The GCHQ Puzzle Book

The GCHQ Puzzle Book 

Back around the end of last year, there was a little flurry of media coverage last year when GCHQ released its Christmas card, with a nomogram puzzle that provided an entry to a chain of other puzzles.  It was revealed that GCHQ staff, outside office hours, relax by setting each other puzzle challenges, go on Puzzle Hunts (here’s a New Yorker article about a cruciverbalist engaging in one such), and even hold a Kristmas Kwiz.

Ultimately that’s the genesis of this book – a considered skimming of all this activity, with (I suspect) a few extra puzzles composed specially for the introduction.  You get the nomogram from the Christmas card, as well as this year’s Christmas puzzle (there might even be another card in due course).  There’s a Puzzle Hunt, and a Kristmas Kwiz.  Well over 100 pages’ worth – far too much for a review to handle.

You will easily see how varied the puzzles are.  One comes with a reference to a three-page example indicating how to solve it – this is more economic than it sounds as that puzzle type recurs quite frequently.  So do others: one page I opened at contained Number Sequence I, Word Sequence II and Lists III all on the same double page.  But ideas recur without an identifying number as well.

The use of words like ‘Sequence’ indicates that ‘Find the next in this sequence’ is a common type.  Other puzzles are closer to general knowledge quizzes (e.g. identifying films from plot summaries) with picture quizzes also interspersed, many involving putting names to (allegedly, as far as my sampling goes) well-known people.

Hefty inserts of glossy pages include material from the World War II era at Bletchley Park, connecting present-day puzzle solving with its genesis around code-breaking activities during the War.  The Telegraph crossword supposedly used to recruit codebreakers also appears.  However, few of the puzzles in the book are themselves crosswords, though there are some.  The book is a substantial paperback, and doesn’t lend itself to opening flat for entering solutions so that may be no bad thing.

It helps that there are hints, and answers to many of the puzzles.  But not all – indeed, not everything that is a puzzle is necessarily announced.  There is something curious in the endpapers, for example, and I doubt the letters on the front cover are as innocuous as they might be.

Stop and read the initial letters of these paragraphs.  Buying the book benefits a range of mental health charities, just as the card last year encouraged donations to the NSPCC.  A patron of the charities happened to have a grandmother who worked at Bletchley, while the fact that she’s likely to be Queen one day really made the choice of foreword writer a foregone conclusion.

And, stepping away from things acrostical, I’d like to say thanks to Penguin for sending me a copy.  (Amazon have been sending me reminders about it too, but Penguin got in first!)