2012

Part 1
- First Contact

On January 5th, 2012, an image post was made on 4chan's /x/ board that was signed "3301". This picture, shown here, says, "There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us." If you download the file and open it in a text editor, you will see a mostly unreadable page of the computer bytes that make up the file. Scrolling to the end shows that some text was added to the file. This text reads:

The clue for this is "Caesar", pointing to using a Caesar cipher. Of note, although this clue attributes the text to "Tiberius Claudius Caesar", the cipher is actually named after Julius Caesar.

This particular encrpytion uses the ASCII character set instead of wrapping around the alphabet. With a decryption key of 4 to shift the characters backwards down the ASCII character set, the string "lxxt>33m2mqkyv2gsq3q=w]O2ntk" becomes "http://i.imgur.com/m9sYK.jpg" and leads us to the second puzzle.

Part 2
- OutGuess

Following the Imgur link from the previous puzzle leads to an image of a duck decoy. The clue here is less obvious, but the words "guess" and "out" are hints to use the software OutGuess. You can learn more about OutGuess here, but put simply OutGuess is steganography software. Steganography is the process of hiding a secret message inside another message, in this case hiding information inside of a picture. Using OutGuess to extract the hidden information reveals a message, formatted for readability:

Here is a book code.  To find the book, and more information, go to http://www.reddit.com/r/a2e7j6ic78h0j/
1:20, 2:3, 3:5, 4:20, 5:5, 6:53, 7:1, 8:8, 9:2, 10:4, 11:8, 12:4, 13:13, 14:4, 15:8, 16:4, 17:5, 18:14, 19:7, 20:31, 21:12, 22:36, 23:2, 24:3, 25:5, 26:65, 27:5, 28:1, 29:2, 30:18, 31:32, 32:10, 33:3, 34:25, 35:10, 36:7, 37:20, 38:10, 39:32, 40:4, 41:40, 42:11, 43:9, 44:13, 45:6, 46:3, 47:5, 48:43, 49:17, 50:13, 51:4, 52:2, 53:18, 54:4, 55:6, 56:4, 57:24, 58:64, 59:5, 60:37, 61:60, 62:12, 63:6, 64:8, 65:5, 66:18, 67:45, 68:10, 69:2, 70:17, 71:9, 72:20, 73:2, 74:34, 75:13, 76:21
Good luck.
3301

These numbers will be used soon, but first we have to go to the subreddit mentioned.

Part 3
- /r/a2e7j6ic78h0j

The subreddit has three parts to it:

  • First, the string "a2e7j6ic78h0j7eiejd0120" is found in both the title of the webpage and in the information sidebar.
  • Second, there are two pictures posts titled "Welcome" and "Problems?"
  • Third, there are nearly 200 text posts to the subreddit with garbled English sentences for their post titles.

OutGuess was again used with these static, and produced the following results:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

- From here on out, we will cryptographically sign all messages with this key.

It is available on the mit keyservers.  Key ID 7A35090F, as posted in a2e7j6ic78h0j.

Patience is a virtue.

Good luck.

3301
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)
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=fRcg
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

The key has always been right in front of your eyes.

This isn't the quest for the Holy Grail.  Stop making 
it more difficult than it is. 

Good luck.

3301
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)
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=SqLP
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

These two messages are both PGP signed with a key from "Cicada 3301", and the key can be viewed here (Please note: scrolling farther down that page can be NSFW due to inappropriate ASCII art of a 1999 "shock site" image). You can learn more more about PGP here, but essentially it is a way to ensure that a message is in fact being sent by a specific person or group. "Welcome" is letting us know that from here on, every individual message that 3301 sends and every series of puzzles will be signed with this key to prove they are the authors. If there is no PGP-signed message, then it is not from 3301.

The key to decrypting the subreddit posts is the string "a2e7j6ic78h0j7eiejd0120". We need to convert this to a series of numbers, and can do so by treating this as if it was written in base 20. That is, 0=0, 1=1, ..., a=10, b=11, etc. After converting the string, we get "10, 2, 14, 7, 19, 6, 18, 12, 7, 8, 17, 0, 19, 7, 14, 18, 14, 19, 13, 0, 1, 2, 0" and need to convert the array back to letters: 0=A, 1=B, etc. Doing this gives the string "KCOHTGSMHIRATHOSOTNABCA", which can be used as the key for a vigenére cipher. Decrypting every post title reveals the story The Lady of the Fountain, a tale about King Arthur. "Problems?" hints to this in referencing the Holy Grail, and could have been a clue as it was posted partway through the text posts. This string is also the first letter of the decrypted first 23 posts.

Now that we have our book, we can use the book code from puzzle 2. The first number is the line/post, the second is the character in the line. This reads:

Part 4
- 845145127.com

Calling the number gave the following recorded message, which you can listen to here:

Very good. You have done well. There are three prime numbers associated with the original final.jpg image. 3301 is one of them. You will have to find the other two. Multiply all three of these numbers together and add a .com on the end to find the next step. Good luck. Goodbye.

The dimensions of the first image are 509x503 pixels, both of which are prime. Multiplying those with 3301 and adding a .com to it is http://845145127.com (which is no longer active). The page displayed the image shown here and a countdown timer. Using OutGuess on the image when the site was first accessed gave this hidden message:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

You have done well to come this far.

Patience is a virtue.

Check back at 17:00 on Monday, 9 January 2012 UTC.

3301
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)

iQIcBAEBAgAGBQJPCKDUAAoJEBgfAeV6NQkPf9kP/19tbTFEy+ol/vaSJ97A549+
E713DyFAuxJMh2AY2y5ksiqDRJdACBdvVNJqlaKHKTfihiYW75VHb+RuAbMhM2nN
C78eh+xd6c4UCwpQ9vSU4i1Jzn6+T74pMKkhyssaHhQWfPs8K7eKQxOJzSjpDFCS
FG7oHx6doPEk/xgLaJRCt/IJjNCZ9l2kYinmOm7c0QdRqJ+VbV7Px41tP1dITQIH
/+JnETExUzWbE9fMf/eJl/zACF+gYii7d9ZdU8RHGi14jA2pRjc7SQArwqJOIyKQ
IFrW7zuicCYYT/GDmVSyILM03VXkNyAMBhG90edm17sxliyS0pA06MeOCjhDGUIw
QzBwsSZQJUsMJcXEUOpHPWrduP/zN5qHp/uUNNGj3vxLrnB+wcjhF8ZOiDF6zk7+
ZVkdjk8dAYQr62EsEpfxMT2dv5bJ0YBaQGZHyjTEYnkiukZiDfExQZM2/uqhYOj3
yK0J+kJNt7QvZQM2enMV7jbaLTfU3VZGqJ6TSPqsfeiuGyxtlGLgJvd6kmiZkBB8
Jj0Rgx/h9Tc4m9xnVQanaPqbGQN4vZF3kOp/jAN5YjsRfCDb7iGvuEcFh4oRgpaB
3D2/+Qo9i3+CdAq1LMeM4WgCcYj2K5mtL0QhpNoeJ/s0KzwnXA+mxBKoZ0S8dUX/
ZXCkbOLoMWCUfqBn8QkQ
=zn1y
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

After the time listed in the hidden message had arrived, the webpage was updated. The image looked the same, but had a different message hidden in it with OutGuess: Latitude and longitude coordinates from around the world.

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

52.216802, 21.018334
48.85057059876962, 2.406892329454422
48.85030144151387,2.407538741827011
47.664196,  -122.313301
47.637520, -122.346277
47.622993, -122.312576
37.5196666666667, 126.995
33.966808, -117.650488
29.909098706850486 -89.99312818050384
25.684702, -80.441289
21.584069, -158.104211
- -33.90281, 151.18421
3301
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)
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=ZJ37
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

The page also now contained two more coordinates, (37.577070, 126.813122) and (36.0665472222222, -94.1726416666667).

Part 5
- The Global Hunt

Each set of coordinates was for a piece of paper taped to a sign or a light pole throughout the world. This paper had the 3301 cicada logo on it along with one of two different QR codes. The first one is:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

In twenty-nine volumes, knowledge was once contained.
How many lines of the code remained when the Mabinogion paused?
Go that far in from the beginning and find my first name.

1:29
6:46
the product of the first two primes
2:37
14:41
17:3
27:40
the first prime
2:33
1:1
7:45
17:29
21:31
12:17
the product of the first two primes
22:42
15:18
24:33
27:46
12:29
25:66
7:47

You've shared too much to this point.  We want the best,  
not the followers.  Thus, the first few there will receive
the prize.

Good luck.

3301
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)

iQIcBAEBAgAGBQJPB1luAAoJEBgfAeV6NQkP9oAP+gLu+FsRDf3aRcJtBkCOU2MX
r/dagOTvCKWtuV+fedy0enWUZ+CbUjXOr98m9eq2z4iEGqKd3/MBXa+DM9f6YGUE
jPum4wHtQDSJlZMazuYqJOVZGw5XmF25+9mRM6fe3H9RCiNDZpuXl3MzwdivYhcG
B5hW14PcdHHteQf3eAUz+p+s06RDs+q1sNGa/rMQIx9QRe71EJwLMMkMfs81kfJC
tCt21+8ud0Xup4tjUBwul7QCcH9bqKG7cnR1XWsDgdFP6a4x9Jl2/IUvp1cfeT7B
YLS9W3lCM8thMemJr+ztQPZrpDlaLIitAT2L0B3f/k4co89v5X2I/toY8Z3Cdvoi
hk0AdWzMy/XLDgkPnpEef/aFmnls53mqqe9xKAUQPMrI73hiJ+5UZWuJdzCpvt+F
BjfQk15EJoUUW16K2+mBA1cSd+HJlnkslUTsjkq0E36XKChP+Cvbu/p6DLUMM2Xl
+n3iospCkkHR9QDcHzE4Rxg9A435yHqqJ/sL2MXG/CY8X4ec6U0/+UCIF9spuv8Y
7w66D05pI2u9M/081L7Br0i0Mpdf9fDblO/6GksskccaPkMQ3MRtsL+p9o6Dnbir
6Z2wH2Kw1Bf0Gfx4VcpHBikoWJ5blCc6tfvT+qXjVOZjWAL7DvReavSEmW1/fubN
C3RWcjeI4QET2oKmV2NK
=LWeJ
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

This clue is pointing to the 6th volume of the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition. "Find my first name" refers to the name signed in the MIT PGP keyserver, "Cicada 3301". Looking for the entry "Cicada", we come across the text used in this book code. The first number refers to the zero-indexed line (that is, we treat the first line as "0", second line as "1", etc) and the second is the character in that line. The second QR code produced the following message:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

A poem of fading death, named for a king
Meant to be read only once and vanish
Alas, it could not remain unseen.

1:5
152:24
the product of the first two primes
14:13
7:36
12:10
7:16
24:3
271:22
10:7
13:28
12:7
86:17
93:14
the product of the first two primes
16:7
96:4
19:13
47:2
71:22
75:9
77:4

You've shared too much to this point.  We want the best,  
not the followers.  Thus, the first few there will receive
the prize.

Good luck.

3301
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)
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=aXFt
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

The clues in this message point to the poem Agrippa by William Gibson, which you can find on the author's site here As with the subreddit book code, the first number is the line in the poem (counting blank lines) and the second is the character in that line (including spaces and punctuation). The result is a Tor address, "sq6wmgv2zcsrix6t.onion". Tor is used quite often from here on out, and you can learn more about Tor here. As the two QR puzzles mentioned, only the first few who visited the Tor site were able to continue. the website contained the following, with the PGP header and footer removed:

Congratulations!
Please create a new email address with a public, free web-based service. Once you've never used before, and enter it below. We recommend you do this while still using tor, for anonymity.
We will email you a number within the next few days (in the order in which you arrived at this page). Once you've recieved it, come back to this page and append a slash and then the number you recieved to this url. (For example, if you recieved "3894894230934209", then you would go to "[http:// http://sq6wmgv2zcsrix6t.onion/3894894230934209]")
3301

Even though this step of the puzzle involved going to a place in the world that had one of the papers posted, it was not necessary to do so. The DNS entry for 845145127.com had been removed so that URL no longer worked, but the IP address (75.119.203.244 for reference, but it is no longer allocated to 3301) was still working. Going directly to the website's IP address brought up a new page, this time appearing completely blank but actually containing spaces, tab characters, and newlines. Using these white space characters as the ones and zeroes for binary gave another PGP signed message:

-----BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE-----
Hash: SHA1

162667212858 
414974253863
598852142735
876873892385
935691396441
316744223127
427566844663
644169769482
889296759263
963846244281
-----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
Version: GnuPG v1.4.11 (GNU/Linux)

iQIcBAEBAgAGBQJPDRkvAAoJEBgfAeV6NQkPVuMP/3ZyAgwsko/B2T9Ew1yqAKVy
K9//wIWCRvMyZ4k79ApqvOJAlezgHTsAM8XG/I71bAG+2wMOXNJfTj/SFONEEbS5
BOp9UP7LHn1j3NKoESrDzsKd+u3oHoNnhs628aLrc8uDqbn/6DNUnObu5Tn3unu0
zZ3NjSs/A5QQX8O56RsK81eSJ2fifbr4NYfHBeUTeVe17nsr48WQI7qc9UVWlPsM
91FWsvhX+WohX8DyFWJmtz0lLvmh3jN+oE8WFPTVbcVCM+eiDt0TqkUNlmq/fxbd
X2Sbs8zMxDXNQWrw58TcSC6oLfXSXZnjh8uTMwrQ0tNdRXHDndgPiurXz62XjVjf
4AhSXBoXF9CHTOyGGEqvfNvFMKyz968iMZDXDNBrM8pkxx1xBHhAnoEznVpeMhII
+IfBTnV8x9lSNgFhmham5eEZlWvqRidqes8EAriqGA6uZokCq7X1IeMHo52ACWmP
2bJsCV5wZDc52c3JnwKe+cAcbsA4OWCNEH29lAsgFw5079BP8lkpY3AH2+8kqs0X
QvqsaMuUq5ZHEaZMgdD0VKYlRrKdhOiDjtJVxoXk1b7YBOV8dZZBXJbEIbTvaof4
yhgUObovx/VFGmsenp+j3nBCxgEO22SgNW3B3pN0yuIMCqccWEZ1nME/QOwLa85n
HOmElIXvK13Q9m545RtP
=Q1Fy
-----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

These numbers could be added to the end of the IP address of the server that hosted the web page (i.e., 75.119.203.244.com/162667212858.jpg) to retrieve an image that had one of the two QR code messages hidden in it with OutGuess.

Conclusion

This was the end of all of the publicly distributed puzzles. There was some more to be done in 2012, but this was sent out directly to those who emailed quickly in the last section. For everyone else, 2012 had come to a close. A month later, the image to shown here was posted in the subreddit from the puzzle three, titled "Valēte!" You can see what has been shared from the private puzzles here, or you can see what happened in 2013 here.