Chapter 12 WebQuest: CodeQuest

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Chapter 12 WebQuest: CodeQuest

It was a cold, damp, dreary day at Bletchley Park, a large manor outside of London. The year was 1942, during the darkest days of World War II, and hundreds of workers huddled in little huts on the manor grounds. In this secret place, the workers listened to Morse code (a code using short and long taps to represent the letters of the alphabet) and wrote down what they heard. Most of these workers had no idea why they were doing this, only that it was important for the war effort.

British Morse code operators at Bletchley Park, working to decipher the Enigma codes

The project began in 1939 when a group of mathematical geniuses gathered in secrecy at Bletchley Park. Their mission was to break the infamous German code called Enigma. This code, developed in the early 1900s, was very cleverly designed. It depended on a machine that could write a large number of codes by scrambling letters of the alphabet. The programmer would rotate several rotors to the settings described in a daily codebook, type in the message, and then the machine would encrypt the message. Morse code then transmitted this encrypted message. If the Allies could break this code, they would gain a huge advantage in the war. However, the British mathematicians and engineers often faced the task of finding one right answer out of 150,000,000 possibilities! Despite these odds, they remained undaunted by the enormity of the task. They knew that the code could be broken. It took years, but finally in 1942, they created a prototype that could decipher Enigma. Once deciphered, the British military had access to crucial German military plans. This information helped turn the tide of the war.

There is a biological code that contains information, much like Enigma. Also like Enigma, people have cracked this biological code, captured in DNA. In this WebQuest, you will learn more about how both Enigma and DNA send their codes.

DIRECTIONS: Read the information and the questions before going to the associated links. Write your answers on this worksheet. Type in the URLs provided, or use the links on Mrs. Winward’s School Notes page.

1. Go to Click on “The Enigma Machine” to find out how the Germans programmed the Enigma machine. Then click on and read “U-boat threat”.

a. How many different ways could an enigma machine put a message into code?

b. Who was the first group to try to decipher Enigma?

c. Describe how the message was encoded.

2. Try sending a message using a virtual Enigma machine designed to duplicate the workings of the Enigma. Go to
To encrypt your message, click on the arrows to set the rotors. Start typing your message by clicking the letters on the grey keyboard. The actual message will appear in red print, with your encrypted message below it. Write your actual message and your encoded message below.

a. Original text:

b. Encoded text:

3. Like the Enigma code, the DNA code consists of a series of letters. While letters construct words in the Enigma code, they represent the recipe for protein formation in the DNA code. While there are no rotors to turn or letters to type, scientists figured out the DNA message. Go to to see what they discovered. Be sure to click on each number (1 through 6) in the diagram and read how DNA codes for proteins. Then answer the questions below.

a. What are the four letters in the code and which letters pair together?
b. These letters, or base pairs, form the rungs of the ladder-like molecule called .

c. What are genes?

d. Genes are wrapped up into bundles called .

e. The chromosomes are found in what cell organelle?

4. Describe how both Enigma and DNA are types of codes.

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