The internet is a huge place full of amazing and intelligent people. There are also people who have a great thirst for puzzles and mystery and who will love the Cicada 3301.
This was a great moment for these people as they got what you might call an enigma of the internet.
Cryptography is a very amazing way to hide the information in plain sight.
The Cicada 3301 has a very amazing integration of ARG (Alternate Reality Gaming which is different from Augmented Reality Gaming) and Cryptography.
The Invitation from 3301
The puzzle was posted by the person who goes by the number “3301” and later on, the logo of a Cicada hence the name Cicada 3301.
The first appearance was on a social media site called 4chan (Birthplace of anonymous).
On date 4th January 2012, on the site’s Random board there was an image posted by a user that looked like below.
This was the first clue or you can say the invitation to the puzzle
The next thing was to get the code from the image, it was a bit easy considering the further stages of Cicada 3301’s game.
Here an image extractor tool was used to get the message from the image and it showed the below result.
The tool I used was text extractor tool from boxentriq.
At the end of the text, there is a phrase in the quotation marks, which looked encrypted with a cipher named Rot cipher and by brute force, we found out that it was encoded with the final key value of 4 on the full ASCII table. It shifts the alphabet by 4.
I used https://www.dcode.fr/rot-cipher for this particular cipher.
So that revealed a link to an image,
The Road after the Decoy
This was thought to be a dead-end but wasn’t, as the image gave two keywords guess and out which pointed to a tool called outguess.
When you use this tool to see the image you can see the hidden message as mentioned below.
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
This got us to a subreddit that contained an image on the header.
Reddit was a major platform for Cicada 3301 for conveying messages or hints. What better place than Reddit because we all know it is one of the most visited sites on the internet.
The mysteries of the subreddit
At the time of the launch of the puzzle the Reddit was using different UI so to access the UI in the old fashion, you have to modify the link in the following way.
And the name of the subreddit was cryptic as well.
The subreddit contained a lot of lines and a pair of pictures.
If you had success with one method there is a good chance we should use it again, so the first thing tried was to use outguess for the image.
Which revealed the below code
—–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) iQIcBAEBAgAGBQJPBRz7AAoJEBgfAeV6NQkP1UIQALFcO8DyZkecTK5pAIcGez7k ewjGBoCfjfO2NlRROuQm5CteXiH3Te5G+5ebsdRmGWVcah8QzN4UjxpKcTQRPB9e /ehVI5BiBJq8GlOnaSRZpzsYobwKH6Jy6haAr3kPFK1lOXXyHSiNnQbydGw9BFRI fSr//DY86BUILE8sGJR6FA8Vzjiifcv6mmXkk3ICrT8z0qY7m/wFOYjgiSohvYpg x5biG6TBwxfmXQOaITdO5rO8+4mtLnP//qN7E9zjTYj4Z4gBhdf6hPSuOqjh1s+6 /C6IehRChpx8gwpdhIlNf1coz/ZiggPiqdj75Tyqg88lEr66fVVB2d7PGObSyYSp HJl8llrt8Gnk1UaZUS6/eCjnBniV/BLfZPVD2VFKH2Vvvty8sL+S8hCxsuLCjydh skpshcjMVV9xPIEYzwSEaqBq0ZMdNFEPxJzC0XISlWSfxROm85r3NYvbrx9lwVbP mUpLKFn8ZcMbf7UX18frgOtujmqqUvDQ2dQhmCUywPdtsKHFLc1xIqdrnRWUS3CD eejUzGYDB5lSflujTjLPgGvtlCBW5ap00cfIHUZPOzmJWoEzgFgdNc9iIkcUUlke e2WbYwCCuwSlLsdQRMA//PJN+a1h2ZMSzzMbZsr/YXQDUWvEaYI8MckmXEkZmDoA RL0xkbHEFVGBmoMPVzeC =fRcg —–END PGP SIGNATURE—–
This was a PGP signature that can be used to verify the identity of the sender so now the real cicada 3301 can be identified among the others.
Another image was this one.
This was a bible image but it is also a stereogram image.
By again using the outguess tool we can get the below message.
The key has always been right in front of your eyes.
This isn’t the quest for the Holy Grail. Stop making It is more difficult than it is. Good luck. 3301
Now as I mentioned earlier the subreddit also contained a lot of text which looked encrypted.
The code is as shown HERE.
Now, the question was what is the encryption method and what was the key?
Blinded by the light of Cicada 3301
After a few weeks, someone pointed out that the key was literally in front of our eyes. The header image consisted of Mayan numbers which can be connected with the title of the subreddit as shown in the below image.
If you analyze the image above you can see that the Mayan numbers are translated to decimal and compared to the name of the subreddit.
All of the Numbers are similar to the one used in the subreddit name, and if you link the alphabet and the number, you can use this to generate the numbers for the final few words which were not linked due to the short amount of Mayan numbers.
That was still enough to get a number key for almost all the alphabets. The Red circle on the last few numbers means they do not need any links as they already are numbers and Red lines show link taken from a previous connection.
Only one alphabet “D” was not mentioned but with 26 combinations and a high possibility of “13” is the code for “d” because of the order “c-d-e” and “12-13-14” where “c” is “12” and “e” is “14” from the comparison.
Since we had fewer alphabets and more numbers, the number translation was taken as the key.
Now the whole key became “10 2 14 7 19 6 18 12 7 8 17 0 19 7 14 18 14 19 13 0 1 2 0”
With a = o, b = 1, c = 2 and so on. After deciphering, the text became “kcohtgsmhirathosotnabca”.
Which later on found out to be a key to another Vigenère cipher which was used to decode the long text on the subreddit.
I used https://www.dcode.fr/vigenere-cipher to decipher the Subreddit Text with Key “kcohtgsmhirathosotnabca”.
The first line decoded was “King Arthur was at Caerlleon upon Usk; and one day he sat in his”,
This whole deciphered text belonged to a book called ‘Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology’ which was about the hunt of holy grail with the knights of the round table.
Now we have a BOOK!
With the book cipher decoded from the image with the duck(at the end of ‘The Invitation From Cicada’), I used a book cipher tool from Boxentriq to decode the message using the keys and the decrypted long text from the book ‘Thomas Bulfinch’s Mythology’.
The result I got was as below.
Call us at us tele phone numBer two one four three nine oh nine six oh eight.
We got the number 2143909608.
Which is no longer working but I found a transcript of the message online.
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 to find the next step. Good luck. Goodbye.
This was a rather odd one as from here the game became an ARG (Alternate Reality Game).
The other two prime numbers were very hard to find until someone pointed out that the dimensions of the image are prime so they could be the numbers so,
509 x 503 x 3301 = 845145127.
This gave us 845145127.com
Which is no longer working but was showing a cicada logo and a countdown.
To the Cicada’s Website
This is where the logo of cicada was first given to us and which later became a symbol for the same.
Again using outguess on the cicada image we get the message,
You have done well to come this far. Patience is a virtue. Check back at 17:00 on Monday, 9 January 2012 UTC. 3301
After the countdown was finished, a bunch of random numbers appeared on the screen.
But if you recognize the patterns you see them as coordinates.
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 36.0665472222222, -94.1726416666667 37.577070, 126.813122
These coordinates were spread across the globe and every one of them had a poster at the exact location.
The poster of a cicada and a QR code.
Transformation into an Alternate Reality Game
This was no longer a simple online game, this was a wild hunt across the globe.
The cicada was clearly a resourceful or a big organization to do this on a global scale.
This made people collaborate with each other to find the puzzles and collect them.
The QR codes were later found out to be of two types,
One with the ciphers of the book, another with a poem.
Both came with a warning at the end.
The below was for a book code cipher.
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
The second one with the poem,
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
The second one with the poem was found out first.
It was from a book named Agrippa (A book of the dead).
This came with a floppy that was encrypted after reading it once.
In the end, the hidden message was a dark web link,
The few who got there were given means for communicating further and for others the link showed the below message,
We want the first, not the followers. 3301
This was where the trail for most of us ended, cicada went dark.
There are leaks but no proof or verification was given so no verified leak was found.
The End of the first puzzle
After a month or more the picture on the subreddit changed to the one below.
This was the end.
The end of the first quest at least, but it won’t be the last time we heard from the Mysterious person Cicada 3301.