Dream Theater arranged, in collaboration with the fan clubs and fan communities online, a treasure hunt culminating in the reveal of the album title and artwork for the new Dream Theater album “Distance Over Time”, for release in February 2019. See this link for the reveal! This is a series of several articles covering the entire process of solving the treasure hunt as released by Dream Theater and “Team Jacobi”. This is the first article, covering the first couple of puzzles. Stay tuned for more!
Hidden by Design
Image and words published by the official Dream Theater Facebook page on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
As solved by the people from the #dt Discord channel
Bonus tracks proofread by Ana Polari
Compiled by Sebastián Pratesi
On Friday, June 29, Dream Theater World –Dream Theater’s world-wide fan-club since 2016– posted on its Facebook page:
The photograph would be re-posted the following day in the ‘Dream Theater going into the studio in 2 weeks’ thread in Dream Theater Forums –the band’s largest on-line forum-type community– by member ‘Freddy Jacobi’, and two weeks later by the official Dream Theater Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.
Taken the day prior, the photograph shows singer James LaBrie near the kitchen in the studio where the band had been writing the music for their forthcoming fourteenth studio album since Monday, June 11; on the wall, a memo/call-sheet gives directives to the band members about activities scheduled for that day, including a live video Q&A session broadcasted through the band’s official Facebook page.
The memo ends with the following:
Of course, ‘the link’ doesn’t redirect to ‘the live Q&A’, or anywhere at all: ‘uggcf://vf.tq/jbfrur’ is not a valid URL, but https://is.gd/wosehe encrypted through the ROT13 cipher instead.
In turn, the decrypted URL is a short-link of https://twitter.com/FreddyJacobi – the URL of the Twitter account of Freddy, who had tweeted the day before:
And so, began a ‘treasure hunt’ that lasted until the first days of November. Freddy himself started a thread about it –aptly titled ‘Treasure Hunt’– on Dream Theater Forums on Wednesday, July 11. A day later, another thread on the topic was opened in the Dream Theater fan community at Reddit, a Discord channel was created specifically destined for discussions related to the hunt, and fan ‘Hyrul’ made a public Google Doc consisting of descriptions of everything to do with Freddy’s challenge. (A similar document in French by ‘the keyboard wizard’ was posted on Tuesday, July 17, in the website of French fan-club Your Majesty, and one in Spanish is in the works.)
Although no official confirmation was shared at the beginning of the hunt, some clues needed to progress on its solving came from the band’s official social media pages, and Kim Arthur ‘noxon’ Sakariassen –founder of Dream Theater World as well as one of the key people involved in the band’s Norwegian fan-club– replied on Freddy’s thread:
Throughout the hunt, or ARG (acronym for ‘Alternate Reality Game’), nothing was known about what the prize would be, nor who Freddy really was. Soon, speculation spread in fan communities, with the main suspects being:
- Drummer Mike Mangini. (Because of his experience with Computer Science.)
- Bassist John Myung. (Because of his enigmatic persona.)
- A company hired by the band to design and run the hunt.
In any event, as Freddy put it in one of his messages:
This puzzle will rely on logical skills, computer skills, and social skills.
But I know this; you can’t solve this alone. You have to get help from friends. And even more importantly; you have to make new friends.
All of the above turned out to be true, as hunters developed a strong bond by collaborating with –and learning from– each other. Furthermore, people dedicated much of their time to helping ‘Hyrul’ expand his ‘DREAM THEATER’S ARG / TREASURE HUNT’ Google Doc, which would prove to be popular enough for Freddy to turn it into a clue itself on two occasions.
The band looking at the fan-made Google Doc in early September.
Picture tweeted by Freddy on Friday, October 12.
The next Background section in this document deals with examples of the incisive ‘detective work’ that Dream Theater’s followers are known for, as well as precedents of the band posing challenges to –and interacting with– their fans.
The section after is a Walkthrough of the treasure hunt, not unlike those written for RPGs and other videogames. The majority of the hunt appears to still be playable even though the treasure has already been found so, if you want to give it a go by yourself, skip that section. Keep in mind that, just like many RPGs, the hunt is not linear: most puzzles are unrelated to each other, so you can read about –and attempt to solve– them in different orders.
For the ease of the reading, this walkthrough does not include all posts by Freddy, but those which prove to be necessary clues in order to progress, in addition to others which help make the text simpler and clearer. More messages and hints by Freddy can be found in the Easter Eggs section, and by browsing through his social media and Dream Theater Forums thread. (All of which are linked throughout the text.)
Similarly, within the puzzles’ descriptions, comments about the cryptography involved are minimal. The Ciphers section expands on five of these ciphers, with brief backgrounds, examples, and explanations about how they work and the way they can be approached just with paper and pencil. (Links to websites with more information, as well as freely available online decrypting tools, are listed in the Sources and resources section at the end of the document.)
Following the walkthrough, there’s a Summary of key dates related to the hunt, concepts and tasks required, and what the treasure was and who found it.
Finally, the last section of this document consists of four Bonus tracks:
- A short history of Dream Theater online fan communities, going back to 1993.
- A short history of the band’s online presence, going back to 1996.
- A timeline of the production cycle for the band’s forthcoming studio album.
- A list of key anniversaries that will occur in 2019.
The documents by ‘Hyrul’ and ‘the keyboard wizard’ formed the basis for this one, and can respectively be found by clicking on the following links:
This document was produced with invaluable help and contributions by Kim Arthur ‘noxon’ Sakariassen, ‘bosk1’, Mark Bredius, Rai ‘Weymolith’ Beardsley, Scott ‘Setlist Scotty’ Hansen, Rudy van IJzendoorn, Nick ‘Bogie’ Bogovich, Darko Böhringer, Mark Maryanovich, Jake Solomon, Juan Manuel Perez, ‘the keyboard wizard’, Rob Webster, Chris Herdt, the Microsoft Translator Team, my English teacher Josefina Rivero Rodriguez, and my friend Ana Polari. (email@example.com)
Thank you, everyone at the #dt Discord channel (specially ‘Hyrul’, ‘el_deadache’, Max Kühnau, ‘Beatrice’, ‘Sinister Rectus’, ‘Pax’, ‘rwcrell’, ‘Xiad Mabsax’, ‘Atakan’, ‘Burgersinthesky’, ‘Cam’, ‘IDontNotDoThings’, ‘Joachim_YourMajesty’, ‘CezShreddR’ and ‘rblakefoster314’), for the many things you taught me throughout the past three months.
Thank you, Dream Theater and Freddy, for entertaining us and making us learn. This was worthwhile.
And thank you, uncle Mario, for introducing me to the band when I was 15.
Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Friday, November 2, 2018
On Thursday, June 6, 2013, a video titled ‘In Studio Ep1’ was uploaded on Dream Theater’s YouTube page. The 2-and-½ minute clip represented the first in a series of updates by the band on the production of their self-titled 12th studio album, ahead of its September release date.
Towards the end of the video, the camera shows engineer Richard Chycki looking at his computer’s screen, which displays a MIDI grid for one of Jordan Rudess’ keyboard tracks. The grid can be seen twice, very shortly, while Chycki talks about the five-piece’s attention to detail.
A member of Dream Theater Forums going by the alias ‘The Fatal Tragedy’ took a screenshot of the video, re-created the MIDI file based on the image, and shared his work in the ‘DT in the studio again!’ thread, on Saturday 8. And that’s how the ‘Lucid dreams’ movement in “False awakening suite” was first listened to, more than three months before the track’s release.
Later, on Thursday 12, Rai ‘Weymolith’ Beardsley –moderator at DTF, and one of the people involved in the band’s online presence– posted a picture on his Facebook page, consisting of a screenshot of the soundwaves for a 2-hour FLAC file named ‘DT Xmas Live v1’, opened in the Goldwave audio editing software.
Image by and courtesy of Rai ‘Weymolith’ Beardsley.
That evening, another DTF member named ‘Nest777’ noticed that the soundwaves for the final 20 minutes of the file coincided with those of the song “The Count of Tuscany”; he proceeded to identify all songs –minus one– corresponding to the rest of the soundwaves, and shared his conclusions in the ‘Interesting Post On Weymolith’s FB Page This Morning’ thread. Two hours later, fellow member ‘TheAtliator’ identified the remaining song, corrected one of the titles, and suggested that a specific additional song should have been part of Beardsley’s file as well. And that’s how the track-list and concept of the Happy Holidays live compilation was discovered, ten days before the album’s announcement/release.
The above are only but two of many examples of how dedicated Dream Theater fans can be. That level of ‘detective work’ has only become more frequent and incisive ever since the band started actively using social media as a means of updating their followers on the progress of the writing and recording stages of their studio albums – i.e., at the beginning of the current decade.
Of course, fans have also been this way long before the social media craze, and even apply their skills to dissect the band’s music – particularly on concept albums. Some of us are able to discover a reoccurring element or two floating around on a few songs, such as that one at the beginning of “Octavarium” (made up of a melody by the strings in “The answer lies within” and a chord progression from “The root of all evil”); others take it to a whole different level, like Fabien Labonde did in his ‘Scenes From A Memory analysis’. (Occasionally, the band has reacted to these type of expressions, such as through the 2016 ‘Inside The Astonishing’ series.)
More interestingly, though – the band has posed challenges to their fanbase:
- The “Stream of consciousness” song-writing contest:
In August 2003, after Train of thought had been recorded (but its details not yet revealed), Dream Theater posted on their website MIDI conductor charts and pictures of whiteboards with handwritten notes taken during the writing process of the instrumental “Stream of consciousness” from the forthcoming album. The pictures detailed certain aspects of the piece –such as length, tempo, time signatures, and keys– but gave very vague information about melodies. (For instance, two sections were called ‘Beatles B to G’ and ‘E♭Evil Di Meola’.) Furthermore, the post offered tips on how to interpret the information found in the pictures, asked fans to create and share a CD with their version of what was abbreviated in the whiteboards as “S.O.C.”, and indicated rules and prizes. An initial deadline of October 1 was soon postponed two weeks, by which time the band had received over 50 entries from 4 different continents. The winning composition (by Andy Rowland and Ant Law) was announced in January 2004, and eventually played at every Dream Theater tour date that year, during the ‘house music’ that concert-goers listened to before the band hit the stage; what’s more, the top 7 selections were compiled into a CD by Theater of dreams –then the “Dream Theater International Fan Club”– as a souvenir to its members.
- The “In the name of God” Morse code message:
In December 2004, then drummer Mike Portnoy released a DVD called Live at Budokan, featuring the isolated drum tracks from the band’s video of the same name (recorded in Japan in April); also included throughout the DVD was audio commentary by Portnoy. One of his comments was that the band had hid something ‘special’ in the studio version of “In the name of God”, released a year earlier. On New Year’s Eve, a member of Portnoy’s message board with the screen-name ‘drumfan256’ created a thread asking fans about this; similar threads were opened 3 weeks later by fellow members suggesting what they thought the ‘nugget’ was, with Portnoy eventually letting them know they were incorrect. On January 24, member ‘DarrylRevok’ wrote on ‘drumfan256’s thread that, at 5:51 in the song, he was hearing sounds resembling Morse code. Two days later, Portnoy commented that the answer was indeed somewhere in that thread, after which Nick Bogovich –longtime Dream Theater fan nicknamed ‘Bogie’– worked on ‘DarrylRevok’s idea and discovered the complete message in Morse code, heard very subtly in the song from 5:51 to 6:07. That evening, Bogovich posted his discovery, which Portnoy confirmed solved the mystery.
Recently, Dream Theater has experimented with various approaches when promoting an imminent release. In August 2011, 1-minute snippets of songs from A dramatic turn of events were posted in different YouTube channels and music news portals. Throughout August and September 2013, the band shared on their official Instagram page fragments of artwork from the forthcoming self-titled studio album and Live at Luna Park DVD. In October 2015, an invitation to “Choose wisely” one of two paths (or both) popped up when visiting dreamtheater.net; soon, the plots, characters, places and map related to the story of The Astonishing –as well as the album’s track-list and videos– started being revealed through e-mails, social media, and a specific site.
The 2018 treasure hunt seems to have been created with Dream Theater’s fan base in mind, with the examples and challenges described above as precedents. Additionally, a key aspect of the hunt was the creative use of a variety of social networks, websites and software to reveal information – something the band had been doing for the previous three album cycles, as exposed earlier.
On the account description of Freddy’s Twitter page, there’s a link:
The link redirects to the WordPress page of a certain company called ‘Vail Renovations’, supposedly ran by Freddy.
In the ‘Welcome’ message at the site, there’s a phone number:
When calling this number (which, according to the area code, corresponds to a client in upstate New York), a pre-recorded message by a male voice is heard:
Thank you for calling Vail Renovations. Play close attention. The password you seek is the last name of the designer of the most Dream Theater album covers, and the year that Dream Theater reached their highest peak on the Billboard charts.
Between 2005 and 2013, Canadian artist Hugh Syme designed five Dream Theater studio album covers – the most by any designer. Black clouds and silver linings, one of the albums whose artwork Syme worked on, debuted at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart the week of Saturday, July 11, 2009; this is to date the group’s highest peak on the popular publication. Therefore, the ‘password’ is Syme2009.
In the ‘Contact’ section at Vail Renovations’ site, Freddy also offers the possibility of contacting him through a form, with ‘Email’ as a required field.
After doing so, the following e-mail by Freddy was received:
On Wednesday, July 11, Freddy sent a second e-mail:
Thanks to Rob Webster for sharing Freddy’s e-mails.
The link sent by Freddy in his second e-mail redirects to a password-protected entry at Vail Renovations’ site, named after Dream Theater’s first studio album:
By inputting Syme2009 as password, the puzzle is solved.
On Wednesday, July 11, Freddy tweeted:
The picture shows bassist John Myung in the studio where the band had finished writing the music for their forthcoming fourteenth studio album the day before; indeed, the camera captures John checking out Reddit –specifically, Dream Theater’s fan community (or ‘subreddit’) on the platform– on a computer screen on Friday, June 29.
One of the tabs open in the web browser reads ‘Freddy Jacobi (u/FreddyJacobi)’:
This suggests the existence of an account of Freddy on Reddit. Indeed – the account with the URL https://www.reddit.com/user/freddyjacobi:
Three minutes later, Freddy replied to his own tweet:
The tweet is an anagram of ‘Gronsfeld cipher’ – a type of cipher that Freddy had admitted he enjoyed. (See Easter Eggs.) This suggests that the meaningless phrase at the end of Freddy’s Reddit account description is text encrypted through the Gronsfeld cipher, which requires a numeric key. (See Gronsfeld cipher.)
Indeed: using ‘84552723’ –the number in the URL of Vail Renovations’ site– as key, ‘OpfxuWtlass’ decrypts as ‘GlassPrison’ – the title of a song from Six degrees of inner turbulence, Dream Theater’s sixth studio album.
On Friday 13, Freddy tweeted a link:
The link redirects to a GIF:
The GIF consists of two almost identical frames featuring Dream Theater’s logo –called the ‘Majesty symbol’, after the original name of the band– in black, over a white background; the only difference between the frames is that, in one of them, there’s text hidden below the logo, in a slightly darker shade than the background:
The text is https://vailrenovations84552723.wordpress.com/look/ – the URL of a password-protected entry at Vail Renovations’ site.
By inputting GlassPrison as password, the puzzle is solved.
On Monday, July 16, Freddy tweeted a poll, with the options being the titles of the band’s four longest songs. (“Octavarium” won three days later by a narrow margin.)
Note that there’s a typo in “In The Presence of Enemies”: the letter ‘o’ is missing.
Starting on the evening of Wednesday 18, Freddy tweeted four numbers:
The many hours between consecutive tweets suggest that these numbers form the IP address 22.214.171.124.
On Thursday 19, Freddy also tweeted a low resolution image of a dead sparrow:
Above the sparrow, there’s text hidden in the darker section of the image:
The text is ‘spz2.jpg’, which suggests that there’s a URL of another image to be formed by the clues. Indeed – 126.96.36.199/spz2.jpg, the URL of a higher size and resolution version of the sparrow image:
The text to the right of the sparrow is part of the lyrics to “Pull me under” – a song from Images and words, Dream Theater’s second studio album.
Below the sparrow, a sequence of thirty-three 8-digit numbers can be found:
01011001 01101111 01110101 00100111 01110010 01100101 00100000 01101100 01101111 01101111 01101011
01101001 01101110 01100111 00100000 01101001 01101110 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000
01110111 01110010 01101111 01101110 01100111 00100000 01110000 01101100 01100001 01100011 01100101
These numbers consist entirely of zeros and ones, which suggests that the sequence is ASCII code written in binary system.
ASCII –acronym for ‘American Standard Code for Information Interchange’– is a code for informatics developed in the 1960s by then American Standards Association (nowadays, the American National Standards Institute), and consists of the representation of 95 printable –and 33 ‘control’– characters written in four different numeral systems, including binary.
Indeed – the sequence is the following message written in binary:
You’re looking in the wrong place
Of course, the ‘right place’ to look for text in the image is the image opened in a text editor; when doing so, and scrolling down to the bottom, the following can be read:
The name ‘more.txt’ on the last line suggests that there’s a text file to be found as part of the image. Indeed – the image is a self-extracting archive. (In other words: it’s an image which also works like a ZIP folder.) Its content is, precisely, ‘more.txt’.
When ‘more.txt’ is opened in a text editor, a message by Freddy can be read:
As ‘rc4’ suggests, the first line is a ‘box’ encrypted through the RC4 cipher, and the ‘key to open’ it –according to the paragraph about ‘inspiration’– is found in the Bible.
Part of the inspiration for former keyboardist Kevin Moore when writing the lyrics to “Pull me under” was the tragedy Hamlet, written at the dawn of the 17th century by English poet William Shakespeare; in Act 5, Scene 2, Hamlet speaks to Horatio:
There’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow.
In turn, this line is an allusion to the 29th verse in the 10th chapter of the ‘Gospel of Matthew’ – the first book in the New Testament of the Christian Bible:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.
Therefore, ‘the key to open the box’ is ‘Matthew 10:29’.
With this key, ‘sp9fOXAkIFer1fLh4UpAisBoB1AKv5SaB8E4kw==’ decrypts as https://youtu.be/J8XC3-DF0kY – the URL of a video on Freddy’s YouTube channel:
The video shows guitar tech Matthew Schieferstein and engineer James Meslin in the studio where the band had been recording their new album since Tuesday 11; throughout the video, Matthew dials a 10-digit number on his cellphone.
Although the camera doesn’t show the keys pressed by Matthew, it’s possible to reconstruct the number dialed based on his thumbs’ initial positions and movements. (Each thumb moves vertically in a single column, so the possibilities to consider are few.)
||Presses key in the middle, and moves down
|Presses key at the top
||Presses key at the bottom.
Judging by Matthew’s thumbs’ movements, the dialed area code can be 510, 518, 619, 629, and 810. Of these, 518 had already appeared in a phone number to be called (see Puzzle #1), and is the only one assigned to an area in New York. (Which is the state where Freddy lives.) This suggests that the dialed area code by Matthew is 518.
Indeed – 518 and the thumbs’ other movements determine the number to be (518) 227-1547. When calling it, a pre-recorded message by a female voice is heard:
Thank you for calling. The password is ‘Finally Free’.
The description of Freddy’s YouTube video is:
When the ‘password’ heard during the phone call is ‘surrounded by the missing’ letter in Freddy’s Twitter poll, the actual password oFinallyFreeo is formed.
The last line of ‘spz2.jpg’ opened in a text editor ends with the URL of Freddy’s personal WordPress page, at the time consisting of just one password-protected entry, named after Dream Theater’s third studio album:
By inputting oFinallyFreeo as password, the puzzle is solved.
To Be Continued in Part 2!