A Christmas Challenge


Here’s a unique challenge for the holidays — one of the United Kingdom’s intelligence agencies, GCHQ, is distributing the puzzle above on its Christmas card this year. (See GCHQ’s website for details and a high-resolution grid.)

The puzzle is a nonogram: Each row and column bears a string of numbers that indicates the lengths of consecutive runs of black squares that will appear there when the grid has been completed. For example, “3 3” in the eighth row means that in the finished puzzle two shaded sections of 3 squares each will appear somewhere along its length. Some squares in the grid have already been shaded to get you started.

“By solving this first puzzle players will create an image that leads to a series of increasingly complex challenges,” notes the agency. “Once all stages have been unlocked and completed successfully, players are invited to submit their answer via a given GCHQ email address by 31 January 2016. The winner will then be drawn from all the successful entries and notified soon after.” The agency invites players to make a donation to the U.K.’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children if they’ve enjoyed the puzzle.

(Thanks, Alex.)

02/08/2016 UPDATE: The answers have now been revealed — see the link at the bottom of this post.