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We talked to the co-creator of Satoshi’s Treasure, the million-dollar global bitcoin scavenger hunt

by Isabel Woodford

April 19, 2019, 11:37AM EDT  ·  3 min read

Quick Take

  • A new game to find $1 million worth of bitcoin has made waves, with nearly 40,000 players competing to solve a series of puzzles and clues 
  • Its co-creator, Eric Meltzer, told The Block about some of the tricks young groups of treasure hunters are using
  • He says he’s confident treasure hunters will find the keys, adding it would require more than just good math to win

by Isabel Woodford

April 19, 2019, 11:37AM EDT  ·  3 min read

In the latest weird-but-wonderful trend taking over the crypto community, Satoshi’s Treasure kicked off this week. The global hunt for $1 million in BTC requires players to find private key fragments spread across the physical world and the internet by breaking encryptions. The first to find 400 of the 1,000 distributed pieces unlocks the treasured bitcoin wallet.

On Day 1, some 20,000 users signed up to receive the game’s clue updates, including an influx of teenagers from around the world. Teams assembled to talk strategy on specially-created telegram groups and subreddits, deciding how to reach the hidden spots. One player claimed to have broken the encryption for the first three key-shards in minutes – something that should have taken weeks. Currently, there are nearly 40,000 players that signed up.

The Block spoke to Eric Meltzer, the game’s co-creator, to hear about the things he’s noticing from competitors. The partner at Primitive Ventures also hinted at what’s in store for future rounds of keys hunting and what it’ll take to top the leaderboard.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

We’ve heard there were some crazy stories from the first three keys of the game? Any you care to share?

The girl who runs the store in the Tenderloin where the San Francisco key was hidden, told us that she got a call from China where someone offered to send her $100 in BTC to take a picture of the clue and send it to them! People drove 3 hours to get to SF to get that clue, tons and tons of people had their friends go to the clue locations to send them images of the QR codes. Someone in Korea was going to fly to New York in order to grab both keys before realizing that they were findable on Twitter.

What creative methods have seen people employ to try and get keys?

John’s [Cantrell, the aforementioned star-hacker on Reddit] method was the most creative so far. We left a clue in the satellite transmission that it was possible to use cryptographic methods to get these first 3 keys, but we didn’t expect anyone to do it that fast.

What are your thoughts on people forming clans?

It’s happening way faster than I thought. People are putting a lot of thought into the organizational design of their clans, in terms of who gets to participate, how to divide up the treasure, etc. We knew that clans would be international since we aren’t going to make it possible for any one country to find a 400 key quorum, but we were still surprised by just HOW international clans are, with people from 20+ countries in a lot of them. People are also trying to build things on top of the game already (for example, re-hiding their own keys in mini-hunts, building leaderboards and auction houses for the keys, etc).

Do you think it is possible for someone to win this treasure without having to move from their seats?

Absolutely not. Many keys will require physical presence around the world.

What do people need to win?

To win you’ll need a combination of math, humanities, cryptography and exploration skills.

Is it going to get progressively more difficult to crack each round of key-shard distributions?

Yes.

At what date are all the possible clues for every key released?

Unknown. The pace will be adjusted such that serious players will never be bored, but amateur players won’t have to quit their day jobs to stay competitive.

Is there a possibility that no one will be able to get 400 fragments and the bitcoins are lost forever?

Possibility is a tricky word, I guess anything is possible, but we would be extremely surprised if this happened. There are 1,000 keys, so 601 would have to be destroyed or unfindable for this outcome to occur.

There are ideas that secondary markets are going to pop up to sell fragments. What are your thoughts about this?

Awesome! I love markets both in the abstract and as a concrete thing that make the game more interesting.

N.B.: Meltzer is in charge of sharing clues but doesn’t have all of them (for governance reasons).