The Nazi Lorenz teleprinter. (Photo: National Museum of Computing)

During World War II, the Nazi elite used special cipher machines to send coded messages among members of the High Command. One of the great accomplishments of British intelligence during the war was to break this code, the Lorenz cipher.

Recently, the National Museum of Computing, located at Bletchley Park, where the wartime codebreaking team worked, has been trying to piece together a Lorenz code-breaking machine, and one of the parts was discovered serendipitously on eBay, advertised for £9.50, or about $15.

A volunteer happened to find this Lorenz teleprinter advertised online, and when museum reps went to pick it up, they found it in a garden shed with a bunch of other random stuff. To be fair, even the museum did not originally realize what they had found—they thought they had a commercial teleprinter of the correct model. When they cleaned it up, though, they found a swastika insignia on it and a key specifically designed to type the Waffen-SS insignia.

The teleprinter would have been used to type in messages in uncoded German and would have been attached to a cipher machine that turned the message into code. The museum has (on loan) that cipher machine, too, but it’s missing its motor. If they locate that part, they could get the entire system up and running.

They’re also open to tips, if you happen to have a Lorenz cipher machine engine lying around in your own garden shed. 

Bonus find: A tree with its very own square root

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