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The University of Southampton

Young code crackers compete for prizes and prestige

Published: 28 September 2005

Schoolchildren are again being challenged to beat the top mathematical brains of the University of Southampton in the fourth National Cipher Challenge, an on-line code-breaking competition which offers cash prizes for schools and individuals.

The contest goes live on Thursday 29 September with the first clue published on the website

This year's puzzling scenario centres around the crash of a mysterious spherical object in Arctic waters shortly after take-off from the Soviet Baikonur spaceport in 1959. It falls to Professor Harry Vandiver to decipher signals from the Soviet fleet and he requests help from student cryptographers to crack the codes.

Coded messages become more and more difficult to decipher as the competition continues. The final cipher will be posted on 8 December and the closing date is 6 January 2006.

The Challenge's overall aim is to inspire and enthuse young people about mathematics, enabling them to develop their mathematical and problem-solving skills while racing to unscramble the complex ciphers. It is organised with support from IBM and in partnership with Trinity College, Cambridge.

Organiser Dr Graham Niblo of the University of Southampton's School of Mathematics explained: "By taking part, young code-breakers will learn about the mathematics behind cryptography and little bit about the history of space flight. In this year of celebrating the work of Einstein, even the theory of relativity makes an appearance in the plot."

Related Staff Member

Notes for editors

  1. The National Cipher Challenge is open to young people under the age of 18 years who are in full-time education in the UK. Entries may be from schools, individuals or from teams. For more information log on to
  2. The University of Southampton is a leading UK teaching and research institution with a global reputation for leading-edge research and scholarship. The University has nearly 20,000 students and 5,000 staff. Its annual turnover is in the region of £274 million.
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