PAX USB Drive
This article does not refer to any USB drive containing IF promotional material, information, or games intended for beginners. Rather, it refers to a USB drive supposedly found in the IF suite at PAX East 2010, the files on this drive, or the puzzle involving it. The name PAX USB Drive was arbitrarilly chosen by the ifMUD user Jaybird when he created the ifMUD channel on which people discuss solving the puzzle.
On April 1, 2010, somebody uploaded the contents of a USB drive which had supposedly been left in the IF suite at PAX East 2010. This turned out to be a series of puzzles which, as of April 4, are not completely solved.
How it Began
Shortly after six o'clock Eastern time on the evening of April 1, 2010, a guest logged on to ifMUD. People log on as guests if they don't have an account, have forgotten or lost their username or password, or for any number of other reasons. This guest, however, had a different agenda. Following is a very brief log of the important things this guest said. This log has been edited down to include only the essentials for privacy reasons.
Guest1 says, "I unpacked my bag yesterday and I think someone lost their usb drive because I found it in there"
inky says, "ha ha"
Ellison says, "huh! maybe it was one of the SpeedIF usb things going around"
Guest1 says, "I took a picture of the usb drive, it looks dangerous"
Guest1 says, "And here are the files too, sorry to trouble you"
Guest1 says, "http://www.sendspace.com/file/66r5nn has everything, hope it gets back to its owner"
Guest1 says, "Oops got to go. Talk to you later"
The USB Drive
When downloaded and unzipped, you will find a picture of the USB drive, a bmp screenshot of a game, a "welcome.txt" with reference to @babyjarson, a Twitter screen name, two password-protected RAR archives, and two .par2 RAR parity files, which are used to reconstruct a corrupt RAR archive.
Cracking the Code
Within minutes of the initial announcement of the USB drive, people on ifMUD had cracked the two password-protected RAR archives.
The First RAR Archive
The user schep noticed that the picture of the USB drive itself had thirteen Wingdings characters. These characters translate to "INFOCOM" and six other characters. The six other characters are the password for the first RAR archive. Then, ScottG remarked that the screenshot contained in the BMP, accessible without a password, was from a game called "Todd's Adventures in Slime World." As it turns out, the characters that make up the password for the first RAR are the final cheat code for the normal mode of that game.
The Second RAR Archive
One of the items contained in the first RAR archive, and available once its password was cracked, was another BMP image, a screenshot of the same game as before. The ifMUD user Gunther noticed the presence of a timer in this screenshot, and noted that only one mode of this game, "suspense mode," has a time limit. People then attempted to open the second RAR with the cheat codes from suspense mode, with inky succeeding after trying the first code.
In case you are not familiar with "Todd's Adventures in Slime World" or otherwise just want to open the RAR archives, here are the passwords. The password for the first RAR is 8F0BC8, and the password for the second RAR is DD0114.
Cracking the first file, level1.rar, yields a second BMP image with a clue to the password for the second archive. See above for details. Each RAR yields a "Read Me" text file, supposedly from Infocom to their distributors, describing the wonders of their newest gaming products. Included in each archive is also a demo of a new game supposedly from Infocom. In the first case, the "new game" is a musical version of Zork I. Shortly after the game begins, a sharply-dressed man appears and taps you on the shoulder. This turns out to be Rick Astley, and a few turns later, he begins dancing and singing "Never Gonna Give You Up." When he's finished, he dances off into the sunset, and the game ends. This game is a Z-Code version 3 game, with a release number of 104, and a serial number of 880401.
The second game is a "Top Gun" adaptation of Seastalker. The word "adaptation" is used loosly here. The game has all people and location names changed, but play is, for the most part, identical to Seastalker. It does not start the way Seastalker normally starts, asking for the player's name. Instead, the game starts immediately. It also has a twenty-four-turn time limit, and some very strange bugs. It is a Z3, with release 104, serial number 870401.
The remaining puzzle concerns the .par2 files. These files are used to reconstruct a corrupt RAR archive. However, no corrupt RAR is included, and there aren't enough parity files included to reconstruct a RAR by themselves. The assumption is that there are other files somewhere on the Internet, and the currently known files contain clues to their whereabouts. However, playing the fake Infocom games, hacking out the turn limits where necessary, and even running them through various Z-code disassembly tools, has failed to provide any useful information.
The people trying to solve this puzzle are up against a brick wall of frustration at this point. There are a few possible leads which have not, as yet, been fully investigated.
- Both Z-code games have release number 104. This is almost certainly not a coincidence.
- Some very strange guests showed up on ifMUD on April 1. One talked about someone at PAX East 2010 with green hair, and the guest who posted this USB drive to Sendspace said he/she was the person with brown hair.
- It has been suggested that maybe the passwords to the RAR archives are RRGGBB values.