Editor’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Unfiction forums (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) and from Andy’s own website. Thanks to Andy for allowing us to reprint this fantastic story, in his own words. The photo for this article can be found on Andy’s Flick stream.
I’d like to say the reason I found the Cube was because I solved all the meta puzzles, cracked the number strings, and have all the answers. Alas, no. None of us did. As far as I’m aware, the reason all of us who were involved in the endgame found ourselves in Rockingham Forest is because cjr22 and Chippy nailed the amorphous blobs as being the Jurassic strata, which led by a series of inevitable steps to the Jurassic Way and the red kite centre on Forestry Commission land at Fineshade Wood.
There were more elegant ways of getting there that didn’t involve the Library of Babel, according to Kurt later, but we were at lunch when he told me and six people were talking at once (including Violet, loudly) so the details haven’t stuck. But I’ll do my best to talk about what we missed later. (TIAG – I mean, of course, the writers who scripted kurtnviolet.)
I’ve been thinking about why it was me that found the Cube and not one of the teams that came so close, and I’ve come up with a combination of four reasons. One is obviously luck: it didn’t take luck to find it, but it took luck not to be beaten to it and luck not to be chased away by the Forestry Commission, other players or inquisitive children. Two more reasons are archaeological training and some literal mindedness, of which more later. The fourth reason is lifestyle: I am self employed and am currently working Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I could afford both the time and the petrol to visit the woods from London on both Thursday and Friday, when others were stuck behind desks, or scraping together the money for a weekend visit with friends.
On the Thursday I had a hospital appointment first thing. I expected it to drag through into the afternoon but promised myself that, if it didn’t, I’d take a trip up to Fineshade Wood for a look around. I had no expectation of winning, but thought it would be foolish not to take advantage of having the time available and it would be fun to be involved in the endgame. The appointment finished very early, so I went. If it had overrun as I had expected then I doubt if I would have made it up there at all and the Cube would have been found with metal detectors on the Monday morning, instead of by me on Sunday lunchtime. On such small things…
I took with me my trusty trowel – the veteran of several years’ worth of archaeology volunteering – as well as a print-out of the photos from the Library of Babel, a map of the woods from the Forestry Commission website, a laptop with a mobile internet card, and copies of puzzlecards 30 and 156, End of the Line and Going Dotty, as I knew there’d been speculation since last summer that the former represented directions, and no-one knew what the hell to make of the latter. I felt a bit of a fool for abandoning real life and going, as I knew there was no chance of me finding anything, but I also knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t at least try.
I hit Fineshade at about lunchtime. There were more cars than I expected, but I barely saw any people. Just a couple of joggers with fast, yappy dogs, and some people at the picnic tables in the car park. I remembered that CT had said you’d know which path to take if you knew who they were so, since like most people I believed CT to be Scarlett, I looked for a red path on the woods map board. There is one, a circular route, and better still you can take it by ignoring the mixed blue / purple path and turning left (ie, throwing away the mingled amethysts and sapphires and taking the one choice that remains, which isn’t to the right). From then, as I walked the path, I looked for anything that might fairly be described as a quadruped to meet the next bit of the clue. I tried to stay aware of everything from chalk horses on the skyline (I imagined I might turn a corner and be confronted with one between the trees) to bridleway signposts. There were quite a few of the latter, and two in particular led to very promising looking clearings 10m back (20 ammot = about 10 meters was fairly easy to research and I think many people had done so). I scraped around a bit with the trowel, looking to see if there was any evidence of old digging, but there was nothing.
And here’s where I take a moment to lecture on the usefulness of archaeology in treasure hunting. Not until the very end, Sunday lunchtime, was I digging for the Cube. Up until then I was digging for evidence of disturbed ground. Archaeology in Britain is based largely on the ability to detect holes that were dug and refilled anything up to 3000 years ago. Compared with that, finding a three-year-old hole is not the hardest of tasks. Instead of taking a spade and driving repeatedly downwards in search of metal, I was using a far more precise trowel to scrape back an inch or two of leaf cover and topsoil across fairly wide areas, looking for signs of a round pit where the fill had a different consistency or colour from the surrounding ground, or had settled a little. It’s a quicker method, and far more efficient.
But it didn’t get me anywhere on Thursday. By the time I was three quarters of the way around the circular path I was feeling considerably less pleased with myself. The light was starting to fade, I was on a long, straight section of path that didn’t seem very promising (it later had houses on it, which seemed to rule it out completely) and I’d finally realised that by turning left out of the carpark I’d doomed myself to walking clockwise – which meant every turn I took was a right turn. I saw a wildlife hide on stilts down a side path but ignored it, because it was well off my route, but did stop to investigate another hide which turned out to be of a different design – no legs, and therefore not a quadruped. I amused myself by writing in the wildlife spotters’ book that I’d seen peacocks but no quadrupeds, and signed it with a Cube symbol. But by then I’d pretty much given up. I wanted to go back round the path in the opposite direction, but there was no time. I decided to use the last of the light to visit Wakerley Great Wood. I knew it had footpaths too – I’d been able to get a map off the Forestry Commission website by jiggering with the URI for the Fineshade map – so I figured I might as well spend a couple of minutes there.
The moment I saw the Wakerley walks board, I knew it was the right place. It fitted the clues perfectly – unlike Fineshade, where you had to force them. There was a purple path – which meant CT was Violet, not Scarlett – and that path eventually joined with a blue one. At the point they met there was a single path available which was neither blue nor purple, and by following it there were plenty of opportunities to turn left. I phoned home to report, and Beloved Other Half said “Let’s get up early tomorrow and look”.
So we did.
Real life doesn’t stop for puzzles, even ones the size of the Cube Hunt. On Thursday, returning from Fineshade, I’d stopped off at the hospital where my sister was recovering from having a baby the day before. And on Friday Beloved Other Half and I were due to go househunting, with appointments booked for 2pm more than 60 miles from the woods. PXC was having to fit into the available gaps.
We knew we were on a timer from the moment we woke up, at an outrageously early hour of the morning – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the sky growing purple behind the industrial units of Biggleswade, I always say. We arrived at Wakerley at about 8.30am and set off to explore the paths. Rather than get too excited by any one location on first sight, we planned to walk all the possible routes and then return to anywhere that looked likely. As before, the main thing we were looking for was a plausible quadruped – but we were also trying to watch for groups of trees or posts that matched the ones on the Library of Babel page.
It’s an easy walk around on the purple path to where it’s met by the blue bridleway, and you can’t miss the junction. The blue path is actually a logging road, quite big, and there was a camp set up where treecutting work was obviously being undertaken during working hours. The correct path to take, the only non-blue and non-purple path, is a clear and well-trodden continuation of the one you’ve arrived on, sloping gently downhill. From the moment you’ve stepped on it, of course, you need to be on the alert for quadrupeds.
With hindsight, I now know that you only need to go a few yards before you should turn off onto a smaller grassy path that disappears into the trees. But at the time I was convinced that the clue “after that, nothing was right” required you to go along waymarked paths with at least one – and probably two – left turns before you needed to worry about anything with four feet. We made a mental note that there was a bridleway sign with a picture of a horse, and also a fencepost by the smaller path that didn’t match the Babel photo, and continued onwards.
The paths around the back of the woods feel different – they are lower lying, wetter, more likely to be muddy, less hospitable. Despite this, after the first left turn the long back path looked quite promising. It had useful-looking bridleway signs that still (despite having seen Ixalon’s fencepost) seemed the best bet to be a quadruped. There were any number of enticing clearings off to the side of the path. And there were a lot of left turns, including the Jurassic Way itself. We explored them all, seeing no fenceposts and few of the correct sort of tree, and found ourselves looping back to the car park.
I have to admit to feeling more than a little demoralised by this point – we’d explored thoroughly, and found no compellingly obvious place to return to. Beloved Other Half was still keen to try again, though, and in the end I was ridiculously encouraged after re-reading the End of the Line card. “My children I did not despair, as you must not despair,” it says – and, although this sounds corny, after reading it I decided I bloody well was up for another look after all.
One thing we had noted exploring the woods was a near-total lack of fenceposts after leaving behind the one by the small side path. There were a few in the far corner, as part of the wood’s boundary, but they were almost inaccessible and not at all promising. So when we got back to the post that marked the small side path, we did wonder whether there might be any more around. And Beloved Other Half felt very strongly indeed that we should go up the side path. Partly, she wondered whether it might in some way triangulate with a line drawn back from some theoretical quadruped on the long back path, and partly she felt it was a place we needed to go.
So we did. And at about 11am on Friday we found the fencepost pictured in the Library of Babel. It was an extraordinarily exciting moment. Up until then, we were as certain as we could be that we were in the correct woods, but lacked any sort of tangible proof. To see the combination of cracks and knotholes and shadows in the real post match up with the photograph held up next to it was electrifying. Even then, though, it wasn’t about the possibility of winning. We were very aware that we were in the driving seat, that we had an advantage over all other players that wouldn’t last forever, but I don’t think either of us truly believed we’d be the ones to find it. I think we were mostly in awe of being at the focal point of all the work that had gone into setting up the game and its puzzles. Someone had planned for years, someone had taken the photograph, and now we were the first and only people to follow in their footsteps. Sure, we wanted to find the Cube – but mostly I think we were excited to be at the sharp end, and in a state of disbelief that we were alone there.
And it’s just as well we weren’t obsessed with winning, because over the next few hours I made a series of decisions that might almost have been designed to throw our advantage away.
So, there we were just 10 meters away from the Cube but without having solved the clues that should have led us there. Unbelieveably, despite seeing a pair of four-footed fenceposts, we had not realised that one of them was the quadruped. We even hung our coats on the post in the photo while we worked. Our only rationale for being there was the Library of Babel photos, so we stopped following the clues on “End of the Line” – and because of this the Cube stayed buried for two more days.
At first we scratched away at clearings nearby, me on one side of the path and Beloved Other Half on the other side. We found, and excavated, a lot of abandoned animal burrow entrances. You very quickly learn the shape – a long, shallow descent from one side into the soft ground of the middle, with a very steep side opposite. The ground on the two sides of the path is very different – it must run along the boundary between two types of clay. To the side where the Cube was buried the ground has a thick layer of black rotted-down material, with thin roots meshing it together, and beneath that a layer of hard, wet, greeny-grey clay. Any hole that had once been dug into that, and refilled, would be as obvious as the nose on your face. On the other side, the wrong side, the ground is easier to work – several inches of brown earth, with dry yellow-brown clay underlying it. The tree roots are deeper and more woody, and the forest floor is drier and covered in leaves and twigs. Although this is the wrong side of the path, it is an almost perfect match for the photo of the Cube being buried in the Library of Babel.
It wasn’t long before I grew bored with digging, and I went further down the path to see whether there might be a quadruped along there. There wasn’t, and I was struck by a sudden thought that had me running back excitedly. What if the three Library of Babel photographs should be taken literally? The trees might be the ones at the junction where the path started (they looked a bit dense, but at a stretch they could have been) while the fencepost could be some sort of backstop to indicate you didn’t need to walk any further down the path. The Cube, by that logic, would be half way between them. Total genius!
Nevertheless, we changed the focus of our exploration, moving back down the path and away from the correct location. It didn’t do us much good. And then I finally, belatedly, realised that the fenceposts were quadrupeds. But, like several people after me, I got excited about the wrong fencepost. I picked the one by the main path to have my insight about, and thereby moved us even further from the correct spot. I also moved us a lot closer to possible discovery by the foresters who were by then working at the purple / blue junction, and by anyone who might pass by on the main path – but no-one did.
Logically, I should have known from End of the Line that this was the wrong post. The card clearly puts the “nothing was right” clue *before* the reference to the quadruped, and therefore it must be necessary to take at least one left turn before you see it. Fenceposts before a left turn, or even fenceposts *at* a left turn like this one, don’t fit the clue and should be ignored. Despite this, we dug out our tape measure and marked off 10 meters along two lines – one, along the path as if we had turned our backs on the junction post and marched onwards towards CT’s post, and the second directly behind the junction post where its rear leg was pointing. We sampled a large area on one side of the path and a smaller area on the other, and behind the post we got tremendously excited when we found an area of very soft ground exactly 10 meters back. It was in the equivalent place to where the Cube was buried in relation to the correct post, so it fitted the clues, and it was with great disappointment that we eventually concluded it was an animal burrow.
At this point we were running out of time and decided to split our efforts. We knew we weren’t coming back on the following day and we weren’t at all sure we’d be returning after our househunting appointments later that day, so we needed to think laterally. Beloved Other Half went back to the car, fired up the laptop with its mobile internet card, and checked and double-checked we had the correct definition of ammots. I tried to phone Mind Candy in an attempt to bluff them into telling us the location. After all, it had worked with Masquerade, and I really didn’t want to have to bring in the heavy artillery on Forestry Commission land – we still had a thumping great spade in the boot of the car from when we feared we might get snowed in at Christmas, and by then I was prepared to do some serious damage to the forest floor with it – or, at least, to threaten to. As it turned out, the number supplied by directory enquiries rang and rang unanswered until it eventually cut off. Five times. With hindsight, I’m glad it wasn’t answered. MC would have said ‘sorry, no’ – they confirmed that later – but speaking to them under those circumstances would have spoiled the whole thing, whatever the result.
A little more digging behind the wrong post, and we ran out of time, filled in our holes and left. We couldn’t see how we’d gone wrong, except perhaps by covering too little ground too slowly, or by not digging deep enough.
Househunting was bizarre. Beloved Other Half had a change of clothes, but I was covered in mud. The householders were very understanding – they remembered Masquerade – and the estate agent was baffled but intrigued. We gave her a spare copy of End of the Line (but not the name of the wood), refuelled at a chip shop, bought a fork and a flashlight from a garden centre, and headed north again.
It was early evening when we arrived, but already dark so we felt confident in openly carrying a full-sized fork and spade with us as we returned to the spot. Had we been challenged by Forestry Commission officials we were going to throw the tools into the darkness and claim to be studying moths. Marching through the black, silent forest felt horribly like the start of some cheap slasher movie, but I kept telling myself there was nothing there. Probably, that was true – I don’t think Ixalon had arrived at that point 😉
We didn’t waste any time, but methodically set about sampling ground with the fork to see if it was soft, and digging anywhere that seemed likely as a result. We took the view that the clay on the correct side of the path was so hard that any hole previously dug in it would be detectable by that method. The other side of the path was less obvious, but we tried anyway. For about three hours we covered all the likely-looking areas 10 meters away from the wrong post – when we drew a blank behind it in the likliest spot of all I was reduced to howling “why aren’t you *here*?” At about 9pm we admitted defeat and left, happy that we had given it our best shot but totally convinced that someone on Saturday would see our diggings (impossible to totally clear up and hide when working in the dark) and find the Cube.
We think – we’re not totally sure about this – we think we saw a torch in the distance on the way back to the car. It might have been Team Alice. It might have been our imaginations. We’ll probably never know.
Parking the car at home, just before midnight, it hit me what a bloody fool I’d been. Why the hell had we been digging by the fencepost on the main path when CT had sent us a photo of a quadruped as a clue? It was obvious – the Cube was 10 meters behind CT’s post, exactly where it should be if you took a left off the path there, turned your back on the post, and strode forward the required distance. The directions on End of the Line were, in the end, extremely precise – inch perfect if you followed them correctly.
So that was where the Cube was. But we were 114 miles away, and we weren’t going anywhere on Saturday.
Someone else’s turn.
A lot of us have quietly wondered, from the start of Perplex City, what would happen to the co-operation and the community once the endgame started and players could smell the money. Would there be fights? Sharp elbows? Or one big happy family crossing the line together with arms linked, sharing the prize between them?
It turns out what there mainly was, was silence. Player after player announced they were heading for Fineshade Wood, but one word was conspicuous by its near-total absence from Friday onwards, and that word was Wakerley. It was as if Fineshade was gradually filling up with players until they were bulging from its sides like the famous PCAG fill-a-telephone-box challenge.
Either that, or like me they were finding their way across to Wakerley and not admitting it.
I was keeping a close eye on the forums from Thursday evening onwards, even venturing over to the Perplexorum for pretty much the first time ever. I wasn’t after theories – I had plenty of those of my own – I was after progress reports. By Midnight Friday, having seen no-one I recognised as a player in the woods for two days and reading very little on the boards about Wakerley, it was tempting to conclude everyone was sitting back and waiting for either Fineshade on Saturday, or more solid proof of location.
Absolute rubbish, of course. Subsequently, all sorts of stories have emerged that suggest Wakerley was crawling with players – one skipped a work meeting to go Thursday, another remembers seeing me there on Friday, while yet another suspects his girlfriend may actually have relieved herself on the spot the Cube was buried. I do hope he’s wrong…
And while all this was going on, two formidable teams were homing in on where I knew the Cube to be. Team Alice seems to have combined the backroom organisation of an Ellen MacArthur record attempt with enough earthmoving expertise to re-dig the Mines of Moria. Tally’s team, meanwhile, was made up of some serious puzzle-solvers, including the player I’d always secretly expected to win – Guin.
I knew none of this, of course. I just knew that by sitting out Saturday I was handing the field of play over to everyone who’d been itching for the weekend to come. Some of them were going to make it over to Wakerley and, I fully believed, one of them would find the Cube.
Even without that expectation, Saturday was a dreadful day. I’m not as young as I once was (pushing 40) and I was paying for the running around of the previous couple of days with the headache to end all headaches. It was about all I could do to sit up in a darkened room. Beloved Other Half wasn’t much better. Every so often, one of us would check the forums for a triumphant announcement that never came. As the afternoon passed I began to say “maybe tomorrow, after all…” Eventually someone – European Chris, I think – posted to say they were in the pub, Cubeless.
We were back in the game.
Sunday was another 4am alarm call, another drive through the dawn, another sunrise on the road. I went alone this time, and expected to find the car park full of Cube hunters. There was just one other vehicle parked on the road outside (it was too early for the gate to be open). Dog walkers, by the look of it. I had another clear run, and to my dying day I’ll never know why that should be.
On getting back to the point where the misleading fencepost marked the junction of paths I had the shock of my life when I saw the digging behind it. This, presumably, was the spectacular efforts of Ixalon on Friday night, going over ground that Beloved Other Half and I had investigated a few hours earlier. I didn’t know that – I thought it was Saturday daytime work – but I did know that if we had missed the Cube by inches in the dark on Friday, someone was sitting at home with it on the shelf even then. However, I was still confident about my identification of where the Cube would be – up the path, by CT’s post – so I scurried over there, wondering whether I’d find more earthworks. I didn’t. Instead, there were a couple of patches of disturbed ground in a direct line back from the post, investigatory scrapings made on Saturday by Tally’s team as I later learned. It is impossible to exaggerate how unlucky they were. I don’t know Hawk, but from the way he writes I suspect he has archaeological training – and more of it than I do*. Had his team-mates made those scrapings just four or five paces further from the post – or if they’d measured the 20 ammots specified on End of the Line – he would have spotted the signs I eventually saw on Sunday and the Cube would have been found there and then.
But it wasn’t.
My turn again.
In interviews since winning, I’ve several times likened PXC to a long-distance cycle race where the competitors mosey along in a big, easy group for most of the time, not racing each other, a different person occasionally taking on the responsibility of going out the front. Then, near the end, everyone sprints like mad to the finish. I think it’s a pretty good reference point, but those final 48 hours remind me more of a darts match, albeit one with three players, in which no-one can hit the double they need to win. First I missed on Friday daytime and early evening, then Ixalon and Mac Monkey had a shot Friday night, then Tally’s team tried on Saturday. Come Sunday, I was back on the oche. So what did I do? I spent three hours digging in completely the wrong place.
Despite realising on Friday night exactly where the Cube was, when I arrived on Sunday I allowed myself to be swayed by a number of factors that made me ignore that insight and took me off in the wrong direction. Instead of digging 10m behind the quadruped fence, where its leg was pointing, I dug in front of it on the other side of the path. The soil looked like the photo in the Library of Babel, and when I measured 10m back from the post I hit a large mossy tree stump, while 10m forward was a promising clearing. It was enough for me to ignore End of the Line’s stricture against right turns, and the directive to turn my back on the post. It was a beautiful trench I dug, with neat vertical sides so I could look for evidence of it cutting a previous hole, and with tree roots carefully preserved. It was long, and deep, and in places wide, and completely, utterly, pointless. In the end I had to give up on it and backfill it.
I talked to Beloved Other Half on the phone. I wrote at the beginning of this account that single-mindedness was one of the qualities that won this game. She very single-mindedly reminded me to follow the card exactly and try the other side of the path. “There’s a tree stump,” I said. “Try it anyway,” she replied. I re-measured it, and found I’d got it wrong – the tree stump was safely out of range. The crucial line, straight back from the post and between nine and ten meters away from it to allow for variety in the definition of a cubit, was unobstructed. Unlike earlier in the morning, when I’d been digging in the brown earth and warm clay of the wrong side of the path, I was now back on the murky dark side with the hard clay just under the surface. It was relatively easy to clear the rotted dark topsoil away with the trowel and reveal the green-grey of the clay, but apart from a half-hearted attempt at an animal burrow there was nothing cutting through it – no old holes, refilled, for example.
A pair of dog walkers strolled by, complaining at the way children were shreiking in the distance, and I made the woman jump out of her skin with a cheery ‘hello’ from where I was kneeling deep among the trees. I chatted with the husband for a bit – he showed absolutely no curiosity about what I was doing whatsoever – and when they walked on I backfilled my latest investigation. I really had run out of ideas and was on the verge of trying silly things, like walking another 10m up the path. Things that would, in effect, have been giving up, even though they would have allowed me to pretend I was still searching. I packed my tools away and prepared to move on.
It was then that I realised I was practically standing on a spot where the topsoil was the colour of the clay that ought to be hidden underneath it. It wasn’t 10m from the post, it was slightly further – practically a continuation of the line I’d just investigated, exactly where you’d end up burying something if you walked 10m, stopped, and leaned forward to start digging. Seeing sub-surface clay with just a very thin covering of the material that was several inches thick elsewhere was deeply suspicious. If this wasn’t the evidence for a hole that had been dug and then filled in, I didn’t know what it was. I unpacked my trowel and cut straight down into it.
I’m trying to remember, and I think at this point I already knew I was onto something good, even before I’d gone very deep. It was the most promising spot I’d yet seen – it fitted the clues and it had good archaeology – and it had come at a moment when I was at a pretty low ebb. Six inches down, my trowel nicked something dark in the side wall of the hole that crackled when I prodded it. Just a couple of square millimeters of whatever it was, and at that point it behaved exactly like the tree root bark I’d been finding since Friday – it looked the same, and it made the same noises when poked. I cleared more of the sticky clay away from it with the tip of my trowel, and found that it was definitely plastic – not bark, but a bag. Plastic bags get buried for all sorts of reasons, usually accidental, so I refused to allow myself to believe it was the Cube. Nevertheless, I rocked back on my heels to take a photo. It’s not a great photo, all blurry, but nevertheless it turned out to be a pretty important photo – because moments later I cleared enough of the clay to run a gloved hand along the plastic and feel a hard, heavy, straight edge inside it.
That was when it hit me, that was when I knew I’d found the Cube.
I felt this great well of excitement rising in my chest, but I squashed it down so I could get on with the business of lifting the Cube before anyone else came along. It was absolutely stuck fast. I cleared the top, pulling the soil from above it back into the hole I’d just started (Hawk later correctly deduced this from examining the evidence I’d left behind, as he tried to decide if he’d found a hoax, a metal detectorist, or what). After loosening the clay round its sides I was able to hook the fingers of both hands into the plastic and heave upwards. Finally, the clay released it and I lifted it from the ground, heavy as a couple of housebricks. I opened the bag up to find the Cube swathed in bubblewrap, and the note from Violet. The Cube itself was deathly cold, so cold that the surface was mottled. It was beautifully polished, so I handled it as little as possible with my mud-covered gloves – thereby missing the engraving on one side. The note was, if anything, even more exciting than the Cube.
I phoned Beloved Other Half, from beside the hole.
“Well, it turns out Violet was CT,” I said.
“How do you know?”
“She left a note in with the Cube.”
There isn’t actually a textbook for what you do next when you’ve just dug £100,000-worth of highly sought-after metalwork out of the ground. Beloved Other Half’s advice was short and to the point: “don’t waste time talking to me, get out of there NOW.” Not a bad idea but, being my mother’s son, I ended up fussing for the next quarter of an hour about how I was going to avoid ruining my rucksack while carrying a very muddy blue plastic bag, some clay-caked tools and a pair of gloves so filthy that I haven’t dared look at them since. In the end I turned the bag inside-out, bundled everything muddy into it, and strapped it under the lid where I hoped it wouldn’t be seen by any other Cube hunter armed with the photos from the Library of Babel. The Cube itself I dropped into the rucksack, away from the mud. It’s just a shame I forgot to take out the metal secateurs that I’d brought along to deal with tough tree roots. If you ever see the Cube, and it has ugly scratches on its highly-polished surface, don’t blame the Third Power, blame the fast hike out of Wakerley Great Wood as the two bits of metal in the otherwise-empty pack banged against each other and against my kidneys.
As everyone now knows, I’d left behind me the hole, unfilled, and a copy of End of the Line propped up by it. Leaving the hole open seems rather sinful, looking back on it, but I can’t truthfully say it ever occurred to me to fill it in. It wasn’t just a hole, it was *the* hole. The card was left there for a purpose. I’d been carrying it since Thursday and consulted it often, so there was no question of bringing it especially to leave there – we’d talked about maybe burying a box with a notepad and pencil or rubber stamp, like a Dartmoor letterbox, but organising something like that in advance just seemed too much like tempting fate, too arrogant, so we made no special plans. I’m not the only one who had it mind to leave something, according to the forums. Ixalon, bless him, planned to leave a gold card in a waterproof box as a runner up prize – and if he wasn’t on the list for a silver leitmark already, that level of generosity ought to put him right up there.
What I had in mind was to send a signal to whoever came to the spot next. I wanted to say yes, you were right, you’ve found the right place and here’s something from the game for you to pick up and hold, a signal that the person who was here before you was a player and arrived in this place by making the same journey you just have. I also wanted to indicate, without broadcasting to the world in explicit detail, that the game was over. I feared that if the find wasn’t in some way announced, people would be wasting precious annual leave by booking days off from work to come and search or perhaps spending money they couldn’t afford on train tickets or petrol. I even had fears of American players crossing the Atlantic to search for a Cube that wasn’t there any more.
And, let’s be honest, perhaps I wanted to show off a bit, too. But only a little bit.
There’s a line early in season one of Buffy where Cordelia says “excuse me, I have to call EVERYONE I have EVER MET”. Having the Cube, and no-one else knowing about it, was a bit like that. On the way back to the car I kept having to fight back the urge to stop random strangers and say to them “this is going to mean absolutely nothing to you but…” I didn’t, of course, since everyone from Violet downwards was telling me to keep quiet.
So I did. Very quiet indeed. You see, I knew that once I told anyone official – Mind Candy being the obvious people – everything would change. It’s peaceful, being the only one who knows where the Cube is. There are a lot of good things about being the winner of Perplex City, but one thing it’s not is peaceful. And while the Cube may be a bit too solid to be really arty, it’s still an object of wonder to have on your shelf. The longer I had it, the less I wanted to give it back. The longer things were quiet, the less I wanted them to get noisy.
So I didn’t email Mind Candy on Sunday. That’s why Adrian came onto the Perplexorum to say metal detectors would work – he didn’t know the Cube was already on a bookshelf in Middlesex. I didn’t even look at Violet’s secret page, for fear of leaving a recognisable IP address (rightly, as it turned out – the source code for the page has a Google Analytics script in it). I thought about posting some photos, so everybody would know it had been found, and then fading quietly away with it still in my possession. I thought of anonymously returning it to Mind Candy. It didn’t help when I finally used an anonymiser to visit Violet’s page and found that it said:
This whole thing’s going to go wild pretty soon and there’ll be interviews and parties and all sorts of things. But for now it’s just between you and me. I buried it and you found it.
It’s a wonderfully moving (and frightening) passage when you know it’s directed just at you, capturing as it does a moment of calm that can’t last, and it nearly cost Mind Candy any chance of seeing their Cube again. On the plus side, they would have been £100,000 to the good. I don’t like to think what the minus side would have been, with investors to please, season two to promote and 50,000 curious players wanting to know what happens next. That was a big reason for finally handing it in. It would have been selfish not to. From what I saw later, they had a plan for everything – except the possibility that their winner might prefer the Cube to the actual prize.
On Monday I went to work at a client’s office as usual, but got little done. I was watching the Perplexorum chat logs when Chippy came in to announce glumly that he and Hawk had found the hole and the card, and I watched the word spread outwards from there. It was time to email Mind Candy on the ifoundit@ address. Even then, I used a newly-created account to mail from and didn’t actually give MC any way of getting back in touch with me apart from that address until Tuesday, when I spoke to Adrian (witholding my number as I did so) and decided everything was probably going to be alright.
Sorry about the wait after that – I really couldn’t break my work commitments for Monday through Wednesday, which made Thursday the first possible day I could take the Cube to Mind Candy, sign the paperwork and let them make the announcement. I watched opinion harden on the forums, and had to keep my mouth shut as people drew the obvious (but false) conclusion that a very neat hole and an unknown winner meant someone with a metal detector had done the treasure hunting equivalent of sniping an eBay auction and snuck in to steal the Cube from under their noses. I couldn’t blame people for thinking it and being upset – it fitted the observable facts and, as a player, I would have been gutted if the game had ended with the sort of mess that has spoiled the memory of Masquerade.
I was due at Mind Candy’s offices at Noon on Thursday, which just left time for the Cube to make one final journey. My parents live near Ampthill, where Masquerade’s Golden Hare was buried, so I stayed Wednesday night with them, and on Thursday morning in the snow the Cube made a pilgrimage to where it all began, the point where Catherine’s long finger overshadows earth.
After that I took it to Battersea, where Adrian and Guy greeted me in reception and led me to the Mind Candy offices. Amid cheers, party poppers and champagne glasses, I handed the Cube over.
Whatever happens to it next, it’s someone else’s problem now.
I just hope they look after it better next time.
* Footnote: Hawk has since contacted me to say he’s not an archaeologist, he’s an engineering student who’s watched a lot of Time Team. Well, all I can say is he had me fooled.