The Valve Potato ARG so far: pole climbing, codes and Aperture Science art

Tom Senior at

Valve's potato ARG

Ever since April 1, an army of curious Valve fans have been ploughing through the remarkable potato fools day ARG. Emails from Gabe Newell and some hidden messages in the recent Portal 2 turrets trailer provided some of the clues, but for the most part, the heart of the mystery has been the huge interlaced conspiracy built by the thirteen indie developers who made the potato sack sale games.

Hidden messages, ciphers, glyphs and encoded images are just a few of the elements in this bizarre tale. The fact that one man climbed a twelve foot pole to retrieve one of the clues demonstrates the level of dedication among the ARG's players. So far the game has turned up some wonderful Portal 2 art, but while the trail has gone quiet, there may still be some surprises in store. Here's a brief overview of some of the weirdest goings on in Valve's new ARG.

Every step of the unfolding mystery has been faithfully recorded on the potato fools day wiki. Head over there for the full story. They've even made a potato fools day ARG app, so players can keep up with new developments on the move.

The ARG wiki's diagram of the story so far...

Let's start with the clue that drove one man to climb an enormous pole on a pavement in a public place in broad daylight. It all began with a set of co-ordinates hidden in a secret level in Toki Tori. It gave the location of the headquarters of Toki Tori developers, Two Tribes. Nearby investigator Jake visited the offices, and found a few stray potatoes scattered about the area, which caused him to spot a poster attached to the top of a tall pole outside the office. He climbed to find a vital glyph and a secret message at the top.

Defence Grid was updated a few days later with a puzzle that led investigators to surveillance footage taken from across the street. Little did he know, but Jake was being secretly filmed as he found the clues. After combing over the video, the Potato ARG investigators noticed a string of glyphs on the side of one of the trucks passing by the camera. These were deciphered, revealing the message "flip until the dots match."

This turned out to be a reference to a series of dots that had started appearing in Toki Tori levels. When flipped, they formed a QR code, which unlocked a set of images that contributed to the solution to an overarching puzzle involving the discovery of a number of secret Aperture Science login pages, hidden in many of the potato sack sale games.

Toki Tori's Aperture Science login page.

Each Aperture Science screen asks for a different password. When cracked, they reveal 13 new cyphers. Players found that each cypher could be envisioned as a letter, and a message emerged: "CONNECTDADOTS." Images of different locations in Seattle were discovered hidden in the alpha channels of some of the cyphers. Players connected the locations on a map to find the word "PRELUDE," the significance of which is not yet understood.

Meanwhile, in Defence Grid, a selection procedure began to "recruit" ARG players. Players were required to find and submit a person matching a set of parameters, and were then given a question. If they answered the question, they were recruited. 100 players have been recruited and are currently being "processed." Nobody knows where this will lead.

Gabe Newell's bathysphere.

While all this was going on, the above image was put together, made up of a number of combined panels that were dug out of encrypted files uncovered during the course of the ARG. Other segments were sent out by Gabe Newell to games media outlets. We received our segment last Friday. The combined images seem to show a bathysphere. Investigators have discovered where this particular bathyphere is located, but after visiting the location, nothing was found.

No clues were found in this image. It's just a giant chicken.

Now, all of the images turned up by the puzzles found in the potato sack games (including the brilliant chicken image above), are being scrutinized for further clues. Today, mysterious emailer Everythingisfinehere, who has sent cryptic emails to many players throughout the ARG, has sent out a new message saying "You have earned a rest. Refresh yourself in the chamber of your choice and contemplate the diverse ramifications of applied information theory. Relax for a few days. Enjoy recess with the rest of the class. Kiss sweet loved ones and inhale sweet air and eat and wear sweet clothing and foods."

"There will be a test later."

The message comes with a numerical countdown from number 99,999. Along with loose ends like the 100 recruited Defense Grid players, it's a sign that the ARG isn't over yet. We've only touched on a few of the many mysteries that players have been tangled with over the last week or so. You can get the rest of the story, and keep up with all the latest developments on the Valve ARG wiki.