GCHQ Puzzle Book

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I got an email from a publicity assistant at Penguin Books about 10 days ago, asking me if I’d like a review copy of “a very exciting cryptic puzzle book due to be published next week”. Obviously I though it would be a crossword book so I thought “sure, why not?” and gave her my address. What thumped onto the mat a few days later was over an inch thick, but the only cryptic crossword in it was a facsimile of a Daily Telegraph puzzle from January 1942, which was used to recruit potential codebreakers to Bletchley Park.

For this is the GCHQ Puzzle Book, with all the puzzles set by real cryptographers who work there. It starts off with 15 pages of “starter puzzles” before going on to the more challenging ones, but also has reprinted their much-publicised Christmas Card competition from last year, as well as a new one in the same style with a closing date of 28th February 2017.

One aspect of the book that I like is that it doesn’t just have the answers in the back – there are also generic hints on tactics for solving different types of puzzle, and some clues for the starter puzzles. There are also some coloured sections with picture puzzles etc, and a “Puzzle Hunt” where you have to figure out how each puzzle works before solving it, with a final metapuzzle at the end which can only be solved if you have the answers to the previous ones. At GCHQ each year they form teams and compete against the clock.

Here are a few of the “easy” ones from the starter section:

If 3=T, 4=S, 5=P, 6=H, 7=H … what is 8?

What is the next letter in the sequence: M, V, E, M, J, S, U ?

Which of the following words is the odd one out:

I’ve been dipping into it at random over the last few days, and reckon it would make a great Christmas present for any puzzle buff. Half price on Amazon at the moment.

25 comments on “GCHQ Puzzle Book”

  1. I’m too old for this Andy.. one benefit of the Times Cryptic is that it makes everything else optional, the brain has had its exercise for the day

    .. still, [don’t read this if you want to solve the questions above!]

    – 8 is O, for octagon
    – N for Neptune
    – Elf is the only non-French word (ironically!)

    Here is a link to the book on Amazon, from which you will see that Andy has stolen the sample questions from them 🙂

    1. Actually they’re on the back of the book, Jerry 🙂

      You forgot to add the link, but as I came back to add it myself, don’t worry!

          1. I stand corrected.

            I was thinking digraph, but I see that digraph includes ou and ai.

            That’s what happens when you let an engineer loose on linguistics and phonetics.

    2. Far be it for me to question GCHQ but the second letter in the 3-T,4-S,5-P,6-H,7-H,8-…sequence should to my mathematical mind be Q for quadrilateral as a square is a regular quadrilateral(not all quadrilaterals are squares but all squares are quadrilaterals).


  2. You dont mention this year’s competition, no answer, closing date for solutions 28 February 2017, in the first colour section. (On edit – apologies, yes you do) Things have to be solved to obtain instructions on what to do next. The first bit is straightforward, the second, well, not yet.
    I did mention this on the Club site in the General section, but as no-one seemed to be interested, I deleted my post.

    Edited at 2016-10-24 05:03 pm (UTC)

    1. I just put the fairly low-key announcement in bold, as it wasn’t all that clear for someone just skimming the post.

      I’ve solved the second bit too. Fiddly, but also pretty straightforward. The third bit is, well, I don’t know where to start. I know where to look, but so far I’m nowhere near figuring out how to approach it, let alone solve it!

      Edited at 2016-10-24 09:10 pm (UTC)

        1. Not until you mentioned it! Doesn’t look like a straightforward cryptic to me, but I have to solve it now.
        1. There a lot of different penguins. I assigned a letter to each and solved it as a normal substitution code. I think you also need to get all the faces, and I still have about 7 I don’t know. I haven’t really looked at it for a few weeks, simply don’t get the time at the moment.
  3. A friend of mine kindly bought this book to my attention. Im glad he has now. And thanks for already putting up posts about the book. Ill look forward to pulling out my hair, once its turned grey, and I’ve started a war … for not being able to outwit the puzzles!!!

    Jake. 🙂

  4. Have got the book, thanks for the steer, you should claim something from the publishers. I too thought maybe quadrilateral, but it’s the number of sides of the shapes, not the name of the shape with that number of sides, so the puzzle could have R, R, K, A, P or Q, as well as S.
  5. Is anyone interested in working together on this? I’m currently stuck at a website that needs a password.
    1. Hi Angus,

      I don’t know about anyone else, but you’ve got further with it than I have. I didn’t get much time to look at it over the weekend though.

      I’ve solved the Sudoku and the penguin code, but have about six faces missing from the picture puzzle. I might have time to work on it some more this weekend, but I’d like to get at least as far as you before thinking about collaboration.

  6. Finally solved the gchq competition but will have to wait until 2017 to see if I have won… Good luck everyone.
  7. I’ve enjoyed working through the first puzzles given; but I’ve now found myself stuck! Does anyone have any tips to help move further?
  8. Need some help with puzzle 4 and puzzle 7 (i solved others)
    – for puzzle 4, i got 8 spies names but dont know how to form answer (how to pick letters)
    – for puzzle 7 i have absolutely no idea where to start …


  9. I had the same problem but I didn’t need those solutions to solve the meta… Inspired guesswork sufficed

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