Perplex City

Perplex City is a long-term alternate reality game (ARG) presented by Mind Candy, a London-based development team. The first "season" of the game had players looking for "The Receda Cube" (referred to simply as "The Cube"), a priceless scientific and spiritual artifact to the people of a fictional metropolis known as "Perplex City", that had been stolen and buried somewhere on Earth. The game offered a real-life £100,000 reward (approx. $200,000 or €150,000) to whoever found it. Like most alternate reality games, the story of Perplex City is told through blogs, puzzles, and other various media.

The game began in April 2005, and was won by Andy Darley of Middlesex, UK, who found The Cube in a wood in Northamptonshire, UK on 2 February 2007.

According to Mind Candy, the first wave of cards for the new game season, called Perplex City Stories would be released on March 1 2007. However, in June 2007, they released an announcement which declared that the second season was on indefinite hold.


Perplex City

Perplex City is a massive fictitious metropolis that has an unknown number of connections to Earth. It has a near-future feel to it, with advanced mobile technology, neuro-enhancing pharmaceuticals and kilometer-high skyscrapers. There is also a slightly more Utopian element to city life than we commonly find on Earth. The most important characteristic of the city's culture is the importance they place on puzzles and other mental pursuits. Their leading competitive event, the Academy Games, is primarily a competition of intellectual skill rather than physical strength. In fact, nearly every part of their culture touches upon the cryptic and mind .

Their religions fall loosely around a mythology of building, construction and technology, none of which are explicitly theistic. The Cube is, in all cases, a sacred and holy object, and rightfully so. It possesses a range of unusual properties which many believe to be of a supernatural origin.

Citizens of Perplex City

Key figures in city life include Sente Kiteway, Master of The Academy (The academy being an advanced learning institution in the city) and former custodian of the Cube. His two daughters, Scarlett and Violet, communicate regularly with the people of Earth through their blogs. Pietro Salk, an investigative reporter for leading newspaper The Sentinel, produced many leads before he was unceremoniously killed off for getting too close to the truth. The team at the Academy tasked with returning the Cube (and ostensibly authors of the puzzle cards) are also frequently in touch, and Kurt McAllister is an important ally to players on Earth.


Theft of the Cube

In late 2004, artifact known as The Receda Cube (pronounced /Reh-kay-deh/) was stolen while on display at the Perplex City Academy. It was discovered that The Cube had made its way to Earth. In Perplex City, the Cube Retrieval Team (CRT) was formed to try to retrieve the cube. Sente Kiteway, Master of the Perplex City Academy, soon contacted Earth and asked its citizens for help in finding the cube, as the residents of Perplex City were not able to travel to earth. In order to get players excited about the search for the cube, Sente commissioned the creation of 256 collectible puzzle cards (see below). The thief who stole the cube, identifying himself only as "Combed Thunderclap" (CT), began leaving clues about the location of the cube on the cards.

Citizens' reaction and early research (early-2005)

Following the theft of the Cube, Bernardo Holyoke, one of the agents of the Third Power (3P) who planned the cube theft, is murdered. Worried that she may be next, Monica Grand, another woman planning the theft, contacts Pietro Salk, a writer for the local newspaper The Sentinel. Pietro begins to investigate the theft independently.

Kurt then discovers that Aiko Entrescore, one of the members of the CRT, is a member of the Reconstructionists, a cube-worshiping cult that has previously planned to steal the cube. Aiko is arrested under suspicions of stealing The Cube. She is later released because insufficient evidence was obtained to hold her.

Monica and Pietro go to the Perplex City police and tell them all that they have learned about the Third Power and the Reconstructionists. The next day, Pietro is attacked with a neuroinhibitor and falls into a coma. He briefly regains consciousness two days later and constructs a maze. Four days later, he dies. Players were able to solve the maze and gained access to various information about Pietro during his final days as well as the 3P insignia.

A few months later, Monica Grand is murdered. Her final words are, "We never held it", implying that the Third Power was foiled in their attempt to steal the cube. It is discovered that the Third Power has agents on Earth who are also looking for the Cube.

The Receda Trail (late 2005)

As Monica died, she passed on a message to the Cube hunters on Earth to go to Imperial College/Beit Quadrangle on September 19. There, Cube Hunters on Earth discovered posters advertising a band called Receda Approach and its website, which instructed them to visit one of five Toronto-area cinemas on September 23.

The film shown at the designated theatres, which also displayed several images (including a diagram of the Cube which revealed its size to be 10 cm x 10 cm) was supposedly a trailer for an upcoming movie, The Receda Sign, and its website contained a contact phone number for The Receda Institute for Somnatherapy's automated telephone line. If players who dialed the number at night made it through a maze of extensions, they were given a set of GPS coordinates. However, when players arrived at the designated location, they found nothing (in a chat with the puppetmasters on February 20, 2007, it was revealed that there was a box at the beach containing the next URL). Knowing that there must be a Receda website next on the trail, players did a search and discovered The Receda School of Music, leading to the next part of the trail, and what many people consider to be the highlight of the entire game.

Receda's Revenge promised an adventure game like no other would soon begin. When cube hunters went to the site at the right time, they were moved to an IRC server where a unique adventure game began unfolding. Upon finally beating the game, players received two clues: "SKY CENTRE MANCHESTER TOWN UK" and "Sunday 9th October - 2-3 PM". Although there is no location in Manchester called "Sky Centre", players who went to Manchester at the given time realized that this actually literally referred to the center of the sky. A plane was flying around with a banner which read: The website contained a pseudo-keyboard.

When the passphrase "thirdpower" was entered in, it allowed participants to access, which told the cube hunters on Earth to meet up in Clapham Common in London on October 22 to try to track down the Third Power on Earth. When players arrived (all dressed in purple), they discovered that there were five difficult puzzles that they needed to break into teams to solve. Four would provide codewords and the fifth would be a codebook. As the day dragged on, however, and a few puzzles weren't solved, only one password was needed. With assistance of players on the internet, players soon realized that the person who had organized the event was a member of the Third Power, and, what's more, there was a mole among the groups the whole time. As he was lifted onto a black helicopter and the participating players went off to have drinks, it soon became clear that everyone had been tricked.

Deeper Investigation (early-2006)

In her research on the Third Power, Violet needs access to the diaries of prolific writer Anthony Grainier. In order to access them, she needs to be a published writer. She calls on the players to write a book for her, and they do, granting her the access that she needs. She begins to post sections of it on her blog.

Kurt begins to suspect that Helena Frye, chief of police, may be a 3P spy. As he is investigating, Isaac Cymbalisty, head of the Perplex City Academy Library, is found dead in his home after an over-the-counter drug overdose. Kurt skips town and gets arrested after messing up a Police raid on the Third Power, but he now trusts Helena.

Meanwhile, Miranda Katsoulis, Kurt's girlfriend, begins sporadically leaving town for unknown reasons. Kurt finds out that Miranda was the one who murdered Isaac. Although eventually he and Violet track down Miranda, she quickly runs out of town. Kurt ensues on a long chase, but every time he finds Miranda, she gets away. Finally, he tracks her to the Silburn-Griggs mine. He enters, and a live event occurs to help Kurt get through the mine. Finally, after a long day of puzzle solving by Earth players, Kurt corners Miranda. She tries to kill him, but he kills her first, and abandons her body in the mine.

Viendenbourg (late-2006)

As Wave 4 of the puzzle cards are released on Earth by Sente, he notices odd marks (named by Earth player "meta puzzles") that were not on the cards when they were designed. Nobody at the Academy knows how they got on there, but they put it from their minds as there are more pressing matters at hand.

Anna goes missing for several days. Finally, her body is discovered in the Catacombs. She was tortured to near-death, then killed. Although terrible, there is little time to grieve.

A week after Anna's memorial service, the Third Power manage to destroy Perplex City's connection with Earth. Cube Hunters on Earth spend a day of events in San Francisco performing a variety of tasks and solving several puzzles to restore the link. The link is connected, and the Third Power warns the Cube Hunters to stay away or they will get hurt.

Back in Perplex City, Scarlett begins investigating puzzles left by Granier to his children. These eventually lead her to the Lancewood Archipelago. Scarlett, Violet, and Kurt head to the islands and discover the Lancewood Laboratory. During live chats set over several days, they investigate the lab where, they soon learn, The Cube was created. They learn that it appeared to be designed as a weapon, has the ability of teleportation, and that Sente was involved in its creation. They quietly return to Perplex City.

Beginning of the end (September 2006)

Most players consider the beginning of the end to be when, in September 2006, the mysterious "Combed Thunderclap" began leaving flash animations on their website, "The Library of Babel". These animations both contained information on what happened to Combed Thunderclap after they stole The Cube and contained hints to solving the various "meta" puzzles on the cards. These puzzles were the biggest clues to the location of The Cube. The final clue posted on January 27 was a picture of The Cube buried in the ground, some trees surrounding it, and an odd wooden structure.

In late January, an in-game event occurred when Violet's sister Scarlett was kidnapped by the Third Power, who believed she stole The Cube and knew its location. Players on Earth helped the Perplex City Police infiltrate the security system of Ascendancy Point, a building believed to contain the headquarters of the Third Power.

After a bloody assault, Scarlett was discovered severely tortured. A weird voice registed on the "keys" (communication devices) of the people in the room. It said only a cryptic message: "Form the layer. Find the era. Follow the Way. Find the Cube." Finally, it was discovered that a character named Caine, a member of the Cube Retrieval Team and a close friend of Violet, was actually a secret agent of the Third Power, and had killed another member a few months prior.

Discovery of the Cube

Players quickly realized that the message referred to some amorphous blobs that had been put onto the fourth wave of cards. When properly assembled, these cards formed the Jurrasic Strata in England. Players coupled this with a clue from CT, "You will know which path to take when you find it if you know who I am", and assumed that Combed Thunderclap was Scarlett. Scarlett's blog is called "The Scarlett Kite", and Finshade Wood, a wood along the Strata, was populated by the Red Kite bird.

To locate the Cube in the woods, players use the text from a card "The End of the Line":

"Precious are the stones my children, precious that which is dug from the earth. Precious are the rubies, the diamonds, the emeralds and the topaz. I held fast to the amethysts. They mingled them with sapphires, so I threw them both from me. Only one choice remained and from then nothing was right. My children I did not despair, as you must not despair. A quadruped appeared before me, its middle leg held proudly forward. I turned my back to it and strode forward. But after only 20 ammot the light was upon me. Precious, my children, is the light."
Players believed that this directed them to take the purple path (amethysts) until it connects with the blue path (sapphires). From there take the only path remaining, but do not take any right turns. Stop when you reached a quadruped, then turn your back to it and walk 20 ammots to find the cube.

The Cube was finally discovered in Wakerley Great Wood, Northamptonshire, England on February 4, 2007 by Andy Darley (known to his fellow players as Rand0m). Andy followed the End of the Line directions, and ended up taking a purple path, meaning that Combed Thunderclap was Violet. This discovery was contrary to the popular belief that The Cube was hidden in Finshade Woods. Andy returned The Cube to Mind Candy headquarters on February 8, 2007.

The prize money was awarded to Andy at a large party held by Mind Candy in The Gherkin, London on February 24, 2007.

Theft of The Cube

After The Cube was found, it became clear that Violet Kiteway, Sente's daughter, had stolen the cube. She had learned that agents of a terrorist organization called the Third Power were planning to steal The Cube the night of the Perplex City Academy Ball. Because there had been speculation in the city that The Cube might be a weapon, Violet ran into The Cube's display room to get it before the Third Power did.

The instant she touched it, she was transported to New York City on Earth. Using its powers, The Cube had arranged hotel accommodations for her as well as plane tickets to England. Once in England, The Cube instructed Violet to take it to Wakerley Woods, Northamptonshire, UK, and bury it there according to a prophecy made by a prophet named Gyvann. The Cube then transported Violet back to Perplex City.

Once back in The City, Kurt and Violet began to realize that the best way to securely contact the citizens on earth would be to include difficult clues regarding the location of The Cube on the puzzle cards that Sente was sending out.

Puzzle cards

Mind Candy sells a series of collectible puzzle cards. These share familiar characteristics with other collectible card games (CCGs). They are sold in booster packs, with each pack containing six random cards from the total possible 256 cards. Cards are divided into sets and subsets of varying rarity and difficulty. The most common cards are red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, and the rarest are silver.

Unlike CCGs such as Magic: The Gathering or Pokémon, though, the cards are not designed for competitive player-versus-player "combat". Instead, each card depicts a different puzzle, with the rarer cards also featuring more complex riddles. Cards are marked with unique identifiers which can then be entered onto the Perplex City website, earning points and a place on a leaderboard. Many cards contain hidden features, such as ultraviolet or heat-sensitive inks, and they cover a broad range of themes from pop-culture trivia to cryptography and logic brainteasers. They are also larger and less homogeneous than cards from other CCGs, and the back of some cards contains a different piece to a huge map of the city.

Once players solve a card, they should go to the Perplex City website and enter the answer in. If they are correct, they receive points for the card, as well as a position on the chronological solves board for that card. In addition, each card is a member of a four-card set. If all four cards are solved by a player, they receive double points for each card in the set.

Cards may be purchased online at retailers such as Firebox in the UK, ThinkGeek in the US, often on ebay, or at one of thousands of other on-line and in-store locations. A few web-stores have become available which only sell puzzle cards, including, and

Unsolved cards

As of August 2007, four cards are yet to be solved - three in Season One and one in Season Two:

  • Riemann (S1, Card #238) apparently asks players to prove the Riemann hypothesis. However it is generally accepted that this cannot be the actual expected answer, as it would be impossible for the website server to validate such a solution, and would also require Mind Candy to know the proof in advance. The correct approach to the card is not yet known.
  • The Thirteenth Labour (S1, Card #251) features what appears to be an RC5 block cipher. A distributed computing effort has begun to collectively brute force the solution.
  • Billion to One (S1, Card #256) features the face of a man, with a caption in Japanese that reads 私を見つけなさい, which roughly translates to "Find Me." His image has been spread to social networking sites, in attempts to locate and make contact with this person.
  • Gel Together (S2, Card #232) contains groups of letters in threes, arranged in a tabular format. It is popular belief that this relates to ligands or genetic engineering.

Out of print cards

Currently, Mind Candy no longer prints two cards. The cards were excluded from wave-three print runs for fairly rudimentary printing reasons (two cards did not fit on the print layout). While these problems have been rectified, Mind Candy has no plans to replace or reprint these cards in the future. They are:

  • Card #238 (Riemann) - chosen to be excluded due to the complete inability of the card to be solved for the foreseeable future.
  • Card #245 (Relativity) - chosen to be excluded more or less at random, but the decision was no doubt influenced by the fact that the problem and solution are quite complex.

ARG features

The puzzle cards are intended as an introduction to the characters and story of Perplex City itself, and the deeper mysteries of the Cube theft. Clues found on the cards direct players to various websites, blogs, emails, phone calls, and SMS messages, originating from Perplex City. These often feature puzzles of their own, whose solutions lead to further puzzles. Frequently these puzzles require players to co-operate in reaching various goals.

Perplex City has been running since late 2004, much longer than the traditional ARG. Its longevity has allowed for a number of events that simply would not be possible within a two-month traditional lifespan of an ARG. Some examples of this include:

  • Players wrote a book to enable a character to become a "published author" and gain access to relevant archives.
  • A full length CD of cryptic techno music was released by a Perplexian musician.
  • A banner plane flew across Manchester with a keyword that enabled access to a new area of the game.
  • Sixty players attended an in-game event in search for clues, only for one of their own to be revealed as a mole and escape in a black helicopter.
  • 220 people participated in the first Perplex City Academy Games in London, a high-tech scavenger hunt across the capital. A month later, a similar event was held in New York.

Mind Candy

Perplex City is notable within the ARG field for charting new water with a unique business model. Typically, ARGs tend to either be exercises in viral marketing for new products, or grassroots projects developed by amateur groups. (One exception was Majestic, a subscription-based ARG run by Electronic Arts, which received a poor commercial reception.) Perplex City aims to become a truly self-supporting venture by selling the collectible puzzle cards that tie into the "alternate reality" aspects of the game.

This initially attracted a degree of controversy from players accustomed to playing ARGs for free. However, Mind Candy has assured the player base that purchase of the cards is not required to play the game, nor collect the reward. The cards and the ARG are related loosely enough to enable anyone to follow the game free-of-charge if they so wish, and the concept has since been embraced by many.

In other words, from a commercial standpoint, buying the cards is encouraged; However the game is built using enough online story elements and engaging character interaction as to make buying the cards optional to playing the game. Where some players might choose to only buy the cards, some other players might opt to only follow the story online and buy no cards. By majority, most players seem to buy roughly 20 or 30 cards and engage in occasionally reading the web elements.

The cards were first released in select outlets arounds the world, but are increasingly readily available from retailers both on- and offline. On September 7, 2006, Mind Candy announced that GameStop was to begin carrying Perplex City cards in 700 stores in the United States. As of September 26, 2006, some 682,425 cards have been marked as solved on the Perplex City leaderboard, with 45,215 players registered.

Mind Candy received a round of venture capital worth $3 million from Index Ventures, an investor in Skype and other technology companies.

In June 2007 Mind Candy announced that it would be putting season 2 of its ARG on hold indefinitely.

See also


External links

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