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Feeling warmed up?

Congratulations to everyone who took part in Challenges 1 and 2, you all did really well. Now things get serious.

The first two rounds were for practice and by now you should be getting the hang of it. Analyse the text to see what sort of cipher it might be, look for patterns, use your common sense and automate what you can with a word processor, spreadsheet or your own programmes!


From Challenge 3 on we start adding up the part B scores to give an overall championship leader board and that is what we will use to determine the prize winners. But this is about more than winning, it is about how far you can go!


Good luck,




PS, here is a curious fact that has just about nothing to do with the Challenge, but we like it: Did you know that the Roman’s had no concept of the number “0” Perhaps it was just an idea too far which was too confusing and abstract for a highly materialistic but successful civilisation. Engineers nowadays couldn’t cope without “0” but the Romans just never seemed to need it.

In fact the idea of zero is requires a huge conceptual leap. Recent research this year at the University of Oxford in interpreting an ancient  Bakhshali manuscript, from Peshawar in India has discovered that the idea of zero goes back 500 years than previously thought to the 3rd or 4th century.

How did you get on?

Well, now we know something about what is going on with Maryam and Jodie. How much of it did you work out? We had 2347 entries for part A this week and 2044 for part B, which is a record for the competition. Congratulations to everyone who had a go! The Leader Board for this round will go live at 12pm today, and certificates should be available to download from your account pages by tomorrow.

Challenge 2 is a bit tougher, but we do give a hint, so make sure you check that out. If you all get too stuck we will post another hint on Twitter so if you have an account head over and follow us there @Cipher_Master (and if you don’t have an account the Cipher Challenge might be a good reason to get one to make sure you don’t miss out!)

Good luck!




While it seems that Maryam has known Harry for a while, she is new to the Cipher Challenge universe. If you read episodes 0 and 1 then you should know already that she works in Intelligence, perhaps for a national police agency somewhere in the Middle East, North Africa or Turkey. She and Harry met way back, and maybe one day we will find out how, but probably not this year, and we don’t know very much about her background.

One thing we do know is that she shares her name with Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Nobel of mathematical prizes, the Fields Medal. Maryam was an Iranian mathematician and Professor of mathematics at Stanford University. who sadly died earlier this year. She was not only a brilliant mathematician, but also a fantastic speaker and we are really lucky that someone took the time to record her. You can watch her talking about her work at

You can also find out more about her life and work at

It has taken too long for women mathematicians to win the Fields Medal. Maybe you or someone you know will be one of the holders of the award one day!

The Mystery of the Loss of the Roman Ninth Legion

This year you are joining Harry and his colleague Maryam as they try to crack the real story of the Roman Ninth Legion. Of course the Doctor already solved this mystery earlier this year in a parallel Universe, but now it is time to figure out what happened in ours. Lots of people have tried to work this out.  Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote her famous book “The Eagle of the Ninth” and there has been more than one film about the mystery, including 2011’s The Eagle:

If you want to know more about what the experts think take a look at this article by Dr Miles Russell, a senior lecturer at Bournemouth University, who summarised the mystery for the BBC:

Of course, if you want the real truth you are going to have to solve the mystery for yourselves. And that starts on Thursday 5th October at 3pm here.