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 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.
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.
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.
> 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.
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.
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.
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:
YOU HAVE MANAGED TO FIND THE MESSAGE WITH THE HELP OF FRIENDS. YOU CHANGED THE RULES NOW SO WILL I. JULY TWELVE FOUR PM. FIND THE BLUE JAY AT SIX AND A HALF AND FIFTY SIXTH AND TELL HIM YOU ARE THE LAST
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  will probably be the best way to track events.
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.
"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"."
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.