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Today, a homeless looking man handed me $50 and this note (reddit.com)
157 points by achughes 1983 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 67 comments

well, if the story is true...

The homeless looking man was probably a paid messenger. given that said guy gave op fifty dollars, his pay would have to be significantly larger to ensure proper delivery. so, lets assume the original source of the note paid at least 150.00 with said delivery fee, sans labor costs for the creation of the puzzle... OK

now, the implication here is that someone thinks they will get a return on their investment. for this to be plausible, op would have to have been deliberately targeted these to receive the puzzle. handing these little surprises out to strangers would not result in a good rate of return.

now, if you are still following my train of thought, it would make sense to assume that these people must have been watching op to think he would be a good candidate to solve the puzzle. yet, if they were they seem to have misprofiled him as he was not able to solve the puzzle alone and so he resorted to posting on reddit.

now, there are a lot of smart people on Reddit, but what are the odds that such a random puzzle would be solved so quickly and for nothing more than karma?

as much as I would like to believe the story, it seems that the simpler explanation would be that it is a fabrication and a viral marketing campaign. this would explain how a fairly complicated puzzle was answered quickly and easily by some redditor, as smart as some of them are I think the odds of someone with both the required skills and willingness to work only for karma finding the post are fairly improbable.

in conclusion we can apply occam's razor to the above argument, to illustrate that it was probably not a bonafide event when compared to these alternate explanations: the man was legitimately crazy (what are the odds if encountering a crazy person with such skills?) or the most likely explanation, that this is a marketing campaign perhaps for a new book, movie, game show, or something else entirely

the argument that op fabricated the story to me is the most convincing, precise and logically sound theory

In order to further my procrastination this evening, I Googled the OP's username found a Twitter account that synced up with the OP's reddit interests (seems to be obsessed with magic the gathering), except that he's located in.... New Zealand. Not NYC.

Neither his Twitter or blog talk about this incident. Interestingly enough his first reddit submission was an AskReddit with a type of challenge/riddle. So its possible he just likes fabricating riddles for karma

" except that he's located in.... New Zealand. Not NYC"

His opening, way to specific, directions is what set off my spidey sense. As per some research that was done a while back (Only link I can find on short notice: http://cornellsun.com/section/news/content/2011/09/23/cornel...) to detect advertising plants, the plants would always try to build a scene of what happened ("I was on the 143 bus heading down Front Street when I saw the catching blue uniforms of the restaurant"), where as the real customers were more about emotions ("I felt ripped off, screw this place"). His attempt to build a scene right off the bat seems to fit this pretty well shrugs.

That article says the fake reviews are for Mechanical Turk -- it's unclear if they were reviews that were actually approved by a scammer, or if the researcher's just said "write me a fake review". There's a huge chance that their synthetic fake reviews don't resemble real deceptive reviews.

Also, the "real" reviews were just pulled from a site, without any research to verify their authenticity.

The article might not be the best (it wasn't the one I read a year or so ago), just a similar article I could find quickly. I don't think the original article was much better though =)

Both of the "delverofsecrets" accounts share interest in magic, but this should not be surprising considering "Delver of Secrets" is a popular term in magic circles (https://www.google.com/#hl=en&q=%22delver+of+secrets%22&...).

The required skills and desire to work only for karma are practically guaranteed on a site like reddit.

Also, if it's a marketing campaign, the op was exactly the right person to target as he exhibited best-case behavior for such a campaign. Going online for help to a highly viral community is precisely what you'd want as a marketer.


I'm still not sure I believe that somehow someone targeted him in such a way. That's the part that seems unlikely. The profiling is too perfect in this case.

No the contention is that the op is behind the viral marketing campaign, not that he was targeted by one.

There's a lot of people who code on any site like reddit. While people may have relevant skills, the likelihood of having the raw talent isn't that good.

I don't understand what you mean by raw talent.

It just took someone who recognized the type of cipher (which was apparently also named on the paper itself). That's virtually guaranteed in a worldwide community of geeky folk.

Agreed. The thing named itself as a ?FIDI cipher .

Just typing FIDI cipher into google will auto correct into BIFID cipher which ofcourse brings up any number of tools that will solve the cipher for you.

While its not 100% straight forward, its not exactly rocket surgery either.

I agree that it's probably a viral marketing campaign, but I think you may have the wrong idea about reddit users solving this. Looking at the ones who seem to have cracked it a few are accounts over a year old, which isn't bulletproof but still is usually a decent indicator that they're legit.

Also, I don't think this puzzle was all that out of reach, apparently the name of the cipher itself was encoded right in, along with various other hints in other languages. The cipher itself isn't all that complex either.

Just being pedantic.

I agree with this. I am not surprised that some people could decipher the note in a matter of hours using online tools. Assuming that it couldn't have been done is the shakiest inference made by grandparent.

the argument that op fabricated the story to me is the most convincing, precise and logically sound theory

The UNIX timestamp is what led me to reach to same conclusion. I still might show up at the appointed hour...

I'd go if I was in NYC and had the time.

There was another high scoring post on Reddit less than a week ago with a similar premise: guy posts a coded note he claims to have seen placed in a dead drop [1]. This post definitely smells funny.

[1] http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/w2231/reddit_i_th...

> what are the odds if encountering a crazy person with such skills?

Don't underestimate the odds a person with such skills becomes crazy

EDIT: I don't meant necessarily getting crazy because of the skills. For example I know a mathematician who had a stroke 5 years ago and recovered; he told that after the surgery, he now feels the urge of going out and watching all registration plates and play with those numbers. He says it's because he was doing this sort of thing the moment he got the stroke, so somehow his brain stuck into that. Honestly I have no idea, but the thing that strikes me more is his self consciousness of this situation. He suffers severe emotional and memory issues but he got a job and tries to get back his life.

You don't have to be that bright to write in code. Small kids manage it OK.

I'd find it harder to believe that a crazy person would have $50 they could spare.

Oh no, the odds of smart people becoming insane are very good!

It's the odds of encountering one on the street that are bad.

Totally agree with this analysis. The Dark Knight Rises comes out the next day, July 20. Homeless guys handing our ciphered messages with $50 bills sounds like the sort of weird techno-cultural thing you might find in a Chris Nolan movie.

But it's not like that movie needs any more hype. Maybe this the first shot in a longer lead-up to a movie later in the summer.

You don't think that out of the millions of redditors, at least a few of them make a hobby out of breaking cyphers? It's not much different than lockpicking, which many hackers make a hobby out of.

Evidence supporting this theory would be the existence of /r/cryptography.

There's even a subreddit for people who can't afford food and people buy each other pizzas. Assuming the probably or non-existence of any one type of person on Reddit is a fool's errand.

Why would you assume that someone will work on solving the puzzle only for karma? Curiosity, challenge and fun are also valid reasons, and I can see that a lot of people got curious about the message, and some of them took the challenge and had a good fun solving it, and maybe trolling the OP after that.

They're saying the OP came up with the puzzle in the pursuit of karma. Which would appear to have worked.

I am aware it has been "solved" -- my theory is that the solver is an insider working with the original poster.

Viral marketing, LARP gone awry, or whatever, I'm still heading up to 56th and 6th on the 19th. Worst case scenario, there will be some fun conversations to be had. And I'll have a hot dog.

I will go and set up my own competing hot dog stand. I will have tons of customers that day :-)

You and the other 100 hotdog stands :)

Can someone please livestream what happens there? We non-NYers would love to be a part of this.

I was there at four; didn't see anything interesting happen, aside from us mobbing an old, scruffy looking guy wearing all blue.

Stream is still going, though; the original poster is supposed to show up soon. (I think he just did.)

The OP got a message from the homeless looking guy and a new cipher that was much simpler and unrelated to the original cipher card. Basically proves to me that it's a stunt.

Anyway, it's now:


That one might just be a friend messing with him..

Viral marketing strikes again. Gotta love this stuff.

I was on an 'L' train in Chicago recently, and saw all these weird ads about some guy who had supposedly been kidnapped. Turned out to be some viral marketing thing to try and get people to - get this - visit St. Louis.[1]

Gotta hand it to 'em, some of these initiatives are pretty clever.

Although it would be funnier if it turned out that the "homeless guy" was somebody doing some LARP / ARG shyte and just handed the note and the 50 to the wrong guy.

[1]: https://lonelybrand.com/blog/kidnapped-chicagoan-campaign-se...

This is certainly some sort of viral marketing but the whole real-world aspect of it was almost surely made up.

I doubt any homeless man or $50 was involved, that's just to goose the curiosity level.

Good point. That thought had crossed my mind as well, when I started asking myself "what are the chances that this happens to some random guy, who just happens to be a Redditor?" In any case though, it's a neat gimmick and will probably stir up a lot of attention for somebody.

Being a redditor isn't exactly an exclusive club, and it wouldn't be too hard to profile a reddit user based on appearance and geographical location. Google's DoubleClick says 72% of the userbase is male 25-24 years old, some college education, low income bracket (unemployed/students), and technology oriented (Alexa adds that they're mostly Caucasian as well). Reddit has millions of users. Going with that information, finding a redditor in NYC or San Fransisco wouldn't exactly be an impossibly small chance.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reddit#Demographics

Being a redditor isn't exactly an exclusive club, and it wouldn't be too hard to profile a reddit user based on appearance and geographical location.

True, totally true. And if you went out trying to solicit a Reddit user from a crowd, talking to multiple people along the way, then yeah, I'd say you could find a Redditor almost anywhere.

But the chances of picking somebody out of a crowd, based on what, just skin color and maybe attire, and just happening on a Redditor? And one who would immediately run to Reddit and post this (to multiple reddits as well, apparently)? That doesn't strike me as likely, which is why I am now tending to agree with the idea that the "homeless guy" and the $50 never existed and that none of that stuff ever happened at all. The Reddit OP is probably the person behind (or an employee of the agency behind) the whole thing, IMO.

That or a lot of NYC twentysomethings got $50 richer.

totally OT, but you should visit st louis. it's home to the city museum (http://www.citymuseum.org/site/), which is in fact the best place on earth.

Loved the Gateway Arch - it's stunning. Museum underneath it is worth a look too. Also quite enjoyed some retro ten-pin bowling lanes: http://www.saratogalanes.com/

The Bud tour is a bit weak if you've toured the Budvar facility in the Czech Republic.

Wish we'd known about the City Museum.

On the other hand, I live in St. Louis and I'm pretty tired of people telling out-of-towners that it's the best thing about the city, so feel free to return to your regularly scheduled zingers about flyover country. We're simple folk. We won't mind.

You had a 16oz veal chop. Despite the lack of a good time I had in STL, I'll always remember it fondly :)

hah, i'm not trying to take anything away from the rest of the city, cause it's a nice place, but i've made two separate road trips from atlanta (9 hrs each way) with 14 people just for the city museum.

What's the first blacked-out character on the front of the 50?

Image: http://i.imgur.com/9yZo5.jpg

The sequence is: ?FIDI

Edit: Oh, presumably it's a "B" for Bifid (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bifid_cipher), and it reads top-down, left-to-right.

If you like ARGs and stuff like this I heartily recommend Unfiction.com and especially it's forums. They're usually pretty active and if this lead goes anywhere then the forum thread [1] will probably be the best way to track events.

[1] http://forums.unfiction.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=35685

July 19th is the day before the new Batman movie comes out... Batman... The Riddler... Could be a movie promotional stunt?

I will hazard a guess that you have hit the nail on the head. If it is, then it is a clever viral marketing ploy. Often these kinds of viral campaigns are only run online. Running them in both the physical and online world is way more interesting.

Update: It's been solved, but if your interested in trying to figure it out just don't scroll down into the comments

I wonder if OP is going to go to that place. I'm sure there will be a lot of other Redditors there

It's an interesting way to organise a Reddit catch-up. Generates plenty of buzz, and you could setup an ARG around this whole thing just for Reddit.

Alternatively, it's just someone winding the guy up.

So it's actually viral marketing to promote Reddit? Hmm... probably cleverly arranged by the arch super-villian known only as: pg.

/me pictures pg in a tower somewhere, laughing maniacally, with bolts of lightning crashing all around him, as a howling wind lashes the walls and driving rain hammers down on the roof...

If it was real he would have blurred out a portion of it so he could solve the final portion of it on his own.

I say viral marketing!

The left down corner letters are hebrew... Beit, yud, pe (or fe), yud, dalet. Bipid or Bifid.

Edit: removed extra yud on the end.

Well, apparently the homeless man was sent by the DOD... http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/weo8j/today_a_hom...

I feel its to convoluted to be a marketing scheme, as you would surely have a product which links to decryption.

I think it might be more fitting if this was a new approach to recruit people for the NSA / Cryptography office for X company or organisation.

Passing out $50 notes to random people on a train hoping they're a cryptography expert in search of a job?

What you have described, is not quite what I had in mind when I said it was a new way to recruit.

GCHQ ( UK ) released http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/ to try and gather interest aiming specifically at a target market.

"It said that the Cabinet Office supported "initiatives such as the Cyber Security Challenge, which promotes careers in cyber security via annual competitions and events"." http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-15968878

If the parties involved did a little research on some people on reddit, they may have found someone who would be curious and self motivated into publishing it on reddit.

When the GCHQ challenge was launched there was huge publicity on reddit, strengthening the above statement that there would be interest.

I for one am quite looking forward to hearing how this unravels as the person who triggered it (assume for now), reached out, is at least keen to continue the publicity.

Passing out $50 notes with a puzzle to people who look really nerdy (but fairly well off) getting off a subway near Wall Street might be a worthwhile way to recruit bored quants or IT people. $50x1000 is reasonable if you get one good hire.

I imagine this story would get a lot less attention if there wasn't $50 involved.

Google could hand out little cards like this anonymously to try to find smart people but the problem is someone would eventually turn to crowdsourcing.

Probably turn out that on the 20th somebody might be reporting how ther house got burgled. Have a friend house sit on the 19th whilst you investigate. Trust no one ;0.

So... the Zodiac killer is handing out $50 bills in NYC?

seems legit, but don't let it turn into this http://vimeo.com/13780892

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