(AKA, the ARG “wash up”).
Fans of Rusty Quill have always gone the extra mile when it comes to theorising, code-breaking and collaborating. So, when we were ready to start telling people our plans for The Magnus Protocol, a new audio drama podcast returning to the world of The Magnus Archives, we could have just… announced it.
But that’s not very fun, and Rusty Quill is an entertainment production company.
We decided to start with something subtle, to see how closely people were paying attention. In our regularly Monday newsletter to our Patreons, we included an alphanumeric code towards the end of the newsletter. It took a little while for people to notice (and then at first they thought it was a mistake). Then, as people started to recognise that, rather than a random string of numbers and letters it was in fact a code, the penny dropped that a game might be afoot.
The first code was U3RhdGVtZW50IFJlbWFpbnMK .
We’ve included the solution of this problem below; don’t look if you would like to try and solve it yourself.
This code is in Base64. Codes in Base64 can be recognised a few ways. They are always a multiple of four in length and only use ‘A-Z’, ‘a-z’, ‘0-9’, ‘+’ and ‘/’. When decoded, this Base64 code reads:
Alone, this code was quite exciting, but we also thought we’d share an eye emoji onto some of our social media pages. This got people talking, although those who weren’t Patreon subscribers weren’t quite sure what they were seeing yet.
Two days, and a lot of Twitter notifications later, we thought we’d up the stakes a bit. Our Patreon subscribers had solved the Base64 code pretty quickly, so multiple folks at Rusty Quill put their head together and designed something a bit more complicated. We posted a new update onto Patreon with the subject line ‘Post title (required)’.
The code in this post was rzo5PoNfALU .
Once again, you can find the solution below.
This code is actually the end of a YouTube URL. It leads to the below video, which was originally unlisted, but has since been made public.
When the video is played, there isn’t any words or clues hidden in the image. Instead, a strange sound plays.
This was another puzzle that required some familiarity with ways messages can be hidden. A few people recognised what this could be: a spectrogram. When the audio is downloaded, and opened in a program like Audacity, an image, hidden in sound, is revealed.
In this case, the image is a code. Evsmnuafdnbpvwgsdeir .
It didn’t take too long for people to discover this code. But, once it was found, it stumped people for a really, really long time.
Interestingly, completely by chance, the letters could be unscrambled to “Magnus Spiderweb vnfdv” This incredible coincidence led people to believe that a Magnus announcement would be due at 5pm BST (because of the letter ‘v’), on 14th October 2022, as ‘n’ is the 14th letter of the alphabet, ‘f’ is 6, ‘d’ is 4, which adds up to 10, and ‘v’ is 22. This clue was released on the 12th October 2022, so it is easy to see how this interpretation seemed so credible.
Meanwhile, as Patreons worked to solve the layered code rzo5PoNfALU, people were starting to work together to investigate. During this time, we saw dedicated Twitter accounts, huge lists on Tumblr posts, a Google doc summarising all the clues, and a Discord server with thousands of members.
This was really humbling: we thought that sharing some clues and puzzle would be a bit of fun for a handful of dedicated fans, but the sheer number of dedicated fans blew us away. We had record numbers of people sharing the codes and, before we continue with this “wash up”, we just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to every one of you who got involved and worked together to solve the clues.
The buzz of activity and difficulty solving the clue rzo5PoNfALU, there were a few instances where people got confused, or things were mistakenly thought to be clues. To quickly address some unintended red herrings, we didn’t put any secret codes in the transcripts. Transcripts are utility and will never be used for anything other than their purpose as a resource. Any missing transcripts should now have been replaced, however if you are still having trouble accessing them please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secondly, we didn’t put codes into the episode descriptions… at first. Eagle-eyed people spotted some mysterious alphanumeric codes in a couple of episodes of The Magnus Archives, however these were to do with some behind the scenes verification processes from a few months ago and, no matter how much anyone tries, won’t decode into anything meaningful. We removed the codes as soon as we spotted the confusion, however that only… added to it. So, since everyone was paying attention to them anyway, we added some special codes there. The first of these simply decoded to “This one was an accident. sorry -_-“. We’ll get to the other codes we put in the episode descriptions a bit later.
As well as sharing clues to our Patreon subscribers, we also shared some clues publicly. Firstly, we reshared U3RhdGVtZW50IFJlbWFpbnMK, the solution of which is above. At the same time, we shared a slightly different image onto our Instagram stories.
The solution for this is below.
Instagram Stories clue square
This code is in binary. When written out, it spells “Are you still listening?”
We left our crowd of code crackers overnight to see if they could figure out the full decryption of rzo5PoNfALU. It soon became clear that no matter how many hours people were putting into it, they were still struggling. So we sent out a couple more clues.
On Patreon, we released an image that read “Go back to the Start. YYYYMONTH”. We also added a couple more notes to the descriptions of episodes that had previously erroneously featured “clues”. These additions were “2016” and “March”.
Go back to the Start. YYYYMONTH.
The reason the code in the spectrogram, Evsmnuafdnbpvwgsdeir, was so difficult to solve was because it was a keyed cipher. Even if someone recognised it as a Caesar cipher, it would be nearly impossible to decode without the number and text code. However, with the key, the month and year that The Magnus Archives launched, you can easily use an online decoder to translate the code to: The Magnus Archives Two.
At the same time, we released one final clue on our social media channels. 59375638162748104916393637472056492 .
The solution to this code is within The Magnus Archives itself. MAG144, Decrypted, features a numbers station. The code there can be solved with a Polybius square. We used the same code here. This decodes to: The Magnus Archives 2.
Finally, in the usual Thursday afternoon slot, a brand new episode appeared in The Magnus Archives feed. You can listen to it here:
As well as some mysterious audio (you can listen to it here), there was a further clue hidden in the episode description: 7V?UOEdDb7B-9W`H>[n7AhG3$ATAo0@V?lrB6JQG+F/-BB6%F(@<=^@$<L\[@3B5q/0IH*G%G<0EbBM;6?$RHDfTD?+F/!?Aft`(H$CHLDdmBm+EhBM .
This long string is in Base85 and ROT13. It can be translated to: Statement Remains. Are you still listening? Join us, thirtieth October, let’s talk about it.
The very last code we shared was on Patreon. We know that a lot of the codes are pretty inaccessible unless people are familiar with them, especially the more difficult ones. A lot of people weren’t able to join code solving discords, or follow along on Tumblr. With that in mind, we wanted to share one last code that was easier to recognise and easier to solve: – …. . / — .- –. -. ..- … / .- .-. -.-. …. .. …- . … / – .– — / .- -. -. — ..- -. -.-. .. -. –. / … — — -.
– …. . / — .- –. -. ..- … / .- .-. -.-. …. .. …- . … / – .– — / .- -. -. — ..- -. -.-. .. -. –. / … — — -.
This final code is in Morse code and translates to: The Magnus Archives Two announcing soon.
Thank you again to everyone who joined in the fun, and solved these clues with us. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed putting it together. A huge shout out should go to April, Hattie, Sebastian and Tom as the masterminds behind the codes.
If you enjoyed this ARG, or missed out the first time round, you’ll be pleased to know that during our Kickstarter campaign we successfully unlocked a follow-up ARG inspired by The Magnus Protocol.