The beginning of the end for season one of Perplex City came on January 30th 2007 at the finish of Operation Bayonet - a live online event in which players helped characters and city police storm the villains' base high up in the Ascendancy Point skyscraper. At the very end, participants were given what proved to be the final piece in the jigsaw. The clue read "Form the layer. Find the era. Follow the Way. Find the Cube." It wasn't long before two players had independently cracked its meaning.
Up until that point, players had plenty of clues to work with - but had not managed to translate any of them into useful information. These included several from the puzzle cards themselves, such as microscopic writing on one card, strings of numbers on several cards that might or might not relate to images from the board game Risk, and a series of irregular shapes superimposed on some of the cards. These 'blobs' had been linked together into one large shape by PerplexHero some time previously, but no further progress had been made from there.
Further clues came from regular updates to the secretive Library of Babel website, which seemed to be presenting a combination of hints to existing puzzles and extra clues to bypass puzzles that had proved too difficult. The site had already led to the decoding of a Beale cipher on the card #223 'Secret Location', but the text uncovered ("five fingers point: half the world, realm, region, feature, last mystery") proved to be more a definition of the problem than an answer to it. More help was needed.
Within half an hour of the end of Operation Bayonet cjr22 - one of the original 333 players to receive a parcel from Sente Kiteway in April 2005 - had made the necessary connection between the new clue and the blob-like shapes. He posted on unFiction:
"The words layer, era and strata are now making [me] think of geological features. I think we have to find a certain geological layer that has the same shape as the blobs put together (I'm thinking 2d jigsaw now), which could well correspond to some sort of national park. There's probably a route along it called "The <something> Way", somewhere along which is buried the cube."
Soon afterwards he cracked it, posting a link to a map that showed rock strata in the British Isles and highlighting the similarity with the Jurassic layer. The only thing he missed was the name of the footpath, speculating incorrectly that it might be the Cotswold Way.
Simultaneously, another of the original 333 had been following a similar line of attack. Chippy was a veteran of the Manchester fly-past, the Clapham Common live event and the PCAG in Trafalgar Square. A freelance geospatial expert, he too was struck by the possibilities offered by geological maps. Posting on the Perplexorum, he managed to take the clue one step further by identifying the correct footpath. Writing later in his blog, he said:
"A couple of hours and a bottle of red later, I used this clue to make a massive solve narrowing down the location of the buried cube - [the] Jurassic Strata in the UK, and naturally the Jurassic Way, an 80mile long distance footpath, which only passed through a forest at two very close points to each other. Players already knew that the cube was buried in a forested area. I promptly posted what I found."
The two points were parts of the ancient royal forest of Rockingham, Fineshade Wood and - on the other side of the A43 - Wakerley Great Wood. With this central mystery seemingly solved, other clues began to make sense. The Library of Babel had featured a re-worked version of season one puzzle card #029 that emphasised the word 'strata', which with hindsight was clearly a pointer to the correct way to read the blobs. Its neighbouring card, #030 'End of the Line', contained a mysterious passage that had long been suspected of offering directions around a network of footpaths. Elsewhere in the Library were photos of trees, a fencepost, and the Cube being buried in woodland soil. Another Library clue suggested rare butterflies which, it was discovered, might be found in Wakerley Great Wood. This revelation - one of the key clues to the Cube's location - was completely overshadowed by a discovery which led in the direction of the other wood, Fineshade. This wood was home to a wildlife centre focusing on a bird of prey with a very hopeful name - the red kite. With a character in the game called Scarlett Kiteway, surely this was the correct part of the Jurassic Way to concentrate on?
In fact, as the game designers later admitted to the winner, this was a coincidence - albeit one that added colour and veracity to the location. The crucial clue that should have pin-pointed Wakerley Great Wood had almost been uncovered as a result of the Library of Babel - but players had pulled back on the verge of solving it. Until the Library, analysis of the number strings on the puzzle cards had concentrated on using them to replay a game of Risk. Babel hints instead showed they were directions from Key Square on the map of Perplex City itself. The result of this discovery was a long sequence of letters taken from street names: FRBPULAFHPOSMLUCNIDYMENDBKIELGTPDOAAKILTIO. More Library of Babel hints provided a route into where to go next, explained by Ixalon on the Perplexorum:
"What we've done so far is take the hint that the string should represent a series of codons, a sequence of 3 molecules of Adenine, Uracil, Cytosine and Guanine, given in that order in the latest LoB update. You can get the first (UUU) from FRB, by taking F=6,R=18,B=2 in MOD 4 (hinted in Flying by the mod), which gives 2,2,2. Using the order of the nucleotide molecules above (A=1, U=2, C=3, G=0) you can get the RNA sequence.
"For those that don't want to go through the process of working it all out, when you write the above codons using their single letter symbol amino-acid notation, you get: FEMARLEMSSGQQD."
But that hard-won discovery was not taken the last step further, despite a realisation that 'Q' could represent 'O' and that 'M's had been bolded on the Library of Babel page. Ambiguity into the correct way of reading the codons led to three other sequences of letters which looked equally plausible and, as a result, the solution was missed - the words 'bold, fearless, good', a pointer to the Dukes of Burgundy and, through them, the butterflies that pinpointed Wakerley Great Wood.
Without that confirmation, players who found the butterflies by other means (such the prominent words "The Most Noble") were lost in the crowd of voices. These included Mico, who posted on the Perplexorum: "I don't really know where to go from here at the moment, but to me "The Most Noble" is a formal title for Dukes and Duchesses. Leading potentially to the Duke of Burgundy butterfly (Hamearis Lucina). These are only found in certain locations in the UK but are quite widespread in Europe (I think). On a hunch, I'm checking more into Tottenhoe Knolls, Buckland Wood etc. I'll let you know if I get anywhere..."
In fact, the first people to properly understand this clue used it to find the correct location for the Cube - but they did so a day too late. Writing on unFiction, Somerswey said: "Sadly we got to the right spot the day after Rand0m having wasted too much time in Fineshade. We eventually concluded that the amino acid clue was giving us FEARLESS and GOOD which are the names of 2 of the Dukes of Burgundy (between 2 BOLDS). Since Wakerley is the Wood known for its Duke of Burgundy butterflies, we refocused our search for quadrupeds to there, but alas too late!"
With a few exceptions such as Somerswey, it seems likely that most people who searched Rockingham Forest followed the same progression through the clues as the eventual winner. The work of cjr22 and Chippy to identify the Jurassic Way, when added to the general awareness that the Cube was buried in woodland, narrowed the options down significantly (especially when it was considered that site was likely to be on public land of some sort). The red kite centre seemed to pinpoint Fineshade Wood, but when that didn't provide an answer there were sufficient other clues floating around to make Wakerley Great Wood worth investigating too.
Once in the woods, one last clue came into play - alluded to above by Somerswey with the reference to a 'quadruped'. This was the 'End of the Line' puzzle card, released some six months previously as part of wave four. As well as the riddle that formed its basic puzzle, it offered a mysterious prophesy that had - apparently - baffled scholars through history. It was to baffle players, too.
"Precious are the stones my children, precious that which is dug from the earth. Precious are the rubies, the diamonds, the emeralds and the topaz. I held fast to the amethysts. They mingled them with sapphires, so I threw them both from me. Only one choice remained and from then nothing was right. My children I did not despair, as you must not despair. A quadruped appeared before me, its middle leg held proudly forward. I turned my back to it and strode forward. But after only 20 ammot the light was upon me. Precious, my children, is the light."
Just three minutes after cjr22 made his initial reference to rock strata, Drinkmonsters was reminding players of the prophesy:
"We have pathways, they must be coded to rubies, diamonds, emeralds, topaz, amethysts, and sapphires. Of all these, two are connected, and we must choose between the last 2. Walk on, do not be discouraged, because you will find a quadruped, a four legged animal with its "middle leg held proudly." turn away from it. Take 20 steps. If you are standing in a lit area... dig."
Pretty clearly, it was a set of directions. But not very transparent directions. Even with the help of the three photos on the front of the Library of Babel, a precise interpretation proved problematic.
In particular, what was a quadruped? Ammots were researchable and proved to be a Biblical measure equal to a cubit, or roughly 50cms. Quadrupeds were more subjective. Possibilities considered mostly had an equine theme - statues, chalk horses in the landscape, signs for bridleways. No-one guessed the correct answer - a four-legged fencepost, with one leg standing tall and vertical while the other three supported it. Not everyone who looked at such a post made the connection. And even those who made it did not always pick the right one.
Much effort was wasted at Fineshade Wood in attempts to make its system of footpaths fit the clues. There was nothing to suggest diamonds or emeralds, but the other colours of paths could, at a stretch, be interpreted in a way that might work. But no-one felt it was a comfortable fit. Discovery of a tall, four-legged hide designed for wildlife spotting raised hopes, but there was nothing to suggest that one particular leg was the middle one - and how could something with four legs have a 'middle leg' anyway? Not all of the suggested answers to this question were suitable for a family audience...
Not everyone was convinced the correct location had been identified. Online, theories were still being developed that might have led to other parts of the Jurassic strata. Further clues were sought, and old ones were revisited.
But over at Wakerley, the clues fitted perfectly - even if no-one followed them quite as precisely as they were intended. The day before the Cube was found, a group of players found the fencepost intended as the quadruped, but failed to properly investigate 10m behind it. The previous night, another team had conscientiously dug 10m behind the wrong post. And the eventual winner identified the quadruped by its photograph on the Library of Babel site, rather than by the clues that should have led to it.
Explained properly, the directions on the card were as follows:
And so it proved - the cube was buried about six inches down, at a spot where the surface ground looked as if it had been disturbed at some point in the past.