The Mysterious Crossword Puzzle War Caper
November 2, 2015
“OH, THIS IS DRIVING ME to distraction!”
“What?” Agatha asked her sister Temperance. She had come to visit for a month during long Indian Summer days at the little cottage inland a ways from Chesapeake Bay.
“Oh, these crosswords. I am addicted to working them, there is no doubt, but I have been troubled in recent years by a strange phenomena. I skip around in the books, with no rhyme or reason. I just turn to a page and start working. I never start at the beginning of the puzzle book and work straight through.”
“What is so odd about that, Tempie? I imagine a lot of people do that.”
“What is so odd is that no matter what page I am working, what puzzle I am on, there are words, or clues for words that have something to do with an activity I have lately done, or a movie or show I have just watched. They are coincidences so remarkable that it can’t be believed,” Tempie answered.
“Give me an example.”
“Okay, last night I craved a little snack. I usually buy sliced dill pickles to put on my hamburgers, but I have been watching my grocery bill, and very often the best buy in pickles is for the dill spears, so that is what I get and just slice them myself. The difference in cost can sometimes be a dollar or more.”
“Hadn’t noticed that myself—hmmm. Go on.” Agatha had no idea where this was headed.
“Anyway, last night, you were already in bed, I got up and got me a snack. I cubed some Swiss cheese and sliced a dill spear and ate those on a toothpick. I opened my puzzle book to a puzzle and the fourth clue down was, ‘part of a pickle.’ The answer was, ‘spear.’ Three or so clues down on the list was the entry, ‘holey dairy product.’ The answer was ‘Swiss cheese.’ You remember how we had just watched that old Miss Marple movie?”
“Yes, and it was a good one.”
“One of the next crossword clues was, ‘Rutherford character.’ The answer was…”
“’Marple?’ That would be a tad unsettling, Tempie. Spooky.” Agatha admitted.
“Oh it would be, but it happens so much, I come to expect it. And that is not all, there were at least three other clues or words in the same puzzle that applied to my own very recent activities. It is as if the crossword puzzle book is spying on me, or could read my mind. Say, have I brought this subject up with you before? It seems like I have said this exact same thing before—I can’t remember.”
“Now are you experiencing déjà vu, too?” Agatha giggled then continued. No, Tempie, we have not had the conversation, but I bet you did have it with our sister.”
“Yes. I imagine that was it. I did confide it to one other person, and I do believe it was Grace, now that you have prodded my memory. She was sorry she couldn’t join us, this time, by the way, but she had to take her mother-in-law to a rehab for arthritis patients for a spell.”
“Poor girl—yes I do remember her mentioning that. Isn’t the mother-in-law in her late eighties? I bet that is a fun trip!” Agatha winked at her sister in such an exaggerated way that Tempie thought her face might crack.”
“The old lady is getting up there and has to be helped with everything, just like we will be, if we live long enough.”
“Say. I have been mulling over this crossword enigma of yours and I think I recall something similar that almost caused an international incident during World War II.”
“Really? I would love to hear about it.”
“Just a minute and I will go into my room and see if I can look it up on that little high-tech tablet I have in my bag.”
“I don’t know how you have the patience to use those electronic gadgets, sister. Yes, do look it up. My curiosity is killing me.”
Agatha returned with her iPad and did some quick finger-work, much to Tempie’s amazement—and consternation”
“Yes, here it is, dearie. In June of 1944, the crossword puzzles in the Daily Telegraph—very popular and widely read puzzles by the way—were getting the undivided attention of certain security officers. They were the very security officers that were concerned with protecting the secrets of the Allied invasion of Europe that was in the offing.”
“Daily Telegraph? Is that a London newspaper?”
“Yes, I believe so. It is one of the big British newspapers at any rate. This planned invasion was going to be one of the most monumental attacks of all time and great secrecy was required, yet here it was being talked about in the newspaper, ahead of time, for all to see.”
“What? Surely not.”
“The clues or answers to the Telegraph’s puzzles were words that figured highly in the top secret plan: Omaha, Utah, mulberry, Neptune, overlord and a few more, all in the same puzzle.”
“I know the significance of Omaha and Utah, Agatha. Those were the planned landing spots—we know that now. What are the significances of those other words you mentioned that were also in the puzzle?”
“Glad you asked. ‘Mulberry’ was the code name for floating harbors being used, ‘Neptune’ was the code name for naval support, and overlord was the code name for the whole big operation.”
“My goodness. It does seem like the crossword puzzle was trying to alert enemy spies, or blow the whole plans to smithereens. What happened? Did they discover a spy or a nest of spies at the London newspaper?”
“The fellow who designed the puzzles was in an office in Leatherhead, Surry. Off they went to interrogate him—the MI-5, Britain’s crack counter-espionage service was in a dither. They demanded to know why he used those exact words and clues. He remained unflustered. There was no law against his using whatever words he wished to pick for his puzzles, was there? He asked them this question and was so sincere that they realized that it was all just a series of unbelievable coincidences.”
“A series of unbelievable coincidences—I guess a series of those can happen more often than we allow ourselves to think about, Agatha, and possibly do a lot of damage. It could even lead to accusations of treason. Seems like I remember some Hitchcock movies about that very thing.”
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Quite Curious, a collection of short stories about mysterious and unexplained events.