The alternate reality game Perplex City (PXC) is a real-life treasure hunt, a collaborative competition and an interactive mystery/conspiracy/adventure story, in the vein of "Alice in Wonderland", William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition", "the Da Vinci Code", 'The Game' starring Michael Douglas, and Kit Williams's "Masquerade".
Perplex City itself is the story of an alternate universe that is actually quite similar to our own. They have a precious artifact known as the Receda Cube, which has been stolen. The role of players is to become familiar with Perplex City culture, which is based on mental agility (whereas Earth would be physical), and eventually find the Cube.
This task is being put forth by the Perplex City Academy, run by Sente Kiteway. The Academy contacted Earth-based company Mind Candy, who have "sorted through the information provided" to produce puzzle cards for Earth players to solve. It isn't necessary to buy the cards to play the game, but they are a lot of fun.
There's a leaderboard on the website that primarily tracks the points for solving puzzle cards (400000+ cards solved so far, by over 30000 registered players as of June, 2006). The cards have been out in the UK since July of 2005, and they were recently picked up by multiple distributors in the UK and US. Some of these distributors are capable of shipping anywhere in the world. So far, three waves of 66 cards each have been released, with the fourth and final wave (totaling 256 cards) of season one anticipated before the end of 2006.
Puzzle cards are ranked by difficulty, with silver cards representing the most difficult puzzles. Of the cards that have been released, three silver cards remain unsolved, each posing a very difficult and unique problem.
One of the silver cards, "The Thirteenth Labour", requires unscrambling a block of text that has been encrypted using the RC5.64 standard first cracked by distributed.net. To do this, players have banded together and combined processing power to form a grid computing attack, not unlike the SETI at home program.
Yet another puzzle asks players to band together to devise a proof for the famously difficult Riemann Hypothesis.
In addition to card solving, Perplex City is a diverse, involved game that combines online activity with offline interaction:
- When a character needed credentials in a library to get access to a rare book, Earth players wrote short stories which were published by a Perplex City company and which is now available for sale on Earth.
- Another trail led from a woman's dying words to a London university, to movie theatres in Canada, to an automated phone system, to a turn-based multi-player online game, to a banner pulled by a plane in the skies of Manchester, to a live meeting where players solved puzzles together.
- After that live event, a mole that had been helping solve puzzles and interacting with players all day fled the scene and escaped in a black helicopter.
- At another recent event, players formed an impromptu 127-person long conga line in London's Trafalgar Square, stuffed themselves into phone booths and went on a treasure hunt in the National Gallery, all while texting trivia answers to a home base and receiving updates via SMS.
- Later that night, while riding the London Eye, players witnessed messages being flashed in Morse code from the banks of the River Thames
Will the Receda cube be found this year? Will you be the lucky one to solve the ultimate puzzle and take home the cash prize? There is only one way to find out.... play on.
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