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Spy agency GCHQ releases its hardest puzzle ever to celebrate new £50 Alan Turing banknote



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GCHQ has created its “hardest puzzle ever” to celebrate Alan Turing featuring on the new £50 banknote.

The #TuringChallenge could take an experienced puzzler seven hours to solve, according to the spy agency, which said it “might even have left him scratching his head”.

The new £50 note featuring Alan Turing. Picture: Bank of England
The new £50 note featuring Alan Turing. Picture: Bank of England

It asks you to crack a string of 12 puzzles that are increasingly difficult and linked to design features on the new note, which will be issued on June 23, 2021 to coincide with his birthday.

Crack the first 11 puzzles, and you will get 11 single words or names, which you need your very own Enigma simulator to decode to complete the challenge.

Tips are being posted on GCHQ’s Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Mr Turing, who studied mathematics at King’s College, Cambridge, becomes the first gay man to appear on a bank note.

Jeremy Fleming, director of the cyber and intelligence agency, said this confirmed his status as “one of the most iconic LGBT+ figures in the world”.

“Alan Turing’s appearance on the £50 note is a landmark moment in our history,” he said.

“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.”

Among the elements of the banknote design picked up in the puzzles are the technical drawings for the British Bombe, the machine designed by Mr Turing to break Enigma-enciphered messages,

Mr Turing’s great-nephew, James Turing, described the puzzle as a “wonderful tribute” which his family would be attempting to complete themselves.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s a wonderful recognition, and a bit reminiscent of the famous crossword that they used for recruiting at Bletchley Park back in the day.

Sarah John, chief cashier at the Bank of England, holding the new ££50 note featuring scientist Alan Turing which will be issued for the first time on June 23, 2021. Picture: Bank of England
Sarah John, chief cashier at the Bank of England, holding the new ££50 note featuring scientist Alan Turing which will be issued for the first time on June 23, 2021. Picture: Bank of England

“So, a wonderful tribute and certainly something we’ll be having a go at shortly.”

Colin, a GCHQ analyst and its chief puzzler, said: “Alan Turing has inspired many recruits over the years 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 to honour his commemoration on the new £50 note.

“It might even have left him scratching his head – although we very much doubt it.”

Mr Turing joined the Government Code & Cypher School – GCHQ’s wartime name – in 1938 to help with the code-breaking effort during the Second World War, working alongside Gordon Welchman.

In January 1940, Mr Turing had a meeting in Paris with Polish counterparts, who gave him the insights he needed to design the Bombe.

The combination of the Bombe and the brilliant minds and perseverance of those working at Bletchley Park led to the breaking of Enigma.

Cracking it is estimated to have shortened the length of the Second World War by at least two years, saving potentially 14 million lives.

Born on June 23 1912, Mr Turing studied mathematics at the University of Cambridge, gaining a first-class honours degree in 1934. He was elected a fellow of King’s College and is often considered to be the father of computer science.

In 1936, his work On Computable Numbers helped conceive how computers could operate.

And his “Turing test” examined the behaviour necessary for a machine to be considered intelligent, which formed the foundation for artificial intelligence.

In 1952, Mr Turing’s theory of morphogenesis explained the process by which biological patterns such as zebra stripes arise, which was considered groundbreaking work in mathematical biology.

In January 1952, Mr Turing was prosecuted for “indecency” over his relationship with another man in Manchester, and was given a choice between imprisonment and probation on condition of undergoing hormone treatment. Homosexual acts were still considered criminal in the UK at the time.

In 1954, at the age of 41, Mr Turing took his own life.

In 2013, 60 years later, he was posthumously pardoned by Queen Elizabeth II.

The new £50 note featuring scientist Alan Turing. Picture: Bank of England
The new £50 note featuring scientist Alan Turing. Picture: Bank of England

Unveiling the new £50 note, the Bank of England said it contains advanced security features.

Like the Sir Winston Churchill £5, the Jane Austen £10 and the JMW Turner £20, it is available in polymer, which lasts longer than paper.

The new £50 note, like the £20, incorporates two windows and a two-colour foil, making it very difficult to counterfeit, the Bank said.

There is also a hologram image which changes between the words Fifty and Pounds when tilting the note from side to side.

The new note, like the polymer £10 and £20, will contain a tactile feature to help vision impaired people identify the denomination.

People can still continue to use paper £50 notes as usual and notice will be given at least six months ahead of the date when the old paper £50 is withdrawn, the bank said.

Bank governor Andrew Bailey said: “There’s something of the character of a nation in its money, and we are right to consider and celebrate the people on our banknotes.

“So I’m delighted that our new £50 features one of Britain’s most important scientists, Alan Turing.

“Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War. However, in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist, and a pioneer in the field of computer science.”

Mr Bailey was asked later at a press conference how the Bank can ensure it has a diverse mix of figures on banknotes in future.

He said: “We’ve changed the process over recent times for selecting characters on banknotes.

“We’ve introduced far more public involvement but we’ve also introduced a framework for ensuring that we do over time have a diverse range of people on the banknotes…

“That is actually represented today by Alan Turing, because not only was Alan Turing a brilliant scientist but he was also a gay man who was treated appallingly and, of course, sadly, very tragically committed suicide.”

Asked if there are any plans for larger denomination banknotes, Mr Bailey said: “We haven’t got any plans to change the mix of denominations… we don’t see any need to raise the maximum value of the denominations.”

He admitted that, by the standards of some other countries, £50 is quite a low maximum, but added: “I think that’s appropriate. We don’t detect any demand for a higher denomination.”

Asked about the impact of coronavirus on the use of cash, Mr Bailey said: “The use of banknotes in transactions was declining steadily pre-Covid and of course it’s declined quite a lot more during Covid.

“But here’s the paradox: the total value of Bank of England banknotes in circulation has continued to rise.

“The £50 note is part of that story because, obviously, the £50 note is, we think, used by people as a store of value. So the demand for banknotes overall continues to rise.”

The new £50 note will feature the signature of Sarah John, the Bank’s chief cashier.

She told the press conference: “It’s important to realise that cash is still a really important means of payment for millions of people up and down the country.”

Ms John said £50 notes also support a lot of spending by tourists.

Director of GCHQ Jeremy Fleming said: “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.”

The puzzles can be found at www.gchq.gov.uk/information/turing-challenge.

Have you cracked it? Let us know at newsdesk@iliffemedia.co.uk.

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