GCHQ Christmas quiz: can you solve these spy puzzles meant for school children?

The GCHQ unveils their first Christmas card challenge for schoolchildren

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has created its first Christmas card brain-teaser for schoolchildren.

GCHQ director Sir Jeremy Fleming said its latest quiz is aimed towards children aged 11-18 with an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to “discover their inner intelligence officer”.

They hope this challenge will help inspire more young people to go into STEM and consider future careers in the intelligence services.

Traditionally, the GCHQ Christmas card is sent to other spy agencies and partners across the world.

What GCHQ said about their Christmas card brain-teaser

Director GCHQ Sir Jeremy Fleming, said: “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.”

Supporting this year’s Christmas card challenge, CEO of Stemettes Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon, said: “No matter your age, STEM skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving are important skills to have.

“In my work across the Stemettes with partners like GCHQ, we want all kinds of people to have the chance to explore these skills, and for those that enjoy this type of challenge to get an opportunity to further themselves in these areas.

“GCHQ’s Christmas Challenge is a fun festive way to do this, and I’d encourage schools and those who work with children to explore this type of activity as another way to engage the next generation in some light-hearted STEM fun.”

The GCHQ puzzle 

The seven challenges increase in difficulty and create a festive message.

The GCHQ has also encouraged adults to have a go and see if they are as clever as an 11-year-old.

Below are the questions asked in the puzzle, and once complete can formulate the overall answer by reading them the top to bottom. Each answer correlates with a bauble on the tree.

11-12 years 

Clue here: reading initials spells this message’s answer. Simple!

12-13 years 

Enter your four letter answers in the grid. 1. This is the word you want 2. Noise made by owl 3. US state with capital Des Moines 4. Adult male deer

13-14 years 

What completes the sequence: GRYFFINDOR, UFFLEPUF, VENCL, ???

14-15 years 

Within the grid are a number of hidden mines. The numbers indicate how many mines are in the squares adjacent to each number. Locate the mines to reveal a four letter word.

15-16 years 

Do Kindly Place Cover On Fresh Green Spring Vegetables is a mnemonic meant to help you remember a list of scientific words. Which word does Kindly help you remember?

16-17 years 

What six letter word does the ? represent in this Venn diagram?

17-18 years 

Solve the code: answer the question; encode the answer: Cwog og cwi 7cwahigcoet: xiexui kent kicziit toticiit lencj gov stf toticiït govcj lehn sni yeppetuj dtezt sg kskj zwsc?

Did you get the right answers? 

11-12 years: The initial letters of all the words in the question spell CHRISTMAS. This word is related to the image of a present, the lowest bauble on the tree.

12-13 years: The 1-Across and 1-Down answers both spell THIS, which should be placed on the second lowest bauble with an image of stag (the word ‘stag’ is one of the answers in the crossword, along with ‘hoot’ (The noise an owl makes) and ‘Iowa’ (the state)).

13-14 years: The missing word is THE, from the four Hogwarts houses. But with 0, 1, 2, and then 3 letters removed from the start and end of the names: GRYFFINDOR, hUFFLEPUFf, raVENCLaw, slyTHErin. This word should be placed on the lightning bolt, second from the top.

14-15 years: The squares without mines in the four areas of the grid create the shape of the letters SAFE. This word should be placed on the padlock.

15-16 years: The answer is KINGDOM. The Taxonomic rank mnemonic has the same initials as Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Family, Genus, Species and Variety. This word should be placed on the crown bauble.

16-17 years: The answer is UNITED. The letters in the complete circles form the names MANCHESTER, NEWCASTLE and LEEDS, all premier league football clubs ending with ‘United’. This word belongs on the football bauble.

17-18 years: The answer is KEEPING. This is a substitution code in which each letter of the alphabet has been replaced by a different one. The start point is the ‘cw’ after the number 7 which we can assume means ‘th’. From there, the word ‘the’ can be deciphered, and reveals more words. The result of the clue is ‘BOOMERS’ and when put through the same substitution, becomes KEEPING. This word is placed on the top bauble, marked by a pram in line - a reference to baby boomers.



A message from the editor:

Thank you for reading. NationalWorld is a new national news brand, produced by a team of journalists, editors, video producers and designers who live and work across the UK. Find out more about who’s who in the team, and our editorial values. We want to start a community among our readers, so please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and keep the conversation going. You can also sign up to our email newsletters and get a curated selection of our best reads to your inbox every day.