During World War II the U.S. military sent letters to female college students across the country asking if they liked crossword puzzles, among other questions. The mysterious letters were part of a recruitment strategy to bring cryptanalysts (read: code breakers) to the nation’s capitol. The women who responded — and who made it through the application process — were sent to D.C, given desks in nondescript rooms, and put to work in secrecy to dismantle enemy code systems. Everyone else thought they were secretaries. Ha!
The military recruiters understood something that the private sector hadn’t yet discovered, which is that women could break code as well as men. Or maybe better.
This is one of the threads that inspired us to collaborate on a book of illustrated codes called D C-T!. The book takes place in New York. The scenes each contain a cryptogram to solve. Some are easy, some are ruinously tricky. Solving tip: pronounce the letters out loud to yield a caption.
Molly Young: This image is about the condition of the modern woman.
Joana Avillez: When I was drawing this, I channeled the energy of my best friend Isabel. This was confirmed to me when she saw the illustration and said: “That’s me.” Of course, in reality Isabel would never react like the character in the drawing, but it quickly gets to the heart of what New Yorkers are best known for: being extremely slow and nice.