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Defcon 20 badges meld hieroglyphs, circuitry and cryptography for hacker scavenger hunt

Joseph Volpe , @jrvolpe

Every year, the world's hacker population descends upon Las Vegas to trade notes, sit in on informational talks and compete in friendly contests -- all in the name of Defcon. But this time out, it's the conference's ever-evolving smart badges that've caught our eye, owing mostly to what lurks beneath. Designed by Ryan Clarke -- the mastermind behind the gathering's Mystery Box challenge -- these hackable IDs, issued according to status (Press, Human, Goons, vendors, etc), come embedded with an LED, a multi-core processor, IR transmitter and accompanying hieroglyphic graphic. But that's not all that makes these high-tech tags so special. Turns out, each one contains a game, buried within its open source software, that's encoded with several cryptographic, linguistic and mathematical layers.

Shying away from hardware-focused hacks of the past, Clarke built this year's scavenger hunt-like game to be more inclusive of attendee skills, as it'll force conference-goers interested in cracking its code to break down social barriers and collaborate with other highly-specialized nerds. What's the end game, you ask? Well, according to Clarke, the puzzle is a continuation of last year's secret agent story (played out by a real-life actor) involving "a [mysterious] society of computer elites." It's not the sort of payoff we'd be after -- something greener and covered with a certain Ben Franklin's face would suffice -- but it sounds intriguing enough. Click on the source below to read more about the makings of this geek sport. And may the pastiest neckbeard win!