Eniac 6
The Eniac Six were Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzar, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman. Image Credit: Screenshot/The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers

Computers – we are probably in front of them all day, every day, but how well do we know their bits and pieces, and their inner workings?

Click start to play today’s Crossword and test your knowledge.

One group of women who knew computers like the back of their hands were dismissed as the “refrigerator ladies”.

The story goes, in the heat of World War II, researchers in the US raced to create a machine that would give them the calculative edge they needed to win the war. A team of engineers and mathematicians at the University of Pennsylvania managed to create the first general-purpose digital computer, called the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (Eniac).

The hardware for it was invented by physicist John Mauchly and electrical engineer J. Presper Eckert. At the time, hardware was considered the most important aspect of machines, and basic calculations were considered to be mundane work, and thus, “women’s work”. So, the ‘Eniac Six’ were hired – they were incredibly smart mathematicians who happened to be women. However, Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzar, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman were not given official security access to the Eniac – they had to make their programs based just on the blueprints.

When it was time to physically program the machine, they had to crawl through the panels and wires, ensuring data flowed seamlessly across 3,000 switches and numerous cables. They became so adept at their job that they could debug the machine, diagnose issues and find the exact vacuum tube causing the problem (there were 18,000 tubes).

The Eniac was 150 feet wide with 20 banks of flashing lights. Image Credit: Shutterstock

One day, when Mauchly decided to stop by their office, which was actually a repurposed classroom, he encountered six keen computer enthusiasts who bombarded him with questions and ideas that he had never considered. Inspired by the Eniac Six and their initiative to push the computer to new limits, he brought them into the inner circle as the team raced to prepare the machine for its first demonstration.

Working right up till the last few hours, the women created a program that got the Eniac to produce a set of missile trajectory calculations in 15 seconds – a task that a human would have taken weeks to complete. Needless to say, the Eniac was a huge success.

However, the Eniac Six were never recognised in their lifetime for their achievements. The press referred to them as the “refrigerator ladies”, mistakenly assuming they were models hired to stand in front of the Eniac for the media. Only 75 years after the Eniac was launched, were the women programmers given posthumous accolades and inducted into the US-based Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.

If smart women in the sidelines were able to achieve so much, it’s not hard to imagine what women in centrestage are capable of!

Play today’s computer-themed Crossword and channel the Eniac Six in your answers! Let us know if you enjoyed the puzzle at games@gulfnews.com.