UK's GCHQ reveals festive puzzle for young wannabe spies

Agency has created an intricate challenge to test the ability of the next generation of would-be James Bonds

UK spy agency GCHQ has set up a festive brainteaser. Alamy/PA
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UK spy agency GCHQ has set up a festive brainteaser for young people dreaming of becoming the next James Bond.

The puzzle is featured on the Christmas card sent by the director of GCHQ, Sir Jeremy Fleming, to his contacts around the world and is aimed at testing not only schoolchildren’s knowledge of key subjects but also their ability to work as a team.

A spokesman at Cheltenham-based GCHQ said the Christmas challenge was designed to test problem-solving skills as well as inspire an interest in Stem subjects.

“The puzzle, masterminded by a team of the agency’s in-house puzzlers … is sent to partners in the UK and around the world who work with the intelligence, cyber and security agency to counter threats, including hostile state activity, terror groups and organised crime gangs,” the spokesman said.

“Secondary school classes across the country will need to work as a team to crack the Christmas challenge, featuring seven fiendish puzzles.”

The puzzles are based on the seven disciplines of language, engineering, code breaking, analysis, maths, coding and cyber security — all key skills needed at GCHQ, he continued.

“But this year’s challenge comes with a twist: once they solve all seven puzzles, schoolchildren will need to think outside the box, using the design on the front of the card to assemble the answers, forming three separate What3Words locations,” the spokesman said.

“Joining the three place names together will reveal the special festive answer.

The puzzle is featured on the Christmas card sent by the director of GCHQ, Sir Jeremy Fleming. PA

“Based on the seven disciplines featured in the recently published Puzzles For Spies book, the #GCHQChristmasChallenge tests the lateral thinking, ingenuity and perseverance needed by those working at GCHQ across its missions to keep the country safe.”

What3Words is a mobile phone app that divides the world into a grid of three-metre squares and allocates three words to each square to enable people to share their precise location.

“From breaking Enigma to harnessing the latest cutting-edge technology, our brilliant people have worked together throughout our history to help keep the country safe,” said Sir Jeremy.

“This year’s GCHQ Christmas Card Challenge gives an insight into the skills we need every day as part of our mission — from languages to coding.

“But skills alone won’t be enough to crack this one. Puzzlers need to combine a mix of minds to solve the seemingly impossible.”

Schools interested in taking part in the puzzles can find a resource pack on the GCHQ website.

Updated: December 14, 2022, 8:05 AM