Crossword Coincidences

September 24, 2006 at 1:41 pm 10 comments

In the weeks proceeding the D-Day Invasion of Normandy, the Allies found themselves a bit concerned with the crosswords in the Daily Telegraph.  Five of their codewords– Overlord, Utah, Neptune, Omaha and Mulberry appeared as answers in puzzles that appeared between May 2, 1944 to June 2, 1944.  It worried the allies so much that a counterespionage team at Scotland Yard (M.I.5) investigated the author, Leonard Sidney Dawe, and even showed up at his house to interview him on June 4, 1944.  From Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day:

“Mr. Dawe,” said one of the men as the questioning began, “during the last month a number of highly confidential code words concerning a certain Allied operation have appeared in the Telegraph crossword puzzles.  Can you tell us what prompted you to use them– or where you got them?”

Before the surprised Dawe could answer, the M.I.5 man pulled a list out of his pocket and said, “We are particularly interested in finding out how you came to choose this word.”  He pointed to the list.  The prize competition crossword in the Telegraph for May 27 included the clue (11 across) “But some big-wig like this has stolen some at times.”  This mystifying clue through some strange alchemy made sense to Dawe’s devoted followers.  The answer, published two days before on June 2, was the code name for the entire Allied invasion plan– “Overlord”

Dawe did not know what Allied operation they were talking about, so he was not unduly startled or even indignant at these questions.  He could not explain, he told them, just how or why he had chosen that particular word.  It was quite a common word in history books, he pointed out.  “But how,” he protested, “can I tell what is being used as a code word and what isn’t?”

The two M.I.5 men were extremely courteous: They agreed that it was difficult.  But wasn’t it strange that all these code words should appear in the same month?

One by one they went over the list with the now slightly harassed bespectacled schoolmaster. 

Dawe had no explanation for the use of these words.  For all he knew, he said, the crosswords mentioned on the list could have been completed six months before.  Was there any explanation?  Dawe could suggest only one: fantastic coincidence.

An old co-worker of mine, Chris Martz, got me hooked on the Roanoke Times Crossword (done by Eugene Sheffer).  I’ll have a few periods here and there where I don’t work on them regularly, but when I do, it isn’t unusual to run across a series of coincidences in the clues and the answers. 

It happens so much that I’ve written about crossword coincidences in my past journals, but I don’t have to tap into those today–  I have a fresh example to share!  Yesterday at Larry’s, I printed out a fresh Eugene Sheffer crossword and worked on it throughout the day. 

  • Pea
    Early on, I ran across the clue, “Cause of royal insomnia”.  It was a reference to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea.  It was a story I had not heard a while, but it was still alive enough in my memory to know the answer.  Without saying a word, I filled in PEA. No more than ten minutes later, Larry Bowman starts mocking his daughter and her sleeping habits.  He ended his ridicule with asking her whether she had a pea under her mattress.
  • Hahn
    There was one trouble area in the upper right of the puzzle where I ended up being stuck.  When I had completed everything that I could, I decided to look up the answer to one clue I had little chance in knowing, “Physicist Otto”.  Four Letters and I knew _A_N.  It turns out it was Otto Hahn, a pioneer in radioactivity.  Once I had the two missing H’s filled in, the rest of the section was solved quickly. With the puzzle done, I moved on to another activity– reading Discover magazine.  The first article I started to read was called “20 Things You Didn’t Know About the Nobel Prizes”.  Number 13 and 14 both mentioned Otto Hahn– the very man I had just looked up.

It is occurences such as these that make me feel the Operation Overlord code words appearing in the Daily Telegraph was not that “fantastic” of a coincidence afterall. 

It seems to me that coincidences in crosswords are, in fact, commonplace.

Entry filed under: Cornelius Ryan, Crossword, D-Day.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Christina  |  September 24, 2006 at 3:06 pm

    Our brains are wired to notice coincidences. I’ve noticed them in my spam. When I bought a laptop (not online), I started getting laptop related spam, and then I talked to someone about The Cheesecake Factory and for the next week I got Cheesecake Factory coupon spam (I didn’t go to the website or google it, or anything that would explain this). Just odd coincidences.

  • 2. Clint  |  September 25, 2006 at 1:26 pm

    Isn’t that called confirmation bias?

  • 3. Clint  |  September 25, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    I wonder if today the intelligence officers would be so cordial. Would he be locked up, today, if he refused to answer those questions — despite having done nothing wrong?

    Signs point to yes.

  • 4. Xwd fiend  |  September 26, 2006 at 3:38 am

    Later information suggests this wasn’t just a crossword coincidence. See:

  • 5. tgaw  |  September 26, 2006 at 1:28 pm

    Whoa– thanks for the article, Xwd fiend! That was very interesting!

  • 6. Clint  |  September 26, 2006 at 2:19 pm

    It says TWO kids did this??

    I gotta wonder if they just want the fame of making a claim, or if their claim is true. . .

  • 7. tgaw  |  September 26, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    Yeah that’s how I read it– at least two kids were claiming to have done it.

  • 8. Clint  |  September 26, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    wow. that was a fast response. i clicked submit, it brought up a prompt about going from a nonsecure to secure site — some work-specific prompt.. by the time i said “yes”, you had already replied. (Yes, that means the prompt was up for at least 7 minutes. as soon as i click i always go to another window)

    so.. yea.. fast.

  • 9. myrykle  |  September 2, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    when people say anwers thats what the hell they want okay!!!!!!
    sike naa just joking but this is pretty cool its all quiet looking and stuffs………

  • 10. crosswordendsinviolence  |  November 25, 2008 at 7:58 am

    A novel has been written on this very subject, by the way… You can read all about it here:


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