Crack the Code: Real-Life Code-Breakers

Escape Rooms have it all. You can expect adrenaline-pumping action, a plethora of thrilling puzzles. Whole host of twists and turns that fuel the mystery you are trying to solve. But what about the real-life heroes that have helped shape this immersive experience? 

For the most part, code-breakers are the background heroes that have helped save the world from a whole series of catastrophic events before they happened, such as WWII altering secrets from the Nazis. 

Surprisingly, codes and cyphers have been used to mask secrets between allies and enemies throughout the centuries. From the Caesar cypher to the Enigma machine. Let’s take a look at some of the real-life codebreakers that cracked the code before disaster struck: 

Alan Turing – the most renowned hero of Bletchley Park

Located in a 19th-century mansion deep in the English countryside, some of the best minds in the country – both men and women – came together to decipher codes that would have been devastating to the Allies in WWII. 

Famously run by British Intelligence, the top-secret base would become the home to some of the most groundbreaking discovery methods. 

Alan Turing is the codebreaker who “saved millions of lives.” A mathematician and graduate of both Cambridge and Princeton Universities, Turing joined the staff at Bletchley Park as a cryptanalyst in 1939. 

While there, Turing used his brilliant analytical and logical skills to decipher some of Germany’s most challenging codes, most notably, the Enigma code. 

The Germans believed their Enigma code to be unbreakable, and it perhaps would have been had the British not captured one of the Enigma machines in 1941. To break the code, Turing developed a British “Bombe” – essentially one of the first computer’s ever made! 

William Thomas Tutte – the unsung hero of Bletchley Park 

During WWII, the Germans were big fans of using complex codes to communicate. While the Enigma code became the most famous, the Lorenz cypher was another ink in the ointment for British Intelligence. In essence, the Lorenz cypher enabled the Germans to communicate safely by radio via a stream of code. 

Enter William Thomas Tutte. 

Born in England in 1917, the rising star studied chemistry at Cambridge before switching to mathematics in 1940. It was only a matter of time before Tutte was snapped up by the British Intelligence team at Bletchley Park, where he launched his career as a cryptanalyst. 

Unlike the Enigma machine, the British never got their hands on a Lorenz cypher machine. Instead, Tutte worked everything out by hand and wrote down countless streams of code that were intercepted through various channels. 

With his colleagues, Tutte studied the code meticulously. He searched for patterns that would give meaning to the code itself. Before eventually finding the information that would put a stop to some of Germany’s plans. 

Elizabeth Smith Friedman – America’s secret weapon

Despite the US dragging their heels to join WWII until the events at Pearl Harbor, their contribution to codebreaking throughout the remaining part of the war is incredible. Particularly their essential work on Japanese cyphers. 

But unlike the team at Bletchley Park, many of the top code breakers in American cryptography were, in fact, women and the most successful of all of them has to be Elizabeth Smith Friedman

What’s so surprising about Friedman is that her first taste of cryptanalysis was decoding messages hidden in the works of William Shakespeare. The Indiana native later joined Riverbank Laboratories. Here she truly put her cryptoanalysis skills to the test. She was decoding messages sent during the prohibition era by “rumrunners.” 

Impressed by her work, the FBI and Office of the Coordinator of Information (a forerunner of the CIA) picked Friedman to be part of their code-breaking team during WWII. 

While there, she applied her skills to counter-espionage work. Which included breaking up a network of Nazi spies who were working to spread unrest in Latin America. Friedman also analysed and decoded messages from the notorious spy, Velvalee Dickinson. Velvalee was later charged for passing US Navy secrets to the Japanese. 

Room 40 – Great Britain’s little known WWI cryptanalysis section

We all know that the best work comes from teamwork. A generation before Bletchley Park came the largely amateur outfit, Room 40. The small team was made up of volunteer engineers, linguists and cryptography enthusiasts. 

Located in London’s Whitehall, the secret group formed in October 1914. An attempt to make sense of a series of encrypted documents and a codebook recovered from a sunken German warship in the Baltic. Alongside intelligence officers from MI1, the team at Room 40 would spend hours poring over intercepted signals. Until finally, the German rudimentary cyphers began to make sense. 

One of Room 40s greatest achievements was cracking a diplomatic cable from Germany to Mexico in 1917. That ultimately changed the course of the war. Nicknamed the Zimmerman Telegram, the document sent from Berlin was a pledge to the Mexican government that aimed to unite the countries. The latter would agree to recapture lost territory in the southwestern US. 

As soon as Room 40 cracked the code, British Intelligence immediately sent the deciphered message to Washington. Germany was launching unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic. This revelation struck into flame and gave the United States no other option but to enter the war. 

Ann Z Caracristi – the woman who broke the security glass ceiling

Cryptography is an art form that plays one of the most essential roles in a nation’s defence. Ann Z Caracristi was instrumental in learning about Japan’s planned surrender near the end of WWII. She later became the first woman to serve as National Security Agency Deputy Director. 

When interviewed about her work on deciphering the complicated additive systems used by Japanese military forces, Caracristi said “Solving these problems did not require a great deal of math. They required a great deal of ingenuity.”

In short, Caracristi inspires as a formidable intelligence operative. She continued to push boundaries and uncover some of the world’s most daunting threats to national security throughout her career. 

Life often imitates art, and for these remarkable code-breakers, they helped change the course of history. Do you think you have what it takes to put your skills to the test in one of our escape rooms