perplex city

35,500 people saved at BBC's Big Weekend

A few handfuls of people saved 35,500 unsuspecting music-goers from being mind controlled at the BBC Radio 1's Big Weekend on May 19th and May 20th. I was one of those handfuls and the "neural override" plot, triggered by the words "Frozen Indigo Angel", was foiled on day two by disabling four of the five necessary transmitters. It all happened as part of the alternate reality game Perplex City.

WikiNews has more from Paul Williams, who also helped stop the plot:

With a group of players on the ground, and tens of others gathering in chatrooms across the internet, neither side had any idea of what to expect. Paul Denchfield informed the players that they had to find "key words" with various colours, shapes, and numbers. These would then form sets which, when put into a private interface (intended for Third Power operatives assisting Cyrus Quinton[, the mastermind behind the neural override]), gave the players map pieces. Players collaborated for hours on these sets until, finally, the entire map was completed. Players then discovered that small marks on the maps could be joined to create triangles, which showed the locations of the transmitters.

The discovery of the triangles on the completed map (with triangles) earned yours truly personal thanks at the end of day one. With the transmitter locations discovered, we all rested uneasily for day two, when the transmitters would be placed and it'd be our job to disable them. WikiNews and Paul Williams continue:

Players on the ground were given the task of disabling four of the the five transmitters that were being put into location throughout the day. This consisted of first finding a rotary padlock combination for the containing box, and then "cutting the red wire" within. The online team worked to relay messages from Paul to the ground team, as he was informing them of when the transmitters were in location (via a link to Perplex City's Violet Kiteway).

The final transmitters that were required to be disabled were located in the VIP area of the event, which the players were granted access to by Paul. Both were disabled by 6:00pm BST, crippling the Third Power's operations for the day. Paul announced the end of the event with a final Twitter message, reading "WE DID IT! FOUR TRANSMITTERS DOWN, CYRUS RUN OUT OF TOWN, AND THE BIG WEEKEND IS SAFE. NICE WORK AND THANKS! ENJOY THE MUSIC!". Online players had been informed that this was not yet the end of Frozen Indigo Angel - and that the prizes will get bigger yet.

Paul Denchfield's final vidcast from that day is congratulatory and a sighed relief, but alludes to the next leg in the journey to stopping Cyrus Quinton: he escaped in a van filled with equipment which, it turns out, were instruments from Big Weekend performers. If you find them, they're yours to keep.

Perplex City at BBC'S Radio 1 Big Weekend

The Third Power, villains from the Perplex City alternate reality game, are set to test their subliminal messaging technology at Radio 1's Big Weekend, hosted by BBC Radio 1 on May 19th and 20th. Can you solve the puzzles in time to get free festival tickets and stop the promised "neural overrides"?

Violet recaps the build-up on her blog:

Having followed a lead which started with my upstairs neighbour complaining about delays in the postal service, we discovered that the mail from the shadowy Apolyton Institute was being tampered with ... we know that someone from Apolyton sent Cyrus [of The Third Power] the plans for [an] extremely dangerous device. We don't know exactly what it does yet, but the words "neural override" don't make me feel warm all over. Part of what Cyrus is doing involves subliminal messaging: he's planning a huge test of this technology this coming weekend at a big music festival on Earth: Radio 1's Big Weekend. And like I say, an enormous crowd of people all having their neurons overridden... well, at the very least they're going to want their money back.

This is also the first merging of two separate alternate reality games (ARGs): Perplex City and Frozen Indigo Angel, which details a cover-up at the BBC involving those three words and the firing of Paul Denchfield, a producer for Radio 1's vodcasts. His blog has a number of vidcasts covering the events over the past few months, but only recently was the connection between the two games revealed:

In the BBC, I found a black-and-white board game. It turned out that the counters spelled out a web address in braille, leading us [to the secret files of the man behind the whole Frozen Indigo Angel project]. His name is Cyrus Quinton, and FIA is a subliminal messaging scheme building up to something huge at the Big Weekend ... Looks like Cyrus and the FIA technology come from Perplex City too, and Violet has a bit of a history with him.

How can you save the throngs of Big Weekend event-goers from a nefarious brain scrub? Masquerade as an agent of the The Third Power and solve the daily puzzles to receive festival tickets. Once there, keep an eye out for further instructions and how to meet up with the other moles... er, players. Fervent Perplex City players congregate at Perplexorum and you can get up-to-minute developments as they happen.

Perplex City Needs Plumbers: Stories ARG Begins

I've previously reported about Perplex City's season 2 and, while the new puzzle cards have been out for months, today was our first taste of the "Stories" alternate reality game (ARG) itself, with a new puzzle, new videos, and new sites. From an email sent out to interested players:

Hi, It's Violet. A while ago, you signed up to hear news about Perplex City. I can't say this is news exactly but... I need your help. A situation here has got completely out of control and I just can't deal with it by myself. So, help? My weblog's found a new home ... and I've found a new actual home. I'm not going to be able to solve this one without you.

One of the new videos teases us with "a particularly juicy mystery is--", only to be interrupted by her sheer frustration for dripping pipes and miserably powered showers:

And it's not just the drips. The water pressure is low, and my morning shower has turned into a morning trickle! Gah! Look, I know this is hardly the high-octane sleuthing you signed up for, but.. could you help me out with this? Kurt had found a plan of the building's plumbing. Can you please find out where these drips are coming from?

Along with Violet's water torture, there's a new edition (and site) for the Perplex City Sentinel, and a fully archived history of the Season 1 ARG, something which few other ARGs have provided. As before, players have centralized the discussion and problem solving at the services provided by Perplexorum, and I'll continue to provide ongoing coverage of this new season.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #057 - #060

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #057 - Volume: This one reminds me of #020: Barbecue, which caused me grief too. Von refers to Die Hard 3, where John McClane had a similar problem: "They have to use a 3 gallon jug and 5 gallon jug to put exactly 4 gallons of water onto a scale to deactivate a briefcase bomb." Another hint is how Von "watered a nearby plant", suggesting that there's some water dumpage going on. The final answer: "First fill the 500ml cup from the watercooler", "Then fill the 300ml cup from the 500ml cup" (200ml remains in the 500ml cup), "Then dump the contents of the 300ml cup" (in a nearby parched plant), "Then fill the 300ml cup from the 500ml cup" (200ml is now in the 300ml cup), "Then fill the 500ml cup from the watercooler", "Then fill the 300ml cup from the 500ml cup" (100ml fills the 300ml cup). "There is now 400ml in the 500ml cup".
  • #058 - Breaking and Entering: Bah, math. There are five letters on each of the three dials, creating 125 different combinations (5x5x5). Multiply that by 10 seconds and it'll take 1250 seconds, or 20 minutes 50 seconds, to open the lock. Now, technically, the lock starts out on one combination that you don't have to manually try, which brings it down to 124 possibilities in 20 minutes 40 seconds. That likelihood is not accepted.
  • #059 - Urban Myths: A fan of Snopes, I am, but my best guess on this one was that Van Halen's penchant for brownless M&Ms was true. I was right, and Snopes has more information on each: the M&M's, Marilyn Manson's Wonder Years, Adidas' sex dreams, Port Out Starboard Home, Captain Pugwash's entendres, golf as gentleman's game, The Great Wall's unique visibility, and The Angry Raisins. And, to make it more obvious, the background of the card is a bowl of M&M's without, ahem, the brown ones.
  • #060 - Celebration: For someone who grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, the fact that I don't know Christian, or even traditional, holidays (and feel "weird" celebrating them, a habit I need to break out of for my daughter's sake) doesn't bode well for cards like this. Apparently all the holidays on the card share lights or candles, and a quick Google search drops us into Lighting in Old Town Begins Renewal, an article which begins "Recently-appointed chairman Raoul Valentin of the Old Town Renewal Committee announced that fresh efforts to bring commerce and interest to the area will begin with a special week-long celebration of the Lighting of the Way." More information, including exact Earth celebration times, over at the Perplex City Wiki.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #053 - #056

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #053 - Etaoin Schrdlu: MemmoOOries! I first ran across SHRDLU in #swhack back in 2004; herein, it refers to the "the approximate order of frequency of the twelve most commonly used letters in the English language, best known as a nonsense phrase that sometimes appeared in print in the days of "hot type" publishing due to a custom of Linotype machine operators." As the card suggests, this factoid isn't strictly related to the answers (which are 6 and 0). La Disparition (English: A Void) is quite famous for having not used the letter "e" on any of its 300 pages. "Uwierz mi", at the bottom right of the card, is Polish for "Believe me!"
  • #054 - 9 Ball: The question is specifically about the minimum number of weighings that have to be made to "find out" (not prove, merely "find out"), and 1 is as decent a minimum as any. There's a crapload of forum discussions about probabilities and case scenarios and yadda yadda yadda, but eh, glossy eyes and unfeigned indifference. Weigh 3 balls against 3 balls. If one set is lighter, there's your minimum of 1 weigh. If they balance, the set of balls you didn't weigh must be lighter (this presumes you know one ball is lighter, when the card only suggests you were "convinced" of it). Once you know which set is lighter, you'd narrow it down to the exact ball using the same approach, making it 2 weights total. More at (no, no, it's not).
  • #055 - Speed Sight: A relatively simple card: simply remove the polygons in order of their depth, and you'll get yellow, white, red, pink, purple, blue, orange, grey, green, and brown. The strictest definiton of a polygon ("a closed plane figure bounded by three or more line segments"), however, doesn't allow for the final brown circle to be included as part of the answer (unless, of course, it's not really a circle but a polygon of visually acute angles).
  • #056 - Gravity: This was another one of the first cards I ever solved, as it had been a free puzzle on the Perplex City website (thus, my physical card remains forever unscratched). I think it's fairly obvious: ball 4 will build up the most amount of speed due to the greater acceleration of its drop - the "gravity" of the card title.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #049 - #052

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #049 - Bookworm: This card caused a lot of confusion: were the books on a shelf (you'd assume "yes") and are "pages" considered single sheets of paper (in which case a volume of 1000 pages would contain 500 sheets of paper)? If the books are placed vertically on a shelf, then page 1 of Volume 1 is closest to page 1000 of Volume 2, meaning that the worm skipped the physically first 999 pages of Volume 1 and stopped at the first physical page of Volume 10 (page 1000). The accepted, but contentious, answer is 8002 (an assumption of 1000 pages regardless of sheets, but you could complain about how the worm could eat through page 1000 without it also breaking through page 999 on the other side). 8000 is also considered an acceptable answer. This is apparently a well-known puzzle - the BBC once asked a similar question.
  • #050 - Eight States: Grumble, cards that don't entertain me, grumble: Denver, Colorado, Boise, Idaho, Salem, Oregon, Tallahassee, Florida, Madison, Wisconsin, Dover, Delaware, and the final sentence has two: Juneau, Alaska and Augusta, Maine.
  • #051 - Jigsaw: Cancun! Hawaii! Florida! Any of a thousand other vacation spots I'll never visit! Excelsior! When you place the actual puzzle pieces together, you'll receive the answer: "not here" is spelled out in the remaining whitespace. Maybe a hidden chastisement for not actually doing the physical puzzle.
  • #052 - The View From Here: Cancun! Hawaii! Florida! Any of a thousand other vacation spots I'll never visit! Excelsior! New York is the answer, but Empire State Building is also acceptable. /me sighs: this set of four was just boring and unexciting.

Perplex City ARG Starts Season 2

With a £100,000 prize for Season 1, and the promise of smaller but more frequent rewards for Season 2, the alternate reality game (ARG) promises "new mysteries, new adventures, [and] new gameplay" for its 50,000 UK and US players, and began yesterday with the news of a grisly murder. If you've never heard of, or played, an ARG, you're certainly not the first. While Microsoft, Electronic Arts, ABC (for its show LOST), Nine Inch Nails, and others have dipped their hand into the ARG arena (sometimes twice, as with Microsoft's A.I. and Halo 2 ARGs), they all share the "This Is Not A Game aesthetic ... [dictating] that the game not behave [like one]."

Wikipedia continues with other key factors of the ARG experience:

"... the design was directed at a collective of players that shared information and solutions almost instantly, and incorporated individuals possessing almost every conceivable area of expertise. While the game might initially attract a small group of participants ... they would reach out and draw in others with the knowledge they needed to overcome the obstacles ...

Although more recent games like Perplex City offered prizes (for the finding of the Receda Cube, which took three years and earned its discoverer Andy Darley £100,000; read his endgame discourse), ARGs share a communal aspect where solutions and answers are never hoarded but always shared: it's the game playing community, not the individual, that keeps the game moving forward. The BBC continues:

[ARGs] use real world events and clues planted on the internet, television and newspapers to guide players on a real-life treasure hunt ... Perplex City also used puzzle cards, bought in shops and on the internet, that contained optical illusions, cryptography, and riddles. The rarest cards have traded hands for more than £200 on online auction sites.

With the finding of the Cube, designers Mind Candy Design concluded Perplex City's Season 1, drew back the curtain to give the players a look and, wasting no time, launched Season 2 on March 1st, 2007. Season 2 puzzle cards have either been shipped, or are on their way, to retailers in the UK and the US. They are also available online at

For Season 2, however, they've made a clearer line in the sand: the primary site, We Love Puzzles, collects many different types of "casual" online puzzles, including Daily Puzzles that increase your standing in the Season 2 Leaderboard, as well as the physical puzzle cards themselves (granted to us Earthlings from the intellect-loving puzzlistas of Perplex City). The alternate reality game, on the other hand, was renamed "Perplex City Stories" and has started trickling teasers at, with a full launch in April.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #045 - #048

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #045 - Snake Eyes: This 'ogram was immediately recognizable as Albert Einstein, as too the mirror'd quote attributed to him (also hinted at by the card): "I shall never believe that God plays dice with the universe." There's also the teaser, "The Clue is in th", in the upper right corner of the card, a trick I've played in the past too. The card title refers to his quote but also to the image, which is made up of black dice.
  • #046 - Sum Shortcut: I am, most assuredly, not a fan of math, but this "sum shortcut" would be, I think, pairing numbers: 1 and 99, 2 and 98, 3 and 97, et cetera et cetera. I'm being told this is "(50 * 100) + 50" (or 5050, the accepted answer) and, more generically, "(n^2 + n) * 1/2". This is apparently some sort of arithmetic progression but, you know what? I find Pokemon evolutions more fascinating than this. 5050. Moving on.
  • #047 - Opposites Attract: Relatively simple, though some take a bit of a leap of faith: "Look before you leap" (1) to "He who hesitates is lost" (6), "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth" (2) to "Beware of Greeks bearing gifts." (10), "Too many cooks spoil the broth" (3) to "Many hands make light work" (18), "Never judge a book by its cover" (4) to "Clothes make the man" (8), "Seek and ye shall find" (5) to "It's better to be safe than sorry" (11), "Time waits for no man" (7) to "Haste makes waste" (9), "Curiosity killed the cat" (12) to "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." (17), "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" (13) to "One man's meat is another man's poison" (16), and "Silence is golden" (14) to "The squeaking wheel gets the grease" (15).
  • #048 - Pop Words: Without poking around, my guess would be 2000 (A), 1950 (B), 1960 (C), 1980 (D), 1970 (E), and 1990 (F). There's a Guardian article on Dent's book, which suggests I was off a bit: 1990 (A), 1910 (B), 1960 (C), 1920 (D), 1970 (E), and 1980 (F).

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #041 - #044

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #041 - Whipsmart Wordsearch: The wordsearch here is not actually related to the puzzle - simply going to the Whipsmart Ice site will score you the answers of Coffee Annan, Cube Berry, David Hassletoffee, Isaac Neopolitan, Monkey Puzzle, Pear De Fermat, Piquant Pecan, Quantum Cherry, Rummy Descartes, and Vanilla. With that said, if you ROT13 the first three rows of the wordsearch, you'll find the hidden message "wordsearches are the puzzle equivalent of watching paint dry". In addition, there's a "wordsearch" easter egg on the "Pastures Green" section of the Whipsmart site (the same image that the wordsearch of the card overlays) where rubbing in the bottom right corner (underneath the "Home" sign) will reveal the word "hello".
  • #042 - Pirates vs Ninjas: Two of these statements are true ("The treasure is not here" pointing to Dog's Isle, and "It's not on Dog Isle") and the other, pointing to Catan ("The treasure is buried here"), is false. Therefore, the treasure must be buried on the remaining island, Rompecabezas (which is Spanish for "puzzle" and break [romper] heads [cabezas]).
  • #043 - Use Your Anterior Cingulate: From Wikipedia: "According to research by Alcino Silva and colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, the anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for rendering new memories permanent ... The classic Stroop task involves naming the color ink of words that are either congruent (RED written in red) or incongruent (RED written in blue). Conflict occurs because people's reading abilities interfere with their attempt to correctly name the word's ink. A variation of this task is the Counting-Stroop during which people count either neutral stimuli ('dog' presented four times) or interfering stimuli ('three' presented four times) by pressing a button." The "Stroop effect" is named after John Ridley Stroop and was first published in 1935.
  • #044 - You Are Here: Remember: it's only the second level of difficulty and a sad number of people don't actually recall our planets and their specific order. The mnenomic on the side of the card, "My very excellent memory just sums up nine planets", is yet another clue to the answer, being: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.

Perplex City: Season 1, Cards #037 - #040

Continuing my Perplex City solutations. Spoilers!

  • #037 - Muscae Volitantes: Another pictogram (ideograms? neitherograms? netherregionograms?) The text in the image looks like GOOD. Learned something useful with this card (and this is one of the grandest gifts that Perplex City is giving me): "muscae volitantes" is Latin for "those goddamn things that float in front of my eyes". In actuality, the hidden word is "Wood", and, with enough effort, you can see tree trunks and their leaves. The idiom? "Can't see the wood for the trees".
  • #038 - Heist: With the USA Dollar matching image 1, it was a simple matter of Google Imaging the rest: the Euro matches to image 2, the Australian Dollar matching to image 3, the Indonesian Rupiah matching to image 5, and Japanese Yen matches to the final image 4. BooOorriIing.
  • #034 - 4 Colour Theorems: Gah, you know, I remember seeing a simpler version of this question in math or geography class or some such and absolutely hating it. I still hatesss this question. The four color theorem "states that given any plane separated into regions, such as a political map of the counties of a state, the regions may be colored using no more than four colors in such a way that no two adjacent regions receive the same color." The answer is "yellow" but, and I suspect they'll be more like this as the cards go on, I can't rationalize why. Given enough effort with Photoshop or markers, I could Playskool all the colors in myself to "prove" it. But I'd still hatesss it.
  • #040 - Baby on Board: MmMm, more search engine love. Dolphins could be pregant for 10 to 12 months (276 days) and lions for "one hundred to one hundred twenty days" (108 days from the available options). Rhinos have a long pregnancy at 15 to 18 months (450 days from the available options), and rabbits for 28 to 35 days (32 days from the available options). Mice snatch up the remaining 21 days, which leaves our own Fijjit Mejora at 640.


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