What happens when you receive an email that looks like spam, smells like spam, and reads like spam, but isn’t flagged as spam? Why, you take it to the ARG community, of course! Starting the week of October 9th, several people began receiving strange emails from someone called “Jumping Spider”. The emails in and of themselves seemed very random and made no sense. They contained a portion of a story, gibberish text, and broken sentences. I received one of these emails, and were it not for the fact that it wasn’t selling a product, I may not have taken notice of it at all. But thankfully, others at the Unfiction forums reported receiving the same email.
The email’s subject read: “Zetria Atrian and the Sparrow-Clam“, and contained what looked to be the first portion of a short story about a girl named Zetria, who in a dreamlike setting, watched a sparrow land softly on a sandy shore and turn into a clam, with which she began a fairly philosophical conversation, before it burrowed away.
The latter part of the email contains inconveniently cut lines of text that appears to be snipped from a chat session. And, amongst the narrative and the disjointed text, the email contains strings of random characters. It was quickly determined that the not-so-random characters are encoded in ROT-17 (see here for a brief explanation of ROT coding) and, when decoded, revealed what can only be described as computer commands, such as MAILSTART, FILELOAD, TRANSFERERROR, COREDUMP, and so on . It appears that whoever this “Jumping Spider” is, the emails are being created by some form of software, sending out portions of various texts.
Most bogglingly, however, is a code that’s appearing in each email, containing 12 characters – 3 sets of one number between 0 and 3, and three letters.
Shortly after the first email was received, more reports came in of emails in the same style, but containing different portions of the story, conversation, and different codes. Within days, new reports came in from a few people who received postcards – the initial connection to the emails being through one postcard with a hand-drawn picture of an object that was described in the email containing the second portion of the story. So far, twelve unique pictures have been noted on the backs of the postcards. The fronts of the postcards, identical on every card, contain a number of well-made codes and puzzles that remain unsolved. The postcards were postmarked October 9th – the date the first email was received.
Since then, numerous postcards have been received, and the story – The Book of Minimer Randibone – has come together. Its purpose, however, remains a mystery, along with the strange imagery and events described therein. The conversation is nearly complete: it’s an exchange between two people — Alvyurin and Jedditor, speculated to be discussing the same email communications being received by players.
While no real-time interaction has yet occurred, The Book of Minimer Randibone may promise to be an intriguing Chaotic Fiction. Already, many aspects of the game — the high quality of the postcards being mailed to people, the imaginitive, creative writing and the unsolved mysteries and puzzles (and as a bonus – numerous references to bees, honey,
SPDR sorry, spiders, and hexagons) — indicates that the game has promise, and hopefully soon, more elements will be introduced as it progresses to turn it into a full-fledged ARG.