On April 16th, the first three keys to a global scavenger hunt with a million dollar prize were released. To win Satoshi’s Treasure, players must chase after 1,000 keys with clues scattered across the world. The first individual or team to assemble 400 of these keys will be able to stitch them together using Shamir’s Secret Sharing Scheme to claim the private key to a Bitcoin wallet, and control over the hefty sum.
Finding the First Keys
The first three keys were released in dramatic fashion: on the SatoshisTreasure.xyz website, the following clue was posted on April 15th:
The first of one thousand, they are hidden in locations around the earth, in places where many dwell and one with only a small number of inhabitants. These locations can be discovered by monitoring the output of the primitive orbitals known in your time as GALAXY18, EUTELSAT 113, TELSTAR 11N, and TELSTAR18V at 1PM EST, APRIL 14th in the year 2019.
Searching for those “primitive orbitals” turned up Blockstream’s Satellite network, which provides a service that lets users pay to send messages via satellite to receivers trained to listen to them. A good Samaritan posted the message to an encrypted PasteBin alternative, revealing a series of GPS coordinates for locations around the world, and instructions to appear at noon, local time on April 16th. When I went to the Times Square location, the first key was wrapped around a QR code on a sandwich board a man was wearing.
Scanning the QR code leads to a page asking for the passphrase, and entering the phrase unlocks the first key fragment, along with puzzle-themed quotes.
In a recent newsletter post, Satoshi’s Treasure co-creator and face of the game Eric Meltzer notes,
People showed up to the 10 spots we indicated around the world where keys would appear en masse—some drove over 3 hours to get to a spot. Others figured out how to brute force the encryption we used and solved the clues without having to travel (something which we hoped would happen, but thought would take weeks—in reality it took 30 minutes..)
People are forming teams, talking strategy, speculating on the value of keys and where the next clues will show up… and our hypothesis that Bitcoin and cryptography enable a new type of online/offline game experience seems to be getting validated. Subreddits are being created. Telegram groups are forming. Our poor mongoDB is getting hammered with signups. We’re all a bit exhausted after this first day, but we’re also incredibly excited to see what people do with the next set of clues.
The Times Square location had one player travel from Virginia to find out what was going to happen, and one enterprising team got to the location early to post flyers with QR codes driving to a recruitment page for their particular crew. As for the brute-forcing, John Cantrell released a write-up of his process solving the first three keys without needing to travel to the locations, making the initial set available to everyone committed enough to read through the post.
A Game of Trust, and Hints of Things to Come
The first three keys were released publicly with little fanfare. But in an interview with the Citizen Bitcoin podcast, Meltzer explains one of the challenges of Satoshi’s Treasure that will likely unfold as the game progresses, explaining “there’s a really tricky problem with this…if you want to join a team, you actually have to prove that you have keys they don’t, but you don’t want to reveal the keys.” Rather than relying on players to develop tools to manage this verification process, Meltzer and the team behind the hunt will be releasing a tool in the coming weeks that will let players prove that they have keys without revealing the keys themselves. However, since this challenge is as much about collecting people capable of finding future keys as it is about collecting already uncovered keys, that will only solve part of the challenge here. During the podcast, Meltzer also provides a brief explanation of two test hunts conducted on the MIT and USC campuses to work out the more obvious gameplay bugs before going global. Vestiges of these hunts remain on the @ToshiTreasure Twitter account, for those who are curious.
When DARPA ran its Red Balloon Network Challenge in 2009, the MIT Media Lab won by creating a referral-based incentive structure reminiscent of pyramid schemes for the first person to find the locations of 10 red weather balloons scattered across the country, with smaller payouts made to individuals who referred them into the system. The winning team explained that additional manual analysis was needed to separate the wheat from the chaff by identifying patterns in how multiple parties submitted location data from real locations versus faked attempts at throwing the team off their trail.
The hunt is still young, so it’s almost impossible to say what types of challenges will be thrown at players: however, the game’s rules page provides a few hints of what’s to come, with a strong focus on conduct in public places implying the trend of location-specific key drops is likely to continue, although “the general public will never suspect they are in the presence of a Key”. The Rules do instruct players that clues will never be hidden on private property, and that finding clues in publicly accessible locations will never involve breaking or destroying objects. Should players be caught destroying clues to interfere with other teams, the Satoshi’s Treasure team may make that key public, along with any other keys the clan or player has gathered along the way.
Help Finally Solve a Satoshi-Themed Challenge
In 2005, the alternate reality game Perplex City released a card named “Billion to One”, asking players to track down a man named Satoshi with only a first name and a photograph from his vacation in Kaysersberg, France as clues. That mystery remains unsolved, almost 15 years later. Five years later, a different Satoshi played a formative role in developing Bitcoin, before retreating further from the public eye. His location and identity has also remained secret for over a decade. Neither of these Satoshi-related “puzzles” are likely to be solved in the near future. But with a sizable prize on the line and hundreds of clues designed to be found, Satoshi’s Treasure is likely going to find its way into capable hands.
To sign up for updates when new clues to Satoshi’s Treasure drop, go to the game’s website and follow @ToshiTreasure on Twitter. Multiple groups are playing this online, including the “Secret” Escape Room Enthusiasts Slack channel (the link to join can be found on The Codex).