Have you ever written a term paper in school that you thought was simply amazing? How about a cover letter and a résumé for your dream job? Then you discover that you have one or two typos, (or worse, several of them!) and your heart just sinks into despair. Well, it turns out that the people working for the government aren’t perfect either. They’re regular people just like us, and during times of war, fear, stress, and anxiety can lead to a few hiccups. But as luck would have it, not all typos are bad. In Geoffrey Tandy’s case, it was a huge career booster and it changed the tides of World War II towards victory for the good guys.The UK Ministry of Defense looked into British cryptogammist Geoffrey Tandy’s work. They were so impressed by how well-regarded and renowned he was in his field that they brought him in to lend a hand in deciphering some codes during World War II.
After the Ministry of Defense recruited him, he was told that he would go to the Bletchley Park code-cracker base, which was a top-secret facility that only the military knew about. Obviously, Tandy was very confused.
Cryptogrammists are pros when it comes to cracking codes, which was very useful during World War II. But Tandy wasn’t a cryptogrammist; he was a cryptogammist, which is a person who studies algae, not codes.
Naturally, he couldn’t do what they were asking him to do, and he couldn’t head home either because Bletchley Park was a secret. So sadly, Tandy had to remain at the base for several years, supposedly with nothing to do.
They had also found a bigram table, which makes it possible to decipher coded messages through a piece of equipment called an enigma machine. There was only one problem. The documents were soaked and virtually worthless.
After spending a lot of time at the top-secret base doing practically nothing useful, Tandy was finally able to make a difference. Tandy wasn’t a code cracker in the least, but he was able to restore the damaged papers to their original condition.
Tandy’s experience with marine algae provided him with the insight he needed to save the data that was in the wet documents that were salvaged from the German U-boat. After that, it was up to a real code cracker to finish the job.
Unlike Tandy, Turing was not an expert in algae, but he was a whiz at code-cracking. With the documents restored, Turing was able to crack the code that helped put an end to WWII, but he couldn’t have done it without the help of that algae scientist who goofed up on his résumé!