Puzzles & Quizzes

The British Government Is Using This Puzzle to Recruit Young Spies

Logic puzzles and word scrambles make for fun ways to kill a little time. But the British government's listening agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is using one such puzzle as a recruiting tool. Can you solve this word scramble? If so, maybe you'd make a good spy.

On Monday, January 15, 2018, BBC Radio 4's "Today," which broadcasts a puzzle every morning in its "Puzzle for Today" slot, broadcast something a little different. It was a puzzle, yes, but it was supplied by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), a GCHQ subdivision dedicated to cybersecurity. The NCSC aimed to pique the interest of young girls with their puzzle, in hopes of recruiting 12- and 13-year-olds as prospective spies. Though the challenge was meant for tweens, it's no walk in the park. Try the puzzle out yourself below, and keep scrolling to read the answer.

Here's the Puzzle

"Thirteen rotters stole my answer and they ROTated it by 4 and then ROTated it by 10 and all I have left is Uccr ziqy hc ozz QmpsfTwfgh Uwfzg! — can you help me get my answer back?"

You can scroll down for the answer. But first, a few hints to help you crack the code, if you're stuck. This puzzle is an example of a "Caesar cipher," a type of word scramble where every letter of a message is shifted (or rotated) through the alphabet by a certain number of letters. Imagine a Rubik's cube of letters. According to Business Insider, "Thirteen rotters" is a clue in and of itself too. It references "ROT13," a cipher that shifts letters exactly halfway along the alphabet (A becomes N, N becomes A), replacing a letter with a letter that comes 13 letters later. Knowing this tells us that the puzzle is dealing with a 26-letter alphabet. Phew.

Here's the Answer

It'll help if you write out the entire alphabet before you begin. Now, start with the first letter in the code, U. The puzzle says "they ROTated it by 4," so count four letters back. That gets you Q. "And then," the puzzle says, "ROTated it by 10." Keep counting back 10 letters, which gets you G.

Do the same thing with every letter in the code. If you get to the beginning of the alphabet before you're done counting, just skip back to Z and keep going.

If you did it all correctly, you should get this message: Good luck to all CyberFirst girls! Yes, it's cheesy, but hopefully for GCHQ, it got a handful of curious young girls interested in cybersecurity. Did you solve it?

Written by Joanie Faletto February 2, 2018

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