In September 2014, a Bitcointalk user going by the username of Ty13rDerden posted the final piece of a puzzle referred to as “The Legend of Satoshi.”
The puzzle consisted of a series of art pieces created by Rob Myers and coin_artist that, if you solved the mystery, could give you the private key of a wallet containing 4.87 bitcoins. Because people like puzzles and like the idea of getting a prize for solving an exceptionally difficult one, activity went on for months as Bitcointalk users attempted to solve the puzzle.
After a while, activity died down when no one was able to crack the puzzle. That could have been the end of it until, on the morning of February 1st, 2018, coin_artist discovered that the bitcoins in the wallet were gone. Somebody had solved the puzzle.
Who Solved The “Legend of Satoshi” Puzzle?
According to the available information, a 30-year-old programmer who prefers to go by the name of Isaac had heard of the puzzle a little over a month ago. He decided to try solving it even though, as he told a reporter for Motherboard, “It’s not safe to have Bitcoin in my country.”
During the process of solving the puzzle, he held several conversations with other puzzle players who may not have believed that he had actually solved it at first. However, his solution has been confirmed by coin_artist and he signed a message with a phrase that preceded the private key in the puzzle solution: “B34u7y, truth, and rarity.” The phrase is a reference to Shakespeare’s poem, “The Phoenix and the Turtle.”
What Inspired the Puzzle?
The time frame of “The Legend of Satoshi’s” release indicate that the idea came to the pair of artists not too long after the meltdown of Mt. Gox and the resulting precipitous drop in Bitcoin’s price. Coin_artist commented that she had also been also been going through a personal rough patch: “The painting was also created during the toughest part of the bear market and those original bitcoins I loaded into that address were half of everything I had to my name. It was essentially a prayer that things would get better.”
Coin_artist created the artwork and then worked with Myers to create a genius solution: The hidden message was split into two parts and encoded in the painting. Retrieving it meant extracting two pieces of data, one hidden in the flames flanking the edges and another hidden in the ribbons tied around the key in the bottom right corner.
The ribbons came in two lengths, long and short, which, when translated into binary code, would have translated into 1 and 0 respectively. Translating the ribbons led to the cipher for the rest of the puzzle, 011010.
The next step was to translate the private key in Wallet Import Format, a 52-character string of letters and numbers in Base 58 (all letters of the English alphabet in both upper and lower case, minus letters that could be mistaken for a numeral such as capital I and capital O, plus the numerals 1-9) into binary code. At the beginning of the binary code, the partners added the phrase “b34u7y, truth, and rarity” to act as a signal that the puzzle had been solved instead of just producing a nonsensical string of letters and numbers. The result was 76 characters rendered as 608 bits. The string of bits was divided into 6-bit chunks and run through an XOR operation. The results were then embedded in the flames with four bits in each flame.
In fact, the “Legend of Satoshi” puzzle solver Isaac had started with the hunch that the flames were an important part of solving the puzzle. At first, he thought it was code, and an XOR operation had occurred to him.
However, another person who goes by the name of Trinitas gave him the idea that the ribbons were another piece of the puzzle – and Isaac sent Trinitas 0.5 bitcoins for his help.
The Bitcoin community also reminded Isaac that, because the bitcoins had been sitting in the wallet since 2014 and there had been some forks such as Bitcoin Cash since then, Isaac could add to his prize if he was inclined to do so.