The Insane Story Of How A Simple Typo Ended WWII.

Have you ever found yourself fudging a little bit in interviews or on your resume?

Honestly, most of us have. It’s hard to get ahead and sometimes telling a little white lie about knowing how to use a certain feature on InDesign or something is what it takes to edge out the competition. There’s really something to be said for being a great candidate, even if you’re not the perfect one.

British cryptogammist Geoffrey Tandy certainly knew a thing or two about that (even if it was all a huge accident). In 1939, the cryptogammist, which is a scientist who studies algae, was working at the Natural History Museum before enlisting in the Royal Navy Reserves.


He was well-regarded and nationally renowned in his field, so when the U.K. Ministry of Defense looked into his paperwork, they were thrilled to find out that they had one of the best cryptogrammists in the world in their midst!

Except there was one problem. That was a typo.  Tandy, a cryptogammist, studied algae, but cryptogrammists are experts in codes.

Natural History Museum

Tandy was told that he was to embark on a top-secret mission to the Bletchley Park code-cracker base, which no one knew existed beyond the military. Needless to say, he was a bit puzzled but he went along with it.

When he showed up, officers showed him an insane code that they needed him to crack. The only issue here was that he, you know, specialized in studying plant life.

At this point, they were in a bit of a pickle. Basically, since Bletchley Park was a complete secret and had to remain as such, poor Tandy had to stay there and twiddle his thumbs for years on end.


While he was there, famous cryptogrammist Alan Turing showed up and because he didn’t study algae, he was a bit more useful to the code-cracking mission.


But then something truly ridiculous happened. Allies torpedoed a German U-Boat and managed to save some important documents, including a Bigram Table, which gives one the information necessary to unscramble coded messages through the enigma machine, which was an actual thing that existed.


The issue? All of those documents were completely soaked and useless… that is, unless you had someone on board who was particularly good at dealing with soggy material. After years of doing nothing, Tandy finally got to make himself useful.


Tandy got the papers in tip-top condition because life doesn’t make sense and the rules don’t matter, and that is how one unlikely scientist helped end WWII. Without his work, Turing may not have been able to crack those codes.

So the next time you feel bad for being an imperfect job candidate, remember that an algae expert brought to a top-secret military property by accident helped stop one of the biggest atrocities in human history.

Also, if your hiring manager doesn’t notice that maybe a code-cracker wouldn’t be working at the Natural History Museum, then that’s on them.

Be sure to share this incredibly weird story with all the history buffs you know!


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