Secrets of the Seven Sisters

by Counterplay Games  /  July 4, 2016

Three months ago, I was given a preview of the Seven Sisters art. A bit later I was asked by Keith Lee, CEO of Counterplay Games, to conceive secret puzzles for them. Inspired by books like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, these secrets would have to be discovered and solved by the player community.

The secrets of these puzzles finally got solved last week – by over fifty cryptographers spread across five time zones sending over 30,000 chat messages in just ten days!

Here was the concept: each Sister card would be embedded with two encoded ciphertexts. Once figured out, each card would reveal portions of lore and expose pieces of ever-expanding and interlocked enigma puzzles. Ciphers would be exponentially increasing in difficulty, and the concluding codes would be a personal take on a demoniac cipher. Together all the puzzles would spell out a six-letter word and an email address to submit the solution to.

SS-01-Kelaino_cipher

So, here’s the story of how the Seven Sisters were solved.

 

Wednesday, June 15th

The Seven Sisters Achievement Cards are released to the public.

Players notice codes and numbers on the back of cards. The player known as blankzero – one who will later lead the war effort to victory – creates a Reddit post to discuss the Sisters. He adds the solutions for Earth Sister Taygete and Sun Sister Sterope to the Reddit post.

SS-02-blankzero_reddit

Shortly after blankzero’s post, user TheScientist solves Sand Sister Saon, Drezbo/T2k5 solve Storm Sister Alkyone. The keyword ‘Aperion’ seems to appear in many ciphers (much later, players will cling to this fact), and the first four cards introduce cipher techniques. Transposition, running key, autokey, checkerboard, false spacing… tools to solve the hardest and final puzzle.

 

Thursday, June 16th

Wind Sister Maia and Shadow Sister Kelaino, the remaining two, resist decryption attempts. Their texts are above average difficulty and few players still work on their codes. The main Reddit discussion simmers down.

 

Friday June 17th

Midnight. The VIC cipher – notoriously created by Soviet spy Reino Häyhänen during WWII – is mentioned one Duelyst Discord chat. Kelaino’s cipher is actually a modified VIC and I remain absolutely  silent in chat.

At the Twitch Roundtable later that afternoon Counterplay Games elaborates on the Seven Sisters lore and their hidden enigmas. They announce the 100,000 Gold Prize. Player interest explodes!

The player zezetel creates a Discord sub-chat to exclusively discuss all the Sisters and their codes. The Hunt begins in multiple time zones and now operates 24/7. Inside the Duelyst sub-reddit, UNOvven notices Greek letters in all the in-game pixel sprites of the Seven Sisters.

SS-03-UNOvven_reddit

At 8:56pm PST, with some help from blankzero, the very same UNOvven deciphers Wind Sister Maia’s text. The deciphered text appears to be a broken string of numbers and letters – people wonder if the code could be erroneous.

thre seven seven five four thre four thre n two thre five thre thre thre zero e

the goddess dwells and her name carries triplets

that abundant symbol is here for you to take.

 

Saturday June 18th, 1:53am

I mention in chat that Maia’s cipher isn’t faulty. The contributors chat about VIC, the main topic being “it can’t be VIC”. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, this foreshadowed a quite long series of small yet mind-wrecking clues given to the team.)

In the ensuing discussion T2k5 quickly solves Maia’s enigma. These jumbled numbers and letters are geo-coordinates pointing to the Greek Temple of Aphaia. The “triplets in her name” simply refer to the Greek letter alpha. Maia is solved!

SS-04-temple_Aphaia

10:41pm. WinterMu7e (a major streamer) focuses his search around 67, an isolated number at the end of Kelaino’s cipher, and makes a discovery. In Gematrian – an Assyro-Babylonian-Greek code -, ‘67’ basically translates to ‘Kelaino’. It’s purely coincidental but cryptographers acclaim this as THE significant breakthrough. This marks the debuts of the ‘Cult of 67’, or C67 for short.

10:51pm. T2k5 suggests that ‘67 = Kelaino’ might be a coincidence. Nobody pays heed.

Around midnight, ynvaser mentions how the Cthulhu mythos is linked to the star Celaeno. Memes rise, as people actually start using R’lyehian in chat.

 

Sunday 19th

At 5:00am, more cryptographers add a ‘C67’ mention to their usernames. They consider the frequency of 8s, following WinterMu7e’s leadership, but it ends up as a frenetic search for patterns. T2k5 points out the card ID of Kelaino’s card is 324. 32 divided by 4 is 8. More people lose their minds.

SS-05-Okojo_Serpenti

The Discord chat reaches a cruising speed of 3,000 messages per day.

Three hours later. A new Discord chat for the group is contemplated now. The suggestion works for everyone and WinterMu7e suggests calling the new chat Victorious Secret. A fantastic title: it contains the solution for the whole enigma and ‘VIC’ itself! I support the name at once and it’s adopted by the group.

The fresh Discord chat is built by WinterMu7e and Cubes. The skills of each contributor are itemized. All information related to the ciphers is aggregated, triaged, synthesized. Summons are sent to all the community.

TVS, Team Victorious Secret, is born.

As I join the chat, WinterMu7e gives me the fairly accurate title of ‘Cryptological Satan’, and T2k5 tries to blackmail me for sharing unsanctioned community hints. I retaliate by threatening to withhold the official hints and the crypto team agrees that my blackmail is stronger.

Only UNOvven stands up against the Cult of 67. The Anti Hero isn’t able to convince all the Cultists – even though he’s right.

SS-06-UNOvven_C67

10:15 am. T2k5 investigates another cipher, the syllabary. This search will soon steal his soul, but for now he’s just happy building heatmaps for the team.

WinterMu7e’s insanity reaches its peak around 6:00pm. He sees shapes that gyrate, strings that repeat, symmetries that hide, a T that runs between numbers. Cultists try to follow his train of thought, but the lack of sleep and excess caffeine lead to confusion and dead ends for everyone.

SS-07-WinterMu7e-C67

 

Monday, June 20th

After two whole days of madness, UNOvven opposes the Cult of 67 in full force. T2k5 then starts working on a syllabary decoder that will later lead him to burnout.

At 5:05pm Maktak, another grand hero of TVS, becomes active on chat. He explores straddling checkerboards. The others neither listen, nor try to hush him. Despite being a newcomer, Maktak takes root in the team.

By midnight, syllabary and tridigital, two potential yet hard to break ciphers, have been attacked relentlessly. So many cryptographers fall from exhaustion… The leader WinterMu7e selects a handful of chosen ones and knights them as the Code Gods.

In jest, people suggest kidnapping a Counterplay employee to get solutions.

 

Tuesday 21st, 2:00am

After a short and needed rest, WinterMu7e leads a new push forward. T2k5 finishes his syllabary decoder which is a gorgeous piece of work. Blankzero and Maktak work together on the straddling checkerboard – on an actual VIC-like system.

The chat doesn’t pay attention. Their thoughts are focused on the tiny 67 at the end of the cipher.

 

Wednesday 22nd, 8:00 am

By cross-checking the ciphers in-game, an error is found in the codes. I get authorization from Keith to immediately share their corrected versions to the community rather than delaying it next week for the future patch release. Discord and Reddit are notified at once.

The 67 whose dominion crushed the cryptographers – it no longer exists. C67 collapses. More people add ‘C67’ to their names in the Discord, this time to honor the fallen cult. TVS realizes that a good portion of its previous work has been in vain: what they identify as the error propagates through the text, affecting all letters that follow it. T2k5’s syllabary is useless. But there’s a silver lining: the list of possible ciphers gets significantly reduced by diffing and comparing the old and new versions.

However, the team remains stuck. Shadow Sister Kelaino remains a mystery.

 

On Thursday 23rd after midnight, I suggest that ‘not all the other Sisters are solved yet’, implying that Lightning Sister Alkyone and Sworn Sister L’Kian’s cards haven’t been scrutinized enough. GenreSavvy gets the hint and uncovers the secret of L’Kian. By taking the first letter of each sentence in the lore text, it spells out an email address: theseventhstarshines@counterplay.co.

This is TVS’s first victory in several days, and the atmosphere lightens up. Blankzero updates the Duelyst subreddit with the latest findings from the team.

I include VICthulhu in my username.

At around 1 am, Gumi takes charge. She dazzles and leads the entire group by narrowing the list of possible ciphers. In less than an hour, the list drops from over twenty ciphers to only three. TVS is back on track!

SS-08-Gumi_action

 

Friday, June 24th, 0:16am

TVS discusses a commemorative Duelyst card for themselves. I offer a hint to the cipher, but no one notices.

SS-09-Okojo_hint

I reveal that the last word of the cipher is “tree”. The “ee” matches the 33 at the end of the cipher too perfectly and contributors are reluctant to accept it. It’s true though.

Blankzero starts to reverse engineer the cipher. A new division arises within TVS: some believe that characters can change rows, while some others believe they can’t. The debate lasts for over 24 hours.

 

Saturday, June 25th, 3:39pm

VichelChaos discovers that shifts change every 3 rows. The statement is somewhat imperfect, but it will trigger his most important breakthrough later.

Maktak and blankzero, assuming the first word of the cipher to be ‘Kelaino’, work their way through the first segment of the text. A deciphered text appears, fitting actual logic. Maktak suggests that the characters could be merged, reigniting tridigital before being banished by blankzero’s sheer force of argumentation.

SS-10-tridigital_no

 

Sunday, June 26th, 4:17am

Maktak enters his first Battle Mode with blankzero, VichelChaos, and T2K5. Based on the lore from the other Sisters and previous @PlayDuelyst tweets, they correctly guess the first words of Kelaino’s plaintext: “Kelaino, blessed with the Wish of Allegiance”. By now, Blankzero has been awake for over 24 hours.

Following his breakthrough from the previous day, VichelChaos formulates the Alternate Row Theory (ART), which shift rows sequentially: first row 1, then row 2, then row 3.

At 9:34pm, blankzero proves he’s a wizard.

SS-11-blankzero_CTA

The first part of Kelaino’s puzzle is finally deciphered and transcribed into proper English by Alexicon1. However, the second part has yet to be deciphered. While Destroy666 and T2k5 investigate Keith’s past to find a hint in his Stanford graduation dates, Maktak upgrades to Full Battle Mode.

 

Monday, June 27th, 1:02pm

After analysing multiple deciphering tables, Maktak puts forth the first decrypted version of the second ciphertext.

SS-12-Maktak_CTB

Maktak bruteforces the last undeciphered portions. For a dreadful moment, the team thinks there’s another cipher layered underneath the previous one. It’s not true but I let them believe it.

At 3:36pm, TVS notices the letters are actually Greek numbers: Kappa, Rho, Theta, Beta, Sampi. They add up to 1031. Alexicon1 brings Hittite Cuneiform to the table. He’s confident that it ties everything together. It doesn’t.

‘VICthulhu fhtagn’ becomes a common greeting meme on chat.

11:55pm: I introduce Gil4, a cryptographer who had been working solo until now. He joins the Discord and shares his personal deciphering of the second part. It is confirmed that the enigma refers to unicode: the ‘1031’ unicode translates to a Myanmar letter, but Myanmar doesn’t fit the Ancient Greece theme of the Sisters. Theorycrafting spawns rash propositions. Are the numbers coordinates? Are they US ICBM codes? They determine that the enigma correlates to nuking the moon.

 

Tuesday, June 28th, 2.44pm

Blankzero realizes that “beta sampi” is a number by itself (2000), not two numbers side by side. The unicode for 2129 is iota — it’s a Greek letter, which finally makes sense, and Kelaino is solved! But Alkyone still remains. Wild assumptions are made concerning the global solution. The Greek letters on the pixel sprites of the sisters indicate the order in which the letters should be arranged. The team collects all known letters and determines that the keyword is NI*HMA. Where’s the missing letter? In the lore? In the Codex? In the actual sky of Earth?

3:33 pm. UNOvven ignores common logic and bruteforces his way through the word combinations matching the five letters they already have. The final keyword appears to be NIKHMA, which is Greek for “Win” or “Prize of Victory”. Perfection.

SS-13-UNOvven_dictionary

People wonder if WinterMu7e had known about the answer when he created the name Victorious Secret. He did not :>

There’s no doubt that the solution is correct. But the email address from L’Kian keeps bouncing, and people fear that the dictionary bruteforcing might be considered cheating. Elmanbeastio, a Counterplay developer who’s been hanging around, is contacted to make sure the hunt is over.

While trying out several other addresses, Destroy666 actually misclicks and selects the original email – just as it was being tweaked by Counterplay. Destroy666 receives an email of congratulations from Keith Lee.

SS-14-T2k5_victory

Keith appears on Discord chat to congratulate the players. Victory is now official! Keith reveals that Storm Sister Alkyone’s letter was embedded directly in the in-game attack animation of the pixel sprite. It was created to look like a flashing glitch during the attack, but it’s actually morse code.

Keith offers to create a card to commemorate the team’s efforts. The name “Cryptographer”, coined by Grinnin, is set for the card. Grinnin is happy. Then Keith announces that the card will introduce a new puzzle and I’d like to think that Grinnin’s joy was chilled for a second.

The cryptographers use champagne emojis to celebrate. Over 33,000 messages were posted since the start of TVS. People rejoice that they can finally sleep. I reveal how Kelaino’s cipher (the VICtim, “Tim” for short) really works. In the end, the exchange of columns 6 and 7 in the checkerboard was the biggest hurdle to overcome and my greatest showcase of VICiousness.

SS-15-Okojo_VICtim

 

Wednesday, June 29th, 0:40am.

Blankzero posts words of wisdom, summing up the Hunt for everyone.

SS-16-blankzero_summary

Congratulations to Team Victorious Secret and to all the cryptographers that took part in the crypto-puzzles. Thank you for two wonderful weeks of hard work and super memes!

Special Credits go to the 20 people who exerted themselves to rightfully receive the Grand Prize of 100,000 Gold plus an extra 67 gold for each recipient (the Cult never dies!). There is strictly no way in Duelyst to pay for anything with 2 gold, so this mark of glory will remain forever.

Alexicon1 / blankzero / Blueluke / Cubes / Destroy666 / Drezbo / GenreSavvy / Gil4 / Gumi / JediCat / Lysith / Maktak / Plaidstone / stratosphere / T2k5 / TheScientist / UNOvven / ynvaser / VichelChaos / WinterMu7e

Special thanks to JediCat for going through a massive part of the chat archives. Credit also goes to Alexicon1 and blankzero for collecting the integral chat log.

  • Sybil ‘Okojo’ Collas