Six days ago, Alex Hirsch, the creator of the animated television show Gravity Falls, posted a message on Twitter.
To outsiders, this message might look cryptic. To fans of the show, it was a siren song.
Gravity Falls went off the air in February, after two seasons, but every episode ended with a coded message. By the end of the show, they looked a lot like this one. When Hirsch posted the message, fans quickly understood what was at stake. At the very end of the show, an image of Bill Cipher, the show’s ultimate villain, had appeared. Hirsch was sending them on a quest to find him.
For those of you not in the know, Gravity Falls is a show you should probably have heard of. Maybe you already know about it, or maybe your super cool niece has been hassling you to watch it, but either way, Gravity Falls is a show to know.
The show, which ran on the Disney Channel, tells the story of Dipper (Jason Ritter) and Mabel (Kristen Schaal) Pines, a pair of twins who spend one mysterious summer in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. They are staying with their more-than-a-little-shady Grunkle (great uncle) Stan, in the Mystery Shack, a run-down roadside attraction with secrets all its own. Over the course of their summer the twins encounter a series of increasingly bizarre creatures and supernatural forces including gnomes, unicorns, manly manotaurs, a time-traveling loser, a crashed UFO, and an extra-dimensional force of chaos shaped like the pyramid from the back of the American dollar—Bill Cipher. Just to name a few.
The show was the brainchild of Hirsch, who was inspired by his own childhood experiences (sans supernatural forces). He also brought with him a love of mystery and puzzles, which he integrated into the show itself to give viewers their very own mysteries to solve. At the end of each episode a coded message or image would flash on-screen for an instant, that viewers, without much prompting, took to deciphering. As the show went on, the codes became more and more elaborate, growing from single line cryptograms to entire images full of codes and clues. The codes would often employ existing encryption systems like Caesar or Atbash, introducing a whole generation of cartoon viewers to cryptography. Viewers who could crack the codes were often rewarded with cryptic hints and references to the events in the episode. All leading to this final puzzle, released months after the show itself concluded.
The treasure hunt that Hirsch set off required fans all over the world to search out clues and share them. The first clue was in Russia, another code printed on a dark and folded piece of paper, with a ghostly figure of Bill Cipher in one corner. The second was in Japan. In just a few days, the hunt bounced from Georgia to Rhode Island to Los Angeles, and back to Georgia again. Here’s an example of one of the decoded clues:
Consider in your quest for truth
The hunter of the fountain of youth
400 before his name is written
Outside the gate is where its hidden
Find what’s LOST to pass the test
From a Shrine that’s east to a Shrine that’s west
The answer: 400 Ponce De Leon Ave NE, Atlanta, GA 30308. (Ponce de Leon is, of course, the explorer obsessed with the Fountain of Youth, and there’s a Yaarab Shrine Temple at that address.)
There were hiccups in the quest, which Hirsch says he created independently and isn’t associated with any official promotion. One of the clues, for instance, was stolen by nuns. On the second day of the hunt, one of the clue locations yielded a bag of puzzle pieces and ever since then, people were working to complete it, at one point even taking shifts. Hirsch promised to release the never-seen pilot to show if it was completed; there’s also a digital version that was completed this afternoon. (The reward for that is cut scenes from the show.)
Now, it seems like the hunters are closing in on the prize: just before 6:00 p.m, Eastern time, on Day 6, they found the 11th clue. According to Hirsch, this means “Things are about to get nuts!”
Even though it’s been a collaborative effort to get this far, there is some premium in being the first to find the actual, physical object. To tune in as the hunters sprint towards their goal, there’s a Twitter hashtag or a Reddit page. If you find the statue, though, don’t shake its hand.