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An Alan Turing expert answers your The Imitation Game questions

imitation game faq

The Imitation Game is the new film starring Sherlock Holmes as Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, and Keira Knightley as Kate Winslet as Joan Clarke. Together they are two mathematicians in World War II trying to build a bombe. The film will soon be available on DVD, blu-ray, and as an animated GIF set on tumblr.

These are the Imitation Game FAQs.

Not mentioned on The Aperiodical this week

My name is Aperiodical, king of kings;
Look on my news queue, ye Mighty, and despair!

Among other lessons not heeded by your fearless editorial trio this week are those of queueing theory. Our news queue has got a bit out of hand, so it’s time to take drastic action. Here’s what we were going to cover this week, but didn’t get round to. Some of the stories have been stewing in the queue for quite a while, so hold your nose.

Maths Jam July 2012 – Paper Enigma

Having discovered this wonderful design for a paper Enigma machine, which uses a standard size crisp tube and does a pretty good job of encoding things like an Enigma machine, I decided it was worth trying it out. What better opportunity to use something which can encode secret messages than to send messages between two monthly Maths Jam events via the medium of Twitter? The public sending of the messages would be incomprehensible to anyone not willing to get their hands dirty with a crisp tube and scissors. Unless they’ve got an actual Enigma machine.

Talk: Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine, by James Grime

James Grime has written an all-new talk, titled “Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine”, which he’ll be delivering 5:30-6:30 on Tuesday the 12th of June at the Centre for Mathematical Sciences, Clarkson Road, Cambridge.

Alan Turing was one of our great 20th century mathematicians, and a pioneer of computer science. However, he may best be remembered as one of the leading code breakers of Bletchley Park during World War II. It was Turing’s brilliant insights and mathematical mind that helped to break Enigma, the apparently unbreakable code used by the German military. We present a history of both Alan Turing and the Enigma, leading up to this fascinating battle of man against machine – including a full demonstration of an original WWII Enigma Machine!

You can find more details of the event on the Millennium Mathematics Project site.

Math/Maths 90: Maths is to Mathematics as Math is to…?

A new episode of the Math/Maths Podcast has been released.

A conversation about mathematics between the UK and USA from This week Samuel and Peter spoke about: Endre Szemerédi wins the Abel Prize 2012; Automatically tagging the World Service archive; Intel Science Fair; 72nd Putnam; The Spanish link in cracking the Enigma code; Greater Manchester sunflowers to test Alan Turing theory; e-petition: Put Alan Turing on the next £10 note; Five Math Things to do Before You Die; Music helps children learn maths; Alcohol boosts ability to solve problems creatively; Spiked Math IQ Test; Mondrian of Life; Journalism lecturer to take maths GSCE to test ‘dumbing down’; The Proof is Trivial; Angry Birds Space Mirrors Real Rocket Science; Rosenthal Prize; The New MAA Store; new NCETM contract; Reviving the Carnival of Mathematics; Google interviews: would you get a job with the search giant?; and more.

Get this episode: Math/Maths 90: Maths is to Mathematics as Math is to…?

Spanish link in cracking the Enigma code

The BBC has reported that a pair of Enigma machines used in the Spanish Civil War have been given to the head of GCHQ, Britain’s communications intelligence agency. Apparently these machines are two of “around two dozen” discovered “a few years ago, in a secret room at the Spanish Ministry of Defence in Madrid.” The article explains how these “fill in a missing chapter in the history of British code-breaking”. Apparently the use of commercial Enigma machines between Spain and Germany during the Spanish Civil War gave British codebreakers access to live traffic, since military signals used within Germany were too weak to hear in Britain. Within six or seven months, in April 1937, Dilly Knox produced his first decryption of an Enigma message.

As to how this relates to the better known Enigma story, the article explains that:

The machines used in Spain were modified versions of the commercial Enigma machine. The military machine that would be used by Germany during World War II was an order of magnitude more secure because a plugboard was attached to the front.

These more complex signals are where the better known Polish/Bletchley Park story of Enigma fits into the story.

The BBC explains the trade made for the two Enigma machines:

In return the UK handed over a number of items including a German four rotor Naval Enigma machine recovered from Flensburg in May 1945, an Enigma rotor box and related documents. The idea is that this could serve as the foundation of a display on code-making and code-breaking at the Spanish Army Museum

One machine will be held at GCHQ and the other will be placed on public display at Bletchley Park. The full article gives some interesting insight from the GCHQ historian and the director of Spain’s intelligence service.

Source: BBC News – The Spanish link in cracking the Enigma code.