Can you solve the GCHQ Christmas card challenge?

ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia reports on the mind-bending Christmas carb made by the UK's intelligence services

The intelligence agency GCHQ has today revealed this year's official cryptic Christmas card, challenging youngsters to "discover their inner intelligence officers", with a series of seven festive puzzles.

The brainteasers are usually sent to security colleagues and partners around the world who work alongside GCHQ in counterterrorism and organised crime.

But this year, the agency's director Sir Jeremy Fleming is challenging everyone to crack the seven "fiendish" puzzles his team has set.

The puzzles have been designed for 11 to 18 year olds with an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) but Sir Jeremy has encouraged people outside that age range to have a go.

So, have you got what it takes to complete this not-so-secret mission?

Can you crack the GCHQ Christmas card? Read below for instructions.


Solve the puzzles, which increase in difficulty from 1 to 7. They have been designed for those in secondary school education. Link each answer to the glowing node on the tree that best matches the question or answer. Once complete, discover the hidden message, reading from top to bottom. Good luck!

Question 1 (11-12 years)

Clue here: reading initials spells this message's answer. Simple! 

Question 2 (12-13 years)

Enter your four letter answers in the grid.

1. This is the word you want

2. Noise made by owl

3. US state with capital Des Moines

4. Adult male deer

Question 3 (13-14 years)

What completes the sequence: GRYFFINDOR, UFFLEPUF, VENCL, ??? Question 4 (14-15 years)

Within the grid are a number of hidden mines. The numbers indicate how many mines are in the squares adjacent to each number. Locate the mines to reveal a four letter word. 

Question 5 (15-16 years)

Do Kindly Place Cover On Fresh Green Spring Vegetables is a mnemonic meant to help you remember a list of scientific words. Which word does Kindly help you remember? Question 6 (16-17 years)

What six letter word does the ? represent in this Venn diagram? 

Question 7 (17-17 years)

Solve the code: answer the question; encode the answer: Cwog og cwi 7cwahigcoet: xiexui kent kicziit toticiit lencj gov stf toticiït govcj lehn sni yeppetuj dtezt sg kskj zwsc? 


11-12 years: The initial letters of all the words in the question spell CHRISTMAS. This answer goes with the picture of a bauble on the Christmas tree.

12-13 years: The 1-Across and 1-Down answers both spell THIS. It goes on the picture of the stag on the Christmas tree. The word "stag" is one of the answers in the crossword, along with "hoot" and "Iowa".

13-14 years: The missing word is THE. The list is the four Hogwarts houses from the Harry Potter series, in alphabetical order, but with 0, 1, 2, and then 3 letters removed from the srat and end of the names: GRYFFINDOR, hUFFLEPUFf, raVENCLaw, slyTHErin. This word goes with the lightning bolt picture on the Christmas tree.

14-15 years: The squares without mines in the four areas of the grid form the shape of the letters SAFE. This word goes with the padlock picture on the Christmas tree.

15-16 years: The answer is KINGDOM. The Taxonomic rank mnemonic has the same initials as Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Order, Family, Genus, Species and Variety. This word goes with the crown picture on the Christmas tree.

16-17 years: The answer is UNITED. The letters in the complete circles form the names MANCHESTER, NEWCASTLE and LEEDS, all premier league football clubs which end with "United". This word goes with the football picture on the Christmas tree.

17-18 years: The answer is KEEPING. This is a substitution code in which each letter of the alphabet has been replaced by a different one. The start point is the "cw" after the number 7 which one can assume means "th". From there the word "the" can easily be deciphered, which in turn allows more words to be revealed. The result of the clue is "BOOMERS" which, when put through the same substitution, becomes KEEPING. This word should be placed on the top bauble, marked by a pram in line with the reference to baby boomers.

Complete answer