ON SUNDAY FEBRUARY 4, 2007, as the Sun rose over Wakerley Great Wood in Northamptonshire, Andy Darley trudged into the ancient forest with a map and a spade, and began to dig. The clock was ticking – others were closing in. Darley, a web designer from Middlesex, near London, had made three trips here in as many days. The previous night he had caught a glimpse of a torch in the darkness – if he didn’t find what he was looking for soon, someone else would.
He dug one hole after another. Nothing. It was getting light and he was running out of ideas. Darley sighed and looked at his feet. The surface of the ground beside him seemed different; the topsoil was mixed with clay. Someone had disturbed the earth in the recent past… or perhaps buried something? He dropped to his knees, grabbed a trowel and plunged the metal into the dirt. Six inches deep it struck a solid object. “That was when it hit me,” he recounted later on his website. “That was when I knew I’d found the Cube.”
Four days later, Darley walked into the office of Mind Candy, a gaming company based in London, to present his find and claim a £100,000 prize. Darley had reached the finish line of Perplex City, an alternate reality game launched in 2005 which saw 50,000 players embark on a scavenger hunt guided by a complex web of puzzles that blurred real and virtual worlds. Players navigated an immersive story while solving clues found in puzzle cards sold in shops, and in every form of media available: websites, live events, voicemails and text messages. It was a race to locate the “Receda Cube”, a spiritual artifact valuable to the residents of Perplex City, a fictional extraterrestrial society where puzzles – and the ability to crack them – are valued above all.