Christmas Challenge From GCHQ
Written by Mike James   
Monday, 13 December 2021

GCHQ has released its annual Christmas brain teaser. This year it is specifically targeted at 11-18 year olds, but don't let being a grown up stop you from having a go at solving it.


GCHQ is the UK's national security agency, concerned with espionage and counter-espionage, cybersecurity, code breaking and encryption. Like other organizations, it sends out Christmas cards to colleagues and partners - but it also makes an online version available so that anybody can take part.

The previous time we reported on the GHCQ Christmas Challenge it was so tricky that nobody solved it in its entirety - see GCHQ's Xmas Puzzle Not Cracked - but this year's seems more moderate with just seven puzzles that increase in difficulty. All the answers are words which are to be placed in their appropriate position on the tree - which is itself a bonus puzzle! There aren't any prizes and participants are advised to visit GCHQ on Twitter and Instagram for the solution.


Introducing this year's challenge, the Director GCHQ, Sir Jeremy Fleming writes:

"From Enigma to modern day encryption, GCHQ's history is full of talented people tackling the country’s most complex challenges. If we’re to help keep the country safe, problem-solving skills and teamwork are absolutely crucial.

That’s why this year’s Christmas puzzles are aimed at young people. I am keen to encourage STEM skills, thinking differently, and help foster the next generation of talent.

I want to show young people that thinking differently is a gift, and it is only with a mix of minds that they can solve seemingly impossible problems, just like we do at GCHQ.”

He has also posted a YouTube video for school students introducing GCHQ and explaining that no one person is likely to be able to solve all the puzzles by themselves and encouraging them to work together and bring a diverse range of skills to the problem stating:

Everything that makes you think differently to others is a gist and it can help solve seemingly impossible problems.

Thinking differently and more effectively is something programmers are good at - and learning to program has the great spinoff of exposing you to computational thinking. Seeing problems in a new light, through the eyes of a programmer, allows you to tackle them in a more organized fashion. 

I can't promise that programming skills will help you with the GCHQ Christmas Challenge but it is fun, requires some thinking outside the box and is a situation where a bouncing ideas off other people probably helps. 

More Information

The #GCHQChristmasChallenge is here!

GCHQ Christmas Challenge (pdf)


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Last Updated ( Monday, 13 December 2021 )