~=:Quite some time ago I noticed some strange parallels between J.J. Abrams and my life :=~
It all started around 2004, when J.J. Abrams started the tv show “Lost.” Although I have had the handle “LosT” (short for LostboY) since 1987, people began assuming my nick was homage to J.J.’s show. I’ve since started using “1057″ more frequently (the l33t of “LosT”- and besides it’s cool that it’s a palindrome in binary: %10000100001).
But the oddities continued.
For some time I’ve been obsessed with the TED talks. I watch them frequently, and our friend J.J. happens to have presented at TED. Lo and behold, J.J. has a mystery box. If you attend Defcon, you know that I am the creator of what is affectionately often called “The Mystery Box” or “Mystery Box Challenge”- a contest where I attempt to create “profound mystery” for some of the world’s smartest hackers. In his TED talk J.J. discusses how he is creating mystery and magic for people through his shows, and it is for the very same reason I created the Mystery Box Challenge at Defcon.
J.J.’s grandfather sold electronics, and encouraged him with radios and kits; I am the Professor of Robotics and Embedded Systems for the University of Advancing Technology.
“Mystery is more important than knowledge” – J.J. Abrams
“I get asked to explain the Mystery Challenges quite frequently. More frequently than that I am asked what the hell it is in the first place. I find it interesting that nobody ever asks why the Mystery Challenge (which has really come to be called ‘Mystery Box’). Why I spend months of my life, thousands of dollars and all my time at Defcon creating ciphers that are meant to be broken, strong boxes that are supposed to be breached, and circuits that are designed to be destroyed.” – Ryan “LosT” Clarke
“Technology is mindblowingly inspiring to me” – J.J. Abrams
The Mystery Box challenge is a yearly contest that has attendees trying to break into a hardened-steel box. Protected by multiple sensors and locks, the box withstood attacks for 22.5 hours before a team of 20 finally broke in. During the contest, participants complained loudly about the deviousness of all the protections and called the boxes’ creator, “LoST”, a “very sick” man. - From a write up about the Mystery Box on Tech Generation Daily
In his TED talk J.J. says, “The witholding of information, doing that intentionally, is much more engaging.” I take this philosophy one step further- I believe hiding the information in plane sight is even more engaging than simply not giving it; the “ah-ha” moments when they do get it are much more powerful when the users/audience realize they had the answer all along. From a blog entry by contestants reflecting on the challenge:
FOTXJEKLQBIBTPJXBNLVTHOFATHNSUFUFPFMNITHLRHPGIZL” this is the cipher text. But where is the key?
After many hours of back and forth and many hints from LostboY on his projected screen of shame….I mean hints, we figured out that the key was also in the DefCon 16 program. As it turns out, LostboY did an interview for the program to explain the thought process behind the competition.
Of course, in true LostboY fashion, it turns out that the first paragraph of the interview is the key for the cipher text. ”
“Then there’s this idea of the mystery box meaning what you think you’re getting , than what you’re really getting.” – J.J.
My favorite illustration of this were the hand bound books from the challenge at Defcon 16: each team was given a hand-bound book that was filled with strange pictures, and mysterious red “X”es throughout the pages-
Throughout the pages of the book were cryptographic puzzles of varying difficulty, all but one decoding to things along the line of “X marks the spot.” This led everyone to believe that the mysterious puzzles or red “X”es were somehow a riddle, when the “X” I was referring to was the “Ex Libris” in the front of the book:
behind which was a micro-SD card which was embedded inside the front cover of the book:
I won’t even get into the Star Trek connection, well not yet anyway, I’ll leave that as a mystery.