GCHQ sets fiendish quiz to mark launch of Alan Turing £50 note which could take SEVEN HOURS to solve

It is an enigma worthy of our greatest code breaker.

Britain’s spy centre has devised its ‘toughest ever’ quiz to celebrate Alan Turing becoming the new face of the £50 note by the Bank of England.

If that was not enough for keen cryptographers, the note itself also contains a number of coded references to the celebrated mathematician and his life. 

The Turing Challenge has been compiled by intelligence staff at GCHQ based on the design of the new banknote and Turing’s work breaking the German navy’s Enigma codes in the Second World War. 

The quiz features 12 problem-solving puzzles leading to one ultimate answer. Some require general knowledge, while others need logic to solve. 

But all are fiendishly difficult, with experts saying the challenge should take even the most experienced puzzlers seven hours. 

And on the note itself, eagle-eyed sleuths will also spot a line of ticker tape showing a binary code made up of ones and zeros.

Alan Turing ‘would have wanted to dedicate his legacy to tackling inequalities’

Alan Turing’s nephew has said the computer pioneer and codebreaker would have wanted to dedicate his legacy to tackling inequalities in the industry. 

Sir Dermot Turing, nephew of Alan Turing, on BBC Breakfast

Sir Dermot Turing, nephew of Alan Turing, on BBC Breakfast

Sir Dermot Turing told BBC Breakfast today: ‘I think Alan Turing would have wanted us to think about under-representation of women in science subjects, under-representation of black, ethnic minority kids in Stem subjects at school, and why they’re not being given the opportunities they should have, and why that’s bad for all of us.

‘These were things that I think he was quite keen on during his lifetime, and I’m very delighted by the Bank of England and their choice of imagery on the banknote decided not to major up on codebreaking and to focus on Alan Turing as a figure in computer science.’

Once cracked and converted into decimal figures, the numbers will reveal a significant date in modern cyber espionage. 

The puzzles in the quiz are all based on the new note, which features the technical drawings for the code-breaking machine, the British Bombe. 

Another puzzle is inspired by the sunflowers that grew outside Hut 8 at Bletchley Park where Turing was based during the War.

GCHQ’s chief puzzler, known only as ‘Colin’, said: ‘Alan Turing has inspired many to join GCHQ, eager to use their own problem-solving skills to help to keep the country safe. 

‘So it seemed only fitting to gather a mix of minds from across our missions to devise a seriously tough puzzle. It might even have left him scratching his head, although we very much doubt it!’

Turing joined the forerunner of GCHQ in 1938 and led the team in the famous Hut 8 at Bletchley Park, helping develop the machine which deciphered the Nazis’ codes and revealed the movements of U-boats.

Historians believe his work helped shorten the war by as much as two years, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. 

After the war he went on to lay the groundwork for the modern computer. 

But his achievements were overshadowed by his private life when he was prosecuted in 1952 over his homosexuality. 

Two years later he took his own life. GCHQ director Jeremy Fleming said: ‘Alan Turing’s appearance on the £50 note is a landmark moment in our history.

‘Not only is it a celebration of his scientific genius which helped to shorten the war and influence the technology we still use today, it also confirms his status as one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world.

‘Turing was embraced for his brilliance and persecuted for being gay. 

‘His legacy is a reminder of the value of embracing all aspects of diversity, but also the work we still need to do to become truly inclusive.’ 

Stephen Fry welcomes ‘long overdue recognition’ of Alan Turing as he praises ‘this very great man’

Stephen Fry has said the choice of Alan Turing to appear on the £50 banknote marks another step in the nation's long overdue recognition of 'this very great man'

Stephen Fry has said the choice of Alan Turing to appear on the £50 banknote marks another step in the nation’s long overdue recognition of ‘this very great man’

The choice of Alan Turing to appear on the £50 banknote marks another step in the nation’s long overdue recognition of ‘this very great man’, Stephen Fry has said.

The actor welcomed the decision, which was made after the Bank of England invited nominations from the public for someone from the field of science, but said much progress is still needed to achieve an equal society.

In a YouTube video posted by the Bank of England, Fry said: ‘Featuring him on a banknote is something I’ve called for for a number of years. The choice of Alan Turing and the manner at which it was arrived at, by public nomination, marks another step in our nation’s long overdue recognition of this very great man. And there is much to recognise in his life, his interests and talents ranged far and wide. 

‘We could talk about Alan Turing the prodigious mathematician whose early work changed the course of academic higher mathematics.  Or, Alan Turing the mathematician who turned his hand to cryptography and codebreaking, that helped change the course of the Second World War. Alan Turing, the cryptographer, who then conceived of and designed one of the world’s first programmable computers. Alan Turing, the computer scientist, who loved nature and became a pioneer in the field of developmental biology. And Alan Turing, the man who chose to be openly gay, at a time when this natural choice could attract the most barbaric punishments.

‘For many minorities, the 1950s were a particularly oppressive time in this country’s history. This was especially true for the LGBTQ community. Alan Turing was among the thousands of men who were harried and harangued by the authorities. Not just down to the hostile attitude to their sexuality alone, but also under the bigoted belief that there was a link between homosexuality and communism.

‘That both had to be rooted out of British society, as part of the Cold War effort. Alan was arrested in 1952 after the police learned that he had had a sexual relationship with another man. He was tried and sentenced under the gross indecency laws of the time. Given the awful choice of a prison term or hormone therapy, what transpired to be chemical castration though this wasn’t revealed to him at the trial, Alan Turing chose the hormone therapy.

‘Although friends and colleagues from his work at GCHQ and Manchester University spoke up for him at his trial, attesting to his enormous contribution to the war effort and British academic prestige, it wasn’t enough to save him from this cruel punishment. Shortly after undergoing his ‘hormone therapy’ Alan Turing committed suicide. Sixteen days shy of his 42nd birthday.

‘Over the past decade, Alan’s life story, with its soaring highs and tragic lows, has become known to a much wider audience. Today he is the overwhelming choice to be the figurehead of the new £50 banknote. This follows other significant steps taken in Britain to right this historic wrong. In 2009, prime minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for the appalling way Alan Turing was treated. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted Turing a posthumous pardon. In 2017, the Turing law was passed, pardoning the tens of thousands of people convicted under historic laws outlawing homosexual acts.

‘Although belated, this recognition of Alan Turing’s achievements goes some way to address the shameful treatment he was subjected to in the final years of his life. And whilst the injustice perpetrated on the tens of thousands of LGBTQ people who were persecuted by the legal system can’t be undone by pardoning Alan or by passing the law that bears his name, using his name as a vehicle to apologise to a community for what was done to them was an important step.

‘By figuring him on this new banknote, we have chosen to celebrate Alan Turing’s many remarkable achievements. Much progress is still needed before we achieve the equal society we strive for, but by choosing this man as the figurehead, we are attesting to our belief that people should be judged by what they can contribute to the world and the ideas they bring. And not anything else.’

The following is taken from the GCHQ website. You can also do the puzzle on the website by clicking here.

The Turing Challenge: Try our toughest puzzle to celebrate Alan Turing featuring on the £50 banknote

To celebrate Alan Turing featuring on the new £50 banknote, we’ve created our hardest puzzle ever in his honour.

The #TuringChallenge requires you to solve a string of puzzles which get increasingly difficult. Crack the answers to the first 11 puzzles which should give you 11 single words or names which you’ll need your very own Enigma simulator to decode!

Keep an eye on our Twitter and Instagram channels throughout the day for tips and hints.

As Turing himself once said: 

‘We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.’

Puzzle 1 – Hut 8

The stylistic 8s in the pattern above the bank building on the front of the note refer to Hut 8, one of the sections of GC&CS.

Hence the importance of the 8th column below!

Puzzle 2 – Portrait

The portrait is by Elliott & Fry; a bromide print taken on 29 March 1951, one of three from the National Portrait Gallery collection

Puzzle 3 – Bits of Note 

 Can you shed some light on these sequences?

Puzzle 4 – Window

The transparent window on the £50 note is based on a pattern detailing one of the huts at Bletchley Park.

We found an encoded message scribbled under one of them.

Give it sum thought, and see if you can make it add up.

If you look at it from a different angle you should see a Welsh town through the window, which would be a real plus!

Puzzle 5 – Foil

Alan Turing provided the theoretical underpinnings for the modern computer. The image of the microchip on the foil is a recognition of that achievement.

Complete the two sunflowers with four letter words spelt outwards from the central 50s, so that adjacent words differ by exactly one letter.

The example on the left shows how BANK can be changed to NOTE in four steps.

Once you have completed the sunflowers, find the central four letter word which differs by exactly one letter from each of the two words it’s connected to through the microchips, to solve the puzzle!

Puzzle 6 – Sunflower

The flower-shaped red foil patch on the back of the note is based on the image of a sunflower head linked to Alan Turing’s morphogenetic (study of patterns in nature) work in later life.

Puzzle 7 – Quotation

A close up of the article ‘Calculus to Sonnet’ in The Times in 1949 – © Times Copyright 2021

The quotation used: 

‘This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be’

is from an interview with Alan Turing as part of an article in the Times on 11 June 1949.

The subheading in the newspaper is Calculus to Sonnet.

That is the title of the sonnet below, as indicated acrostically.

The second verse is also a clue to a 10 letter word.

Puzzle 8 – Entscheidungsproblem

The table on the £50 note is from Alan Turing’s paper ‘On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem’, in which he showed that some purely mathematical problems can never be answered by computation.

Hopefully you’ll find that the puzzle below is not such a problem!

An hypothetical conversation between the shades of Hugh Alexander and Alan Turing:

What was the result of Alan’s application? 

Puzzle 9 – Signature

The signature used comes from Max Newman’s visitor book, as displayed below:

Max Newman’s visitor book including Alan Turing’s signature – © Bletchley Park Trust 

Puzzle 10 – Crown

The crown appears on all banknotes, of course. Alan Turing was the co-creator of Turochamp, possibly the first chess computer program – although computers at the time were not powerful enough to run it!

Place each of the remaining seven pieces in a square of their associated colour so that no piece can capture any other.

Can you identify the holder of the crown?

Puzzle 11 – Binary

The binary code displayed alongside Turing on the back of the note is based on Turing’s date of birth, 23rd June 1912, given as a binary representation of the number 19120623.

Which villain can be spotted hiding in the following days from history?

Puzzle 12 – Enigma

Congratulations! You have reached the final stage of the #TuringChallenge. Now it’s time to count your change…

Now click here to complete the final stage and see how you did


Who was Alan Turing? Pioneering scientist who helped crack Hitler’s enigma machine only to be convicted for homosexuality after WWII

Alan Turing (pictured) was a British mathematician best known for his work cracking the enigma code during the Second World War

Alan Turing (pictured) was a British mathematician best known for his work cracking the enigma code during the Second World War

Alan Turing was a British mathematician born on June 23, 1912 In Maida Vale, London, to father Julius, a civil servant, and mother Ethel, the daughter of a railway engineer. 

His talents were recognised early on at school but he struggled with his teachers when he began boarding at Sherborne School aged 13 because he was too fixated on science. 

Turing continued to excel at maths but his time at Sherborne was also rocked by the death of his close friend Christopher Morcom from tuberculosis. Morcom was described as Turing’s ‘first love’ and he remained close with his mother following his death, writing to her on Morcom’s birthday each year. 

He then moved on to Cambridge where he studied at King’s College, graduating with a first class degree in mathematics.  

During the Second World War, Turing was pivotal in cracking the Enigma codes used by the German military to encrypt their messages.

His work gave Allied leaders vital information about the movement and intentions of Hitler’s forces.

Historians credit the work of Turing and his fellow codebreakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire with shortening the war by up to two years, saving countless lives, and he was awarded an OBE in 1946 for his services. 

Turing is also widely seen as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence due to his groundbreaking work in mathematics in the 1930s.

He was able to prove a ‘universal computing machine’ would be able to perform equations if they were presented as an algorithm – and had a paper published on the subject in 1936 in the Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society Journal when he was aged just 23. 

But he was disgraced in 1952 when he was convicted for homosexual activity, which was illegal at the time and would not be decriminalised until 1967.

To avoid prison, Turing agreed to ‘chemical castration’ – hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido.

As well as physical and emotional damage, his conviction had led to the removal of his security clearance and meant he was no longer able to work for GCHQ, the successor to the Government Code and Cypher School, based at Bletchley Park. 

Turing was awarded an OBE in 1946 for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, pictured, which is credited with ending World War II two years early

Turing was awarded an OBE in 1946 for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, pictured, which is credited with ending World War II two years early

Then In 1954, aged 41, he died of cyanide poisoning. An inquest recorded a verdict of suicide, although his mother and others maintained that his death was accidental. 

When his body was discovered, an apple laid half-eaten next to his bed. It was never tested for cyanide but it is speculated it was the source of the fatal dose. 

Some more peculiar theories suggest Turing was ‘obsessed’ with fairytale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and his death was inspired by the poisoned apple in the story. 

Following a public outcry over his treatment and conviction, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued a public apology in 2009. 

He then received a posthumous Royal pardon in 2014, only the fourth to be issued since the end of the Second World War.

It was requested by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, who described Turing as a national hero who fell foul of the law because of his sexuality.

An e-petition demanding a pardon for Turing had previously received 37,404 signatures. 

A 2017 law, that retroactively pardoned all men cautioned or convicted for homosexual acts under historical legislation, was named in his honour. 

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