Another SDCC ARG First Hand Account
This is meant to be a companion piece to B-Cipher's post. I haven't read that post yet, as I didn't want to accidentally pick up pieces that were not part of my experience.
Hopefully this ends up being readable, as it feels quite long. This is still very much in the draft phase. I haven't even read through it for editing yet, but I didn't want to keep people waiting any longer.
Act 1 – Banking with Evil Corp Thursday Evening Run on Bank of E My banking experience didn’t go as the ARG designer would have planned. There are some clues you’re supposed to pick up on as part of signing up for and using your E-Coin card. Following those clues is supposed to lead you to entering a promo code on e-coin.com that initiates a one way message from a person advising you to apply for a job at Red Wheelbarrow.
Instead, when I got to Bank of E, the line was long, but the line at RedWheelbarrow was short. Being hungry and knowing about the e-coin.com website already, I signed up for my e-coin card online and headed over to Red Wheelbarrow to get some food with my 20 e-coins. There I observed people with an application and overheard people asking to apply. This all while eating eating a delicious pulled pork slider, milkshake, and some potato chips I had purchased with my evil coins. These, by the way, were the only things available to eat.
Act 2 – Finding the Pieces The Application I didn’t need the job, but it sounded like fun. So, I headed over to the employee at the door and asked for an application.
Employee: “An application for what?”
Me: “A job application”
Employee: “Oh, you would like to work here?”
Me: “Yes, I would like to work here.”
She then proceeded to hand the application to me. She said to fill it out, look around inside and out to observe things. That was a little bit out of character, but it was the first day and it seemed like maybe people were needing a little nudging in the right direction. She also drew my attention to the top right corner of the application pointing out the application number “619”. She said it was important and that I would need it if I were to proceed with getting the job.
Being a San Diego local, I immediately recognized “619” as a San Diego area code. I checked other people’s applications and noticed it was the same on all of them. I thought perhaps I needed to look more closely at the application to find the rest of the phone number.
Looking more closely at the application, I noticed three circles in the top left corner. Each was about the size of a bubble you might find on a scantron form and the first one was filled in. Also, the words in the application were very obviously missing some letters. Asking one of the employees for a pen, I wrote down the missing letters in order. After only the first few letters it was apparent words were forming. The final result being “find and assemble the pieces enlightenment calls”.
Not a phone number, but a clue of sorts. I didn’t yet know what the pieces were, but I knew I had to find them. There didn’t appear to be anything else of interest about the application, so I started looking around.
Inside Red Wheelbarrow BBQ To help set the scene, Red Wheelbarrow had a very simple rectangular design. The entrance was very large. It had one of the folding/sliding doors that ran from the floor to the ceiling that was pulled all the way open during business hours.
The back wall was all black and contained a very large neon Red Wheelbarrow sign underneath which was a very large service counter. Behind the counter to the right stood a cashier. To the left stood a couple of employees dispensing orders of pulled pork and milkshakes.
The right wall had two very prominent features. Two big red doors that were begging to be opened except an employee was almost always stationed in front of them. Then there was a big cork board with a large map of locations accepting e-coin in the center surrounded by leaflets of businesses.
The left wall was dominated by three very large cartoon style heads. One being a pig, the other a cow, and finally a chicken. They were each nicely centered in their own tile motifs.
The center of the space was taken up by tables. There were several bar height long skinny tables running in parallel to the entrance. Seating was also available along and facing the left wall. In the front corners were placed tables for two that fit neatly into the available space.
The design was simple, but it had character. It was neat and clean. Space was well used and customers flowed through efficiently.
As I temporarily set aside my application, my attention was most drawn to the cork board. The primary reason for these being that there were people with applications poking around it. They kept lifting up leaflets and looking behind them. There were many phone numbers on the leaflets, but since I recognized them as real local businesses I didn’t make anything of them. These people however did and started to call them. An act I am certain was repeated numerous times by others to what I am sure was the delight of those local business owners. I have a theory as to why people thought these were numbers they should be calling, which I’ll get to later other than to say it didn’t help they were mostly numbers with a 619 area code.
The red doors were of interest to me, but I didn’t see anyone opening them and there was that employee taking a guard like position in front of them. If I was going to open them, I would need to converse with the employee, but I was lacking anything other than my curiosity as a topic of discussion. So for the moment I turned my attention elsewhere.
I started looking at the left wall and those images of the three animal heads to try and make sense of them. I should note that I had minimal sleep the night before, so my cognitive ability was slightly inhibited. I saw other posters hanging around the restaurant with those three heads in them, so I took pictures of all of them just in case there was something there.
Giving up on the animal heads, I turned around and noticed a double sided chalkboard floor sign. One side facing out to the streets and the other facing inside towards the patrons. It had some words on it, which I instantly recognized as Tyrell’s least favorite poem. At the bottom on each corner was a paper cutout of a white chicken. The one on the left was clucking “Follow Us” which in my impaired cognitive state assumed to be a reference to twitter. I thought the poem just a nice touch for the fans.
Having consumed my delectables and feeling slightly stumped, I remembered the giver of the application advising me to look both in and outside. Picking up and appropriately disposing of my trash, I headed out.
Outside To the right of Red Wheelbarrow is a door in front of which a security guard was sometimes standing. It was covered in newspapers. There was a certain page on the door that repeated itself several times and stood out from the others in terms of texture and color. Typed upon it was a story about some fantastical events that sounded oddly like something out of an Avengers movie. It also contained a crossword puzzle. One of the copies of this paper had the crossword puzzle filled out. The papers were all behind the glass of the door, so someone who had access to the inside had to of filled it out.
The clues for the crossword puzzle were single words and formed the following instructions / guidance: “Put First Things First Don’t Be Afraid Switch Things Up”. Each answer appeared to be a word but was scrambled. The unscrambled words were as follows: The Enlightenment Right Door To That Unlock Behind Find
Even now I’m uncertain of the correct way to combine those words, but I believe I understand their meaning, which I’ll get back to later. I believe this clue is what was causing people to look behind the leaflets. I’m not sure if it’s because one of the leaflets had a picture of a door or if they were in such close proximity to the red doors and appeared to be behind those doors in the sense that they were further towards the inside of the restaurant than the doors.
I also noticed a combination lock on the door. It was the kind where you had a button for each digit from 0 to 9. Since it was a door to the right of Red Wheelbarrow, I tried entering the only number I had access to so far: 619. I tried it several times, but nothing. After a few moments the security guard noticed and advised me there was nothing behind there related to Red Wheelbarrow. And with that, I moved on.
The only other thing outside I hadn’t examined closely was the boarded up Mr. Robot store to the left of Bank of E, which was to the left of Red Wheelbarrow. Upon it were some notices about the place being condemned. Also, there were several identical advertisements for EOL, which read like Evil Corp’s version of AOL. At that time I thought there was probably more to this shuttered storefront, especially since the people tending the line for Bank of E were making sure to keep the line from blocking it. But being exhausted, I took some pictures and took my leave of this slice of Mr. Robot’s world.
Later that Evening I decided to check on reddit to see if anyone had made any progress. In doing so, I stumbled across a post speaking of a telephone number. The poster explained his sister had discovered while following the clues at Red Wheelbarrow, but when they called it heard a message advising it would not be available until tomorrow. I tried it and got the same message. Now I had that phone number for reference, but wasn’t positive it had a relationship to the ARG.
Friday Revelations As I sat in one of those dreadful comic con lines, I took a moment to review the photos I had taken. Having gotten some rest I was feeling more up to the task. As I flipped through the photos I came once again to the sign with the Red Wheelbarrow poem. This time the chicken clucking “Follow Us” struck me a much different way. I had the thought that it was meant literally. Both of the chickens on the sign were pointing the same way. It also dawned on me for a place that had so many repeating images of a pig, cow, and chicken that the chicken was oddly out of place. They served pig in the form of pulled pork sandwiches, cow in the form of milkshakes, but no chicken! It was really feeling like I was on to something, so I made may way back to Red Wheelbarrow as close to their opening time as possible.
Upon my return I stumbled across several other people who were looking behind those leaflets and infuriating local business owners with their misplaced calls. They didn’t have the number from reddit. At that time I tried calling it, but it rang twice and then dropped. It was curious, but for the moment was feeling like a dead end.
Following the Chickens So, back to the poem sign with the chickens. Oddly enough the chicken clucking “Follow Us” was missing as were the words “Follow Us”. I have no idea who removed them. It could have been the employees or some vandals. My money is on the employees in an attempt to slightly crank up the difficulty level. I wasn’t going to let one missing chicken stop my theory, so follow the direction of the chickens I did. Looking to my right, I noticed another chicken pointing outside. Outside, I saw another chicken leading to the Mr. Robot storefront and then another leading past it and another and another. I was now almost to the end of the block and the chickens seemed to have disappear. I was about to continue down the street but thought better of it using the reasoning that the ARG runners wouldn’t have spread out the event too far. So, I turned around and as I did I noticed some more chickens across the street.
So, being careful to look both way (even though it was a one way street) I ran across and continued to follow them until I noticed a poster. This poster was not an add, but had an image of four puppets on it. It had a phrase below the puppets “If you pull the right strings, a puppet will dance any way you desire.” In the bottom right corner the word “Enlightenment” appeared. In the top left corner were three circles, very similar to the ones on the job application, except the third one was filled in.
Now, I’m getting excited. I’m on to something. Based on the quote I started looking for strings. There were strings on the poster that were attached to the puppets. There were 12 strings total. 3 strings attached to each puppet. I looked and looked at how the strings were grouped, the number of different types of objects on the poster, etc. But none of it felt right or made sense. The phrase was interesting, but it didn’t feel like there was anything to decipher about it. But those three circles…. I was certain now they were there to identify three different pieces of the puzzle. This was the third one, the application was the first, but where was the second?
I had a feeling I was missing something about the Mr. Robot Storefront, so I headed back over there. Glancing again at the EOL ad, I noticed something I hadn’t before: three circles! The second one was filled in! Reading through it, I noticed three words that were all in caps. They spelled the numbers 4 3 1. Well now that sounded familiar. Those were the three numbers from the middle part of the phone number I saw on reddit.
At this point I’m convinced there was something to the phone number that wouldn’t go through. Maybe the person who posted it had the number wrong. I hadn’t yet figured out the poster, so I went back there looking for more numbers. This time I noticed something I hadn’t before. Each puppet’s right hand was holding up a certain number of fingers. 2 3 5 4, which happened to match the last four of the number I saw on reddit.
Placing the Call Despite my lack of success calling previously and all of the other comments about how people weren’t able to get through, I was now convinced it was the right thing to do. I just kept hitting redial until finally a voice!
Voice: “If you pull the right strings”
Me: ! A puppet will dance any way you desire!
Voice: Congratulations! You have successfully followed the path we have left for you. Now your journey continues. Will you join us?
The voice then advised me to meet at a certain place (one of the street corners close to Red Wheelbarrow) at a certain time that day. End of call
Obligations In my excitement I had failed to notice the time provided conflicted with other obligations I had. My excitement must have lasted for awhile, because I didn’t make the connection until very later in the day, very close to the time I was supposed to meet at the corner. I tried calling back the number, but it had switched over to the message advising to call back the next day. I started to worry I might have missed my shot, so I ran by Red Wheelbarrow and quietly pulled one of the employees out of character to explain my situation. To my relief, I was told it shouldn’t be any problem to call back again the next day around 10:30 AM.
Not as Planned So Saturday 10:30 rolls around. I dial up the number and get through on the first call.
Voice: The real you is not a puppet which life pushes around
Oh no! They changed the puzzle. In my frenzied state I managed to have the sense to realize that was likely a real quote. Phone. Google. Confirmed. Redial.
For the love of all that is holy! Did they block me for failing to give the right response? Were they tremendously busy? I didnt know. Fearing the worse, I grab my girlfriend’s phone and place the call again. This time I at least got rings, but it would cut after a couple. I tried several more times, but I still couldn’t get through.
All of this occurred on the car ride back downtown. Once I get there, I hopped outside and ran to the poster. Indeed, they had changed it, and I did have the right response “The real, deep down you is the whole universe.” I just kept redialing until I finally heard the voice again. This time with the proper response, I was given a new street corner and time to meet. And something else that hand’t been requested before. I was asked to bring my application.
Great. I had left my application at home. So, a trip back to Red Wheelbarrow was in store. After a short walk and a pleasant conversation with an employee about the wisdom of wearing plaid shirts in the summer, I had a fresh copy in my hands. Now, all I had to do was wait.
Act 3 – The Light Street Corner As I approached the designated street corner, I noticed a guy that looked like a way too hip version of Elliot. He had the haircut, wore a lot of black, but had a leather jacket and glasses. I kind of figured this was who was meeting me, but I didn’t address him. I stood where I was told to by the voice on the phone and waited. He soon turned to me and said my name. He then started walking down the block without saying anything further. I followed in awkward silence.
After a few steps he asked for my job application. I handed it over and he glanced at it.
Way too Hip Elliot: You didn’t fill it out
Me: Do I need to?
Way too Hip Elliot: I’m sure you’ll find your way
With that he handed it back. We were now at the door to the right of Red Wheelbarrow that was covered in newspapers and crossword puzzles. Was this the door that right behind enlightenment would be unlocked or whatever that jumble of words from the crossword was trying to say? He opened the door and I walked in with him following behind.
Hallway We’re in a long hallway. There is a girl in Elliot’s signature hoodie standing halfway down the hall. At the end behind her was a door. On the left was a chair that looked straight out of an old pizza parlor — red cushion and all — placed next to a payphone. The phone was interesting to me for several reasons. 1. It’s 2017. 2. It’s inside a random hallway. 3. An image of the cow head from Red Wheelbarrow was placed on the front of it.
Neither the girl or way too hip Elliot said a word. I ponder for a moment interacting with the phone, but instead I walked towards the girl. As I did she turned and continued down the hall.
As we walked, the silence was finally broken by the guy following me informing me he would need my phone. I was in a trusting mood, so I handed it over.
While we continued to walk, I saw one more door to my left. If I had to guess, it would have led behind the counter in Red Wheelbarrow.
Reaching the end of the hallway, the girl deliberately raised her right hand and gave two sturdy and well paced knocks on the door. The door opened.
Hang in There I entered into a dark room. Angela would remember it well. In the center of the room sat a dimly illuminated desk. It was positioned perpendicular to the wall containing the door I had entered. On the side of the desk closest to me where two chairs. On the left side of the desk was a Commodore 64, external floppy drive, and keyboard facing away from me. On the right side of the desk was a familiar looking red rotary phone. Behind the desk sat a person. I’m sad to say it was not a doppelgänger of a child version of myself. Instead, it appeared to be one of the masked members of the Dark Army. He had his arm outstretched to the chair to my right.
I sat as his body language instructed. I then heard the sounds of the C64 read a disk.
Here my memory fades slightly. He asked several Land of Ecodelia type questions. I remember the final two.
Masked Man: How does the dream end?
Masked Man: Are you afraid of the dark?
Masked Man: Then prove it.
He pushed a light switch towards me. I reached over and flipped it.
Then a black light illuminating the wall behind him. There were many things written on the back wall. I have trouble remembering them all now but some were formulas. In this moment I also noticed another door on the right side of that wall. I spent some time looking at them all because I thought there might be more to the wall than the big question smack dab in the middle of it, which read “What is it those in the darkness seek?” (Or something close to that). After a moment he raised his right hand back to the wall. I gave in and said, “Light”.
Click. The black light was off, but now an illuminated first tank appeared to my right. The red phone started to ring.
I picked up the phone. Resting my left elbow on the desk and looking towards the fish tank, I put the receiver too my ear. Remembering the admonishing Angela received, I said nothing.
I heard nothing.
Finally, I bit.
Voice: Oh, no no no. Please, don’t talk. I have allotted precisely one minute and twenty seven seconds for this conversation.
I don’t know if it was voice activated or if I gave in too early. However, it was quite clearly the voice of B.D. Wong as Whiterose. Now, I tried to memorize all one minute and twenty seven seconds worth of what I was told, but I would probably need the help of a hypnotist to recall it all. The essence of the message was that I should be scolded if I thought the takedown of evil corp was all there was to this. What was happening would go beyond you, me, her, CEOs, Evil Corp, country, etc. She very directly stated not everyone was going to make it. No specifics on who was going to die were provided. Right as she was about to tell me what was in store the sound of a digital alarm went off. She had to go. End of call.
I slowly placed the receiver back on its base and looked up at the masked man. He informed me I had earned the right to view something. He said I would have 30 seconds to look. He then proceed to take a manilla envelop out of a drawer and as I started to reach for it he reluctantly dropped it on the desk in the manner a high school bully being forced to return someone’s lunch.
I quickly picked up and opened the envelope. The contents were several 8×11 inch photographs. For now, I will not describe them except to say they looked to be from things happening in Season 3. At some later time I will add my descriptions of those photos.
After spending several seconds on each photo, I straightened them and placed them back in the envelop which I then dropped on the center part of the desk.
Masked Man: You may leave now
As he spoke, he motioned towards the door I had come in through. For some reason, I couldn’t help but think of the door I could see in the opposite direction of where he was pointing. In that setting, I couldn’t help but feel like Angela who failed to try to open a door because she thought it was locked. Was there more to this or was I about to go completely off script? I didn’t have much time to figure out to do, so not wanting to risk a confrontation, I headed out the door I was directed to.
As I exited, the girl in the hoodie was waiting for me. She handed back my phone and started walking down the hallway. I followed. Once again, I had thoughts of picking up the pay phone, but I continued. She slightly opened the door to the outside and I slid on through to the bewilderment of people standing in line waiting to buy pulled pork and milkshakes but not chicken.