Unsolved internet mysteries are the best! You’ve got the classics: Cicada 3301, Chip-Chan, Kanye Quest, A858… But wait, don’t Google any of those unless you want to fall into a deep rabbit hole and emerge none the closer to a solution.
But what happens when mysteries are solved?
On the 27th of December 2020, one of the most confounding and puzzling internet treasure hunts has finally been put to rest: Find Satoshi. But exactly what is ‘Find Satoshi’ and how was it solved?
Lets start at the beginning! Back in 2004 a UK based company called Mind Candy founded an ARG (alternate reality game) called Perplex City. The goal of the game was essentially a real world treasure hunt that took place across many mediums including cards, digital websites, blogs, puzzles, and secret real life locations. Oh, and did I mention the first season came with an exciting prize of £100,000 to the first player who found “The Cube” a precious artefact set in the Perplex City universe hidden in a real life location.
“A city obsessed with puzzles and ciphers. A game that blurs the boundaries between fiction and reality.”
The game grew to be much larger than any other ARG out there, with numerous real world tie ins. One such example was information locked in the PXC (Perplex City) Academy Library which could only be accessed by a published author… So budding puzzlers went away and did just that: Wrote and published booked to get access! Another example is a banner plane flew across Manchester with a keyword that enabled access to a new area of the game. Blink and you’ll miss it, Manchester!
Billion To One
This sets the scene for just such a puzzle by Mind Candy designed to test the theory of “six degrees of separation”. The theory goes that all people on the planet are separated from all other people by just 6 connections. A chain of “friend of a friend” or “I once knew a person that knew…” statements could lead you pretty much anywhere, to anyone.
So they tested it with a puzzle called “Billion To One”. Simply put: Card #256 contained the image of a man (helpfully identified by Mind Candy as Satoshi) and the Japanese characters 私を 見つけなさい (meaning “find me”). This is where the international hunt for Satoshi began!
The Hunt for Satoshi
Card #256 wasn’t the only unsolvable card of course, there were others. Two other cards in the deck remained unsolved for the longest time. Card #238, Riemann posted players the problem of solving the unsolvable Riemann hypothesis, whilst Card #251, The Thirteenth Labour required 30,000 computers running all at once to solve.
But none of the Perplex City mysteries captured the imagination more than Card #256, A Billion to One as somebody, somewhere had to know Satoshi.
Various efforts to find Satoshi emerged all around the world and, as you would imagine, petered out over the next couple of years as interest in Perplex City waxed and waned. A number of ‘find him’ sites emerged including billion2one (closed), haveyouseenhim (closed) and findsatoshi.com.
First, players identified the background of the photograph as being taken in the small town of Kaysersberg-Vignoble in North-Eastern France. From here, the trail went cold. Very cold! It’s safe to say nobody expected Satoshi to be found many years later in 2020 but perhaps, after being cooped up in a pandemic for a year, the time was just right for someone to stumble across Satoshi on some far flung corner of the internet.
A small but active community kept the /r/FindSatoshi Reddit thread alive where regular updates on the search could be posted. In a recent break in the case, user th0may, who is currently doing a research project on AI decided to run the image through an advance image recognition system and found a similar photograph of a man drinking beer in 2018.
The image was traced to a company email address. At first, no response could be solicited from Satoshi, so th0may got in contact with Laura Hall who, along with a friend working in Japan, sent a follow up in Japanese. From here, Satoshi confirmed his identity and at last, the puzzle was solved.
Six Degrees of Separation
I don’t know whether the puzzle being solved proves or disproves the 6 Degrees of Separation hypothesis. On the one hand Satoshi was found not through separation but through a complex computer algorithm. On the other hand, the Find Satoshi puzzle was created many years before Reddit, or other social networking sites where the search has taken place.
I’d like to believe that in the exact moment user th0may found Satoshi and his identity confirmed, it forges a new link in the six degrees. Just like that, we are all now one link closer to Satoshi, albeit digitally. It’s up to you to decide if computer technology brings us closer to our six degree links or alienates us from the human connection the puzzle was actually about?
A huge thanks to Laura E. Hall for championing the Find Satoshi movement, and for speaking to me for this article.
Laura E. Hall is an artist, writer, puzzle-maker, immersive environment and narrative designer living in Portland, Oregon. Her work focuses on the intersections between arts, culture, and technology, especially in gaming.
Hall is a co-founder of Portland’s first escape the room game company, the award-winning 60 Minutes to Escape, and the author of Katamari Damacy for Boss Fight Books. She now creates exciting adventures for the curious at heart with Timberview Productions and Meridian Adventure Co. Her upcoming book “Planning Your Escape: Strategy Secrets to Make You an Escape Room Superstar” will be published by Simon & Schuster’s Tiller Press in 2021. She proudly serves on the board of the Portland Indie Game Squad (PIGSquad), a non-profit organization supporting game development and indie game enthusiasts in Portland.
All information for this article come from Wikipedia, Find Satoshi, Perplex City, Perplex City Card Catalogue and Reddit.