Ticking Turing Machines

Why did British codebreakers—Polish codebreakers, actually–call their cipher machines “bombes”?

Background: before National and International Socialism signed the pact agreeing it was OK to invade and dismember Poland, Polish mathematicians were already working on breaking Enigma machine codes. These gadgets used wired wheels inserted into a cipher machine to scramble and unscramble text. Since business and Die Ewige Staat are much the same in Germanic Altrurias, commercial Enigma machines quickly evolved into military coders to meet the exigencies of the initiation of force. The initiation encountered resistance, much as in Newton’s Second Law, and war was declared.

After actual bombs rained down on British assets, the folks at Bletchley Park hired Alan Turing to work on decryption. Alan was comfortable with mechanical approaches and improved codebreaking machines the Poles called “bombes.” Why bombes?

The explanation in several Turing books that mention the name had to do with the ticking sound they made. The writers then leapt to the conclusion of ticking time bombs, nèe (or is it née?) “bombes,” Quod Erat Demonstratum. This explanation was, for some reason, facile and unsatisfactory.

Another unsatisfactory answer to a simple question was given by a couple of Brazilian students being prodded, poked, inspected and detected by Amerika’s own imitation of Germanic Altrurian officiousness. I refer, of course, to the Transport Sozialist Arbeiterpartei, affectionately dubbed the Tea Essay at U.S. airports. The unionized government employee doing the poking, prodding, inspecting and detecting produced from their luggage a plastic box with some heft to it, a wire going in and a tube coming out, and asked “Wuz dis?”

The Brazilian students knew exactly what it was: an aquarium pump to keep tropical fish from drowning—a bomba de ar.
“Eat ease a air bomb,” they replied politely–albeit none too fluently–and were immediately surrounded by semiliterate steroid abusers First Responders™ with loaded guns, handcuffs, pepper spray, clubs, nylon straps, badges and governmental impunity.

So returning to the bombes that defeated Europe’s christianizing eugenics program:
Q: what goes tick tick tick and is familiar to Polish scientists?

A: a vacuum pump.

Ever need technical translations?

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