The code-makers and code-breakers who work in signals intelligence (SIGINT) are the shooting stars who straddle the divide between art and science, but you don’t have to be Alan Turing to push boundaries.
SPYSCAPE has curated some of the world’s toughest spy puzzles - unique challenges so you can match wits with the sharpest minds in the universe. (Solutions are at the bottom of the page)
1. The NSA Sun Puzzle
Can you solve this NSA logic challenge (above, left) to help reattach the sun's rays? Due to bizarre and unexplained cosmic fluctuations, the sun's rays have fallen off and you must put them back on in the right way. Here is what you know: i) Each of the 10 rays is uniquely labeled with a number in the range 1-10. ii) The spots between the rays are marked with the absolute difference of the ray labels that are next to them. iii) There are four consecutive rays that have even number labels.
Following the above rules, label each spot on the sun with the number of the ray that goes there. Once the rays are correctly placed, add up the label values of rays that are directly opposite each other on the sun. Convert these values to letters using the substitution 1=A, 2=B, …, 26=Z and read them clockwise starting at the top to find out what the sun can do now that it has its rays again. (Answer below)
2. ASD Interactive Codebreaker Challenge
Click on the photo above or here to take on the role of a code breaker in this interactive game designed for puzzlers aged 10 and above. Decode the hidden messages about Australia’s history by matching symbols to the correct letters to uncover their meaning.
3. GCHQ Find the Word
Madison, Saturn, Do, Nitrogen, Exodus. (Answer below)
4. New Zealand Code Crackers Challenge
If you can crack this code and others like it there may be a job waiting for you at New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau GCSBspy agency. (Answer below.)
5. NASA’s Coded Golden Records
Long before NASA’s Perseverance rover to Mars challenged the world to 'dare mighty things', the space agency created a secret language to communicate with aliens.
NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 blasted off in 1977 to study the outer solar system and planets, and the space probes are still out there. Each carries a Golden Record, a message to any extraterrestrial life they might encounter. The records offer greetings in 55 languages, recordings of birdsong and whales, and music ranging from Beethoven to Louis Armstrong’s Melancholy Blues.
A stylus attached to each record can be used to listen to the album from the outside inward. NASA didn’t know how to explain the stylus to aliens, however, so the space agency invented a coded language for the record cover, hoping it would be deciphered by any extraterrestrials that come across Voyager 1 or 2. Can you crack the alien code? (Answer below.)
6. Canada's 'The Recruit' Escape Room
This challenge is for the more adventurous codebreakers as it will require travel for most. Canada's Communications Security Establishment (CSEC) intelligence agency has helped build Ottawa’s The Recruit Escape Rooms for potential spies, a real-life challenge to break out of three locked rooms in 45 minutes. One enterprising group even formed a human pyramid to push through ceiling panels looking for (non-existent) clues. Only one person has so far fled the CSEC Escape Rooms - and they’re not giving interviews.
1. The NSA Sun Puzzle Solution
Converting to letters: 19 = S, 8 = H, 9 = I, 14 = N, 5 = E
The final answer is SHINE. For further information on how to get the answer click here.
2. ASD Interactive Codebreaker Challenge
This is an interactive puzzle. You will find hints and the solution online here.
3. GCHQ Find the Word solution:
Each word is the nth in a sequence. US Presidents, planets in the solar system, the tonic sol-fa scale, periodic table, books of the bible. By taking the nth letter in the word you can spell out INDEX.
4. New Zealand code crackers solution:
We're a community of government agencies working together to keep New Zealand safe and prosperous. Working for us is beyond ordinary.
6. The Recruit Escape Room
You will need to visit the Escape Room in Ottawa, Canada and discover the answer to this challenge yourself.
7. The FBI Dot Code deciphered answer is:
This time we used dot codes for each alphabet character. A little harder perhaps. Well done if you were able to solve it.
9. National Security Agency ‘Be Nice, Play Fair’ puzzle answer is:
Plain Text Decoded. The National Security Agency leads the US gov in sigint and cybersecurity. Our core values are commitment to service, respect for the law, integrity, transparency, respect for people and accountability. To learn more please visit us at sos-vo.org/comeinsideandhaveacuppatea
10. CIA Tweet Puzzle Answer:
Roses are red, violets are blue. Happy Valentine’s Day, from the CIA to you
11. GCHQ Quiz Answer:
Tim said: “We need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.”
Who is Tim? It is, of course, the inventor of the World Wide Web – Sir Tim Berners-Lee. If you are still stumped, see exactly how to solve the puzzle step by step. Click here for the BBC’s solution in full.
12. The FBI Native American Puzzle Answer reads as follows:
This is our hardest quiz so far. It is longer, of course, with more than twice as many words as our last cryptographic challenge. It also features a new set of pictogram symbols based on Native American symbols and motifs for each character of the alphabet. Thanks for participating, and kudos on cracking the code.
CIA Puzzle, Partial Solution to the first three panels, as solved by the NSA. You will also find the full background and clues on the SPYSCAPE website here.