Way back in 1942, when World War II was raging in Europe, and the opposing powers were doing everything they could to crack each other's coded messages and so remain a step ahead in the great game, a curious experiment was carried out, with the help of The Telegraph newspaper. A seemingly innocuous ad was placed in the paper one day, inviting participants to a contest to crack the daily crossword under twelve minutes. The test was held in controlled conditions, with the editor keeping a close eye on proceedings. The official explanation for this rather unusual test of wits was that there had been mounting criticism that the daily crossword in The Telegraph was becoming all too easy, and wasn't attracting serious enthusiasts any more.
Not many people would have known that the ad had been placed with active encouragement from the organisation that is now called GCHQ ( the British signals intelligence organisation), and there is a school of thought which says that the letters sent to the newspaper criticising the standard of the crossword were also the handiwork of this organisation. So it was hardly a coincidence that the performance of the contestants came under very close scrutiny, and the five fastest solvers were recruited to help in the war efforts, playing the role of code-breakers! Based in Bletchley Park, this unlikely band of lateral thinkers worked with furious intensity and eventually cracked the Enigma Code, which was used by Germany to encrypt all sensitive communication. This was a telling blow in favour of the Allies, exposing many plans of the Axis forces before they could be implemented.
The Imitation Game (Left) and The Bletchley Circle
For those into Netflix, The Bletchley Circle is a must-watch: a very gripping tale of code-breakers who find themselves embroiled in solving murders. And while I haven't yet watched The Imitation Game, the plot and the stellar cast leave me in no doubt that it is a cracker of a movie.
So, that's a bit of historical background to cryptic crosswords, which I hope you found interesting!😊
In the next installment of this series, I will plunge into what cryptic crosswords really are about, and why they are worth the trouble of solving them.