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Cipher Hunt
Date July 20 – August 2, 2016 (2016-07-20 – 2016-08-02)
Location  Japan
 Russia
 United States
Type Alternate reality game, Scavenger hunt
Organised by Alex Hirsch
Outcome Statue of Bill Cipher was found in a forest in Reedsport, Oregon. It was later removed and temporarily placed at Reedsport's Bicentennial Park, before being permanently relocated to Confusion Hill in Piercy, California.

Cipher Hunt was an alternate reality game and international scavenger hunt created by American animator Alex Hirsch based on his Disney Channel/Disney XD animated series Gravity Falls. The goal was to find the real-life statue of the series' antagonist Bill Cipher which was briefly glimpsed at the end of the series finale. The hunt involved retrieving and decoding clues hidden in various locations around the world.

It began on July 20, 2016 in Saint Petersburg, Russia and ended on August 2, 2016 in a forest in Reedsport, Oregon where the statue was found. The statue was later taken by local authorities due to a property dispute and was temporarily displayed at Bicentennial Park in Reedsport, before being permanently relocated to Confusion Hill in Piercy, California.

Background

Fans of Gravity Falls speculated that a real-life statue of Bill Cipher exists somewhere in the world based on the end of the series' final episode, "Weirdmageddon 3: Take Back The Falls", which aired on February 15, 2016. It contained both a clip of a real Bill Cipher statue and a message hinting at the presence of buried treasure "deep within the woods" and a statue "beyond the rusty gates". Both Hirsch and the show's team did not talk about the presence of a statue in the months following the show's end until the silence was broken on July 20, 2016 when Hirsch tweeted "Are you guys ready?" and began the game with a tweet containing the words "Let the games begin #FLSKHUKXQW" and an image that contained several cryptograms and clues.

Hirsch also posted the rules of the hunt on Twitter, which clarified that the hunt was an unofficial self-made fan tribute, unaffiliated with any company, including The Walt Disney Company. He also asked fans to be careful and to avoid tresspassing and/or vandalism, since most of the clues' locations were in public areas. Fans utilized social media outlets such as Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit to communicate and share their findings.

Hunt

First clue: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Kazan Cathedral - panoramio (1)
The Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, the location of the first clue.

After the hunt was announced on Twitter, the location of the hunt's first clue was hinted to be in Russia after a series of letters printed in red in the tweeted image was decoded using a −3 Caesar cipher and an Atbash cipher creating the country's name. Russian fans of the show recognized the diagram at the middle left of the image as an architectural plan of the Kazan Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Using a diagram at the middle right of the image which showed the first clue's exact location inside the cathedral, it was successfully found.

Second clue: Tokyo, Japan

Kanda-Myojin 2012
The Kanda Shrine in Chiyoda, Tokyo, the location of the second clue.

After the text on the first clue was decoded, it pointed to the second clue being located in Japan as the text mentioned a "shrine" and "yen", the latter of which is the country's official currency. The second clue was located at the Kanda Shrine in Chiyoda, Tokyo, which Hirsch and his partner Dana Terrace visited during their trip to the country months prior to the hunt. The clue was written on the back of one of the emas in the shrine with a drawing of a scimitar and crescent, along with an encrypted message.

Third clue: Atlanta, Georgia

The decoded text on the second clue pointed to the next clue being in the United States at 400 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE in Atlanta, Georgia as the second clue contained the words "...the hunter of the fountain of youth. 400 before his name is written...", with the first phrase describing the avenue's namesake, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. The address found led to a Shriners' temple. A community stream found a missing poster for Waddles, Mabel Pines's pet pig, in the area, which was water damaged and difficult to read. The poster contained a picture of and information about Waddles, a cryptogram, and a phone number to call if Waddles was found. When called, the number plays a backwards message, which, when reversed, played a message from one of the show's main characters, Grunkle Stan, with the theme song for the science fiction television series The X-Files playing in the background.

Fourth clue: Los Angeles, California

Ochre Court in Newport, Rhode Island, the location of the original fourth clue.
Griffith Park in Los Angeles, the location of the new fourth clue.

The recorded phone message revealed that the fourth clue's location was in the Ochre Court building of Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island. The clue was supposed to be located behind a portrait of M. Hilda Miley, the university's second president. However, the university accidentally disposed the clue before the hunt began. Hirsch then promised to give a replacement clue and asked fans to stay out of the university in the meantime. On July 21, 2016 at 12:30pm PST, Hirsch tweeted a phone number, similar to the one on Waddles' missing poster in Atlanta.

The number played a message from Grunkle Stan, which revealed that the new clue was located near the statue of Griffith J. Griffith at Griffith Park in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. A golden head of Grunkle Stan was found with a code written on a slip of paper, as well as an invisible ink pen, which reveals hidden code.

Fifth clue: Century City, California

The decoded text from the fourth clue showed that the fifth clue was located in Century City, Los Angeles, California at a park between the Century Plaza Towers and the headquarters of Creative Artists Agency, notably trimmed into the shape of the Eye of Providence. Fans were joined by Gravity Falls cast member Jason Ritter and Alex Hirsch's twin sister, Ariel Hirsch in the hunt. A black pouch was found containing a USB stick with a drawing of Bill Cipher on it. The USB stick contained an audio file that was later uploaded to SoundCloud. The recording featured Grunkle Stan being taunted by the ghost of Sister Mary Hilda Miley (a reference to the disposed clue at Salve Regina University) about not finding the treasure, with music and sound effects from the 1990 video game Super Mario World in the background.

Sixth clue: Santa Clarita, California

The fifth clue explicitly revealed the sixth clue's location, which was at the campus of the California State Summer School for the Arts in Santa Clarita, California. It also said that the clue can only be accessed by students of the campus. The sixth clue was found in the campus' sublevel in a form of a graffiti on a wall. The graffiti shows a crudely drawn Bill Cipher and a series of hex codes.

Seventh clue: Piedmont, California

The decoded hex codes from the sixth clue form co-ordinates that led to Piedmont, California, the hometown of both Pines and Hirsch twins. The rhyme on the Waddles missing poster found in Atlanta, as well as some guidance from Hirsch, led fans to a pink key tied to a tree stump in Piedmont Park, in addition to a small chest with a Cryptex locked behind a five-letter keyword.

Eighth clue: Los Angeles, California

Using the keyword from the original image, the cryptex from the seventh clue was opened, revealing the clue and another key, which showed that the eighth clue was located at a USPS post office at 1825 N Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles, California and the provided key was to be used to open a PO box that contained the eighth clue.

After several hours, the person with the key traveled to the PO box and used the key to open it. The eighth clue was a plastic bag containing two thousand jigsaw puzzle pieces. Fans almost immediately got stuck on the puzzle. After two days, during which some took sleep shifts while some did not sleep at all, they managed to complete scattered portions of the puzzle that show what it contained, which was Bill Cipher with a gnome under him and letters in a cryptogram below him and to his sides.

After another day, Hirsch sent a tweet which showed a rough idea of what the puzzle should look like upon completion, but with a different code that said "THIS IS WHERE THE CLUE WILL APPEAR" when decoded in addition to what was previously completed. After two more days, Hirsch sent two images of different sections of the puzzle and a virtual version of the puzzle was created by a fan to get some help. Fans used Adobe Photoshop to piece these two images together and then decoded what they could make out. Within a few hours the puzzle was then digitally solved by a group effort.

Ninth clue: Portland, Oregon

While progress on the puzzle was still ongoing, a fan was walking on the corner of Rodney Avenue and Tillamook Street in Portland, Oregon where he spotted a lawn gnome. Having been keeping up with the hunt on Twitter and knowing what had been solved with the puzzle so far, he decided to pick up the gnome on a whim only to find a View-Master and the ninth clue underneath it.

Though the clue was found without completing the puzzle, Hirsch provided an incentive to those who are in the process of completing both the physical and virtual puzzles by saying that if the physical puzzle got finished, he would release the unaired pilot episode of Gravity Falls made in 2010 and if the virtual puzzle got finished, he would upload unreleased cut scenes from the show. The physical puzzle was completed on August 1. Hirsch showed up upon its completion, signed it and promised the release of the original pilot.

Tenth clue: Piercy, California

The View-Master from the ninth clue contained slides depicting the area around Confusion Hill in Piercy, California, a tourist trap similar to the Mystery Shack, Grunkle Stan's business in the series. One of the slides also contains an image of Snoqualmie Falls in Washington, a waterfall known for appearing in the television series Twin Peaks, an inspiration to Gravity Falls. This pointed to the tenth clue being located at Confusion Hill.

A fan went to Confusion Hill and successfully brute-forced the passcode to a jar containing fake eyeballs, with the code being "FILBRICK," the word in invisible ink on the back of the counterfeit money (known as Stan Bucks) packaged with the jigsaw puzzle. Using the code, the fan retrieved the eyeball jar and found the tenth clue on the bottom of it. Hirsch has stated that fans will get a prize for taking a selfie with the picture of the Gravity Falls crew at Confusion Hill.

Eleventh clue: Amity, Oregon

The tenth clue pointed to the eleventh clue's location, which was at Stanley Street in Amity, Oregon, near a pair of telephone poles. A group of fans went to the street as instructed and found a geocache bolt, which they somehow lost before finding it again. They unscrewed it to find the eleventh clue inside, written double-sided on a very narrow strip of paper.

Final clue: Turner, Oregon

Enchanted Forest
The Enchanted Forest in Turner, Oregon, the location of the twelfth and final clue.

The twelfth clue was found at the Enchanted Forest amusement park in Turner, Oregon, as the eleventh clue mentioned Roger Tofte, the creator of the amusement park. A family raced to Enchanted Forest in pursuit of the clue and dug around a dirt enclosure near a laundry shop, but found nothing. Hirsch eventually realized that the clue was already taken by another fan before the family got there. The fan uploaded the image of the twelfth clue online, which was written on ripped paper and was encoded.

The twelfth clue was revealed to be the final clue, with the next stop in the hunt being the location of Bill Cipher's statue. On the back of the final clue, there was a dotted red line leading to an X, as if it was a treasure map. This dotted line can be combined with the dotted red line found on the initial Cipher Hunt image posted by Hirsch on Twitter. Fans used the initial image and final clue combined to search for the statue in several locations across the West Coast with no results. Meanwhile, many people made unsuccessful attempts to find an encoded message in the trees seen behind Bill's statue in the image.

Reedsport, Oregon

After several days with no progress and asking fans on Twitter if they wanted it, Hirsch tweeted a hint for the final clue, which revealed that a Polybius square was needed to solve the clue. Fans needed to find a pattern in the branches and knots of the trees in the image that could be converted to pairs of numbers, as well as finding out which specific version of the Polybius square was used to encode the message. Through clever cryptoanalysis of the branches and knots, and by manipulating the possible results with the assumption that the decoded message was a location that had to end with the letters "OR" (the abbreviation for Oregon), a "reverse" code cracking method was used. The most likely resulting message was "REEDSPORTOR," so the fans were able to narrow down the location of the statue to Reedsport, Oregon. Hirsch retweeted messages of fans that were heading there, reinforcing the assumption. The treasure map was assumed to be a map through the city's parks or surrounding forests to find the statue, so the fans searched in Google Maps for a path where the map fitted, locating one at the end of S 22nd Street, south of Reedsport Community Charter School. The complete code was cracked later that evening (the message already presumed to be "REEDSPORTOR").

Fans quickly raced to the city to be the first to find the statue of Bill Cipher. The statue was found on August 2, 2016 at 7:53pm PDT by Twitter user @shadow_wolfwind (who changed her Twitter handle to @OfficialGFMayor following the hunt), who tweeted a photo of it. Later, a treasure chest buried in front of the statue was found and dug up by other fans, with several of them shaking the statue's hand, including a baby.

The treasure chest contained a wide array of loot, such as plastic coins and gems, Russian and Japanese currency, a copy of the book Gravity Falls: Journal 3 with special drawings by Hirsch himself, a black light, a plastic crown and a sash that says "Mayor of Gravity Falls," a music box with Bill Cipher's eye that plays the show's theme song containing a slip of paper with a message written by Hirsch in invisible ink, a miniature Bill Cipher statue, a framed sketch of the main characters and the statue, and a USB drive. Some currency in the chest was marked by a person named Bradley who found the treasure before the hunt began.

The USB drive contained a text document that contains a link to Bradley's Twitter account, an audio file of Grunkle Stan singing the song "We'll Meet Again" and congratulating the finders, and another text document entitled "MyExWifeStillMissesMe.ButHerAimIsGettinBetter," which, when opened in Microsoft Notepad, a text reading "RETURNBACKWARDSTOTHEPASTAGAINTHREE" appears. When "RETURNBACKWARDS" and "TOTHEPASTAGAINTHREE" are entered as a username and password respectively on the website themysteryofgravityfalls.com/pilot, it would allow users to watch the unaired pilot episode of Gravity Falls, which is a prototype of "Tourist Trapped", the series' first episode, made with an entirely different art style and some altered dialogue and scenes.

Aftermath

Confusion Hill signage
Confusion Hill in Piercy, California currently houses the statue and the completed puzzle.

On August 3, a day after Bill Cipher's statue was found, the statue and its treasure were taken by local authorities because of a property conflict between the apparent proprietor who had authorized Hirsch to place the statue and another person claiming ownership of the land where it was located. Its hat was broken in the process, though it had already sustained damage. Reedsport Police ended up holding the statue for Hirsch while he arranged for it to be moved somewhere else, keeping it intact. By August 5, the statue ended up in Reedsport's Bicentennial Park, where it was bolted to the top of a tree above the ground, lacking its hat. The treasure box was placed beneath the statue. Fans continued to visit the statue.

On August 15, Hirsch called for volunteers to relocate Bill's hat and to move the statue via truck to a new location. Three days later, on August 18, the statue had been removed from Bicentennial Park with a sign in its place that read "BILL WAS HERE", when decoded through a substitution cipher. On August 19, Twitter user @Knarkill34 tweeted that they had moved the statue to an undisclosed location, but provided pictures. On August 20, several fans discovered that the statue was moved to Confusion Hill in Piercy, California. The statue acquired a new hat within a week, and the treasure box was not transported to the attraction. The statue and the completed physical puzzle are both currently housed at Confusion Hill, along with a special treasure cache where fans have since taken and left treasures for fellow fans who wish to visit the statue.

The promised reveal of deleted scenes from Gravity Falls was fulfilled when they were featured on the Gravity Falls: The Complete Series DVD box set released by Shout! Factory.

Attribution
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