Hello Ginter fanatics. I’m Going to go out on a limb and assume most of you don't know me or what I'm about. My twitter handle is @TheRealFrankL and I was one of three guys who won the 2011 Ginter Code this year. Ryan and Guillaume are going to be posting their own versions of this story, and my original post was going to be on my other blog. So click over there if you like-I'll eventually repost this over there. We're hoping that this will be a good resource for fans of this code and future codes to talk about all sorts of things-not just how to solve it, but what we got wrong, thing we love and hate about it, etc. Plus, R and G have very good stories to tell too-so stay tuned!
At the outset, I want to say that I'm going to tell this story as a story. My team-mates Ryan and Guillaume plan on doing the same. That said, the story of figuring this out is much bigger than I could tell here, so if you are just looking for a solution-well you should be able to skim this pretty quickly.
The only caveat I insist on is that you understand that I didn't solve this puzzle, not on my own. This was a three way effort, and Ryan and Guillaume deserve as much, if not more, credit than I do. I'm happy to have done my part, and to know that I helped. That what I did was part of the solution, but it wasn't the whole thing.
That said. My eyes are about to come bleeding out of my skull from this code.
Like most everyone who has been doing this, it’s dominated part of my brain for the past 8 months. Even when I wasn’t thinking about it, when I’d sworn off it, I hadn’t. It was there, floating in the back-just hoping that eventually it would all come together.
I plan on writing it out longer form than this. I think this puzzle, and more importantly, those of us who spend our time collecting cards and solving puzzles is of interest to a larger community. I want to write that story, but not tonight. Tonight I just want those of you who were with me in the cardboard trenches to understand that: yes, you were very close. That yes, you were probably just one small breakthrough away. And that yes, we were probably a bit as lucky as to have gotten there first.
I’ll take it.
So, if you don't know anything about this let me give a brief introduction. The Topps baseball card company puts out a set of baseball cards under the Allen & Ginter brand. These cards are based on the original Allen & Ginter Tobacco cards put out in the late 1800s. The new Topps cards have an old world feel that I can't resist. I'm not a huge collector, but I have been collecting cards of my beloved Washington Nationals since the team got here in 2005. This is my favorite one I have:
On top of printing a really pretty card, A & G hide a code in their set. A code you say? Yes, a cipher, a hidden message. The challenge to collectors is not just to get all the cards, but to put together the hidden message. You do that, you win the big prize-and not just "DRINK YOUR OVALTINE" my friends. A signed, one of a kind, limited edition set of baseball cards and (as seems to be tradition) your own card in next years set. I found out about 2010 too late, and resolved to give 2011 a try.
Anyhow, first thing back from my honeymoon I got me some 2011 AG cards. The card at the top of the post (when you flip it over) tells you to follow THE CODEMASTER ON TWITTER!
So I followed @TheGinterCode and waited for something to happen. In addition, I Googled and Ebayed and even Binged trying to see what others had figured out.
The next thing I did (that we all did) was get a bunch of these clover cards and scans for the clover key cards....and I'd go into more detail here, but it's not worth it. Not here. Those who know, know that the Clovers were a red herring (though I'm not convinced there isn't SOMETHING in there). Those who don't know, don't need to know.
While I was doing that, the CodeMaster was tweeting:
As my Uncle Reginald V. Thorpwell III said: Codebreakers are defeated and bitter, who don't follow the Codemaster on Twitter.Well, what the hell is that? People had found little things like that the name in the first line is an anagram for "I WILL PROVIDE LARGE HINT." But what is the poem about? The First Point of Aries is a space in space that the Earth crosses on the first day of spring. On a Celestial Map it's 0 degrees up and 0 hours over. I went to the library checked out my first of several astronomy books (a theme in solving this code was making things much harder than they needed to be) and began to read up.
I've been composing a poem that may be of interest to some of you. A few rhymes to work out, then we'll see what you think.
I am the keeper of the code
One entry each, grave is the cost, One false step and all will be lost
At the first point of Aries do you stand now,
The sky stretching west to east before your bow
Your Navigational Star is directly ahead,
And beckons you east, so go where you're led
Find the keys to the doors, Turn them all and our domain is yours
It wasn’t until September that I found out about the clocks. If you look at the top card again (or visit the topps archive blog link) you’ll see there is a clock in the mirror. I had an idea that was a clue, but I didn’t realize that the cards were different. There are 10 different cards that all look alike except the time is different in each. I got all the times (or at least as near as I could figure from looking at the clocks) and…sat there.
1:11 1:14 1:19 2:21 3:14 3:15 4:00 6:13 7:27 9:42 (Didn’t help I thought 2:21 was 2:20 either).
So what to do? I changed the times into dates. Nothing. Not birthday’s for famous dates in baseball history. Okay. What about the First Point of Aries (FPA) that would be March 20, or 3:20 on the clock?. Difference in times and hours from there? Those numbers did nothing.
Strangely, (as you’ll see later) it was my wife who actually came home with the first solid idea about what to do. She came home from a team training day at work, where they did a clock puzzle. The times were used by calculating the angles between the hands. There was a compass on the desk in the picture-so maybe? (I found out later that Guillaume and Ryan were also doing the same thing. I imagine some of you were too). Calculated all of those-nothing. (At least not yet).
Eventually, the Code Master got antsy and started to give clues. I won’t go through all of them, they are all here on his twitter page. They were equally helpful and unhelpful. I did this thing where I converted all the times to a position on an astronomical clock (again, making things too hard) and it fit one of the clues, but none of the others. It was just enough to keep you going forward, but not enough to help.
I knew the clocks were important and where to start, but I didn’t know what to do with them.
It wasn’t until January 11 when a clue given helped: If Tim Tebow had a Ginter card and it was part of the code, 3:16 on a clock is the clue I would have sowed
For me, it was the first time I stopped trying to think about only one type of connection (dates, stats, etc.) and decided to try and make it fit anyway I could. Suddenly, connections were being made. I also stopped looking at just base cards and ball players. I had been working under the assumption that Topps was going to keep it to base cards because everyone had a better chance of getting them. The special inserts though had cards that were fitting to well to be chance though, once I started looking at them.
The Worlds Most Mysterious Figures cards made the easiest ones to find. Suddenly it made sense. DB Cooper hijacked a 727. The Poe Toaster comes out on January 19th. The times lined up to cards in the set, and you could do it by any means necessary.
Now, on top of earning my amateur Astronomy PHD, I was reading every Wikipedia entry about every person in the set. I might be the only one of my friends (other than Ginter friends) who knows about Kaspar Hauser. Kind of the beauty of the Ginter set though-it engages you on a level so much deeper than collecting cards
Still I didn’t know what to DO with those cards. It had been made clear you had to “reverse” the keys and put them at the fore of a domain. I was pretty sure that was a web page so I tried repooc.topps.com (Cooper backwards) and searching repooc in ebay (two big domains that Topps would have access to). Nothing.
It was about this time that twitter started to buzz a bit. A few folks had ideas and we were all feeling each other out to see who knew or had figure out what. Then, in exasperation, TheCodeMaster gave us a much more direct list of what we were looking for. He gave out each of the correct times and a clue as to what type of card each time lined up with:
You seek a time, a margin, two addresses, a date; numbers for a model, a card, a life’s work, a foreign state/ The last is too obvious to give you a clue, that would be having your cake and eating it tooOkay, so now I had something to confirm these times with.
It was at this point that Ryan and I stopped shadowboxing and decided to open up and put our cards on the table (PUN!). The agreement was I joined the group and gave over what I had figured out (they were missing a few I had) they gave me what they had (I was missing a few) and they would tell me how the keys worked. From that point forward it was all for one, one for all-no backing out and we shared the prize no matter what. He introduced me to Guillaume (who you all know from being the face of our team at the end) and we started a 200 page Skype conversation.
Basically, rather than turning the name of the card backwards, you needed to take the last word of the card and turn THAT backwards to get the web site. If you look at the CodeMaster’s picture he’s underlining the last word-that’s your clue (plus a couple of tweets he sent out later now make sense). So it wasn’t Cooper written backwards but the word AGAIN.
For the record, here are the times, the clues, the cards and the weblinks:
1:11 The Card: Pablo Sandoval (who eventually pointed to his nickname The Giant Panda Card) http://yrevocer.topps.com
1:14 The Margin: Thomas Dewey’s Portrait of Penultimacy. He lost the Presidential Election by 114 votes. http://esiwrehto.topps.com
1:19 The Date: Poe Toaster appears on January 19th. http://9002.topps.com
2:21 An Address: Dr. Watson lived, with Sherlock Holmes, at 221B Baker Street. http://mednat.topps.com
3:14 The “Cake” Clue: Archemedies discovered not cake, but (easy as) “PI” http://slevel.topps.com
3:15 Time: Amitville Haunting. Paranormal activity happened at 3:15am every night. http://llet.topps.com
4:00 Address: Tricky, but not 4 but 1600. As in 1600 Penn NW. The White House. http://yretsym.topps.com
6:13 Foreign State: The one we all hated. Tasmanian Devil we figure this one out by process elimination. Tasmanian Devil is literally in a foreign state (And Australia uses country code 613) or the Guttenberg Bible, printed in a foreign “State” as in form, not place. That bible has 613 verses. Both worked, they end in the word Years. http://Sraey.topps.com
7:27 The Model: D.B. Cooper Hijacked a 727. http://niaga.topps.com
9:42 The Life’s Work: Nostradamus has 942 predictions. http://Gnidnal.topps.com
For each web site there was a further clue. The 111 card gave a grid of letters 99x99 (9801 letters in all).
Note: I added the colors to make it easier to count lines moving around. The yellow lines are the zero axis right through the middle (That comes in handy later).
The other clues, were as follows:
114 Your Navigational Star will appear in two hours
119 Navigate by your Navigational Star’s Value
221 Add up only those valid card values less than 50 to find your clue card
314 Your Navigational Star appears at the North Pole
315 HOMETOWN HEROES
400 At the edge of the sky, track back from whence you are
613 Degrees and Hours in Equal Measure
7:27 Ignore any card value with a decimal942 ZxhTekL99Ty
Topps made 30 web pages, not just the ten that lead to the correct clues. We know because we were worried about the last few cards we were missing and we basically took every card that had words on the back and tried the same trick. Each clue above had two fake/counter clues to go with it. In a way it helped us because we could narrow it down and say “okay we know one of these three must be right, and only one of them works.” (Or put another way, we were now choosing amongst 1 of 3, rather than 1 of hundreds).
Surely we were almost done, right? Emotions were riding high, and based on the twitter feed we figured we were slightly ahead of a lot of folks. Not by much, but we hoped it would help.
It didn't. We sat on these clues for a month and got zippy. What was the Navigational Star? Jimmy Rollins? Torri Hunter? Archimedes? By then most of you had caught up and we were all at the same spot.
We tried all sorts of stuff that, again, was right in one way but not exactly. G was certain the “degrees and hours” clue meant we had to go in a diagonal. I managed to peg the 942 clue as a password pretty quickly (work had just made me change mine). Ryan kept us adding everything up and had the right value once or twice, though we didn't know it at the time.
We organized the Hometown Heroes cards by geography North to South and East to West (nothing). G made a script that counted letters on the map (the 99x99 grid) in equal number along any diagonal in the map. Nothing.
Finally, in the last days the Codemaster began pointing the discussion back towards the clocks again. We weren’t done with them.
How to find card values, you want me to teach. You will need both hands for that answer to reach. /As I nod off at my desk, a card value I do see. Wait, no, that just looks like one before me. / I'm surprised by how protracted this process has become. Perhaps you need a new angle to attack it fromSo enough of us banging our heads against the wall. Let's get to the point here.
The first poem was a poem about orienting yourself on the grid. The First Point of Aries is at 0,0 on a star map. The only place that could make sense, as on most maps, is dead center. So you are standing on the grid above at the letter N in the dead center. They Sky stretches West to East? That means you are facing North. So looking straight up. (The poem is basically telling you where you are and how to hold the map). Your navigational Star is up there (somewhere) and you have to move East. Now what? Now you go to the web clues.
This brings me back to the beginning almost, where I had been calculating the angles between the hands of the clock. How do you do that you ask? Well, a protractor won't help much. Both hands move constantly, and the clocks on the card are too small to use one on anyway.
But you can figure it out because you know the hands are moving at a constant rate and how fast they are moving. 360 degree circle and it takes the minute hand an hour to go around. 60 minutes in an hour, so the minute hand moves about 6 degrees per minute. Easy. (Number of Minutes X 6 = Degrees from 12)
The hour hand is trickier. It moves at 30 degrees an hour (it doesn't just stay at a 1 and then all of the sudden an hour later go to the 2. It keeps moving). So that puts it at a rate of .5 degrees per hour. So the formula is 3o degrees per hour + (.5 degrees X minutes of the time).
So for 1:11, the minute hand is at 66 degrees (from the noon position) and the hour hand is at 30 degrees PLUS 5.5 degrees (for the extra 11 minutes) for 35.5. The difference is 30.5 degrees.
When you do all 10 times, you get 10 different angles.
1:11 30.5 Degrees 1:14 47 degrees 1:19 74.5 Degrees
2:21 55.5 Degrees 3:14 13 Degrees 3:15 7.5 Degrees
4:00 120 degrees 6:13 108.5 degrees 7:27 61.5 degrees
9:42 39 degrees
With the angles, Now you follow the web page clues. These angles ARE the values.
114 Tells you that the Navigational Star appears in 2 hours. That’s the 3:14 time.
1:19 tells you to navigate by the Stars value. It took us for ever, but we figured out that this means the angle from 3 to the 14 on the NS clock hands. That’s a 13 degree angle.
3:14 tells us the star is at the North Pole. So you go back to the Star Map now. You're in the center, looking North (up) and the the Star starts at the North Pole. That's coordinate 0, 49, Or the very top letter in the middle of the graph. It's a letter C (on the map above I have it highlighted). There you go. You know where to start, you have a value, and from the C you go East (right).
6:13 Clue tells you. On a diagonal. You go over the same as many as you go up or down. So over 13, down 13, repeat. If you start at the C and do that you get the word CLUE before you reach the edge of the sky. NOW WHAT?
4:00 This clue is telling you to bounce back. At first it didn’t work for us because we went back up the same diagonal. The big breakthrough was Gs. Instead of going back up the diagonal, he went around the map, much like a clock face. So after running out of East, he went down and back West, then Up and West and finally Up and East and around again (essentially bouncing off the wall each time).
Essentially you keep going around that diamond until the pattern repeats. G had written a computer script that could go up and down diagonals, and made a slight adjustment to make it go around. It was much more accurate than us counting by 13 :-). When you are all done you get the following phrase:
CLUE CARD TO STATE RELIC TO ADDRESS TO SPEAKER TO HIS CARD HIS TWITTER IS NAME ON CARD AND NUMBER NOSTRADAMUS KNOWS ALL DO NOTHING BUT THE FOLLOWING WITH HIS ACCOUNT OR YOU FORFEIT FROM THIS ACCOUNT TWEET YOUR NAME AT THEGINTERCODE AND WINThis is the home stretch kids.
So what is your clue card?
Well 315 tells you it is in the Hometown Heroes set, and 221 and 727 tell you how to get it. You add up the angles that don’t have decimals and are less than 50. Just three angles fit that bill. 47 + 13 + 39. The total of those angles was 99.
It sounds easy now, but that took us more than a month to figure out. Actually we had done that calculation back in January, but didn't know what to do with it. With the new clue from the map though, it was easy. It was so easy that G did it about 3 minutes. I got home from a run, we talked about that days clue and I sent him a skype with the angles we had worked out previously. I took a shower, and by the time I came back he had it cracked!
From here I think a lot of you could figure out what to do. You just follow along with the cipher. HH99 is Andrew Bailey. He's from New Jersey (as his card indicates).
The State Relic Cards were a rare subset where the cards were in the shape of states with a bit of history actually inside the card. The NJ card actually is also the Pennsylvania card. The relic in the card was a bit of ground from Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg Address was given by President Lincoln who has his own card in the set!
The name on the card is THE LINCOLN and the card number is FFF1. @THELINCOLNFFF1 was a twitter handle, and the string of numbers and letters from the 9:42 clue (as we had figured out) was the password. We agreed G should send the tweet per the instructions and we wouldn’t say anything about it at all. If we some how messed up, Ryan and I would still have a chance to enter and win it properly.
The rest you know-We got it right, The codemaster sent a response and we won. There was some further stuff about an email address and a phone number to call. At the writing of this, we know that Topps has our info and we are waiting to hear back. We’ve been getting requests for how we did it (hope this helps) and G has even gotten requests to sign cards already!
I've got a lot of thoughts on the difficulty of this puzzle (It was REALLY effing hard) and how it was presented. I mean I spent 7 months on it, and when Ryan and G and I started working together I suddenly had 3x the thoughts every day about it! Right now though, I don't think I can go through them all properly. I imagine other posts will be needed to go through it all.
I wonder (and hope I get the chance to ask) if Topps thought it would be that difficult or not? At least twice the CodeMaster seemed to have sworn off additional clues, only to come back and help again. Was any of that planned, or did Topps have meetings that where they decided they needed to give out more help? Was it something that upon putting out there it seemed straightforward, only to collapse a bit when tested in the wild?
Or, because we all talked about it and tweeted about it and couldn’t shut up about it for 7 months, is it exactly what they hoped for?
Again, I do think that any number of folks could have solved it. I figure no less than 20 of us were probably one small breakthrough away from solving it. After that, it really was all downhill. I’m glad the breakthrough came to our team.
It’s a strange thing, but I really am proud of this. In the scheme of the world, winning this contest is a very little thing, but I’m proud of my role in it. I’m proud of how we (the three of us) have handled ourselves. I’m proud that in tough times no one lost their cool, and that in these very, very good times no one is trying to steal the thunder of anyone else.
And I’m happy. Happy to have seen something through, and happy to have come out on top. As a Bills fan, I've seen my share of times coming in second-so anytime I can see something through to the end, I feel it's a bit sweet for me.
My wife is happy this is done, and a happy wife is a happy life :-)
And, of course, I'm happy to be getting a few very special baseball cards and some other stuff too :0).
Questions and comments are welcome (Please keep them nice). I'm happy to answer anything asked about the code here, or on twitter @theRealFrankL