Correction: Oscars-Enigma Machines story
NATICK, Massachusetts (AP) — NATICK, Massachusetts (AP) — In a story Feb. 20 about the Museum of World War II, The Associated Press, relying on information from the museum’s founder, erroneously reported that it is the only one in the country where patrons can use Nazi-era Enigma coding machines to encrypt and decrypt messages. At least one other museum, the National Cryptologic Museum, lets visitors use similar machines.
A corrected version of the story is below:
US museum lets ‘Imitation Game’ fans encrypt their own codes
A riddle wrapped up in an enigma: US museum showcases ‘Imitation Game’ code-breaking machines
By PHILIP MARCELO
NATICK, Massachusetts (AP) — A little-known war museum outside Boston is drawing back the curtain on a key secret of “The Imitation Game,” giving visitors a rare chance to use the complex Nazi Enigma coding machines at the center of the Oscar-nominated film.
The Museum of World War II’s new exhibit “The Most Secret Top Secret: The German Enigma Code Machines” is billed as the largest public display of the encryption machines, which the Nazis used for nearly every level of military communication, from the mundane to the top secret.
Among the nine machines in the exhibit are two that visitors can use to encrypt and decrypt their own messages.
Museum founder and historian Kenneth Rendell says only the National Security Agency has more Enigma coding machines. The NSA owns more than 50 and loans them out to museums around the country and its National Cryptologic Museum also allows visitors to use similar machines.
The Museum of World War II, located 20 miles outside Boston, is regarded by many history buffs as containing one of the more comprehensive collections of World War II artifacts in the U.S.
Rendell says “The Imitation Game,” which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley, may fudge some facts and amp up the drama, but it still gets a lot right about the Allied effort to crack the Germans’ sophisticated communications code during World War II.
He says the movie’s biggest achievements are introducing the critical wartime contributions of pioneering British mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing to new audiences and showcasing the legendary complexity of the Nazi code machines.
“It’s too bad that many of the folks depicted in the movie did not live long enough to see their story told,” Rendell said.
He says the movie shows the importance of the “intellectual side” of warfare: how technologies like computers, radar, jet engines and plastics were developed or refined during the war years.
Turing, who died in 1954 of cyanide poisoning, is widely considered a founding father of computer science. His work led to the development of concepts like artificial intelligence.
But Rendell acknowledges that the movie makes some missteps.
“All of this drama about him being blackmailed during the war because he was gay, it wasn’t true. In those circles, I just don’t think anyone cared,” Rendell said. “And there were a lot of women breaking codes at Bletchley Park, not just one.”
Critics and historians have noted other liberties in the movie, which is up for best picture and seven other awards when the Academy Awards air Sunday night.
For example, the name of Turing’s code-breaking machine in the film is Christopher, apparently after a childhood crush. It was actually called Victory.
Rendell suggests Turing’s mathematical genius was also helped, in no small part, by human error.
The Nazis were either too confident no one would crack their code, he says, or they simply became careless over time. “Human nature was really a big element,” he says. “Because it was supposed to be unbreakable, people relaxed.”