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Coding, puzzles and crosswords

Posted: 2nd March 2018

TS Heads Up on…. Coding, Puzzles and Crosswords

How is writing computer code related to solving puzzles and crosswords you my ask? Well, surprisingly some of the greatest computer scientists were also rather good at solving puzzles and crosswords. In fact one of selection processes used at ‘Station X’ otherwise know as Bletchley Park was a cryptic crossword. The cryptic crossword in question stemmed from a series of letters written to The Daily Telegraph in January 1942 claiming that the paper’s cryptic crossword wasn’t hard enough and it could be solved in a matter of minutes. So W A J Gavin, the then chairman of the Eccentric Club, suggested this should be put to the test. Gavin put up a £100 prize, to be donated to charity, and Arthur Watson, the Telegraph’s editor, arranged the competition. Five people initially beat the 12-minute deadline, although one was later disqualified, for miss spelling a word. The puzzle was then printed in the January 13th 1942 edition of the Telegraph, so that everyone could attempt to solve this cryptic crossword. Unbeknownst to the Telegraph and the contestants at the time, the War Office was watching the results of this challenge with great interest. Several weeks after taking part in The Daily Telegraph Time Test, those that had successfully solved the cryptic crossword within the time limit received a letter marked ‘Confidential’ inviting them to make an appointment to see Col Nichols of the General Staff, who ‘would very much like to see you on a matter of national importance’.” Several of these contestants ended up working at Bletchley Park, breaking German military codes.

So whether it’s cracking a simple cipher, or something as complex as the codes of the Enigma machine, the trick is making links between letters and words, and crosswords are the same sort of lateral-thinking. In today’s world of 1’s and 0’s these same skills and lateral-thinking are still being used to solve problems and develop computer code.

Students at Taunton School are being actively encouraged to develop these skills that form the core elements of Computational Thinking within their lessons and through participation in national competitions such as the Bebras Computational Thinking Challenge, GCHQ’s Cyber Discovery Challenge, Southampton Universities National Cryptology Challenge and the University Of Manchester’s Alan Turing Competition.

Simon Ryder, Head of DT

Categories: Blog Senior