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GCHQ Sets Christmas Challenge for Schoolchildren

Christmas Card Brainteasers Designed to Develop Teen STEM Skills

The 2021 Christmas card from the director of GCHQ – [Government Communications Headquarters, the UK’s signals-intelligence agency] – features seven puzzles intended to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines among teenagers.

Including puzzles with the director’s card – the Christmas Challenge – has become a tradition for the spy agency, but this year the focus is on developing future talent. The seven questions include a word grid, a mnemonic, a Venn diagram with a missing element, and a message which has to be decoded and the answer encoded. As well as making the Challenge available to individuals, a version has been produced for schools, which indicates appropriate age groups for each question. The director, Sir Jeremy Fleming, posted a good-luck message to schools taking part in the Challenge on the agency’s YouTube account.

From Enigma to modern day encryption, GCHQ’s history is full of talented people tackling the country’s most complex challenges,” Sir Jeremy said. “If we’re to help keep the country safe, problem-solving skills and teamwork are absolutely crucial. That’s why this year’s Christmas puzzles are aimed at young people. I am keen to encourage STEM skills, thinking differently, and help foster the next generation of talent. I want to show young people that thinking differently is a gift, and it is only with a mix of minds that they can solve seemingly impossible problems, just like we do at GCHQ.”

To promote the initiative, the agency has partnered with the social enterprise Stemettes, which aims to encourage young women and non-binary people to consider careers in STEM areas.

No matter your age, STEM skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving are important skills to have,” explains Stemettes CEO, Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon. “We want all kinds of people to have the chance to explore these skills, and for those that enjoy this type of challenge to get an opportunity to further themselves in these areas. GCHQ’s Christmas Challenge is a fun festive way to do this, and I’d encourage schools and those who work with children to explore this type of activity as another way to engage the next generation in some light-hearted STEM fun.”

GCHQ will reveal the answers on its social media accounts.

The 2021 Director's Christmas card contains a seven-part STEM challenge. (Photo: GCHQ)

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