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How to Shave Obama: Behind the baffling, nearly two-year-long quest to find Frog Fractions 2

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What if we're already playing Frog Fractions 2?

If you had been at a certain spot on the campus of UC Berkeley on April 5, 2014 at 3 p.m., you would have seen something phenomenal. You would have seen Frog Fractions creator Jim Crawford charged with distributing bug porn and kidnapped by what appeared to be time travelers.

As odd as this sight would have been, the odder thing would have been the onlookers that had been following Crawford until that moment. These onlookers wouldn't have reacted with common sense terror, but rather total, desperate awareness as they tried to absorb any clue that the moment may have provided.

These onlookers — and several online compatriots — had been working since the announcement of the Frog Fractions 2 Kickstarter to unlock hints about the game via a dizzyingly complex sequence of ciphers and espionage that continues to this day.

What follows is a retelling of that sequence, though not a complete one, as the work of the posters on the Unfiction thread tracking this particular alternate-reality game (or ARG) is as dense as it is inscrutable. I have done my very best to piece together the events as I understand them. Though I've leapfrogged some of the most impressive detective work, it's all waiting for you in the 50-plus-page thread. It's a fascinating read if you have the time. For an abridged version, though, let's head back to the beginning.

MARCH 2014: THE BEGINNING

The roots of the ARG track all the way back to the original announcement of the Frog Fractions 2 Kickstarter. Below is the announcement video, which kicks off much of the speculation.

At around 3:23 in the video, a blackboard appears with an HTML file name — eolo5387.html — on it. Looking for that address on the official site of developer Twinbeard leads players to Twinbread.com which proves to be quite the treasure trove of clues, as detailed in this post. Further summation of everything gleaned from the video is available in this excellent recap video. One of the few connective threads between many of the coded messages is that they eventually lead to the word "butts." Seriously.

Perhaps the oddest Twinbread artifact is on rot13.html, a page that itself was discovered by some baffling means. The source code of that page includes a link to "castlevania_passacaglia_of_disrepair.rom" which is actually a GameBoy Advance rom. Players that boot the ROM in a GBA emulator find ... well, you can watch for yourself.

One of the pages on Twinbread, a list of instructions to make bread, could actually be inputted during Frog Fractions' text adventure portion. Those instructions lead players, inexplicably, to this Obama beard shaving simulator.

obamashave

The important part of the game is actually found in a post-game image of a simulated Twitter-like service. One of the fake tweets that could appear included GPS coordinates that pointed players towards a specific spot on the Berkley campus along with a date.

obeardywarning

APRIL 2014

Those who arrive at the coordinates at the appointed time meet the creator of Frog Fractions who is promptly captured by time travelers. Here's a video from Unfiction user Friedlemar along with their recounting of the day.

Those in attendance also get their hands on a paper sack full of 10 floppy discs which contain ... bug porn. Lots of it. Like, the good stuff. How good? Check this out.

bugporn

Choice. Anyway, there's EXIF data on the images that decrypts to:

COFFEE WITH A PAT OF BUTTER;

OMELET WITH CH EESE AND BACON;

HASH B ROWNS; TOAST WITH BUTT

ER AND STAWBERRY JAM

(Note the odd third line break, an almost certainly intentional recurrence of "butt.") Also notable on the floppies is the file "stinky.arj" which is encrypted. Efforts to unlock the file are fruitless. The trail goes cold. Until:

SEPTEMBER 2014

A user of Unfiction named Norgg creates a tool to brute force a password to unlock stinky.arj. The code ends up being "zero four five one" or 0451, a code provided all the way back in the original Kickstarter video. The unlocked video? Well, it's basically a live-action recreation of the original Frog Fractions:

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that the video is the source of several odd clips seen in the original Frog Fractions 2 Kickstarter video. As cool as the artifact may have been, it didn't appear to contain any substantial clues.

MAY 2015 - AUGUST 2015

There's another lull at this point, but the ARG is resparked in 2015 by the release of Train Hot Dog, a podcast created by Jim Crawford recorded during his train journey home from work. There is initially some debate as to whether or not the podcast is related to the ARG. That question is definitively answered by Episode 12, which contained in its final moments a secret message that the show was "Brought to you by time-travel.club."

timetravelclub

Episode 13 of Train Hot Dog contains audio that, when processed by spectrograph, reveals the username and password "gadsby/password123," as you can see in this image from Unfiction's aklreaxmer.

password

login page for Time-Travel.Club was activated soon after that, when accessed with the gadsby credentials provided a cryptic message from a commanding officer Dwayne. If one were to favorite the page, they would find that it was titled "FUTURE RESISTANCE OPERATION GARRISON 1.50"

Or if you prefer: FROG 1.5.

The assumption from the Unfiction posters? They were all playing Frog Fractions 1.5.

They had never stopped playing Frog Fractions.

SEPT. 2015

A new update was released on the Frog Fractions 2 Kickstarter page that was seemingly just an informational video about making beer from the fictional studio behind the Frog Fractions series, the Ashby Brewery and Indie Game Studio. But if you listen to the three audio hiccups in the video and then combine the words after them, you'll get "Decay," "Truth" and "Info" or, as one user points out, http://decaytruth.info.

Also that month, Unfiction posters find that the Time Travel Club also has a beta login page. There is some speculation that the username is "herbie," thanks to a hidden quote from I, Robot in an episode of Train Hot Dog that concludes with "and Herbie screamed." But despite weeks of work, no one quite cracks the password, until ...

OCT. 2015

A Frog Fractions 2 writer using the Twitter handle @LordHuffnPuff tweets out a few vague hints that connects his account to the metagame before tweeting about a Super Mario Maker level he had created. Believe it or not, Unfiction posters chase even this obscure of a white rabbit and are rewarded for the effort. Spelled out in coins in the middle of the level:

password

PWD: SCREAMED. It's the second half of the I, Robot quote, and it had been right there the whole time.

The beta level access unlocks some instructions and resources for Corporal Herbie from a commanding officer named William but is something of a dead end otherwise.

Another breakthrough comes from Episode 23 of Train Hot Dog. It's going to sound like I'm making this part up, but this is the actual sequence of events, as detailed here.

  1. Train Hot Dog Episode 23 includes some odd clicks during the recording.

  2. When analyzed by spectrograph, those clicks became a series of dots.

  3. When stacked into three rows, those dots become a pattern.

  4. That pattern, discovered by poster rmartins, is actually braille that translates to a series of coordinates in Los Angeles, specifically, the location of Indiecade, set for later that month.

braille

An Unfiction poster found Crawford at the event and he presented her with a Luigi amiibo. If there are hidden secrets in said amiibo, they have not yet been discovered.

NOV. 2015

The most recently discovered clue was hidden in Episode 29 of Train Hot Dog. It's an odd sequences of beeps and static that poster cambot discovered is actually slow-scan television, a method of sending static images very slowly via audio. The image itself? Well ...

turkey

Posters are divided on whether or not it's a joke.

NOW

That question could be applied to much of this ongoing game. Is it all a joke? Progress on it comes in fits and starts, but none of the thread's most active members ever appear to question what, exactly, they're trying to uncover. But maybe that's the point?

I've spent the last 48 hours or so trying to absorb the entirety of the game, so I will likely have a different perspective from someone who's been analyzing code and cracking ciphers for nearly two years.

My read on it? I'm not so sure that there is a "plan," per se. I seriously doubt there's a single key someone will turn and bring Frog Fractions 2 into the public consciousness. Or rather, if there is such a key, it won't be found until Crawford wants it to be.

From where I sit, the Frog Fractions 2 ARG (if that's even an accurate descriptor) is a way for Crawford to stay connected to and have fun with people who enjoyed his first game in a fashion that feels well-matched to Frog Fractions. The original game is, both figuratively and literally, about looking for truth below the surface level, so it stands to reason Crawford is the sort who'd want to encourage that sort of behavior even when he doesn't have a new game to promote. What's he gonna do, release a dev diary? How un-Frog Fractions is that?

So no, I don't necessarily think Frog Fractions 2 sits at the end of this proverbial rainbow. But if you don't think I'm going to scrutinize every bit of info out of Twinbeard like a conspiracy theorist measuring chemtrails from now until Frog Fractions 2 is found, well ... you don't know butt.