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The University of Southampton

Twice as smart: Teenager wins Cipher Challenge for the second time

Published: 3 February 2004

An 18 year old A'level student from Nottingham has won the University of Southampton National Cipher Challenge for the second year running.

David Simner beat more than 2,000 other competitors from across the UK to solve a series of increasingly difficult problems released over the net.

He will be presented with the Championship prize of £1,000, sponsored by IBM, at a public prizegiving on 7 May 2004 at Bletchley Park, home of the British codebreakers who broke the German Enigma code in the Second World War, and partner organisation in the competition. Other prizes will be awarded by Clifford Cocks, Chief Mathematician at the Government code breaking division GCHQ.

Cipher Master at the University, Graham Niblo said: "It's a real pleasure to come into contact with so many bright pupils from many different backgrounds across the entire country. The Challenge is a real battle of wits and I am constantly amazed at the ingenuity and hard work of the competitors. They are a credit to their schools and teachers, whom I would also like to thank for the encouragement they give."

Head of Maths at Nottingham High School where David is a pupil, Roger Kilby, said: "We are all very proud of David. Right from the start he was good at the subject; he is now taking double maths, physics and chemistry at A' level and will go on to study computing at University."

The National Cipher Challenge is designed to excite young people about mathematics and computing. It consists of a series of eight enciphered messages, forming part of the journal belonging to the famous (and fictional) archaeologist Agatha Highfield, telling of her adventures as she tried to obtain the Babylon Stone, a legendary and possibly cursed tablet inscribed with Babylonian mathematics. Frustrated by rivals and pursued by mysterious foreign agents, she follows the only clue she has, recording her adventures in her (encrypted) diary.

Winner David Simner commented: "This year's challenge was far harder than last year's. The first contest involved deciphering a conversation between three people and identifying some clues. This time it was just one person writing in a journal." It took him several days to write a suite of computer programmes to solve the more difficult ciphers; these cracked the final challenge in less than half an hour.

The Challenge is run in collaboration with the Public Awareness Programme of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Simon Singh, author of The Code Book, believes that the National Cipher Challenge can inspire young people: "It shows how maths can be applied in the real world and generates a real excitement around the subject. The challenge also highlights how maths and cryptography is all around us, from Internet security to encrypting mobile phone calls."

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he University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University 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 £250 million.

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