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New contest hopes to crack the code around William Gibson's poem 'Agrippa'

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A new contest offers a collection of every William Gibson book to the first person who successfully reverse-engineers the encryption protecting Gibson's "Agrippa (a book of the dead.)"

Agrippa Gibson
Agrippa Gibson

One of author William Gibson's more unusual works was an art piece titled Agrippa (a book of the dead.) Agrippa combined a poem with encryption meant to effectively erase it from the floppy disk on which it came after one reading; it was released in 1992. Since then, the text of the poem and the experience of reading it have been replicated, but the code that protects it has still never been broken.

A new site, Cracking the Agrippa Code, hopes to change this by putting the internet's best minds towards finding out what kind of encryption was used and how it can be reverse-engineered. Since the original diskettes are few and far between, prospective crackers will be working with an emulation of the original program and some technical guides from the contest site. The first person to figure it out and show adequate documentation will receive a copy of every Gibson book — except Agrippa.

Agrippa was designed to create a one-time experience and underscore the fading nature of memories, so cracking the code is somewhat counter to the purported original purpose. While we don't know who's organizing the contest, though, Gibson certainly doesn't seem to be opposed: he recently retweeted a mention of the project.