You know who Benedict Cumberbatch is, but you need to know who Alan Turing is.
The codebreaking efforts of World War II were some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world until very recently. At the heart of these efforts — to break the German encryption machine known as Enigma — sat mathematical prodigy and professor Alan Turing. Using logic and clever engineering, Turing was able to construct a machine that could narrow down the possible Enigma settings from 158,962,555,217,826,360,000 possible settings to just 1. It took Turing’s machine, the “Bombe,” only 20 minutes each day to do so. Breaking Enigma probably shortened the war by years, and likely saved millions of lives.
In my latest Because Science, I try my hand at explaining how exactly Turing broke Enigma, using a very simplified example courtesy of the informative videos on the Enigma machine from Dr. James Grime (which you can watch here and here).
Oh, and go see The Imitation Game. It’s really good.