Friday, February 24, 2012

Navigating by the North Star

My name is Ryan McCabe and this is my story. I could never have imagined when I bought my first pack of A&G cards last summer that I would be here today telling you how I was part of a team of three regular guys that solved one of the biggest challenges in the hobby world today.

I hadn’t bought a pack of cards in years. Being the type who likes to support the local small business folks I decided to make my way into the local card shop on my way home from work, Toys From the Attic in Somersworth, NH. If you are ever in southern NH please pay them a visit, very cool shop. I asked about any vintage stuff he might have and then I noticed the new stuff he had out on display. So I inquired and he introduced me to the Allen & Ginter cards. They looked pretty neat and the cards you could pull from the packs looked awesome. So, I decided to buy a few packs.

When I got home I ripped open the first pack and in it was a Ryan Braun printing plate. What a find! The second pack will always be my greatest pull though, my first A&G Code Ad card. I looked it over, thinking it was just like a 10% off card you might find in other packs. It had the “Crack the Code” thing and I thought; “wow, I am pretty decent at code stuff”. So I followed the Codemaster on twitter, easy enough. But, he hadn’t tweeted yet, what was I supposed to do?

I set my iPhone up to make sure I got the push notification when he tweeted but, not much happened for days, I think I had actually forgotten about it. Until a day or two later and that’s when it all started. “As my uncle Reginald V Thorpwell III said: Codebreakers are defeated and bitter, who don’t follow the Codemaster on Twitter”. What the heck does that mean? I asked a few guys at work if they had ever heard of this Thorpwell character, no dice. Then came the poem, again, no idea what it meant. I think I had figured out the clocks in the mirror right about the time the last line of the poem was tweeted. But, what did it all mean? Then the Rollins clue, that got me my first answer. I had the Poe Toaster (Poe’s birthday was 1/19, a swap of day and time) within a day of that clue. Then it was off to Wikipedia! I had gotten the 1:19, the rest must just be a matter of connecting some dots. Shortly after The Poe Toaster I had Nostradamus (942 quatrains in his lifetime). Within moments I had D.B. Cooper (727 airplane hijacker). This trend got me in trouble though. I noticed they were all from the same subset, and the subset had ten cards, must mean each time is assigned to a card in that set. So off I went.

I spent days making logical connections. I had Kaspar Hauser as 1:11 at one point, Fulcanelli at 6:13, Count of St. Germaine at 3:14, and all of them seemed logical. At one point I actually had every card in that subset lined up with a time. St. Germaine was the inspiration for the “I am” Church, First point of Aries, well Aries is often referred to as the “I Am” constellation. As you can see, I had also convinced myself that each line in the poem corresponded to the time chronologically. Grave cost lined up with The Poe Toaster, and the card itself had a grave on it, made sense to me. I won’t spend much more time boring you with the details of how I did that in this post, but I had made logical connections for all of them. (In a separate post I will give you the connections I made to the ten WMMF subset.) So I thought, now what?

I had made the connection based on the Ad card and one of the tweets that the last word on the back of the card was the key, but I wasn’t sure how to use it. Turn it, enter it in the fore, no idea what that meant. I tried for Nostradamus, nothing. I tried entering the word backwards into the search engine at Topps, still nothing. I went for weeks with two very good friends, Ryan O’Connor and Marc Bolte (who had also helped me make my original ten card connections in WMMF) trying to figure out how to apply the ten words I had. This is around the time I made contact with Guillaume. We spoke briefly via twitter and then we decided to share some info. We went back and forth on our card/time ideas. We were both on the same track for sure. But we had no idea how to apply it.

Then the YEKDOTTOPPSDOTCOM clue was tweeted. Instantly I knew what to do. I got to a computer as fast as I could and entered and BOOM there it was. The website clue that eventually became the password to the Abe twitter account (more on this later from G’s write-up). I picked up my phone and direct messaged “G”, “we need to talk”. He had also figured it out instantly. We were very excited at this point. There was a problem though, not all our cards worked when we turned them into websites. Hmmm. Then the tweet about the types of connections we were looking for. The two addresses, the time, the date, the model number, etc. Well I knew the life’s work was Nostradamus, I figured Cooper was the model number, The Poe Toaster worked for the date. Okay, now we were moving. This is about the time where things started to pick up on Twitter. Enter Frank!

I had been following Frank for a little while, paying close attention to his tweets. It looked like he was on track with where G and I were. I kept a close eye on him, not wanting to have Frank beat us to getting all ten times. So G and I pressed on. We got The White House 4:00 (aka 16:00 Pennsylvania Ave) one of the addresses. Then we got 3:14 Archimedes (Pi, which connected to the “cake and eat it too” clue), we then got The Amityville 3:15 (the time the father woke up each morning and went out to the boathouse). Cooper fit the model number, Nostradamus fit the life’s work, poe toaster fit the date. We were well on our way. Then I think we got a little stuck.

Frank had been tweeting about having a bunch of them, and I cannot remember if he messaged me or I messaged him, he might recall. Anyway, we did the “dance” about what cards we had. We negotiated a trade, he had Dewey, and we didn’t. I think we traded Archimedes. Anyway, at this point I thought it would be a good idea to bring Frank into the team. We negotiated the prize stuff, I spoke with G, and the team was formed. 1:11 ended up being Pablo Sandoval and we googled him and got the nickname “Kung Fu Panda” which we instantly knew meant the Giant Panda card. This also lined up with “the card” portion of the clue and it jived with the tweet about a player pointing to a name by which he is otherwise known. Now we had 9 of the 10 cards and needed the tenth badly.

At this point G did a TON of legwork and found every card that had a last word that worked as a website. So now all we had to do was connect one of those cards to 6:13, our only missing time. This was painful. All we need was 6:13 and all we had left was a “foreign state”. We went back and forth on this for awhile. I liked Gutenberg and connected it with the fact that he printed one of the first Hebrew Bibles (written in Hebrew aka a foreign state) and it had 613 commandments or something like that. We weren’t convinced that was right, but we went with it for a few days. Later we decided to go with Taz Devil, which didn’t end up mattering because they both had the last word of “years” and pointed you to the same website clue. Now what the heck do we do?

We had the cipher now and G had figured the poem meant we start at the First Point of Aries. I thought our navigational star was Polaris and we had to navigate by “89” which was its value. Frank had ideas about where to start and none of us could figure out how to navigate. It was absolute chaos and frustration. This is about the time my body had had enough of the 1-2am mornings and up again at 5am. I got sick, real sick. In fact, my interest started to die off in the code at this point and I took a couple days off. To their credit, Frank and G pressed on. The code was consuming my kitchen and my mind. God Bless my wife for her patience, without her I would have never come this far. I think Frank and G would agree that our wives deserve a TON of credit for putting up with us for these past many months.

So Frank and G continued, I rested, always thinking about what to do next. We tried counting, we tried using the cipher as an axis, and I literally studied the stars enough to go CLEP out of a college level Astronomy class. I can now tell you more about sidereal time and declination than you would ever care to know. I think I could write a book on Kapsar Hauser and his mirror writing and I know way more about The Amityville Murders than I want to. This is what I appreciated most about this code, I actually learned quite a bit! Is it useless knowledge? Maybe, but I bet it makes me a better Jeopardy player.

I must say that I had all but given up. We didn’t seem to be getting anywhere, my breaks between Skype sessions with the guys were getting longer. I pretty much wasn’t too involved the past week or so. Again though, Frank and G pressed on. They picked up on the angle stuff with the hands, they did the calculations, and G was convinced that Archimedes was the Navigational Star. He was a machine with the leg work he did on the angle stuff. Okay, so now what? The angle was 13 degrees between Archimedes’ minute and hour hand. So, we counted. From every starting point you could imagine. Now mind you, Frank and I were not completely convinced that Archimedes was the navigational star, but G insisted on it. So we went with it.

To think that my parents supported my baseball card collecting as a kid mostly because they enjoyed watching me obsess over the stats. They bought me cards on my birthday, for Christmas, any holiday where a present was appropriate. When I called my Mom last night to tell her I was part of the team that won it she was impressed, but it was clear she didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what we had done. I laid it out for her the best I could and I think she got it by the end of our conversation. She was proud, I could tell. I am excited we solved it, but I think the best part of this whole code was the two friends I made. Frank and G are awesome, they never gave up, and I am happy to call both of them friend. Awesome job guys, we did it!

1 comment:

  1. In previous years, I had felt that with enough time I could crack the code. Congats to you guys for doing something all the time in the world wouldn't have helped me do... So impressive!