The *Finished Search for a Man Named Satoshi

Do you know this man?

Laura: Can you hear me?

Asher: Yeah, can you hear me?

Laura: Yeah!

Laura: My whole life I’ve been interested in detective stories. I still have the book I was obsessed with as a kid, The Young Detective’s Handbook, which taught you fingerprinting techniques and deductive reasoning sorts of things. My whole life never been able to get enough of that stuff. It’s certainly a fundamental part of my makeup to want to solve things.

Laura: Uhh, 2006? 10 years ago. I did think it was going to be a lot faster, here we are 10 years later or however long, and it hasn’t been solved. I was confident at the time it was gonna be possible. Cause you know I had all the time in the world as a student to mess around with that stuff.

Asher: The fact that ten years on it’s not solved…

Laura: I know.

Asher: Do you ever go to sleep at night and think “where is he?”

Laura: Sometimes, I have not forgotten it. I do think about it sometimes.

Laura: It’s a selfie, and he’s standing in front of a Germanic looking river and houses.

Laura: Down the side in Japanese it says “find me.”

#256: Billion to One. The Satoshi card.

Laura: At the time the game was live, there was a hint line you could receive one hint for each card. The hint for this one was “My name is Satoshi”. And that’s it — that’s all the info you’re given. The creators said it was an experiment in six degrees of separation, was it possible to harness social networks to locate this person.

Laura: Are you familiar with the genre of Alternate Reality Games that used to be a thing? Probably not, it’s very niche.

Laura: called “Perplex City”, which is one of these Alternate Reality Games.

Laura: That were basically online treasure hunts, presented as a mystery story online, with websites and characters you’d interact with and so on,

Laura: There’s no, it blurs the line between your life and the game, it’s asking you to accept this level of immersion. And then you get like, I’d say 100 people who are super deep into it. The number of active players is very small, but for those people, and I’m one of those people, the experience is incredibly deep and filters into everything.

Some of the puzzle cards from Perplex City. There were 256 in total, the solutions to which would lead to a cube buried somewhere in the world.

Adrian: which were the core of Perplex City, and you would buy these puzzle cards in stores/online and they would each have a puzzle on them.

Adrian: I joined at the start, I was the first employee at Mind Candy I think.

Adrian: I’d always wanted to make games.

Adrian: Which has nothing to do with games. And even though i was doing my PhD in neuroscience, I always had it in my head that I wanted to go make games. I remember there was a day in the lab when I was, during period doing half working at Mind Candy in spare time, and half working on my PhD, and I had a bad day, someone had a go at me for using their syringe or something, I thought “you know what? I could do something else more fun. If it doesn’t work, I can go back and do my Ph.D. And the reason why I got approached to work at Mind Candy was simply because if you typed in “alternate reality game” in the UK, my name came up. So I sort of positioned myself, I engineered it, not in a bad way, I’d just been writing about it for four years, people would want to talk to me about making these things.

Adrian: No, I’m not good at solving puzzles. I don’t even like puzzles that much, and I think that actually helps in making puzzles, certain kinds. I get frustrated with puzzles. I’m not the sort of person who would buy puzzle books, so that does make me strange because I’m the game designer but it helped because it meant I didn’t want to do 20 word searches, that’d be so boring, I want to make every single one, 256 puzzles were made, to be unique, and you know not being super into normal puzzles helps with that because you want to try new things.

Adrian: I remember to find interesting people we put an advert in the newspaper and it was just in code. I mean the whole thing, the whole advertisement was in code. There was no call us at this number, just in code. Everyone got really excited about it, thought it was an advert for MI5 or something.

Asher: How did you come up with all those?

Adrian: I didn’t come up with all of them. I think I came up with half of them. I think if you do nothing but try and come up with puzzle ideas for like 6 months you’ll come up with some decent ones. Some of them were pretty derivative, despite what I said about wanting to change things, but some of them I’m really proud of, were really original.

Asher: Which ones in particular?

Adrian: My favourite… I can’t remember what it was called.

Adrian: and it was based on voice spectrographs. And really good scientists can look at a voice spectrograph and figure out roughly what you’re saying from this picture, I thought it’d be cool to do a puzzle show voice spectrograph and you’d have to work out what it is. For this particular one, we drew the voice spectrograph as a contour map. People thought it was a place, because that’s what it looked like. Everyone sent themselves crazy trying to work out where it was. We just watched these people saying “where is it? Where is it?” someone finally figured it out. That one took a few months for people to figure out. I was pleased with that one because it was satisfying, they solved it, no clues or words, that was it.

#240: Elucidate

Adrian: From red, orange, yellow, blah blah blah, all the way up to black and then silver, and silver were the rare cards and also extremely difficult cards to solve.

Asher: I hear about the Riemann Hypothesis was one of them, there was 13th labour, Shuffled, there’s a few more. Do these ring a bell?

Adrian: Yeah, oh yeah. I mean, you know the first three are ridiculous, the Riemann hypothesis is a silly puzzle, not something our players would solve, it’s a very difficult mathematical problem.

Asher: Can you tell me story behind that card?

Adrian: I wasn’t the one who came up with this idea, although I think I was around when we talked about it, and we thought what would it be like if we just took a photo of someone and you had to go and find him? And this guy was called Satoshi, and if you found him then I think you would solve it. I can’t remember what would happen when you found him, but something probably. And because it was one of these silver cards, we thought it doesn’t really matter if people find him or not, but we actually thought that people would, because of the internet we thought it would catch people’s attention, and did catch attention but it was difficult and as it turned out to date too difficult.

Asher: Do you happen to know where or who he is?

Adrian: I did know, and I think I’ve forgotten. I know I could find out quite easily if I asked someone.

Asher: Cause someone knows.

Adrian: It’s a friend of someone. It’s a friend of someone.

Asher: Must be fun to sit back and watch people work it out.

Adrian: Yeah, it’s fun it’s also frustrating, because you’d just be watching forum thinking “Almost got it! Almost got it! No, don’t do that thing!” so it was fun but a bit strange.

Asher: Do you know Laura by the way?

Adrian: Yeah, yeah I know Laura.

Asher: You do? Because she was saying it’s a small world, this puzzle solving group.

Adrian: Yeah it is.

Laura: Yeah, the puzzle community is very small. This game went on for so long, you just get to know everyone in general. I eventually started dating someone who had worked there, and friends with a bunch of people.

Asher: And do they know who Satoshi is?

Laura: Yes.

Asher: What’s that like knowing that this ten year search, this person is right there and they know the answer.

Laura: I would be so upset if they were to just tell me. So mad. It’s funny though, cause at what point do we say hey give us a hint? But you know what, no, I don’t want any hints. I want it to be the purpose of it to find this guy without help.

Laura: Yeah, I mean the internet is so different now. My approach now I think would be different and more methodical, maybe even less reliant on the internet than before.

I was thinking of other things to try. Here’s what I got:

I don’t suppose anyone works for the CIA, FBI, Interpol, etc.. or knows someone who does. I bet you could do a pretty good face search in a place like that. Well, assuming you worked in the right area and didn’t mind risking your job and possible federal prison time.

Adrian: It is, I mean that was the idea. The thing with six degrees for most people is you know you go “how far are you from Kevin Bacon?” So you know the person you’re trying to find, you know who they are. Right? What we’re saying is here’s a picture of someone, and I’m sure most of our players would find themselves only 3 or 4 degrees of separation from this guy. But you’re not going to send around this photo to everyone you know, force them to look at it, and then force them to show their friends and have them show their friends. It might work in theory, but convincing people is another thing.

Not every Japanese guy with hair brushed down on his forehead is a potential answer, gang.

Laura: people were hassling Asian men who may or may not have been named Satoshi. I was in contact with a lot of them, because anytime someone emailed me a tip I would write to them and explain what was going on, and they would say “I had no idea why I was getting these emails!” And none of these people were the guy of course. But they were inundated with people trying to reach out and contact them who were not explaining what was going on.

Asher: So, your name comes up a couple times, people are theorizing, people are saying, maybe Adrian knows Satoshi, … .

Adrian: I don’t know why they would think that, no, I mean it wasn’t me, I’m surprised it was that difficult for people. It depends, there wasn’t any big reward for that card, and people knew it wasn’t relevant to the story. If we said if you find him we’ll give you 100,000 pounds, he would be found. But no, I can confirm it wasn’t me, that’s for sure. Yeah, I mean I’m not going to say any more. I don’t know where he is now, so I don’t know how useful I can be.

Adrian: Oh, Bitcoin.

Asher: Yeah, Bitcoin.

Asher: one of them’s saying, and you can confirm or deny or not, that Mind Candy knew about Bitcoin ahead of time —

Adrian: If Mind Candy knew about Bitcoin ahead of time, we’d be much richer than we are now. Yeah… no, we’re not that good. That’d be fun.

Adrian: Yeah, we made these puzzles to be solved, apart ones that obviously can’t be solved like Riemann hypothesis. So I don’t think we ever really tried to fool people. Sometimes there are red herrings, but these puzzles were made to be solved, and I feel bad when I see people run into dead ends, and of course you have people speculate that “maybe it’s someone who Adrian knows!” and that’s natural, I would do that as well, but I think people can get stuck on that a bit too much.

The houses don’t look asian, more like european, and the hills might help too.

He’s wearing a scarf and overcoat too, it’s cold. I say Germany or Holland.

As for where the picture was taken, I would think Germany, since it looks like that pretty much everywhere in the more rural parts… but it might as well be in Austria, Switzerland, France or even somewhere in the UK.

Laura: it put that person in a specific location in a specific context, so that was the first piece of information.

Laura: I’ve stood on the location where his selfie was taken. That’s a weird story too!

Asher: Yeah, tell me about that.

Laura: Yeah, my job, at the time I was living in Dallas, TX, just completely randomly one of the companies we worked with was having a conference in France in this region that they wanted me to make presentation at and I was looking at it and I noticed how close it was to the location, and I was like “hey boss, I need you to drive me to this place and look for this thing,” and they were totally game. It was completely random that it was there, completely random that I was asked to go, and just like my boss’ willingness to humour me at the time was the reason I was able to do that. I’d never seen photographs there of anyone else who was ever looking. It’s out of the way.

Asher: small town right?

Laura: Yeah, near the border. Wine country sort of place.

Asher: Do you remember what it was like when you walk on that bridge and stand on that spot?

Laura: Yeah, there’s lots of bridges in that town so we spent a little bit of time hunting for it, and I think it was my boss who said “No, this is it,” we got the picture, we were trying to compare it. He was a professional photographer too so he helped position me to get the right angle to match as close as possible. It’s very surreal though, for something that, I’ve got the physical puzzle card, right, it’s printed out, but that’s the only tangible piece of it, otherwise it’s completely, it doesn’t even exist online except for the website, only in our heads and our desire to find this person. So to have this tangible piece of it in standing in that location is funny and interesting.

Asher: Did you feel a clue from the universe?

Laura: I wish. It would make it so much easier.

Asher: It’s

Laura: Is the animated one on there, where it’s from me to the guy to me and back?

Laura’s photo taken on the same exact place as Satoshi’s.

Asher: Oh here it is, yeah. It’s lined up so well. It’s the exact spot.

Laura: Right? Maybe I did absorb some of the molecules in the air or something.

Asher: Could be. Maybe the next game they’ll release “find Laura.”

Laura: Maybe in a quantum sense we’re probably connected, like we’ve mingled in some way.

Asher: You’ve probably breathed in his air!

Laura: Yeah. Haha, find Laura…

Asher: It’ll be on the same spot, and it will say “find Laura”.

The location of Satoshi’s photo in Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.
Bliss, aka “that Windows XP wallpaper.” Photo by Charles O’Rear.

Asher: When you’re doing something like finding Satoshi, that’s a game that was designed by people, and so you have to think about how people design puzzles to solve a puzzle. How have you encountered that since you’ve been into this whole thing?

Laura: It actually took a long time to think of myself as puzzle designer. With puzzle hunts and ARGs and things like that, a lot of the solving also comes down to knowing the mind of the creator. It’s certainly an advantage to know how the puzzle is constructed.

So as someone who refuses to give up, I’m still in this. …

To this day, I believe the best lead we ever had was discovering the location of the picture.

Asher: Once the cube was found in I think 2007, that was a long time, the game went on for a couple years.

Adrian: It was only meant to take 12 months.

Asher: It went on a lot longer than you guys thought.

Adrian: That was a problem, there were a lot of problems.

Asher: Any others in particular come to mind?

Adrian: Well there were many. I should say that none of us really knew what we were doing. Which is true of most people in life so I don’t feel particularly bad about that. But this was a new thing. And I think Michael, the founder of Mind Candy, had a brilliant idea with Perplex City, but we did a lot of things poorly, one of them was it was quite difficult to get into the game when it started, you’d get to the website and think “What is going on? I don’t understand what any of these things are? Do I have to read 100,000 words to get up to speed?”

I think in some respects the game was too early, because it was difficult for it to gain traction and people weren’t as used to buying stuff over the internet as they are now, but I think people really like it, so overall it made a big impression on people. I think if you were interested in those games back in 2000 and back in 2004, then, obviously you’re amazing, no, obviously what it means is that you have a certain interest in a certain kind of thing and you were lucky enough to be on the internet when it was quite a small world, and that meant that I met quite all sorts of interesting people, in a way that doesn’t quite happen the same way now, not to say the internet was better then, but I remember back then that it was cool to meet anyone from the internet, it was quite unusual to use the internet a lot.

I keep on meeting people 9 years on, 10 years on, from the game and I meet people all over the world, not all the time, but at interesting places. I was at this dinner in San Francisco after a talk I gave, and there were these two geneticists sitting next to me, and she comes over and she says “you know, before we sit down I want to tell you I really liked Perplex City, I was a player of it,” and I was like “wow, this is amazing!” And I think there was a certain type of person who played it, because this was pre-Facebook kind of, pre-Twitter, pre-iPhone, earlier in the life cycle of the internet, still felt quite strange and new.

Asher: Well I was reading a little about Perplex City season two. Is that gonna happen?

Adrian: Not as far as I know. We made a lot of it. That’s pretty sad, we had all the cards… did we sell the cards? I think we sold some of the cards, and it got canceled.

Adrian: You know the 10th anniversary of the cube being found is coming up next year, and maybe something will happen, we’ll see. Not a whole new game. But we might do something to commemorate it.

Asher: Well I endorse that, I think it should happen. It’d be cool if someone found Satoshi on the 10th anniversary.

Adrian: I can’t promise that.

Adrian: I don’t think you can ever really underestimate power of internet, the power of crowd, but the problem is whether they’re sufficiently interested, and there are plenty of problems out there that the crowd can solve but they can’t be bothered. It’s not that people are not interested in Find Satoshi, but this is a hard problem. And if we did it again now I suspect we might have a bit more luck, but we’ll see.

Laura: I do not think anybody is actively pursuing it. It has been posted to reddit before, but there’s never really any response. I mean for it to capture collective imagination is a separate thing. To make people want to do it.

Laura: I would love for it to be done. There are a lot of factors that make it possible. If he lies in an English speaking country it would be possible for me personally to find him, but yeah, I will not give up hope. As time has passed I’ve gotten busy, and it’s difficult to get reengaged because it takes so much time.

Asher: It’s just one of those things that needs closure. And the longer it goes on, ten years? The longer it goes on the more satisfying closure will be.

Laura: That would be great. The irony is that would be news story rather than hunt.

Asher: Naturally.

Asher: Does it surprise you that he hasn’t been found?

Adrian: I mean I think it’s hard now, probably, because there are fewer people looking and he looks different. You know, that’s all you have is his name. I mean, I dunno, if reddit suddenly got interested he could probably be found very quickly, or whatever people use in Japan for reddit, if that’s where it is. Oh no, did I give a clue? I don’t know whether he is in Japan actually, I could be wrong about that.

Laura: It’s an enduring mystery. We’re sort of in a time of storytelling that embraces gray area. There’s a nice quote about puzzle solving is like scratching an itch? So in terms of giving hints to people you want to let them scratch the itch themselves because it triggers that level of satisfaction. So maybe this is a nice way of framing the world in such a way that there could be, it’s black and white, there’s a conclusion possible, it’s just out there somewhere.

Asher: That’s exactly right, there is, there’s a Satoshi out there right now, just eating a sandwich somewhere.

Laura: Waiting!

Asher: Waiting for someone. And we’re talking about him right now, he doesn’t even know it. It’s this ongoing unknown, to think that Satoshi is somewhere right now, right now, doing his thing, maybe even forgets, he’s there somewhere!

Laura: We were told by the CEO of the company at the time that he had a passphrase that only he knows, so it’s possible to still find him and ask for the passphrase and confirm it with the people who worked on it. I can’t give up hope.

Asher: You’ve gotta keep it alive! Keep the website up, maybe one day you’ll get an email from Satoshi.

Laura: They told us that even if he sees that stuff somebody has to directly reach out and contact him. So it is completely possible that he has come across it. Wouldn’t you look for it if you were him? I certainy would, I would wonder about that forever.

Asher: It’d be an interesting existence. Going about your daily life and in the back of your head, you know there’s a group of people looking for you at all times.

Laura: This sounds creepy, but I’ve studied his photograph in detail, he has distinctive facial markings, the shape of his ear and earlobe are one of the best ways to distinguish between persons, cause his hair could be different, he could have facial hair, or he could be wearing glasses, or whatever, but ears and moles and stuff are gonna be the key thing. So what if one day I’m sitting in an airport and I look over and that’s the ear! It’s possible.

Asher: If that happens, okay Laura you’re in Portland International Airport, and you’re sitting in your chair waiting for your plane to leave, and you see someone that looks really familiar and you look up and you see it’s Satoshi. What would you do? Do you have a plan?

Laura: I would probably pass out! No, I would ask what the code is.

Asher: Would you ask if he was Satoshi first?

Laura: Yeah of course, politely in a non creepy way when I got control of myself.

Asher: As unlikely as it is, I do hope that’s how he’s found.

Laura: That would be the best.

Asher: I hope you bump into him somewhere. You deserve to find him and it should be somewhere random just at a place, on a sidewalk, at an airport.

Laura: That would be fabulous. It would make my life.

Asher: It could happen.

Laura: Never say never. They say if you spend enough time in Trafalgar Square in London you’ll run into someone you know.

Asher: Yeah, with enough people passing through. I really hope you find him, I think you should find him.

Laura: Maybe this will get people excited to contribute. It’s not something I can do on my own.

Asher: That’s right. It’s just so, it really captured my imagination as well when I first heard about it, and it makes me want to find him too. It’s interesting cause there’s this one guy, and it could have been anyone, but it happened to be Satoshi. I want to find him.

Laura: I do hope. I’m looking at all the stuff. There’s not a lot of recent things. This is what’s funny, too. It’s odd that in the meantime nobody else has sort of taken it up. Maybe it is my quest. You know? I need to draw up the weapon once more.

[It makes you] wonder how many people you have randomly seen in your lifetime. There’s a billion to one chance you’ve already seen [Satoshi].


Laura: If you’re in portland come visit our escape room game! It’s called 60 Minutes to Escape.

Adrian: That was a completely different kind of thing, we came up with idea with Naomi Alterman, lead writer for Perplex City.

Do you know this man?



Writer & Video Producer.

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