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The National Cipher Challenge: Bletchley Park invites young code breakers to a celebration of mathematics for National Science Week

Published: 
16 March 2005

Young code breakers from across the country are gathering at Bletchley Park in Milton Keynes on Friday 18 March for the third annual University of Southampton national Cipher Challenge prize-giving ceremony.

This year's on-line code breaking competition has been the most successful to date with 3,758 pupils from 428 schools across the country taking part. On Friday, during National Science Week, the winners will gather at Bletchley Park, where British code breakers broke the Enigma code in the Second World War. The winners will celebrate their achievements and collect their prizes which are sponsored by IBM and government code breaking division GCHQ.

The amateur code breakers were asked to crack a series of ten encrypted telegrams which told the story of a mysterious group of scientists working on a topsecret nuclear weapons project in 1937. The final challenge was an extremely difficult cipher based on the work of world-famous cryptographer Bruce Schneier.

James Lloyd of Portsmouth Grammar School cracked the code after a week of work and wins the Championship Prize of £1,000 sponsored by GCHQ.

Two teams share the IBM Programming Prize. Robert Lasenby from Comberton Village College, Cambridge wins a Thinkpad laptop, and four pupils from Oxford High School share £1,000 for the high quality of the computer programme they wrote to crack the codes. The Oxford team comprises Natasha Morrison, Naomi Miller, Abi Schultz, Laura Bowlby and Karina Morrison.

The competition was written and directed by the Cipher Master Dr Graham Niblo and supported by the public awareness programme of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Dr Niblo, known to the competitors only as 'Harry', is a Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the University of Southampton and designed the Cipher Challenge to add excitement to school mathematics.

Dr Niblo explains: "It has been a privilege to work with such talented and enthusiastic youngsters and their teachers, and it is reassuring to see that we may be beginning to reverse the recent decline in popularity of Mathematics A level."

This year's winner James Lloyd, a sixth-form pupil at Portsmouth Grammar School, says: "I was delighted to come 4th last year in the National Cipher Challenge but was determined to see if I could win the overall championship this year. It has been a tough challenge but just goes to show that you can achieve your goals!"

"James has accomplished an astonishing individual achievement given the complexity of the task," adds Dr Tim Hands, Headmaster of The Portsmouth Grammar School. "By coincidence, James was awarded the Sainsbury Scholarship when he came to PGS, which is named after N T Sainsbury who worked at Bletchley Park in the Second World War. It will be very special for him to receive his award at this historic venue on Friday."

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