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Children’s National Cipher Challenge Winners Announced

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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The school codebreaking competition attracted eight times more participants than in 2011

A team from the City of London School was announced as the winner of the National Cipher Challenge, a code-breaking competition for schoolchildren, which concluded in late 2012.

The children’s  competition for children, organised in partnership with the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), attracted 6,268 participants from 725 British schools.

In eleven years of National Cipher Challenge, it has never seen such overwhelming interest. A total of 1,600 teams attempted to decode a series of cryptic messages published online, eight times more than the year before.

Cool kids

The competition was coordinated by University of Southampton and announced at Bletchley Park, a site with special significance to British cryptography, in October.

Alan Turing © Guy Erwood Shutterstock 2012The participating teams were presented with a series of increasingly difficult codes appearing online, and only 30 teams out of 1600 managed to solve every puzzle.

The first assignment involved solving a Caesar cipher – familiar to anyone who paid attention during history lessons. The last was a Trifid cipher – an encryption method invented in 1901 that turns symbols into coordinates on a tri-dimensional cube.

“The last cipher was not a standard cipher, and we modified it so they couldn’t use any standard decryption software,” professor Graham Niblo, head of mathematics at Southampton University told the BBC.

Even though the competition was only open to UK schools, teams from Tokyo, Bangkok, Florida and Honolulu also applied to take part.

The winning team (aptly named Winning_Combination) consisted of Samson Danziger, Daniel Hu, Anthony Landau and Charlie Hu from the City of London School. In order to win the main prize of £1,000, provided by the GCHQ, these guys beat the unusually tough assignment in 44 hours and 20 minutes.

Second place went to Andrew Carlotti from Sir Roger Manwood’s School in Kent, who competed on his own. Despite his being a solo effort, Andrew managed to crack the Trifid cipher in 46 hours and 54 minutes, and win the IBM Prize of £800.

The third place and The Trinity College prize of £700 went to a team from King Edward VII School in Sheffield.

Additionally, the top 50 runners-up will each get a Raspberry Pi computer. The prize giving ceremony will take place at Bletchley Park on April 12th.

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