Larva Labs, the creators of the popular non-fungible token (NFT) projects CryptoPunks and Meebits, enshrined the private keys for a pig Meebit worth 10 ETH (or about $25,000) in some digital artwork last year.
No one found the prize — at least, not until three friends managed to crack the code on March 14.
The three friends were a programmer named Andrew Badr, a person who goes by Apely.eth on Twitter, and an anonymous third person. As Badr describes on Twitter, a private collective of 1,000 artists called Proof created an NFT drop composed of 20 artworks from 20 anonymous artists, where the artists' names would be released after the mint closed.
One piece — Grail #11, as it was known — turned out to be from Larva Labs. The piece in fact was a prototype for Autoglyphs, a collection of mathematically generated art. Grail #11 soon because the most valuable piece in the Proof NFT drop.
On March 5, someone by the name of “iceman” on the Proof Discord server pointed out the unusual pattern aligned at the top of Grail #11.
“His message caught my eye right away, because that part of the image really did look separate from the main part of the artwork. Also, the Ls weren't in any kind of regular pattern, so they seemed more than ornamental,” Badr wrote on Twitter.
Badr then wrote code to turn the L’s into 0s and 1s, which could be interpreted using the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII), or a system in which numbers correspond into 128 English characters.
The seemingly random combination of L-shapes read the hidden message, "SECRET IS IN THE PIG NUMBERS, LL.”
“Andrew figured it must be referring to the Meebits pigs and after poking around a little, he and another friend honed in on the pigs wearing jerseys, each of which has one digit on it,” wrote Apely.eth on Twitter, one of the two friends Andrew recruited to help with the treasure hunt.
So the team tried various methods to interpret the numbers on the pig jerseys, such as mod 2, intervals between the IDs, ASCII, base 32 and Caesar Ciphers.
“All kinds of crazy things,” Andrew wrote. After days of fruitless searching, the team noticed something unusual: when you place the Meebits in order of their jersey number, the NFT IDs create a 64 digit string that can be used as an Ethereum private key.
Sure enough, the team found a wallet address containing 0.025 ETH and the Meebit #2858. The year-old puzzle was finally solved, and the team will now co-own the NFT three-ways. "There was talk of selling it, but we're not in a rush to do anything with it yet," Badr told The Block.