BOSS have been in partnership with the University of Southampton to deliver its agent training since 2001. The pilot programme was delivered as a local competition for Hampshire schools under cover of the University of Southampton Silver Jubilee celebrations. Designed and run by staff in the School of Mathematics the competition had a simple website with five unrelated cipher texts to break, and prizes from the University, IBM and Waterstones. Assessment of candidates was Carried out manually by senior BOSS agents.
The pilot was regarded as a success by the BOSS training team who decided to adapt the format and roll it out as a national programme the following year. To ensure that the competition could effectively identify potential operatives, Harry had the idea of basing the competition on real cases from the BOSS archive. The new programme was launched in 2002 with support from the government research agency EPSRC, Bletchley Park, the London Mathematical Society, the Guardian Online and our partners IBM who have been involved in the programme ever since.
In 2004 Trinity College Cambridge and GCHQ officially joined the programme, and over the years BOSS has received support and encouragement from BCS, the chartered institute for computer IT, and Netcraft a cyber security company. Our most recent supporter is our agency 10 Degrees, and we would like to express our gratitude to them all for making the competition possible.
Eighteen case files have been released so far, including some developed from training materials based on files from the National Archives. These have ranged from a tale of fraud and misadventure in the battles with Napoleon, to the mysterious death of a world famous mathematician and the resulting adventures of his graduate student, Trinity. You can find a (very) brief synopsis of each of them below. More recent case files have been released in full as part of the BOSS training initiative. You might notice that some of the characters have returned for more than one story, and there is a tangled web of the connections between them. Harry himself often appears, and given the chronology that suggests that he might be some form of time traveller. This has never been denied by the BOSS organisation.
Having got this far, we hope that you will stay with us and encourage others to join BOSS in our mission to keep the world safe.
BOSS 2021 The Lighthouse Conspiracy
In the depths of GCHQ there is a cold case division nicknamed “the Archaeologists”. They spend their time deciphering obsolete wartime despatches and diplomatic communications, unbroken in their day, in the hope of finding something still significant. Now this ragtag group of puzzle solvers, linguists, mathematicians, and computer scientists have been sent a collection of papers that will shake the intelligence community to its core. In this adventure, our 20th anniversary edition, The Archaeologists, led by Jodie, needed your help to decipher them, and to break The Lighthouse Conspiracy.
BOSS 2020 Tinker Tailor Tourist Spy
Published hard on the heels of the COVID-19 “special edition” of the national cipher challenge this competition was based on the exploits of our security agencies in the run up to the Second World War, as they tracked and traced a group of Nazi spies and infiltrators disguised as a visiting party of German cyclists. With Britain racing to prepare its air defences for the oncoming battle, the Hitler Youth toured the country surveying, and eventually trying to attack our secret weapon, Chain Home. This network of radar stations was at the cutting edge of electronic warfare and went on to play a major role in the Battle of Britain. Without the efforts of BOSS and its predecessors it may never have survived to protect the nation in its darkest hour.
BOSS 2020SE Die Alchemisten (redux)
Following the announcement of a national lockdown to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, the team decided to run an impromptu “special edition” of the national cipher challenge. It was based closely on the 2004 mission, Die Alchemisten, though the story was redrafted as a training mission by the training and development staff at BOSS and a secret, very hard, final chapter was added. Only those who looked very hard would find it, and not all of them would crack it, but they all gave it their best. The following BOSS trainees were awarded ELITE status for finding and cracking it:
Madness (no surprise there)
Some successful sister’s senior sibling
Cricguru + Jaysong
BOSS 2019 A Countdown to Catastrophe
A saboteur is working deep in the heart of NASA, but who are they, what do they want, and how far are they willing to go? Trainees are invited to join Harry and his team to hunt them down and stop them before time runs out …
BOSS 2018 The Kompromat Files
Could a 145 year old diary really destabilise our fragile peace with Russia? Wat does it contain that could be so dangerous? Who wrote it, and why and how was it encrypted?
Jodie needs the answers, and she needs them fast. Join her as she and Harry try to unravel the mystery of The Kompromat Files.
BOSS 2017 The Lost Legion
This case was based on a set of ancient documents from the Secret National Archives that were discovered by Harry’s colleagues Jodie and Maryam. They reconstructed this file using other sources to develop one of our most interesting training modules.
BOSS 2016 Fighting Gravity
The body that washed up on the riverbank belonged to a young scientist called Jamelia was set to look like a suicide, but to our agents in the path lab it bore all the hallmarks of a professional hit. That might have made sense if she had worked in nuclear physics or bio warfare, but she didn’t, she worked on gravitational waves. For the life of him, Harry couldn’t see how that would have got her killed.
BOSS 2015 Hide & Seek
In the frantic months following WWII, BOSS officers and agents scoured Europe trying to recruit scientists and engineers to the task of building a new world and a lasting peace. Across the Iron Curtain, Soviet officials offered their own incentives to the scientists to join them instead, threatening a grisly fate if they did not. Harry and the team worked hard to establish a secure pipeline across Europe to help extract those brilliant researchers, and this is the story of that network.
BOSS 2014 Trojan
Piracy in the Arabian Gulf with a modern twist.
BOSS 2013 Mona Lisa
Where is the Mona Lisa? And is it THE Mona Lisa?
BOSS 2012 The Hawksmoor Inheritance
A monstrous war crime haunts our hero, in the strange and haunting case of The Hawksmoor Inheritance.
BOSS 2011 Tempest
When a young group of urban adventurers find a packet of old papers hidden among the roofs at Bletchley Park they expose themselves to more danger than they had ever experienced on their urban night climbing adventures. Several of the protagonists were subsequently recruited to the Security Section.
BOSS 2010 The Koh-i-Noor Twins
As the pace of technological change heated up in the post war period a number of criminal gangs tried to exploit the new weapons that it enabled. In this adventure Harry and the team tried to keep a devastating new weapon out of the hands of an international criminal gang based in India.
BOSS 2009 The Byron Enigma
The BOSS Training Team returned to the Victorian pioneers for this module, using the journals of the young Ada Lovelace to reconstruct her earliest adventure.
BOSS 2008 The General Attack
Harry suggested this as a training case after reading Mark Urban’s biography of General George Scovell, The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes. Mark is a celebrated journalist and historian and his book is a cracking account of a story that deserves to be as well known as the more familiar breaking of the Nazi Enigma cipher. Mark, the diplomatic editor for Newsnight, very kindly awarded the prizes to the leading BOSS trainees at Bletchley that year.
BOSS 2007 The Quantum Code
The first modern case to be used for training purposes by the BOSS team. Can Trinity unravel the mystery of her PhD supervisor’s death and escape the attention of his assailants? Trinity joined BOSS and is now one of its most active Officers.
BOSS 2006 The Marlowe Diaries
There is more than one way to win a war and perhaps Napoleon has found the key to European domination.
BOSS 2005 The Lomonosov Ridge
What is the purpose of the mysterious crashed Russian satellite? Can the allies find out by beating the Soviets in the race to recover it from its resting place on The Lomonosov Ridge.
BOSS 2004 Die Alchemisten
Harry and his friends race to unravel the mystery behind the organisation known only as Die Alchemisten.
BOSS 2003 The Babylon Stone
Agatha Highfield’s first case, The Babylon Stone. As an Edwardian adventuress and archaeologist, she fought the academic community’s prejudice for recognition in her field, at the same as she fought for peace and justice.
BOSS 2002 The Encryption Engine
The very first National Cipher Challenge. A story about Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and their friend the inventor Charles Wheatstone, battling foreign agents for control of The Encryption Engine.