MJ-12 Puzzle

We had an ARG-style puzzle baked into the Conspire Kickstarter. Jake and I got the idea a couple months before launch and thought it would be a fun Easter egg for some observant fans. The MJ-12 censored tier was a blast for us to design. We teased it at cons, on podcasts, in streams, through social media, and backer updates. Some people got close, but no one followed all the clues. We’re going to spoil it below, so if you still want to solve the puzzle, stop reading.

Originally, solving the puzzle was going to get both get one lucky person the MJ-12 tier for free and declassify the reward text for everyone else. Three days before the campaign ended, we decided to reveal the ultimate reward as a leather-bound version of Conspire so people could upgrade with confidence (we naively thought this would be solved by day ten). Despite having no idea what the reward was, four people committed to this tier.

The first step to figuring out the answer was realizing there was a question. We hinted at this with increasing directness as time went on. The question was on a “secret page”. Specifically, it was at cherrypickedgames.com/redacted. Some people picked up on the fact the MJ-12 reward text was “/redacted”, others noticed the slash in a tweet we sent, and some found CPG’s 404 page and searched “MJ-12”. This page posed the question, “Who are the real heroes of this tier?”

We got a lot of interesting answers. People researched the real Majestic 12, found twelve names on our website, and chased a few conspiracy theories. But we needed a specific answer. Watch our pitch video. There’s a board in the background we take when the MJ-12 raids our bunker. Aside from maps, phone book pages, blacked-out pages of a Spanish People magazine, and newspaper articles, there’s a piece of paper with four blank spaces. There’s also a “+2” written by the Conspire logo. We’ll get back to that.

We needed a four-character code. There are four newspapers on the Kickstarter page. These four conspiracy-worthy events happened in 1901, 1969, 1947, and 1939. Take the last two digits and convert them to characters using mod-26 (take the remainder of dividing by 26). You get 1, 17, 21, and 13, which map to A, Q, U, and M.

That string is gibberish. But, add two (the “+2” from earlier) and you get C, S, W, O. Put that into chronological order of the original years and you get COWS. Cows are the real hero of this tier. The books are made of leather. Get it?

We went back and forth on how hard to make this. Both of us had turns making the puzzle easier and harder (be thankful the polyalphabetic cipher idea was scrapped). We used the +2 part because of how conveniently those events synced up, particularly Roswell and the moon landing.  Maybe that made it too hard, but many people verbally pointed out how noticeably weird the “+2” was on the conspiracy board.  We also expected puzzlers to be more active in the comments, but people who reached out to us were scared of tipping off other players. That’s certainly in the spirit of Conspire.

Someone got “AQUM” the day before, which was the closest. They’ll get an extra non-leather copy of Conspire for playing our mind game. We made this puzzle too hard, but it was get seeing people try. I personally loved seeing people at Big Bad Con scrawl the years on their hands trying to figure out what letters they matched.

Let us know how you felt about the MJ-12 puzzle in the comments. We want to do more of this kind of thing in the future and value your feedback from the other side.