Hackaday Space: Transmission 1


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.

Transmission 1

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.

A screenshot of the Hackaday April 1st page

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…).

Console log from April 1st

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.

Hidden Messages

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

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…


13 thoughts on “Hackaday Space: Transmission 1

  1. Kudos :)
    I wrote php to create an image with gd and the scale it up.
    I didn’t have to squint, looking at the page about 7-10ft away, you can clearly see the boxes :)
    That quote in “I’m floating in a most peculiar way” was a bit of a trouble maker though ;)

    1. What you don’t wanna put your info in when you complain? Scared?
      Lots of submissions on the projects page, lots of been posted each day.
      Contests will bring many more hacks and projects.
      If you troll for a living, it’s time to go find a hobby.

    2. The contests have stimulate a huge wave of hacks and innovation. There have been loads of new projects that, to a degree, we can all actually participate in over on Hacksdy.io as a result of these contests. Its awhole revolution to the online maker community and it deserves a few posts occasionally

    3. I just now scrolled down to even find this submission. I didnt expected that the contest-post was a sticky and thought that HaD doesnt publish anything else for at least 24H. Kinda anoying… I already saw the top post… I now hide the contest-div with my adblock to have a normal HaD experience.

    4. As a person who partecipated in computer security CTFs (https://ctftime.org/ctf-wtf) I actually liked the challenge-like approach of the recent HaD posts, and would like to see more of them, together with write-ups of the solutions. The only disadvantage is that people are too fast solving it, so I don’t have a chance to have fun trying to solve them.

  2. This reminds of the awesomeness that was http://www.3564020356.org…While the HaD version was a lot less involved than a lot of the riddles on 3564020356 (which focuses more on reversing techniques and is still live and still accepting new people to riddle around), it was still a lot of fun for it to lead to the Minecraft server and the fun that everyone had there. Personally, I think the stuff HaD put together is a hack in its own way, to all you people QQing about “more hacks, less competitions.” Anyway, I’d love to see more of this and absolutely loved the idea of the Minecraft server…There should definitely be more of this stuff in the future, in my humble opinion.

    Great job HaD! Looking forward to the writeup on Transmission 2.

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