Bletchley Park have created a fantastic series of podcasts featuring interviews and inspirational stories from those who were directly involved or knew people who joined in with this secretive area of the war effort.

Bletchley Park is now open as a heritage attraction which you can visit to unlock more fascinating tales and see the clever machines used up close.

 


Join the Puzzle Academy

 

Are you a puzzling fanatic in need of a good challenge? Then join in with our Treasure Trails Puzzle Academy!

 

Treasure Trails Puzzle Academy Logo | A Puzzling Autumn

 

Simply, sign up below, and you will receive an email every three days with a different, quick puzzle for you to solve, with a total of 14 puzzles. Be sure to submit your answer to each puzzle. We’ll update your position on the Puzzle Academy leaderboard.

IMPORTANT – you need to be signed up before 23rd October 2020 to ensure you receive all puzzles in time to make the top of the leaderboard, and that you are only using one (consistent) Puzzle Master Name per email address.

Every Academy member who successfully solves all 14 puzzles before the tables close will win a free Trail. Don’t worry if you don’t quite get full marks; if you answer every puzzle (right or wrong) you’ll have a chance to win a Cryptex and £50 with one final brain-teasing question!

Take your time with the puzzles but be sure to have completed them all before 4th December 2020!

 

The Cryptex Prize | A Puzzling Autumn
The grand prize!

 

Join the Puzzle Academy:

Sorry! Enrolment to the Puzzle Academy is now closed! But don’t worry – if you’ve missed out, we’ll be releasing all the puzzles once the competition is over in December for you to do #justforfun so keep an eye on our social media pages.

 


Get Social

 

If you’re still hungry for more puzzles, check out our Facebook page and join in with our weekly Tuesday Teasers! You can find us on Twitter and Instagram too. Better still, post your photos of you looking puzzled out on a Trail! Tag us and add the hashtag #APuzzlingAutumn!

 


PS – wondering what the example cryptogram above decodes as? It’s what we wish each and every one one of you embarking on a Treasure Trails adventure: Happy Trailing!

 

23rd October 2020

Posted In: Puzzles

Tags: , , , , , ,

A Puzzling World

 

To celebrate the launch of our Puzzle Academy, we’re delving into the puzzling world to see what we can learn about how our favourite pastime is experienced across the globe.

 


Armchair Travelling

 

Map of the World | A Puzzling World
There’s a big ol’ world of puzzling goodies out there!

 

Here at Treasure Trails, we have a few specialities – exploring the nooks and crannies around the UK and puzzling to our heart’s content.

But while many cool, popular puzzles were invented and developed here, a lot of our favourites come from over the water. In fact, our puzzling hobbies would be rather boring without the help of our international friends and their mindboggling brainteasers!

 


Super Sudoku

 

Sudoku | A Puzzling World
A simple sudoku to get your brain in gear.

 

When we think of international superstar puzzles, Sudoku is one of the first that springs to mind. How could it not be? It has truly been a rising star in the puzzling world since it was first introduced in the UK in 2004.

In fact, if you read through a newspaper or visit the magazine section of a newsagent, it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing a Sudoku puzzle or a variation of it; Killer Sudoku and Hyper Sudoku prove popular.

 

Hyper Sudoku and Killer Sudoku | A Puzzling World
Examples of Hyper Sudoku (left) and Killer Sudoku (right); they’re about as easy as they look! Credit to Oceanh [CC BY 2.5].

 

Now, you might think that Sudoku is a Japanese creation. It’s true that the name is, and it gained its phenomenal popularity from Japan; it was introduced by Nikoli – a Japanese publisher specialising in games and logic puzzles – as Sūji wa dokushin ni kagiru which translates to “the digits must be single” or “the digits are limited to one occurrence”. However, the original puzzle is much older and comes from Switzerland!

Okay, the first version of Sudoku is definitely different from what we see now. It stemmed from an 18th-century game called Latin Squares, created by a Swiss mathematician, and went on to be adapted and published in France in 1892.

The first French version required maths skills to solve rather than logic. It was refined again in 1895 to a closer version of the Sudoku we know and love – this version was popular and featured weekly in newspapers until WWI.

 

French Sudoku | A Puzzling World
A magic square from an edition of La France newspaper, published 6th July 1895. This is possibly one of the earliest known Sudokus!

 

The modern Sudoku that is seen today was actually designed anonymously but is often contributed to puzzle-enthusiast Howard Gerns from Indiana, USA. It was published in 1979 under the name Number Place – a whole five years before Nikoli introduced it to Japan.

Talk about globetrotting! The idea of the Sudoku has truly spanned decades and continents to reach us.

 


Japanese Puzzling Gems

 

Even if it led the way, Sudoku isn’t the only puzzle to be popularised in Japan – particularly by Nikoli – that has then gone on to gain international renown.

For the most part, the puzzles that prove popular in Japan don’t include words. The Japanese language doesn’t really work for things like crosswords, so brainteasers involving numbers and shapes are seen often.

 

Summing it Up

 

Kakuro is a super popular number logic puzzle in Japan – second only to Sudoku – which takes some maths skills to solve! It’s almost like the mathematical version of a crossword; the English name is Cross Sums, as coined by a Canadian puzzler Jacob E. Funk in 1966.

You’re given a grid of white and blacked-out squares, with a number given at the start of each string of white squares. The goal is to fill each blank square with a number from 1-9, with the total of the numbers adding up to the first number given. It may not sound too complicated, but once you add all of the other entries into the mix, it can get a bit tricky!

 

Kakuro | A Puzzling World
A simple Kakuro and it’s solution. Credit to Octahedron80 – Own work [CC BY-SA 3.0]

 

Like the Sudoku, there are lots of variations and difficulty levels for the Kakuro. Although the easiest puzzles are solvable using brainpower alone, the more difficult versions require tried-and-tested tactics and techniques. Some keen Kakuro-solvers have even been known to use tracing paper to try various combinations before entering the real answers into the grid; now, that’s dedication!

 

Paint by Numbers?

 

Now, this Japanese puzzle goes by lots of different names: Nonogram, Hanjie, Picross, Paint by Numbers, Griddlers and many more! We’re going to call it by its original term – Nonogram – which was named after Non Ishida, one of two people who invented this puzzle.

With a Nonogram, you’re presented with a blank grid of many squares. At the edge of the grid are a series of numbers – each number represents how many of the squares in that row or column must be filled in one stretch. So, 1 2 3 means that one square must be filled, then a break, followed by two filled squares, another break, and finally three filled squares.

You’ve really got to tap into your logic skills to figure out which of these squares need to be filled in. The end goal of the Nonogram is to create a picture within the grid – it’s very clever! More often than not, Nonograms are intended to be black and white, but there are variations that involve colour to create an even more in-depth picture.

 

Treasure Trails Nonogram | A Puzzling World
A Treasure Trails Nonogram and it’s solution!

 

The idea of the Nonogram was first sparked after Non Ishida won a competition in Tokyo in 1987; her entry was the creation of grid pictures on skyscrapers using just the lights inside the building. Curiously, another clever-clogs – professional puzzler Tetsuya Nishio – created the same puzzle at the exact same time, completely independently!

You may not think that Nonograms have much of a following in the UK, but they’ve actually been appearing in newspapers here since 1990! To get a full book of them, you often need to dig around in W H Smiths or specialist newsagents (often marketed as Hanjie). Still, there are lots of different apps and websites out there if you want to give it a go yourself.

 

A Few More Favourites

 

We’d be here for days if we were to go through every single puzzle popularised by Nikoli in Japan! So, here are a few more of our favourites in case you want to dig deeper into this corner of the puzzling world.

  • Nurikabe; a number-and-grid logic puzzle that bears a striking resemblance to minesweeper – total throwback!
  • Shikaku; another number-and-grid logic puzzle, with the goal of drawing squares and rectangles in the grid. Each shape must contain one number and include as many grid cells as stated in the number. Tatamibari is a similar puzzle, but features three symbols ( – | + ) in place of numbers – each symbol has a different set of rules
  • Masyu; a grid logic puzzle (no numbers this time) which contains a number of white (empty) circles and black (filled) circles. The goal is to draw a continuous line that passes through each circle but depending on whether the circle is black or blank will determine how that line passes through.

 

Nurikabe, Shikaku and Masyu | A Puzzling World
Left to Right: Examples of the Nurikabe, Shikaku and Masyu puzzles with their solutions. Credit to By Levochik – Own work, [CC BY-SA 3.0] for the Shikaku. Credit to Adam R. Wood (Zotmeister) [CC BY-SA 3.0] for the Maysu.

 


On the Page

 

There’s a crazy amount of internationally-sourced paper (or mobile app) based puzzles out there – like Sudoku – and there are few more worth mentioning too.

 

Slithering into the Snakepit

 

Hidato is a number-and-grid logic puzzle, invented by Israeli mathematician Dr Gyora M. Benedek. For this puzzle, you’re presented with a grid – it can be any shape, as long as it is one grid. You need to enter a string of consecutive numbers, starting with 1, and each number must be positioned adjacently, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally.

 

An Example of Hidato | A Puzzling World
A fairly simple Hidato and it’s solution. Can you see the resemblance to Snake?

 

Some publishers choose to name this puzzle Number Snake or Snakepit thanks to its resemblance to the video game Snake – we’re loving these little drops of nostalgia!

 

Str8t Up

 

Str8ts is a cool Canadian creation, invented by mastermind puzzle-builder Jeff Widderich back in 2007. Similar to Sudoku and Kakuro, Str8ts – which gets its name from poker straight – involves tapping into your logic skills to place numbers into the right boxes in a grid.

 

An Example of Str8ts | A Puzzling World
A very tricky version of Str8ts – could you have cracked it? Credit to AndrewCStuart – Own work [CC BY-SA 3.0]

 

You’re presented with a 9×9 grid, with black squares to form compartments, and the remaining white cells must be filled with consecutive numbers (hence poker straight) in any order: 1234, 3412, 4231 etc. could all work.

The puzzle even featured in the Canadian Dragon’s Den back in 2010, where Widderich secured $150,000 for a 10% share to develop and popularise the puzzle. Now, you can find wooden board and pieces versions, dedicated Str8ts puzzle books and online apps!

 


Off the Page

 

With so many paper-based puzzles and brainteasers out there, sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are 3D games out there – whether aimed at single participation or several players – that rely on logical and strategical puzzling skills to solve.

 

A Chinese Tradition

 

Mahjong has been played in China since the late 1800s (although, it’s rumoured to have existed 2,500 years ago!) and has rapidly grown in popularity across the world over the last few decades. Usually designed for four players, Mahjong requires skill and strategy to beat your opponents and win the game.

 

Mahjong in Play | A Puzzling World
A game of Mahjong in play.

 

The rules and styles of play vary across regions and countries, but for the most part, you play with 144 tiles, featuring designs of Chinese characters and symbols. Each player receives 13 tiles and must draw and discard tiles until they’re left with a ‘legal hand’ that wins the game – similar to lots of card games out there. Sounds simple? Well, you’re presented with lots of rules and tactics for playing the game, which is where the strategy comes in!

Although there is something very special about playing Mahjong in person with others, you can even play it by yourself nowadays using simplified, digital versions of the game.

 

Twisting Tantrix

 

Do you remember playing Tantrix? Created in 1988 by Mike McManaway from New Zealand, Tantrix became a fun (and a little frustrating) tile game for kids and adults alike!

 

Tantrix in Play | A Puzzling World
A game of Tantrix in play. Can you feel the nostalgia? Credit to K.Pardík – Own work [CC BY-SA 3.0].

 

If you never played, or need your mind refreshing, there are 56 tiles to play with, and each tile is unique, featuring three different coloured lines and a number.

If you’re playing with others, each player picks a colour and takes it in turns to place their tiles down, following a set of rules and restrictions. There’s one goal in mind – to create the longest line or loop in your colour.

 

A Colourful Conundrum

 

Of course, we can’t forget the king of 3D puzzles – the Rubik’s Cube! The colourful cube is phenomenally popular and is officially the world’s top-selling puzzle game with over £350 million sales by January 2009.

 

Two Rubik's Cubes | A Puzzling World
A 3×3 and a 5×5 Rubik’s Cube, just waiting to be solved!

 

Originally invented by Hungarian sculptor and professor of architecture, Ernő Rubik, the puzzle cube has dazzled (and stumped) generations since 1977. There are over three billion possible combinations, but only one solution. It takes some serious skill, tactical thinking and brainpower to crack.

There are even competitions and championships, where speedcubers battle it out to beat the world record – currently 3.47 seconds! Over the years, more complex records have been set, featuring larger cubes and curious circumstances. Recently, an 11-year-old from Canada beat a record by solving 30 cubes in one hour, using only one hand and while hula-hooping! That takes some serious skills and dedication – most of us can only manage the one cube in an hour (if we’re lucky).

Decades later, the cube craze is still in full swing. If you’ve got a Rubik’s cube hidden somewhere, why not dust it off and give it a go? You could even grab your hula-hoop while you’re at it…

 


Join the Puzzle Academy

 

Are you a puzzling fanatic in need of a good challenge? Then join in with our Treasure Trails Puzzle Academy!

 

Treasure Trails Puzzle Academy Logo | A Puzzling Autumn

 

Simply, sign up below, and you will receive an email every three days with a different, quick puzzle for you to solve, with a total of 14 puzzles. Be sure to submit your answer to each puzzle. We’ll update your position on the Puzzle Academy leaderboard.

IMPORTANT – you need to be signed up before 23rd October 2020 to ensure you receive all puzzles in time to make the top of the leaderboard, and that you are only using one (consistent) Puzzle Master Name per email address.

Every Academy member who successfully solves all 14 puzzles before the tables close will win a free Trail. Don’t worry if you don’t quite get full marks; if you answer every puzzle (right or wrong) you’ll have a chance to win a Cryptex and £50 with one final brain-teasing question!

Take your time with the puzzles but be sure to have completed them all before 4th December 2020!

 

The Cryptex Prize | A Puzzling Autumn
The grand prize!

 

Join the Puzzle Academy:

Sorry! Enrolment to the Puzzle Academy is now closed! But don’t worry – if you’ve missed out, we’ll be releasing all the puzzles once the competition is over in December for you to do #justforfun so keep an eye on our social media pages.

 


Get Social

 

If you’re still hungry for more puzzles, check out our Facebook page and join in with our weekly Tuesday Teasers! You can find us on Twitter and Instagram too. Better still, post your photos of you looking puzzled out on a Trail! Tag us and add the hashtag #APuzzlingAutumn!

 


23rd October 2020

Posted In: Puzzles

Tags: , , , , ,