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World War II
The Secret of the Code Breakers, Part 1

The Secret of the Code Breakers, Part 1
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 6 to 8
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   5.79

     challenging words:    bomba, cipher, cryptography, encrypting, krip, own-a, poland, swapping, ticking, unbreakable, dispatches, mastery, decode, wartime, top-secret, battlefield
     content words:    In World War II, Marian Rejewski, MAR-yawn Ray-EFF-ski

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The Secret of the Code Breakers, Part 1
By Toni Lee Robinson

1     Spies, codes, secret back rooms - it all sounds like a thriller movie plot. In wartime, however, secrets can be very important. Top secret plans must be relayed to troops in the field. Ships, planes, and the like must all be quietly sent where they are needed. In World War II, contact was often made by radio. Telegraph and hand delivery were also used.
2     These messages, of course, could fall into enemy hands (or ears). Each side used codes to keep its plans secret. Most of the codes were ciphers. A cipher disguises the letters in the real message. This is done by swapping numbers or other letters for the real letters. Figures that mean nothing can be thrown in to hide the message even more. In the end, the message looks like a jumble of nonsense. To decode it, a person has to know the secret key.
3     Figuring out how to read code without having the key is called breaking the code. The science of codes and code breaking is called cryptography (krip-TOG-ra-fee). It is a war all its ownï┐Ża war of wits. It usually takes place far from the battlefield. It was, however, one of the main battles of WWII.
4     First, each side tried to come up with an unbreakable code. The Nazis used a machine to make their ciphers. It was called Enigma (en-IGG-muh). The word means puzzle. The Enigma device looked like an old-fashioned typewriter in a box. It had a keyboard. It also had three to five wheels, or rotors. The letters of the alphabet circled around the edge of each rotor. Some machines had a plug board in the front as well. The board sprouted wires that could switch letters on the keyboard electronically.
5     Encrypting (putting a message into code) was easy with Enigma. The operator typed the real words on the keyboard. As each key was struck, the rotors turned. One rotor substituted a letter for each letter typed. How far did the rotor turn? Which letter of which rotor was subbed for the real letter? That all depended on how the operator had set the machine. The settings for each day were given to operators by those in charge. If the machine had a plug board, even more settings were possible. The number of letter combinations, even in one message, was dizzying.

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