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

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!