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'Cipher Challenge winner welcomes 'real maths problems instead of artificial ones'

Published: 
9 May 2003

The University of Southampton National Cipher Challenge has been won by David Simner, a pupil at Nottingham High School. David, who was among the top five competitors for every challenge during the final stage of the competition, managed to submit his final solution just 16 minutes 37 seconds after the last cipher was published. He says he welcomed the opportunity the competition gave him to use mathematics on real problems rather than artificial ones.

"I am very pleased to have won," comments David. "The final stage was certainly a challenge. It took a whole weekend to write a computer programme, test it, fix any errors, re-test and so on. Each stage required a unique computer programme to solve that type of cipher.

"I was very surprised because it took me nearly twenty minutes to submit my final answer and I would have expected somebody to have done it faster."

David will receive the top prize of £1,800 and an IBM Thinkpad laptop computer for his school, at a prize-giving ceremony to be held on 16 May at Bletchley Park, the Buckinghamshire mansion that was home of the British World War II effort that broke the Enigma cipher. TV presenter and author Adam Hart Davis will present the prizes after a popular lecture on code-breaking by Sarah Flannery, the young cryptographer and co-author of the best seller 'In Code'.

The aim of the competition, devised by the experts in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, was to involve more young people in mathematics and to increase its national appeal. Participants were able to enhance their mathematical and problem-solving skills while learning about science and history, by logging on to the University of Southampton National Cipher Challenge website and joining in the race to work out the whereabouts of a 19th century revolutionary cipher machine.

The competition placed mathematics in a scientific and historical context and challenged young people to crack a sequence of codes relating to a fictitious correspondence between three great scientists of the 19th century, Charles Babbage, Countess Ada Lovelace and Charles Wheatstone, as they searched for the missing cipher machine. The sequence of encoded messages was encrypted with successively stronger ciphers.

Due to the response of this year's National Cipher Challenge competition, which attracted over 2,000 young people from around the country, the University of Southampton has decided to run another Challenge, which will start in October 2003.

The competition is sponsored by EPSRC, IBM and EducationGuardian.co.uk, Bletchley Park, the London Mathematical Society and Cryptomathic.

Notes for editors

The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University, which celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2002, has 20,000 students and over 4,500 staff and plays an important role in the City of Southampton. Its annual turnover is in the region of £235 million.

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