Interesting piece on cracking the puzzle
. For more info see [ https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19782634
], which includes comments by the programmer (TacticalCoder).
In early April 1999, a time capsule was delivered to the famed architect Frank Gehry with instructions to incorporate it into his designs for the building that would eventually host MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, or CSAIL. The time capsule was essentially a museum of early computer history, containing 50 items contributed by the likes of Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee.
The time capsule wasn’t meant to be opened for another 35 years—unless someone could crack the cryptographic puzzle that was included in its design. The puzzle was designed by Ron Rivest, whose name lends the “R” to RSA, arguably one of the most important cryptographic protocols ever created. He says it wasn’t designed to be complicated. Instead, Rivest created the puzzle so that it should take almost exactly 35 years to compute the answer.
On April 15, almost 20 years to the day after Rivest announced the puzzle, Bernard Fabrot, a self-taught Belgian programmer, solved it.
The key to this puzzle is that it requires sequential operations, which means you can’t get to the answer faster by using parallel computing. You need to go through the squaring process one step at a time, building on the previous answers, to arrive at the solution, so using more computers or throwing a supercomputer at the problem won’t help. Based on Moore’s law and how long it took to run the squaring operation in 1999, Rivest estimated that computing the answer to the puzzle should take approximately 35 years.
Rivest is quick to admit that he had overestimated the difficulty of his puzzle. Making predictions about improvements in technology is difficult on that long of a timescale, and Rivest says he didn’t anticipate breakthroughs like FPGA chips, which weren’t as sophisticated or widely available as they are today.
Although the Cryptophage group wasn’t the first to solve the puzzle, Peffers said they will still be at the ceremony to open the time capsule on May 15. Only the capsule’s designers know its full contents, though it does include contributions from Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web; Bob Metcalfe, who invented ethernet; and Bill Gates, who contributed the original version of Altair BASIC, Microsoft’s first product. Fabrot said he is most excited to see an original copy of one of the earliest PC games, Zork, included in the capsule."
A self-taught coder dedicated a CPU core to performing continuous computations for three years to crack the puzzle, beating a competing team by mere days.www.wired.com