Phew, what a month!
As most of you by now are probably sick of hearing, we ran a series of puzzles throughout April in the run up to the announcement of The Hackaday Prize. We had a lot of fun putting this together, and a great many of you pitched in and tried to solve the problems we presented. In all we were very impressed at the community spirit that came out of these challenges, so we thought we would do a write up of what was in the puzzles, how we built them, and the fantastic solutions that you all came up with.
We’ll be doing these as a series of posts this week since they’re quite long, for details on Transmission 1 keep reading after the break.
It was Friday March 28th at the SupplyFrame office when somebody realised that April 1st was coming up. A haphazard brainstorming session was conducted and threw up some ideas. A version of the arcade classic Breakout but with Arduinos for blocks was suggested (and built – thanks Mike!). A game of Space Invaders with Hackaday logos as the invaders was another well received idea. It wasn’t long before someone suggested we launch The Hackaday Prize on April 1st. This seemed a little crazy since we wanted you all to take it seriously, but we settled on teasing the contest with a video.
The design team that were working on the launch video for the contest gave us some ideas, and some video material we ended up using in Transmission 2. But we wanted something that would look great full screen on any monitor. So I spent a manic weekend getting to grips with WebGL shaders and THREE.js and somehow managed to put together the awesomeness you all got to see. The frankly horrendous source code is available here, please don’t judge this was done in no time with little to no experience with the tools used!
I realised I needed a loading screen so that we could pre-cache the video, so I quickly put together the little fake terminal. A friend of mine provided the content for the terminal, and our ARG was born (completely unintentionally…).
In this transmission were several pieces of hidden information. The first was a series of coordinates which referred to space telescopes around the world. There were 5 telescopes, these were the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, the NRAO Very Large Array in New Mexico, the RATAN-600 in Russia, the Effelsberg Radio Telescope in Germany, and the LOFAR array in the Netherlands.
The second piece of encoded information was the following series of characters:
49 27 6d 20 66 6c 6f 61 74 69 6e 67 20 69 6e 20 61 20 6d 6f 73 74 20 70 65 63 75 6c 69 61 72 20 77 61 79
This was a simple translation of ASCII characters into hexadecimal and encoded the string “I’m floating in a most peculiar way” which is a quote from the song Space Oddity by David Bowie. Finally the last block of information was a QR code that had been converted from an image, into a series of 1’s and 0’s indicating the pixels that were light and dark. If you squint at it just right you can see it. This QR code leads to the url for a profile we setup on Hackaday Projects.
We needed a name for the profile and Major Tom was the first one that popped into my head. I must have been listening to the song earlier in the week, so the Bowie references all came about quite accidentally, the profile image we glitched deliberately just because it looked cooler everyone assumed this meant something but that was great as it gave us ideas for the next set of puzzles. This profile was where we then conducted the rest of the ARG and served as a great place for everyone to start collaborating on the puzzles.
After some people had found all of the above we had our user Ground Control post a message to indicate this stage of the ARG was over and that we would commence the next part in T-518400. This was seconds since the last transmission so was 6 days away. Honestly we made a mistake here and used the ‘T-‘ notation incorrectly, not specifying a unit and I think we even managed to get the time wrong. Such mistakes were pretty common throughout the ARG but honestly doing this all last minute I’m surprised we managed to pull as much of it together as we did!
Everyone did a spectacular job on this part of the puzzle, it was all solved in around half an hour, but the number of different ways people got there was amazing. We had people writing code to convert the QR code strings into pixels and generating an actual image from them. Other people imported it into Google Spreadsheets or Excel and did conditional formatting to make the code usable on a mobile phone. Then there were all the dead ends people went down, looking for steganographic encoding on the profile images, even going so far as to try using 3d specs on the images! Amazing stuff, and actually helped serve as inspiration for Transmission 2 which we will follow up with tomorrow!
To Be Continued…