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On July 11th, 2012, Redditor delverofsecrets submitted a post titled “Today, a homeless looking man handed me $50 and this note. Do any of you have any idea what it means?” which linked to a photograph of a cryptic note that the OP (original poster) apparently received from a mysterious man on the 1 train in Manhattan, New York City.
Dear Reddit, I work in NYC, and was dragged into a very curious situation today. I was taking the 1 train from midtown to the financial district and as usual, the train was pretty packed. I bumped into a raggedy dressed man as we got on and he shot me a quick smile. I though nothing of it until he went to get off at 14th street and he handed me a $50 bill along with a note. Before I could even open my mouth to ask him a question, he was gone. Below you find pictures of both the front and back of the note.
The post instantly sparked a lengthy discussion about the nature of the code and reached the front page of Reddit with more than 30,000 up votes in less than 24 hours. It was subsequently cross-posted to Reddit’s /r/cryptography and the image was verified as a cryptic code by multiple accounts. Less than two hours later, Redditor SirSpam28 identified the code as a Bifid Cipher that substitues alphabet letter G’s with A’s and provided the translation:
There’s plenty more money to make figure this out and prepare to meet July 19th, Fifty Six and Sixth. There’s a hot dog stand outside Rue57 cafe. Ask for Mr. Input.
Rumors of Viral Marketing
As the peculiar story continued to get more bizarre, some Redditors began speculating the possibility of a viral marketing scheme for the upcoming Batman movie Dark Knight Rises on the basis that it is scheduled for release on the same date, July 19th. Others also supported the theory by comparing the mysterious ragged man to the Batman villain Riddler. On the following day of July 12th, the story was covered by various internet news blogs including Mashable and Gawker.
Change of Plan
A few hours after Redditor SirSpam28 posted the decoded message, the OP followed up with a private message that he received from Redditor 2220944379, who apparently claimed to be the ragged man on the street. In the thread, OP also noted that the mysterious sender was able to recall his name displayed on his personalized backpack. The message read:
You may not believe me, but I will remind you of your personalized backpack [personal information redacted] You have recruited the help of friends, the offer is now on the table for them too. I cannot have strangers inquire about me, rather we will use a proxy. Here is the next step: DWY JLRR QUBPKSJ IL NDLM OQD OUCEQMW KGXI CSH RFRM XL WEZUXKJ. YME QLPRBAZ OQD TPVJG HPM UK CQJS H. PPVD BFSRST NJYT KR. BFPU EWP BMHY BTK WL VGB FXK R PXFE DTC GPBQL QWHKI JFA QRPE EJW EYC KLJ HCB JHGN.
The translation of the second cipher was eventually submitted by Redditor icedmilkflopr, who used the online cryptanalysis tool Autokey Cipher to decode the message. The OP later updated the post and revealed that he plans to follow the instruction and see what happens.
YOU HAVE MANAGED TO FIND THE MESSAGE WITH THE HELP OF FRIENDS. YOU CHANGED THE RULES NOW SO WILL I. JULY TWELVE FOUR PM. FIND THE BLUE JAY AT SIX AND A HALF AND FIFTY SIXTH AND TELL HIM YOU ARE THE LAST.
But the OP wasn’t the only person to be puzzled by the message. As 4:00pm (ET) drew near on July 12th, nearly one hundred people reportedly showed up on the corner of 56th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan. The sight of the flash mob-style gathering was streamed online in real time via USTREAM and people on the scene tweeted real-time updates using the hashtag #bluejay.
Despite the turnout, the crowd eventually dissolved shortly after meeting up with the OP who started the thread. It was later reported by Gawker that an old man dressed in all blue was briefly mobbed after the crowd mistakenly identified him as Redditor 2220944379.
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