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Old 09-01-2011, 01:29 PM
Tom Scud is offline
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Password/countersign anecdotes


Hi all.

I'm editing a manuscript about passwords, and need a very quick anecdote/scene from either a famous movie or history that uses the stereotypical challenge-response password dynamic. The current version of the manuscript cites World War II soldiers using "Mickey" and "Mouse" as the challenge and response, which is entertaining, interesting, and almost completely historically inaccurate. I came up with a more accurate D-Day sign/countersign (flash/thunder), but it's kind of boring by comparison. Anyone have any ideas for something that actually happened in history, or else a famous scene from a movie? It has to be something that doesn't need much explanation.

I thought of the password scene from SPACEBALLS, but it won't work in context.
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Old 09-01-2011, 01:51 PM
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Well, there's the scene in Casablanca where Berger, the Norwegian agent, showed Victor Laszlo the ring with the hidden cross to demonstrate his loyalty so Victor would know he was legit. That's not really a password.

So I'd go with "Swordfish."

Quote:
Baravelli (Chico): [through speakeasy's door] Who are you?
Professor Wagstaff (Groucho): I'm fine, thanks, who are you?
Baravelli: I'm fine too, but you can't come in unless you give the password.
Professor Wagstaff: Well, what is the password?
Baravelli: Aw, no. You gotta tell me. Hey, I tell what I do. I give you three guesses. It's the name of a fish.
Professor Wagstaff: Is it Mary?
Baravelli: Ha-ha. That's-a no fish.
Professor Wagstaff: She isn't? Well, she drinks like one. Let me see: Is it sturgeon?
Baravelli: Hey, you crazy. Sturgeon, he's a doctor cuts you open when-a you sick. Now I give you one more chance.
Professor Wagstaff: I got it. Haddock.
Baravelli: That's-a funny. I gotta haddock, too.
Professor Wagstaff: What do you take for a haddock?
Baravelli: Well-a, sometimes I take-a aspirin, sometimes I take-a Calamel.
Professor Wagstaff: Say, I'd walk a mile for a Calamel.
Baravelli: You mean chocolate calamel. I like that too, but you no guess it. Hey, what's-a matter, you no understand English? You can't come in here unless you say, "Swordfish." Now I'll give you one more guess.
Professor Wagstaff: ...swordfish, swordfish... I think I got it. Is it "swordfish"?
Baravelli: Hah. That's-a it. You guess it.
Professor Wagstaff: Pretty good, eh?

--Horse Feathers, 1932
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Old 09-01-2011, 02:35 PM
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When the Shadow would recruit operatives, he'd explain that folks would contact 'em by saying "The sun is shining..." to which the correct reply is "...but the ice is slippery." That's how it played out in the Alec Baldwin movie, anyhow: he lays out the password-and-countersign arrangement so repetitively that the cabbie mouths it along with our hero when the rescued kidnap victim gets told how it's going to be from now on.
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Old 09-01-2011, 02:35 PM
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This website gives a list of George Washington's General Orders during the month of December 1775. As you can see, he issued a parole and countersign every day. (A parole is a password used by officers to check that sentries knew the countersign.)

Last edited by Little Nemo; 09-01-2011 at 02:36 PM.
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Old 09-01-2011, 02:40 PM
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Anybody remember "Whodat?"
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Old 09-01-2011, 02:52 PM
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Well, there is this exchange from Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards!:

The figure rapped a complex code on the dark woodwork. A tiny barred hatch opened and one suspicious eye peered out.
" 'The significant owl hoots in the night,' " said the visitor, trying to wring the rainwater out of its robe.
" 'Yet many grey lords go sadly to the masterless men,' " intoned a voice on the other side of the grille.
" 'Hooray, horray for the spinster's sister's daughter,' " countered the dripping figure.

" 'To the axeman, all supplicants are the same height.' "
" 'Yet verily, the rose is within the thorn.' "
" 'The good mother makes bean soup for the errant boy,' " said the voice behind the door.
There was a pause, broken only by the sound of the rain. Then the visitor said, "What?"
" 'The good mother makes bean soup for the errant boy.' "
There was another, longer pause. Then the damp figure said, "Are you sure the ill-built tower doesn't tremble mightily at a butterfly's passage?"
"Nope. Bean soup it is. I'm sorry."
The rain hissed down relentlessly in the embarrassed silence.
"What about the caged whale?" said the soaking visitor, trying to squeeze into what little shelter the dread portal offered.
"What about it?"
"It should know nothing of the mighty deeps, if you must know."
"Oh, the caged whale. You want the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night. Three doors down."
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Old 09-01-2011, 03:05 PM
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Go to the library and get a copy of The Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson. It's the second book in his WWII history, this volume concerning the invasion of Sicily and Italy. There are many references to passwords and countersigns, but I don't remember any offhand.

Password and countersign are misunderstood by almost everybody. While passwords are commonly called out, it's usually by the person returning to friendly lines when challenged. The countersign is usually not called back unless asked for, as that then could give the listening enemy both words.

An instance where the response might be asked for would be if a patrol wasn't sure what line it was approaching. An enemy with good English might call out "what's the password?", but if the patrol is not sure that it is near American lines, they will not only give the password, but ask for the response to make sure they're in the right place.

Since even military people don't always understand how that works, passwords/countersigns are changed frequently.

Last edited by Chefguy; 09-01-2011 at 03:06 PM.
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Old 09-03-2011, 12:54 PM
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Operation Chariot (an extremely cool and ultimately successful though costly raid on the St Nazaire docks to deny berthing space to the Tirpitz) used:

Challenge: "War Weapons Week"
Response: "Welmouth"

The idea was that even if the Germans figured out what was being shouted and why, good luck pronouncing all those Ws.
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Old 09-03-2011, 04:23 PM
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There are scenes in the Bond movie "From Russia With Love" that include passwords and countersigns, including a bad guy overhearing them and using them.

"The Longest Day" has the Nazis mimicking the sound of the clickers used by Allied troops.

There was a novel I read years ago, serialized in Analog magazine, about a CIA agent in the future. The way agents identified each other was to say something like "Hi! It's me your cousin Charley. How is Aunt Susan's lumbago?" with the countersign being something like "It's been worse. How's Uncle George's arthritis?".

<Off topic>FWIW, the main character of the novel was the son of the main character from another future spy novel, wherein the Mom was a spy who looked like a dumpy old charwoman, and cleaned enemy offices of both dust and secret papers. I think she hooked up with a Nepalese agent, and our multi-ethnic hero came along. Also, the CIA folks used the word "palpably" a lot. I think a space railway was involved. People on the overpopulated earth were, at the end, lining up to be cryofrozen ("baptized in liquid nitrogen") to wait for a better future. I thought Jerry Oliton co-wrote this, but it doesn't show on his Wiki page.</Off topic>
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Old 09-03-2011, 04:32 PM
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In real life, David "Mickey" Marcus was killed in a friendly-fire incident when he was in the Isreali army. He did not speak enough Hebrew to give the password, and the Israeli guard did not speak English.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_%...9_Marcus#Death
  #11  
Old 09-03-2011, 04:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Typo Knig View Post

"The Longest Day" has the Nazis mimicking the sound of the clickers used by Allied troops.
Although not on purpose. The movie had one Allied soldier mistaking the sound of a Mauser k98 bolt being thrown as that of a clicker responding with two clicks to his challenge of one.
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Old 09-04-2011, 04:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malacandra View Post
Operation Chariot (an extremely cool and ultimately successful though costly raid on the St Nazaire docks to deny berthing space to the Tirpitz) used:

Challenge: "War Weapons Week"
Response: "Welmouth"

The idea was that even if the Germans figured out what was being shouted and why, good luck pronouncing all those Ws.
Hmm, a real-life example of a shibboleth, then?
  #13  
Old 09-04-2011, 04:59 AM
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Thunder/Flash is the only example I've comes across that is supposed to have been actually used.

In terms of fictional examples, I've an idea it's used in Blackhawk down, and the new Deus Ex game has an encounter with a conspiracy buff who insists on using one.
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Old 09-04-2011, 12:00 PM
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How the Howard Families identify each other in the Robert Heinlein stories involing the character Lazarus Long. Sign, countersign, response.

Life is short.
But the years are long.
Not while the evil days come not.
  #15  
Old 09-04-2011, 12:23 PM
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From Lost:

(Usually preceded by "Are you Him?")
"What did one snowman say to another?"
"Smells like carrots"
  #16  
Old 09-04-2011, 12:27 PM
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In LOST, Desmond being on constant duty, entering the "numbers" every 108 minutes for three years straight at the Dharma Swan Station asks John Locke, "Are you him?!"

Locke, confused, pretended he was (I can't remember exactly what he said).

Relieved, Desmond then asks, "What did one snowman say to the other snowman?"

Locke, of course, didn't know how to respond, revealing he's not Desmond's replacement.

The answer was, of course, "Do you smell carrots?"

ETA: GAH! Curse you jackdavinci!

Last edited by cmyk; 09-04-2011 at 12:29 PM. Reason: 4 8 15 16 23 42
  #17  
Old 09-04-2011, 12:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ximenean View Post
Hmm, a real-life example of a shibboleth, then?
There are quite a few, actually. This is one of the most famous:

Quote:
English–Dutch

The Peasants' Revolt of AD 1381 (also Tyler’s Rebellion, or the Great Rising) was used by the merchants of London in an attempt to get a competitive edge in the trade with the Low Countries by reducing the number of competitors. A massacre among the Flemings in London – not just the Flemish merchants – ensued. "And many fflemmynges loste hir heedes at that tyme and namely they that koude nat say Breede and Chese, but Case and Brode."[7]
  #18  
Old 09-04-2011, 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by cmyk View Post
ETA: GAH! Curse you jackdavinci!
Wow our neurons must be linked! You said it better though. Another one from Lost:

"What lies in the shadow of the statue?"
"Ille qui nos omnes servabit", which is Latin for "He who will save us all"
  #19  
Old 09-09-2011, 02:20 PM
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Thanks to all for the responses; I think I'm sticking with thunder/flash since I basically don't want to spend a lot of text (by which I mean any at all) explaining things or setting up a scene.
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Old 09-09-2011, 02:25 PM
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Incidentally, an example I thought of which I didn't use because it's not well enough known, but which is awesome, comes from Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates; a conspiracy of 20th-century time travelers in Victorian London use the first three notes of "Yesterday," whistled, as the sign and the next nine notes ("all my troubles seemed so far away"), also whistled, as the counter-sign.
  #21  
Old 09-09-2011, 02:26 PM
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Top Secret!

Q: "Do you know any good white basketball players?"
A: "There are no good white basketball players."
  #22  
Old 09-09-2011, 02:44 PM
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From Russia With Love

James Bond: Pardon me, do you have a match?
Kerim's Chauffeur: I use a lighter.
James Bond: Better still.
Kerim's Chauffeur: Until they go wrong.
James Bond: Exactly.

(used twice in the movie as a password)

===================================

Bond: In London, April's a spring month.
Wade: Oh yeah? And what are you, the weatherman? For crying out loud, another stiff-assed Brit with your secret codes and your passwords. One of these days you guys are learn just to drop it. Come on, my car's over here.
[They go to the car, and Bond hands Wade the bags]'
Bond: After you.
Wade: Thank you.
[Suddenly, Bond pulls a gun on Wade, who tries to go for his]
Bond: Like you said... drop it.
Wade: [exasperated] All right, in London, April's a spring month, whereas in St. Petersburg we're freezing our butts off! Is that close enough for government work?
Bond: No. Show me the rose.
Wade: Oh please, no...
[Bond presses the gun closer]
Wade: All right...
[Wade takes down his pants to reveal a tattoo of a rose and the name "Muffy" on his right cheek]
Bond: "Muffy"?
Wade: Third wife. [puts out his hand] Jack Wade, CIA.
Bond: [shakes it] James Bond, stiff-assed Brit.
  #23  
Old 09-09-2011, 03:00 PM
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Locke, of course, didn't know how to respond, revealing he's not Desmond's replacement.
How about the classic from the X-MEN movie, where they haven't even practiced?

"It's me."
"Prove it."
(short pause) "You're a dick."
(short pause) "Okay."
  #24  
Old 09-09-2011, 03:02 PM
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Bond: [shakes it] James Bond, stiff-assed Brit.
You know, without the context of the previous line, "[shakes it]" takes on a whole different meaning.
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Old 09-09-2011, 04:03 PM
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Top Secret!

Q: "Do you know any good white basketball players?"
A: "There are no good white basketball players."
Challenge: Who do you favor in the Virginia Slims tournament?
Response: In women's tennis, I always root against the heterosexual.
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Old 09-10-2011, 01:16 AM
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The scene that comes to mind for me is more about how seeming nonsense sounds like one of these passphrase/response thing. It's from Murphy Brown.

She's just taken a pregnancy test, and it came up positive. She then meets one of her friends, who is unaware of the test. Murphy is somewhat in shock from the news.

Murphy: "The stick is blue!"

Friend: "The dog barks at midnight? Wait, what are we talking about?"
  #27  
Old 09-10-2011, 03:14 AM
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Incidentally, an example I thought of which I didn't use because it's not well enough known, but which is awesome, comes from Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates; a conspiracy of 20th-century time travelers in Victorian London use the first three notes of "Yesterday," whistled, as the sign and the next nine notes ("all my troubles seemed so far away"), also whistled, as the counter-sign.
Similarly in the closing chapter of Stalky & Co, set in India some years after the boys have left school, an Indian with a message from one of the gentlemen plays the first few notes of "Arragh, Patsy, mind the baby" and expects that the recipient will continue the tune.
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Old 09-10-2011, 03:54 AM
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From the novel The Andromeda Strain (I forgot how it goes in the film):

Guard at the phony agricultural station: "You folks lost?"
Burton: "Just passing through, on the way to Rome."
Guard: "You got the time?"
Burton: "My watch stopped yesterday."
Guard: "Durn shame."
Burton: "It's because of the heat."

----

My buddies and I have a running gag:

Sign: "The geese shall fly in a Vee formation."
Countersign: "The weimaraner is a fine dog."
  #29  
Old 09-10-2011, 04:25 AM
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Although not on purpose. The movie had one Allied soldier mistaking the sound of a Mauser k98 bolt being thrown as that of a clicker responding with two clicks to his challenge of one.
If we're going with classic war movies, there's also the British commander in A Bridge Too Far who never goes anywhere without his umbrella. It's never explained until the very end of the movie, when both him and his superior are about to be overrun. The conversation goes something like this (from memory)

- I never asked because I thought it would make you too happy, but now that we're about to die: what's with the umbrella ?
- Bad memory.
- Whut ?
- I could never remember the bloody password. I knew no German would carry this - had to prove I was an Englishman.
  #30  
Old 09-12-2011, 09:35 AM
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Another one occurred to me, that Bill Cosby used to use as a gag on his show:

"A wet pelican walks with a gaited limp."
"But a dry fish swims alone."
  #31  
Old 09-12-2011, 10:37 AM
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Old 09-12-2011, 11:06 AM
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Another one occurred to me, that Bill Cosby used to use as a gag on his show:

"A wet pelican walks with a gaited limp."
"But a dry fish swims alone."
Jackie Vernon had a thing in his act, "A wet bird never flies at night." And I thought he was the one with "A true buffalo never turns his head to the wind." but I wasn't able to verify that one as Vernon's by way of a Yahoo! search. There are so many of those "Polish Proverbs" like those. Some I love:

It is far better to sit idle than to just do nothing at all.
A tall man on horseback can look down on a short man on the ground.
He who casts no shadow knows no shame.
It is better to wear out your slippers dancing than to have your feet cut off.
  #33  
Old 09-12-2011, 11:17 AM
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Get Smart had a bunch of these - damned if I can remember them, though

I think the counter to one was "the purple water runs uphill" or something like that

Last edited by Labtrash; 09-12-2011 at 11:17 AM.
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