The Webseries Rude Mechanical (link to YouTube) launched on Sep 14, 2011, as a replacement to ZOE News. The biggest change was the addition of a captivating Hopjockey storyline where cast and crew played meta-versions of themselves and featured Zoe Adastra (Trin Miller) as the CEO of Zombie Orpheus.
|Figure 1. Screen shot from e10.|
At the time, a group of us on the now defunct ZOE Phase II Community Forum pored over these for hours. Together, we cracked the first cipher and the start of the second. Unfortunately, the show ended before all the pages could be revealed.
Flash forward to December 2016. The cipher creator, Greg Rubin (featured talking about the cipher key with Zoe Adastra in Episode 10), posted all 19 slides in a Facebook album (link to Facebook).
By then the ZOE Phase II forum had been down for years and we weren’t able to reconnect. I did go through my notes and with a helpful nudge from Greg, I was able to finally crack the second layer and reveal the secret message. What follows are the steps and solutions to the Rude Mechanical Cipher.
* * * * * * * * * *SPOILERS!* * * * * * * * * *
IF YOU WANT TO SOLVE IT YOURSELF,
STOP READING NOW!!!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
PART I – THE VIGENERE CIPHER
Slides 2 through 11 include 3 letters (exception, slide 11 only had one). Written out in order they are:
F C S C G I B F I S G E Q S T Q C X D Q X D R M M Z E X S V R
One of our forum group realized this was a Vigenere Cipher which uses a three-letter key to encrypt a message. Obvious now, the three letter key was ZOE. The solution:
G O O D S E C R E T S A R E P R O T E C T E D I N L A Y E R S
Here's an online Vigenere Decoder (external link) if you'd like to try it out yourself.
PART II - THE SLIDES
I stumbled across this before we had unlocked the Vigenere cipher. I was trying to keep the images in one place so opened a Photoshop file and dropped each images as a new layer. When the new image replaced the previous one, my eye caught something, but I couldn't make it out. After a few trials, I discovered that the first sheet (the one without the letters) was the Key for the others. I’d toggle between 1 and 2, then 1 and 3, and so on discovering that each revealed a 4 x 4 pattern. Like this. [GIF 1].
|GIF 1. Toggling between slide 1 and slide 2|
My wife suggested I make the Key 50% transparent and it revealed a much easier to read static image [Figure 2].
|Figure 2. Much easier to read!|
Repeating this with the Key over the other 18 slides unlocked
- 16 sets of 4x4 characters,
- one 4x4, different than the others by having the grid strongly defined, and
- one final slide that looked like an incomplete crossword puzzle.
Studying the grided slide, it didn’t take long to see there were 16 characters 0 to 9, then A to F [Figure 3].
Examining the last slide: it wasn't a crossword puzzle, but a 16x16 template with certain squares that needed to be punched out to isolate individual characters [Figure 4].
The next task was to number each of the 16 4x4 sides in order 0 to 9; A to F, and then place each 4x4 group on a larger 4 x 4 grid corresponding to the characters in the grided slide (example, top row: slide 3, slide B, slide F, slide 8…). Like this [Figure 5]:
|Figure 5. 16 slides set in a 4x4 grid.|
Placing the punch-out over the final 16x16 revealed the start of the message [Figure 6].
|Figure 6. The message revealed.|
This unlocked 64-characters the message. Rotating the punch-out clockwise, unlocked another 64 characters and again and again -- revealing all 256 character of the message.
The final message reads as follows:
BEACON SELF TEST STOP
CLOAKING DEVICE UP SOON STOP
BROADCAST LOCATION TO BE HAVEN STOP
SCAN FOR FUTURE MESSAGE USING AH38VB29VB27V-1BCL82-BN4BA OR PRIMITIVE TECHNOLOGY AT ZOMBIE ORPHEUS DOT COM SLASH ROBOT STOP
UPDATES ENCODED WITH EMBEDDED KEY ON THIS FREQUENCY EARTHERS IGNORANT OF CONFLICT SO FAR -ZA
At the time of this writing, the URL provided doesn't exist. If it ever did, I'm not sure what it revealed.
Congratulations to ZOE and Greg Rubin for making a creative project that, for a time, brought a few fans really close together to solve a common goal.
~ Seth / Linkmaster General