Solving the Black Letter Labs Puzzle in the Seattle Gigapixel ArtZoom

lettersWhen I received a strange email on February 3rd, I had never heard of the Gigapixel ArtZoom, “an interactive multi-billion-pixel panoramic image celebrating the arts in Seattle.”

The email told me there was a hidden puzzle in this “Where’s Waldo of Seattle” and asked for my help solving it; I didn’t know if it was a legitimate plea for help or a message from the game’s creators, but I couldn’t resist finding out more.

The email stated that, while browsing the Gigapixel ArtZoom, the author had noticed something strange: mannequins accompanied by people holding up signs dotted dotted the landscape.


Several artist names were listed on the page for these figures, a installation known as “Sequin Mann”, but the last three names on the list appeared to be fictional.


Googling for Mare Clausum, Roman Debellatio, and Lis Pendens had led to Roman Debellatio’s Facebook page and the Black Letter Lab, and Googling for that had led to my post about playing the Black Letter Game.

I was intrigued, wondering if this was the promised start of the next edition of the BLG.

“All I ask is, if you decide to look into this and find an answer to what the hell the damn symbols/letters mean and they DO connect to Black Letter, let me know,” the emailer wrote. “It’s driving me nuts!”

And once I’d been put onto the scent of the trail, I knew it would drive me nuts, too. So, the first thing to do was examine the data available.

The video on the artist page shows 10 mannequins, in the context of their environments. (This number is also confirmed by the text on the page.)

We searched for all of the mannequins, and like my emailer, could only find 9 of the 10. (Here’s our Google spreadsheet with the information. The missing one is the yellow-green mannequin standing in front of a white, ivy-covered wall.)

That gave us a set of letters: A O P R G I N, a period, a TV set and one missing letter.1

The text on the artist page references “order”, “the visible spectrum” and says that ultraviolet, the piece shown in the photograph, is “at the end”.

The essence of photography is light, and yet light, even captured light, is always a puzzle of order and understanding. At one end of the visible spectrum is ultraviolet, and the piece “Sequin Mann (10/10)” sits peacefully on the ground, as if at the end of a job well-done, while nearby someone offers what appears to be concise commentary on the meaning to be found here. Yes, understanding a piece of art is important, but being the first to understand is most rewarding.

The mannequins are clearly color-specific: red, yellow, light yellowish-green, dark green, etc. So given all of these clues, it was reasonable to assume that the ordering of the data (the letters) followed the ordering of the light spectrum, ROYGBIV (Red-Orange-Yellow-Green-Blue-Indigo-Violet).

That also meant that the last symbol, the television accompanying the blue-purple mannequin, was at the end of the line–meaning that the final solution is probably a web address ending in .tv.


So that ordering gave us “AGNO*”. But trying each web address by filling in letters A-Z led to nothing. Trying the combination in different orders (for example, going backwards because the ultraviolet spectrum is sometimes presented from purple to red) revealed nothing.

We were stumped. We emailed the info to a group of our friends, hoping that one of them would be able to spot something we hadn’t.

And, of course, because our friends are brilliant and wonderful, they did.

Victor's email

Victor’s email

Our friend Victor emailed us with the correct address: (Or, AGNo3 R.I.P–a reference to [no longer] using silver nitrate to develop photographs, and also in keeping with other Black Letter Lab theming–as I vaguely recall, one of their early sites was designed to look like the shopfront for a developer of photographs.)

That revealed some text instructions:


Climb the stairs, or go astray
Turn towards the setting sun
Four posts lead you to one way
“you are beautiful” and done

Combination 8-1-8

The image is clearly referencing the stairs behind the letter “R”. So: climb the stairs, turn west, find four posts and a one way street sign, while the combination suggests a lockbox of some kind.

Our friend Reid pointed out that “You Are Beautiful” is a reference to a street art sticker movement, and that it would be likely we’d find one nearby.


Cross-referencing the address with the map of pins we’d created earlier, we fired up Google Street View and determined that the four posts and one way sign were probably the ones right at the top of the stairs, rather than several other options further down the street.


Given that we were playing from Portland, the last step was actually making it to the site. We recruited a fellow geocacher who was willing to go out at 10:45pm, and waited anxiously while he searched around in the brush with a flashlight.

Lo and behold, he did find a lockbox (marked with a “You Are Beautiful” sticker). Inside was a paper with details for redeeming a small prize, and a geocache log for future visitors.

I’m fairly certain at this point that the email was legitimately from a person with excellent Google skills, rather than some “behind the curtain“, so I am grateful to them for contacting me.

We also learned that the puzzle was created just for the Gigapixel ArtZoom project, and not as a part of the Black Letter Game, so while I’m a bit disappointed that it hasn’t launched yet, I’m very much looking forward to that next adventure.

(For the record, we did eventually find the yellow-green mannequin, the one with the elusive “3”–with help. It’s very, very far away, but it is there.)


  1. There are a lot of potential anagrams in that set of letters, but it’s impossible to complete them without the missing letter, so we moved on and tried other things.