The Code: Finale

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Matt Wieteska - Code Master Matt Wieteska - Code Master | 15:04 UK time, Monday, 12 September 2011

It took three months, countless hours of hard work, determination and teamwork, but it’s finally done. The Code has been cracked. On Saturday the 10th of September at historic Bletchley Park, our three finalists met and pitted their brains against a set of fiendish puzzles and each other to compete for our fabulous prize.


The three Code finalists on the train with Marcus du Sautoy

Dave McBryan, Helen Bennett and Pete Ryland with Marcus du Sautoy on the train to Bletchley Park

In a tense, two-hour battle of wits, Dave McBryan, Helen Bennett and Pete Ryland tackled three puzzles, which were all themed around the wartime activities of Bletchley Park. The first tasked the players to identify “cribs” within a set of encrypted messages - repeated letter strings in the plaintext which were essential in breaking the Enigma code.

Marcus du Sautoy with the three finalists filming introductions

Marcus du Sautoy with the three finalists filming introductions outside Block D at Bletchley Park

After doing so, the players were directed to Alan Turing’s office where they would collect their second puzzle: a set of replica Zygalski Sheets. These sheets were used by Polish code-breakers during the war to deduce the settings of the Enigma machines used to encrypt a message. However our versions held another secret: once the sheets were overlaid in a certain manner, the empty squares in the 26 x 26 grid spelled out a hidden message.

 
The three finalists chat before the competition starts

The three finalists in the mansion at Bletchley Park, chatting before the start of the competition.

The third puzzle, taken from the room which houses the Bombe machine used to crack the Enigma code, was based on the interpretation of decrypted intelligence. Given a map and some model soldiers, along with a series of decrypted orders, the players had to interpret the orders correctly and manoeuver the soldiers around the map as instructed. Upon doing so, the letters which identify each unit are rearranged to spell the final message: “I Cracked the Code”.

After a tense back-and-forth, Pete Ryland was the first to complete the three puzzles, becoming our champion codebreaker and claiming for himself the wonderful prize created by Bathsheba Grossman. Congratulations to him on a well-deserved victory.

Pete Ryland holding the Code prize

Pete Ryland outside the mansion at Bletchley Park, holding his prize.

 
We’ll be releasing the full video of the day’s proceedings soon - keep an eye out to see how it all unfolded!

 

Third Finalist - Dave McBryan

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Joanna Witt - BBC Producer | 10:24 UK time, Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Dave McBryan

Dave McBryan

Name: Dave McBryan
Age: 37
Location: Edinburgh
 

About Me

I'm originally from Dublin but came to university in Edinburgh 19 years ago, and loved the city so much that I never left. Although my degree was in Maths and Artificial Intelligence, ever since graduation I've made a living as a writer and presenter of pub quizzes. Other than quizzes and puzzles my two big interests (some would say obsessions) are poker and fencing, and I compete regularly at both. (I'm proud to say I've fenced for Ireland, but if I'm brutally honest that says less about my skills and more about the standard of Irish fencing...)

How did you find out about The Code?How did you find out about The Code?

I came across it while browsing BBC iPlayer (just after the second episode was broadcast).

At what stage did you get involved?
I did the first twocode-breakers after watching the second episode, but to be honest I wasn't very enthused by them. I had assumed the Ultimate Challenge was going to be no more than a slightly bigger version of one of them, so discovering it was something of a totally different nature and scale was when I really got hooked.

What was your favourite part?
Probably making the breakthrough of understanding how all the pages were connected, and the way I was then able to use that information to rapidly solve so much that had previously been problematic (both individual page puzzles and codes). As someone who normally works on my own, I also really liked being a part of the team involved in building the wiki. Finishing the challenge so quickly was only possible because so many talented puzzlers worked together – you all know who you are, thank you very much.

What did you find the most tricky?

The stress of the finishing straight! I was going a bit crazy due to sleep deprivation, so I made more simple errors in the final day of solving than in the first five combined. After finishing the last code, I could see exactly what I needed to do for the final stage, and just how close I was, but I was forced to leave it for a couple of hours while I dealt with a work deadline. At the time, knowing that two people had already completed and I was in a race for thrid place (against at least three others who also knew how to break that code), I was convinced that those hours would cost me any chance of making the finale. (Obviously I'm very relieved now I find that they didn't).

Have you taken part in anything similar before?

I am somewhat of a puzzle addict, so had come across most of the individual types involved before, but I'd never been as actively involved in a collaborative solving process.  In terms of a large-scale project that combines a huge number of different styles of puzzles (and doesn't make it clear that some of them even are puzzles), the closest to this I'd done was possibly the online puzzle NotPron.


What are your problem-solving strengths and weaknesses?
My job means I have reasonably extensive general knowledge, so anything trivia based is right up my street. I guess my other main strength  would be logic-based puzzles. I'm OK at word puzzles too, but much faster at logic. As for weaknesses, having worked with Pete along the way, I've learnt that my computer skills are certainly not up to his when it comes to organising and manipulating data quickly, and I suspect both he and Helen have an edge on me when it comes to decrypting codes.


What do you think your chances are of winning?

Depends entirely on what form the final challenge takes.

Overall how would you rate The Code as an experience?

Hard to say – the experience isn't over yet! So far, I'd say that as someone with a maths background, I found the TV series a bit slow, but I realise it was pitched at a wider audience. On the other hand, the Ultimate Challenge is quite possibly the best-constructed puzzle I've ever seen, made even more enjoyable by solving it in a team. The only caveat I would have concerns the errors: although in the end some of these were very satisfying to identify and work around, it was frustrating that they added an unnecessary day or two to an already epic undertaking. As it is, I suspect  the angst of wondering every time you get stuck whether it's your fault or the compiler's means it's not something for everybody, but if the BBC publishes an error-free version, I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone.

Second Finalist - Pete Ryland

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Joanna Witt - BBC Producer | 09:54 UK time, Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pete Ryland

Pete Ryland

Name: Pete Ryland
Age: 34
Location: Bermondsey, London

About Me

I am into music. I really enjoy dabbling on guitar and writing songs. I am also into sport. I play touch rugby, rollerhockey and volleyball whenever I have the chance, and I've been known to play almost everything else, from basketball to cricket. Most of all, I code. This is my biggest pastime. I love it so much I have focused my career on it.  When not programming for work, I write free software, allowing others to download the source and improve it.  Being someone who loves taking things apart, I think that this is how all things should work.

How did you find out about The Code?

I generally go out of my way to watch anything presented by Marcus du Sautoy.


At what stage did you get involved?

I got involved after the first episode aired.

What was your favourite part?

Determining the page/zodiac connections and decoding the coded messages before anyone else was a great buzz, especially decoding the final pair of messages.

What did you find the most tricky?

The unspaced Morse code and Margaret’s symmetry problems were particularly difficult; the cribbage cards one was downright nasty.

Have you taken part in anything similar before?
No, never.

What are your problem-solving strengths and weaknesses?

The way I organise the information at hand and can write programs quickly to solve problems and test theses are my biggest problem-solving strengths.  Without my  computer,  I’m almost useless.

What do you think your chances are of winning?

It depends on the format of the finale.  With the limited information at hand, I’d have to say 1/3.


Overall how would you rate The Code as an experience?

The Ultimate Challenge was the single most fun thing I’ve ever done.  I can’t wait for the finale.

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