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|A promotional ARG that led to a game called Sandship.|
The Lesser Petroleum ARG was created by Rockbite Games to promote their upcoming title code-named "Project Sandship". Players of the Rockbite mining game Deeptown discovered that visiting an asteroid called "AS66" would present the player with a link to a Twitter account called "sweatingdark" which links to the ARGs main site lesserpetroleum.com.
Deeptown screenshot of message received after visiting asteroid AS66.
Lesser Petroleum Private Network
Having found the Twitter account and then the primary site multiple Reddit threads were created beginning on Oct. 10, 2018 sparking interest in the ARG. Upon visiting the site players were prompted to enter an email address and password to create an account.
After registering and confirming receipt of a sign-up email players were dropped into a command line environment resembling a Unix shell under a user account called "jonah".
The help text in the shell provides the following information.
[email protected]:~$ help clear - clears console window help - list of all terminal commands list - lists files in current working directory read [file_name] - shows contents of text file view [file_name] - shows contents of image file play [file_name] - plays audio file su [user_name] [password] - switches user to another one (will ask for password) cipher [string] - encodes a string with mysterious cipher (v.1.0)
The list, read, view, and play commands allow players to examine files available to the current user. Players progress by using the "su" command to move into new accounts.
The cipher command accepts certain characters as input and produces an encoded output. Players have observed that it seems to accept only lower case ASCII characters, but not all of them. Specifically vowels (including "y") and the letters "x" and "z" are rejected.
Complete table of encodings:
- b => 13y
- c => 1n
- d => 22d
- e => Vowels are not supported in version 1.0
- f => 26s
- g => 19l
- h => 2n
- i => Vowels are not supported in version 1.0
- j => 757e
- k => 536d
- l => 8y
- m => 15s
- n => 14o
- o => Vowels are not supported in version 1.0
- p => 3r
- q => 357y
- r => 55s
- s => 11s
- t => 6o
- u => Vowels are not supported in version 1.0
- v => 880y
- x => Parameter is not valid. Some of the characters are not decodable. Please try something else.
- y => Vowels are not supported in version 1.0
- z => Parameter is not valid. Some of the characters are not decodable. Please try something else.
Combinations of any valid characters can be encoded but only one word at a time.
[email protected]:~$ cipher lssrptrlm 8y11s11s55s3r6o55s8y15s
[email protected]:~$ cipher bc df You can decode only one word at a time.
No further instructions are provided but any input the system does not understand suggests players use the help command which provides some guidance. Exploring the available commands players quickly discovered that the home directory of the "jonah" user contained several files which can be examined.
[email protected]:~$ list 0001.txt contacts.txt lp_mail_0042.txt lp_poster.png ss_mail_008.txt
[email protected]:~$ read 0001.txt 12 32 35 21 44
[email protected]:~$ read contacts.txt Username: jonah First Name: Jonah Phone: 0-553-80373-5 Position: Lab Assistant Username: snail First Name: Elias Phone: 0-553-80370-0 Position: -classified- Username: paul First Name: Paul Address: 80 E. 11th St. New York 3, N.Y Phone: 0-553-80371-9 Position: PR Username: hermann First Name: Hermann Last Name: M. Address: -classified- Phone: 0-553-80372-7 Position: Chief Scientist at Severskaya UHS
[email protected]:~$ read lp_mail_0042.txt From: Lesser Petroleum Date: 08.18.1986 Hermann is messing around again from his cold hideout. He modified the security system.. again. With all his crazy puzzles, Nuts like his brother. Just letting you know that file permissions are changed, and basically we can’t see the Severskaya lab results till this is resolved. I was hoping you can help. Good Luck. Jonah Eves Lab Assistant at LP
[email protected]:~$ read ss_mail_008.txt From: Station Severskaya Date: 08.17.1986 Think you are better than me? Security system my ass!!! You want answers? I want entertainment. Figure it out, or you get no lab results from severaskaya till next year. And by the way, sending a plane here to punch me in the face will cost like - gazillion, so good luck with that. Cheers, H. M
It was noted that the "phone numbers" in the contacts.txt file are actually ISBN numbers for several classic Isaac Asimov novels.
- 0553803735 = Second Foundation (Jonah's telephone number)
- 0553803700 = I, Robot (Elias' telephone number)
- 0553803719 = Foundation (Paul's telephone number)
- 0553803727 = Foundation And Empire (Hermann's telephone number)
While the contacts and mail files set the scene the Greek writing in the background of the poster and the contents of 0001.txt pointed players to attempt use of a Polybius square. The arrangement of black dots in white squares in the bottom right corner gives the set up for a non-standard Polybius square which, given the digits in 000.txt, decodes to multiple possible solutions.
blpft blpfu blpfv bmpft bmpfu bmpfv
Further guesswork showed that using the "mysterious" cipher command exhaustively on these potential solutions in combination with the `su` command resulted in access to the "snail" account.
[email protected]:~$ cipher bmpfv 13y15s3r26s880y [email protected]:~$ su snail 13y15s3r26s880y You have successfully logged in as snail. [email protected]:~$
The home directory of Elias's account presented players with a new set of files, including the first audio file, a voicemail message.
[email protected]:~$ list dcim001.png findings01.txt notes.txt voice_mail_01.mp3
[email protected]:~$ read findings01.txt Hey Jonah, if it's you... The spectrum might come in handy later, no reason to use it now. Paul is important, I'll wait you there. It's brutally simple.. as is.
[email protected]:~$ read notes.txt Centuries would yet pass before the mighty works of fifty generations of humans would decay past use. Only the declining powers of men, themselves, rendered them useless now. The millions left after the billions had died tore up the gleaming metal base of the planet and exposed soil that had not felt the touch of sun in a thousand years. Surrounded by the mechanical perfections of human efforts, encircled by the industrial marvels of mankind freed of the tyranny of environment.
The findings01.txt file revealed that players are taking on the role of Jonah the lab assistant and suggests that Elias is an ally providing guidance. The contents of the notes.txt file were another Asimov reference, an excerpt from book two of the Foundation series "Foundation and Empire".
The voicemail file contained a distorted recording of a mans voice talking about seeing snails.
Transcript: "I keep seeing snails everywhere, as if they all now only move towards me. Maybe all of this is just in my head but whenever I go <inaudible>. It's just crazy. I didn't say which is the one. Dad."
Several players noted that this speech was reminiscent of the recording of Colonel Kurtz's monologue about watching a snail on a straight razor from the film Apocalypse Now. The first tweet from the trailhead account also alluded to the immortal snail meme which describes being pursued by snails.
Noting the suggestion that "the spectrum might come in handy later" players generated a spectrogram of this audio file and discovered a series of numbers hidden within.
Numbers: 46, 178, 23, 56, 89, 23, 117, 52, 85,42, 1, 87, 134, 98,222, 213, 30, 59, 38, 168.
The numbers did not have any obvious use immediately.
The file continued the snail theme showing a slightly distorted image of a snail on a leaf with some slight discolorations suggesting symbols.
After cleaning up the image symbols for a Pigpen code were revealed which yielded the message: "snailhascometotwelve".
With this information in hand and the suggestion from Elias that "It's brutally simple. As is." it was quickly found that no cipher was required to access the next account.
[email protected]:~$ su paul snailhascometotwelve You have successfully logged in as paul. [email protected]:~$
A new set of files were present.
[email protected]:~$ list cipher.gif findings02.txt hm_mail02.txt
[email protected]:~$ read findings02.txt Hey Jonah, if it's you... The spectrum nums proved to be useful, they seem to "fix things". First the image, but I think I can repurpose them for this... Rightshift caesar with alphabetically self and globally rotational key, which is the spectrum. Mm... A is 1, and Z is 26, remember? In case you forgot the alphabet... again. mjxmw uaz dxqy ys... wkh fg'z bup ogsbf ndxx pcejygrg qmewfql. m cvgbhfm nvnw ftcjd lybua drtbsw he qaip.. im b aifi jaznwfrd k vh i, hmiu kiq nfpg pwoxvy ylhf qkoh.
[email protected]:~$ read hm_mail02.txt There is a rat hole in space that, it seems, does not pay its taxes.
The file cipher.gif contained an animation with scrambled letters similar to the coded message in the findings02.txt file.
Text: qApeDnVixD buZGl VoRy
Despite the suggestion of the use of a caesar cipher which maps one letter to another this message was determined to be a variation where each letter was individually shifted along the alphabet in reverse (wrapping around when needed) corresponding to the numbers found in the spectrogram with the numbers repeated many times to cover all 166 characters in the message.
Eg. the first character in the coded message is "m" and the first number is 46, working backwards from "m" towards "a" and wrapping back through "z" 46 times yields the letter "s". Repeating this process revealed the complete message.
snail has come to... and it's all about that specific chapter. i figured this thing about cipher as well.. if a word contains x or z, then you just ignore that word.
This process did not reveal anything intelligible from the text of the cipher.gif file.
The beginning of the decoded message refers to the "snailhascometotwelve" solution of the previous puzzle and the contents of the hm_mail02.txt file is another excerpt from the novel Foundation and Empire (complete text freely available here), this time specifically from chapter 12. The complete line of dialogue from the character Captain Han Pritcher to Mayor Indbur reads:
"Excellence, there is a rat hole in space that, it seems, does not pay its taxes."
The filename "cipher.gif" and the reference to ignoring words which include "x" or "z" suggested that the next step involved the cipher command however as of this writing (Oct 16, 2018) a solution is not publicly known.