The Special Vocabulary of Crossword Puzzles
Ordinarily no one would have paid a bit of attention except for one thing:
Juno, Gold, UTAH and Sword were not only the secret codenames for the beaches assigned to the British, none of these four words are common crossword puzzle clues.
Since not everyone who reads this story is an avid Crossword Puzzle solver, I think this part of the story would make more sense if I explained that the odds of these four particular words appearing in a puzzle are very slim.
Oddly enough, of the four codenames, I actually do see UTAH from time to time. Based on my Crossword experience, I can attest that UTAH is not quite a rare as Juno, Gold and Sword.
BesidesUTAH, the word �Ute�, an indigenous Indian tribe that gave the state of Utah its name, is part of the Special Crossword Vocabulary. And once in a while I will see �Orem� or �Provo�, two towns in Utah. And �Alta�, a ski resort in Utah, occasionally shows up as well. In other words, any reference to UTAH is not out of the ordinary as crossword puzzles go.
That said,given the context of three preceding codenames, UTAH was the word that really put the covert ops people on edge.
So why was everyone especially worried now??
There is an old saying: �One is an incident. Two is a coincidence. Three is a pattern and time to pay attention!�
Using this logic, Four became the time to panic.
Great Britain�s MI5 was made famous by Ian Fleming in his James Bond books. MI5 is the British counterpart to our own CIA spy agency. This institution was in charge of protecting the Normandy secret. Not surprisingly, there were many men and women in MI5 who were also avid crossword puzzle fans. And the buzz in the agency over the mysterious appearance of these words was growing. The word "consternation" was probably the most appropriate description for their growing apprehension. It seemed ridiculous that a daily crossword puzzle was being used to communicate top-secret information, but with the odds of the words appearing so astronomical, some very keen minds were at a loss to find a logical explanation for the weirdness of it all.
Was this just a silly coincidence? Or was this the work of a German spy sending covert messages to the homeland? It seemed improbable, but on the other hand, it sure was eerie.
Not surprisingly, every morning practically every member of MI5 began to turn immediately to the morning London Daily Telegraph crossword puzzle!
The moment they opened the paper on May 22, 1944, the spy people lost their breakfast. They stared grim-faced at the newest crossword puzzle. There it was, OMAHA, the word they had been looking for.
The question was "Red Indian on the Missouri River", 5 letters.
The solution? Omaha � codename for the D-Day beach scheduled to be taken by the 1st US Assault Division in just a matter of days. This was the fifth and final codename of the five beachesto be listed in the London daily crossword.
What was going on here?
But it didn't stop with the beaches! In fact, the problem kept getting worse.
Five days later on Saturday, May 27, it was Overlord that appeared. The agents stared in amazement.
OVERLORD was the codename for the entire D-Day operation! It was the sixth top-secret word to appear.
Someone at MI5 decided that enough was enough. MI5 informed SHAEF, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, about the strange problem and SHAEF replied, �You better look into this.�
Agents were immediately assigned to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Ordinarily no one would give a word like DIEPPEa second thought.
Except for one thing� the clue had appeared in the newspaper just two days before the disastrous raid.
August 17: Crossword using 'DIEPPE' is published.
August 18: 'DIEPPE' appears in the Answer Section for the previous day's crossword.
August 19: Raid on Dieppe fails miserably, many lives are lost.
To someone with a suspicious mind, it sure looked like a Nazi spy who was based in London had found an ingenious way to tip off the Germans of the location of an impending attack.
Given the fact that the Germans seemed to be laying in wait strongly reinforced that suspicion. Indeed, the Germans seemed to have been practically waiting at the shoreline for the British to arrive on their doorstep.
Had the crossword clue tipped them off?
Personally, when I read about the DIEPPE angle, I realized I had no idea where Dieppe was. I felt like I vaguely had heard the name, but I wasn't sure. I immediately wondered how often an obscure name like DIEPPE appears in crossword puzzles.
So I decided to research my personal Crossword Puzzle Clue List.
I have two lists. One list is the 1,000 word 'Special Crossword Vocabulary'. The other list is more general. Every day for about 15 years, I would add one or two words that had stumped me in the most recent crossword. The idea was to create a reference to help solve future puzzles. Beside each new entry, I added a note to remind me of the meaning of the word.
I have compiled this list myself over a 20 year period. Whenever I run across a crossword clue that stumps me, I add the clue to my list along with a note telling me what it is. My list is 1,346 pages long and contains 282,174 words.
To my surprise, DIEPPE was in there. Out of 280,000 words, DIEPPE appeared once. My note said it was a French port.
The fact that there was only a single entry suggested I had probably seen this clue once in my 20-plus years of solving crossword puzzle clues. This confirmed my suspicion that DIEPPEis an unusually obscure clue.
What do you think about that? Now the appearance ofDIEPPE doesn�t seem quite so harmless anymore. A one in a million clue had appeared in the London paper two days before the attack.
At the time, an investigation was launched. Lord Tweedsmuir (son of the novelist John Buchan) was called in to ask questions about the appearance of DIEPPE as a Telegraph crossword clue answer on August 17. At that time Tweedsmuir was a senior intelligence officer attached to the Canadian Army, which made up the main assault force for the disastrous DIEPPE venture. Tweedsmuir knew several of the men who had died in the raid.
Tweedsmuir was very upset at the thought that a spy might have given away their mission to the enemy. So he took his job seriously.
But he found nothing...
Later Tweedsmuir commented:
"We noticed the crossword contained the word DIEPPE. There was an immediate and exhaustive inquiry which also involved MI5. In the end it was concluded that it was just a remarkable coincidence - a complete fluke."
Fluke or no fluke, two years later, the appearance of 8 different secret code names during the run-up to D-Day was too much for anyone to tolerate without a probe.
Fluke? Coincidence? Uncanny precognition? Or German spy? What could possibly be the explanation?
Given the context of the strange DIEPPE incident two years earlier, it sure seemed like someone was indicating the invasion was headed to a place codenamed Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah, and Omaha.
What ifthe Germans had previously learned the significance of those five words?
If so, they had just been warned exactly where the Allies were headed on D-Day. To the worrywarts at MI5, it sure looked like the invasion was headed into another Dieppe-style fiasco. If so, the results would be horrifying beyond imagination.
There could be no coincidence. The odds of 8 different ultra-secret clues appearing in the London Daily Telegraph crossword were too remote to be dismissed as a "fluke". There had to be a significant connection of some sort.
It was time to get to the bottom of this puzzle within a puzzle.
Leonard Dawe was in serious trouble. He would be held in custody for several days.
Oh, to be a fly on that wall!
We will never know, but one has to wonder just how far they went to �break him�. After all, nothing could be left to chance. If war secrets were being passed along, especially with so many lives at stake, Dawe's code words could spell absolute doom for the invasion.
A kindly old man in his 50s who was head of a posh, gentile English private school, Dawe was hardly a likely suspect. However, given the seriousness of the situation, no doubt the interrogation was rigorous.
During an interview many years later, Tom Weston, the former head boy at the Strand School in 1944, was asked about the day MI5 arrived. Weston nodded and said he remembered the incident quite clearly.
Tom Weston had heard that Mr. Dawe had been setting the London newspaper crossword since its inception in 1925. Now that Dawe was well into his 50s, he was still doing the crossword. However, to Tom Weston, Mr. Dawe was not just some teacher who dabbled in puzzles. Mr. Dawe was the headmaster of his prestigious private school! When the news that two very angry-appearing men were in Mr. Dawe's office first broke, the whispers spread through the school like wildfire. It wasn't just the boys who were alarmed; so were the instructors.
So naturally all the boys watched with paid close attention as the headmaster was unceremoniously placed into a car by those very serious-looking men and whisked away.
�An official car turned up in our driveway. I was very interested, especially after two very large men got out. So I kept watching. After a time, I saw Mr. Dawe go off in the car with whoever it was. They each had one of his arms.
Afterwards the rumors started to fly. When the boys heard what the scandal might be about, we were appalled. We were astonished at the thought that Mr. Dawe was a traitor. He was our headmaster. He was a member of the local golf club. Whatever was going on, it was a complete mystery to all of us.� - - Tom Weston
Dawe was allowed to return to the school a few days later. Upon his return, Dawe said nothing. He did little to dispel the mystery surrounding him. He refused to give any sort of explanation. It was likely that MI5 had ordered him to keep his mouth shut.
Fortunately for Dawe, almost immediately D-Day took place successfully. Now Leonard Dawe was allowed to resume setting the crosswords. So the boys assumed nothing was wrong after all. Now things began to return to normal at the school. At this point, the school boys turned their attention back to the dramatic events of war and promptly forgot about the strange visit of the two men.
Trust me, Leonard Dawe never forgot about it.
Years later, during a BBC television interview in 1958, Dawe referred to the incident, saying:
"They turned me inside out. Then they went to Bury St. Edmunds where my senior colleague Melville Jones (the Telegraph's other crossword compiler) was living. They put him through the grill as well.
But in the end they eventually decided not to shoot us after all.
Had D-Day failed, I suppose they might have changed their minds." - - Leonard Dawe
Indeed, thank goodness the invasion went well or Dawe and Melville Jones might have come under further scrutiny on suspicion of leaking sensitive information to the enemy.
Hey, if even the slightest bit of evidence had popped up, I would have volunteered to pull one of the triggers. The appearance of 8 different code names is ridiculous, especially in such a short period of time and at such a critical time. All of those clues are outrageously rare. For that matter, once I remembered the DIEPPE story, I would have been twice as suspicious given the context of D-Day coming just around the corner.
Personally, I can�t believe the agents led Leonard Dawe and Melville Jones off the hook. If I had been the investigator, I would not have released Dawe and Melville until AFTER I learned the results of D-Day. In addition, I would have kept digging. Based on my knowledge of crossword puzzles, I calculate the odds of a mere coincidence being the cause as astronomically unlikely.
Something was wrong here, very wrong.
The appearance of those words could NOT BE AN ACCIDENT!
So is this end of the story?
In 1984, the Daily Telegraph decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of D-Day by re-telling the strange story of the 8 code names that appeared in their crossword puzzles in the fateful period shortly before D-Day. To this point, no explanation had ever surfaced.
One of the readers was Ronald French, 54, a property manager in Wolverhampton located about 150 miles northwest of London.
Ronald French contacted the Telegraph with an astounding confession.
French said he was the source of the leaks!!
French explained that he was 14 years old when he attended the Strand School in 1944. Leonard Dawe was one of his teachers. Ronald French knew that Mr. Dawe did crossword for the London Daily Telegraph. French added that Mr. Dawe loved trying to get his students interested in crosswords.
In fact, French noted, Mr. Dawe had a special technique he used to stir up interest in crosswords.
According to French, Dawe would occasionally invite pupils into his study. During these times, as a mental discipline, Dawe would encourage the students to help fill in blank crossword patterns. There were no riddles involved. The students were being asked to create an answer sheet for a crossword puzzle without having to worry about setting the clues. All they had to do was create the answer sheet.
In other words, students like Ronald French could put in any sort of answer that fit their fancy in the long spaces, then agonize over ways to find words that could connect the longer clues and fill out the entire grid.
Rick�s Note: I had never given much thought to how crossword puzzles are created. It had never occurred to me that you start with a blank grid and simply fill in the blanks.
So I gave it a try. It took me just a couple minutes to put that much together, but I have little doubt to put an entire puzzle together correctly would take well over an hour and probably several hours. It could turn out to be quite time consuming.
Surely it would be tricky to find the right words to weave all the different answers together. These days we have computers, so someone can use them to do search functions to find connecting words more easily. For example, I used my 'search function' to come up with GIOTTO after I had the first three letters GIO. And I used the search function to confirm that ETSI is Latin for "Although".
Those boys at the Strand School didn't have computers to use. Nor did they have 20 years of crossword experience like me.
SoI would imagine this proved to be a very tough exercise for the boys, especially given their limited vocabularies.
The Mystery Begins to Unfold, Part One
What Ronald French and the other teenagers didn�t know was that Leonard Dawe was using their hard work and creativity to create the puzzles he was being paid to create himself!
Unbeknownst to the boys, Dawe would take the best answer sheets and create the questions after the fact. In other words, the kids created the grid... the difficult part... and Dawe wrote the questions as an afterthought. Then he would secretly publish their work!!
For whatever reason, be it laziness or simply because �what difference did it make?�, Dawe was letting the kids do the hard part of puzzle-creation for him.
To me, this practice seems unethical. I can only wonder how Dawe was able to keep his job in 1944 once the trustees found out� I am guessing that Dawe never told them the whole story once he was released by MI5.
Okay, so that�s one part of the explanation for the bizarre code name mystery. There�s more.
So where did the eight code names come from?
French said the men took him under their wing and showered him with attention. He absolutely loved it!
This was a very understandable match... French and the other boys at the nearby Strand School were the perfect age for hero worship. In turn, the lonely men loved the chance to befriend their young admirers during these anxious days far from home.
Ronald French was adamant that the secret codewords were well known by all the boys, but that this knowledge was harmless without the identity of 'when' and 'where' the invasion would strike. French pointed out that he had no idea what the significance of those codenames was. Everyone plus the dog and the cat knew the big landing was going to take place soon. This was no secret. French repeated that the codewords were meaningless without a �when� or a �where�. In that sense, the boys really didn�t know anything more than the Germans did.
"I was totally obsessed about the whole thing. I would play truant from school to visit the camp. I used to spend evenings with them and even whole weekends there, dressed in my Army cadet uniform. I became a sort of errand boy who walked the dog about the place and did small chores like fetch cigarettes and stuff like that.
Everyone knew the outline invasion plan and they knew the codewords. Omaha and Utah were the beaches, and these men knew the names but not the locations. We all knew the nickname for the operation was Overlord.�
The soldiers talked freely in front of me because I was quite obviously not a German spy. I wasn�t the only one. Hundreds of kids must have known what I knew." - - Ronald French
Without a doubt, the terrible war and the proximity of the Allied soldiers was exciting for the schoolboys. Ronald French, for example, said he kept notebooks of the information he gleaned. With the war at its height, the excitable teenager was obsessed by the vocabulary of the era. Any time he heard an interesting word, French wrote it down. In additoin, French had another reason to write down words.
Headmaster Leonard Dawe was probably indirectly responsible for French's fascination with his vocabulary notebook. Crossword puzzles demand an extensive vocabulary, especially at the difficult "creation process". It is hard to imagine a 14-year old boy with a vocabulary extensive enough to fill the blanks for an entire crossword puzzle. Ronald French likely began writing down words to help him with his difficult crossword puzzle task.
Ronald French inserted all sorts of war-time words into his notebook such as �RAF� (Royal Air Force), �warden�, �Poland�, �aircraft�, �ammo� and �disarm� in addition to the code names. French had no idea the sensitive nature of the words he added such as �Juno�, �Omaha�, and �Overlord�. To him, they were simply useful words to help him complete Mr. Dawe's crossword assignments.
French was totally na�ve about what he was doing. In fact, when asked by the newspaper 40 years later, French said he did not remember actually inserting the codenames into the puzzle grids. To him, they were just words. Since he had no idea what their significance was, he added those words without a second thought.
NEW YORK -- There's a scandal that's all over the papers: A prominent maker of crossword puzzles has been accused of plagiarism. But USA Today's crossword editor Timothy Parker claims he was just clueless.
A database of 53,000 published puzzles shows at least 60 edited by Parker borrow, seemingly directly, from the New York Times.
Parker titled one "Dare to Compare." It has the same theme, same order and two identical clues as a Times puzzle from 1997 edited by Will Shortz.
"It can take a puzzle maker as much time to come up with a good, fresh theme as to fill the grid and write the clues," Shortz told CBS News. "So to borrow or take someone else's creativity when coming up with an original theme really is not right."
FiveThirtyEight.com examined the database and found Parker also republished puzzles in USA Today, with only minor changes -- but under different bylines.
Parker told the website, "To me, it's just mere coincidence. We don't look at anybody else's puzzles or really care about anyone else's puzzles."
Parker also edits the syndicated Universal Crossword, with clients including CBS News. Parker, USA Today and Universal Crossword have not responded to request for comment.
"I think it reflects poorly on USA Today, and they should have a crossword editor worthy of their paper," Shortz said.
The New York Times tweeted Saturday, "Is that crossword plagiarized?"
You fill in the blanks.