Disclaimer: This post has pretty much nothing to do with security, unless you count receiving unknown packages from people claiming to be Tony Hawk, the world famous skateboarding legend as a security issue.
“The Hiders Story”
Who is Tony Hawk & why am I following him?
I’m relatively new to twitter and was using it to follow computer security people/organizations, I am after all a security geek (Note: if you don’t use twitter, it can actually be useful). As an aside I also followed a few people including @DerrenBrown (your lottery thing didn’t work for me) and the legendary skateboard deity @tonyhawk. Not to be confused Tony Hawks (British comedian) or Tony Hawke (New Zealand basketball player). I’d have followed Glen Plake too, but he doesn’t appear to be tweeting just yet (hint, hint).
Here’s our man Tony Hawk in action…
image source: http://www.tonyhawk.com/bio.html
“Hide and Tweet” with Tony Hawk
Over the past year or so Tony’s been hiding skateboards and other awesome schwag (give-aways) in locations around the world and then sending out clues to their whereabouts using Twitter. Tony’s 1.7million+ twitter followers (tweebs) then engage in what can only be described as a cross between searching for Easter Eggs and Geo-caching. Rather than try and explain it any further just watch these two short videos…
“To my Tweeps in the 760: you are on alert. One more Huckjam Bike to give away.
2:59 AM Sep 10th from txt”
“There is a big “L” in Carlsbad, the first letter of the a place as you drive in. I hid a bike behind it. You’re gonna have to walk a ways.
3:25 AM Sep 10th from txt”
“Hint: The L is made of small bricks. That’s all you get.
3:31 AM Sep 10th from txt”
That was pretty much it, I was hooked. All of this was playing out live, via twitter, 5000 miles away from Basingstoke, UK; how cool and what an innovative use of social media. The game of “Hide & Tweet” was over within an hour or so, but it was far me compelling to me than any reality TV show.
Tony’s planning something big
On the 13th September I noticed this tweet from Tony Hawk (@tonyhawk)
“Doing a big event soon that will be Twitter-centric & need some help. If you want in, Tweet me with your locale and why I should trust you.10:57 PM Sep 13th from txt “
Cool! I simply had to apply.. here’s what I wrote:
… I know, I know. Cheesy!.
I promptly forgot about it, after all, Tony has millions of followers and why on earth would he want to hide stuff in Basingstoke, it’s hardly of international significance. Imagine my excitement when I saw this little image from @HidingIt. OK, at first I thought it was a spam bot.. until I read this….
“You’ve been chosen! Email your mailing address to <it’s a secret> for the details of this Tony Hawk Twitter hunt. Please Don’t Repost!”
If ever there was an OMG (Oh My God) moment, this was it (well, this and “I’m pregnant” – that was one of those moments too)
I told everyone I knew I was doing something with Tony Hawk (no, not the comedian, the skateboard legend etc). For the most part they thought it was some sort of internet scam (that’s the trouble with security types, paranoia runs deep – go figure). Meanwhile I never doubted it and although the request only hinted at an event, I was hoping that being requested for my address equated to hiding schwag (possibly a skateboard… please let it be a skateboard) from a living legend. On Oct 2nd I got this email…
“Hey Everybody, Thanks for volunteering for the Tony Hawk Twitter Hunt (#THTH). You’re designated day for hiding the item is Monday Oct. 12th. After you’ve hidden it, message me @hidingit you’re hints and Tony will post it from his account. If you aren’t following @hidingit please do so now. Other than that, the packages have all gone out today and let me know if you have any questions. Thank you so much!”
Result! It’s on, but where am I going to hide the package and what’s the clue going to be? What about unattended packages?
Scoping the Hide
I spent some time thinking and looking for a decent hiding spot for something skateboard sized. Not quite as simple as it sounds as:
It shouldn’t be anywhere where anyone would simply happen across the package, dog walkers for instance.
- I didn’t want to cause a bomb-scare. Indeed for some of the ideas I had, I’d explored working with other parties (e.g. local stores etc). it seemed that others had the same plan, my two favourites were the boxes hidden at a pizza place where the winner would have to order “the wooden”, and the box hid in the torpedo tube of the USS Batfish.
- I should be possible to create a suitably cryptic clue, something that would be solvable, but somewhat infuriating
I had to keep the plans reasonably fluid until I knew for sure what I’d be dealing with, an envelope, a t-shirt, a skateboard, an advance copy of the new Tony Hawk video game, THRide? Or, as my skeptical security friends had pointed out, would I be receiving a huge assignment of… well, a huge assignment of stuff I shouldn’t have? My place of choice was going to be a little bridge over Petty’s Brook (a small tributary of the River Loddon) which run through Chineham in Basingstoke.
Not coming up with a clue
OK cool, that’s the hiding place sorted but what about the clue. To be honest, I didn’t think about the clue too much, I figured I’d wait until near the time (Yay for procrastinators!)
Waiting for the package
My designated day of hiding was to be Monday 12th October and I was informed that my package would arrive by Friday 9th October. My fellow hiders around the globe started getting their boxes pretty early that week, posting tantalizing boxes with #THTH logo’s stamped on them. As it drew nearer to Friday the 9th I was getting more and more excited and less and less sleep. Friday came and went with no box “Saturday” I thought, “I bet it arrives on Saturday”… it didn’t My (roughly) 8.5 months pregnant wife shared my disappointment, we both assumed there’d been a mix up, perhaps I wouldn’t be receiving a box after all. A couple of emails to Tony’s senior elf, known only as “Jerome” assured me that a pack was shipped to me and they were “on it” trying to figure out where it was. Wednesday 14th October was an eventful day for two reasons. 1. I had to take the wife to the hospital for a checkup and 2. I got a parcel-force letter stating that they had a packages for me (YES!!!!!!!!) and I’d have to pay
import duty to get it (I didn’t care in the slightest). I prioritized accordingly. 1. I phoned parcel-force to pay the fee and arrange delivery and once that was completed, 2. took wife to hospital (all was well, thanks for your concern though 😉 )
Package Delivery Day & The Day of my Hide
Awesome. I slept with one ear open. except I evidently didn’t. Mrs. Suggmeister gave me the bad news… “I think parcel force have been”. “WTF!” I thought! “How early did they come?”. I rushed downstairs and fortunately they had left the package with my neighbour (smashing chap). I ran over there to collect the package which, fortunately was there. I let him know it was from Tony Hawk, “The comedian?” he said. This resulted in a conversation where I explained Tony Hawk’s biography, no doubt further reinforcing to him that I never quite made that transition from adolescent to adult. This must have flummoxed him because on the Tuesday we’d spent an hour discussing some of the finer economic points of valuing companies and two days later I was jabbering on about a skateboarder. Half joking his closing gambit was “don’t hide it down here, I don’t want a bunch of 2@’s running around looking for a skateboard” (Note: at this point neither of us actual knew what was in the box).
Did I sneak a peek?
Of course I did. I carefully opened the pack and showed it my wife (who was still in bed). What was it? Oh… read on, all will be revealed. In amongst the package was this sweet USB skateboard and instructions. I’m a security geek, so yes I took a look at it and even thought about adding some additional video’s (Terry Tate Office Linebacker for example – search for him on YouTube, it’s pretty funny). I didn’t. I’m sure it’s not as Tony would’ve intended things.
I had a lot of other ideas for a hide, thanks to “@Alien8” (AKA, Alien, the chief organizer of DC4420), although it was too late to go with any other plans. So a bridge over Petty’s Brook it would be. Who lives under bridges? why trolls of course (see the wiki entry for the 3 Billy Goats Gruff to see what I was thinking). OK, but there’s a lot of bridges in Basingstoke and Chineham and I didn’t want kids (goat pun not intended) falling into rivers so I need to give some other geographic clues that could either be solve by someone who knows the area or by someone reasonably competent with Google (there are other search engines). Keeping things “Tony Hawk”, there’s a skatepark (Tollhouse Meadow) South East of the chosen bridge so I’d need to include a reference to that. But still, there’s a few skateparks in Basingstoke and I didn’t want to specifically state “Hey, it’s in Chineham” so I needed another reference not immediately obvious to Chineham-ites/Basingstoke-ians. I first thought of the incinerator, but that didn’t give be a straight-ish line line to the skatepark and the bridge; however, the old Tollhouse on the A33 (it’s a road) would be perfect. I googled the toll-house. .. BINGO! first result. http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=basingstoke+tollhouse&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a Onward to generating a suitably cryptic clue short enough for twitter and more importantly, re-tweeting. “Basingstoke: Guarded by a fearsome troll, NW from a house where you might have to pay money to pass & a sk8 park #THTH” I checked the idea with Mrs. Suggmeister. It passed her formidable quality assurance test.
Hiding boxes in broad daylight
I wanted to achieve 3 things.
- Keep the package dry
- Keep the package hidden from random passers by and
- Put Chineham, Basingstoke, UK on the skate map
- Bin liners x 2 (double protection from the elements, although it was a sunny warm day at the time)
- Camo netting (thanks to “B” & “C”, I had some of that – long story)
- A union flag for the finder to fly (assuming he/she would be sufficiently British)
- The flag involved a trip into Basingstoke (another £8 down plus 70p parking).
- Camo netting would set you back £19 if you wanted to buy it at ‘Camouflage Corner’ in Basingstoke.
The best bit was walking around with the Tony Hawk #THTH loot, in bin liners, in broad daylight. The people of Basingstoke had no idea. I even stopped a few skaters in the town center, asked them if they knew Tony Hawk (I got some serious “WTF old man, of course I do” looks) and told them they might want to get on twitter and see whats up. Onto the hide. This was a bit weird as there had been some reports (in the excellent local publications, “The Chineham Chat“) of strange men hanging around Chineham; there’s not much stranger than a dude dressed entirely in black, with a laptop bag, a sizeable box covered in bin-liners and a bundle of camo netting skulking around Chineham. Having learned a little about social engineering (see wiki on Social Engineers(security)) from listening to two experts, “Patch” and “Etamo” (excellent talk @DC4420 by the way), I went about my business with the purpose of someone who’s supposed to be there. Fortunately (because I suck at social engineering) there was no one around. Now then. I did take some steps to ensure this wouldn’t become an “Unattended package closes Basingstoke” headline. My wife, “Patch” and “@Alien8” (doesn’t anyone use the name of their birth certificate anymore?) were all pretty concerned that I got this bit right. Anyway, package hidden, precautions taken, off to the office (some miles away), where on arrival (on the way from the carpark to to reception) I tweeted my clue to. @HidingIt. Awesome. I can’t even begin to describe the excitement. The hunt was on and there was at least one person who’d be watching for Tony Hawk to tweet the clue.
@Steven_Gill – Tony’s number #1 fan in the UK?
Before I go on, I need to introduce someone going by the name of @Stephen_Gill on Twitter. I’d been tweeting that #THTH was coming to the South UK for sometime and was watching with keen interest as the first London package got hidden on Monday 12th October. @Steven_Gill was sending messages out asking if it had been found as he was considering getting up to London (at midnight, by the way) from Portsmouth (a 2 ish hour trip) to go hunt for it. I told him that there would be a good likelihood of another package in/around Basingstoke and to keep an eye open (and keep his fingers crossed. After all, my package hadn’t arrived). I thought he was joking when he replied stating that he’d drive up to Basingstoke and camp out if that’s what it took. Over the next few days @Steven_Gill was retweeting Tony’s clues and really getting into the spirit of #THTH. I had some fun twitter exchanges with him too and was encouraged that at least one UK based tweeb was completely “mad for it”.
“@TheSuggmeister made it to Basingstoke… now waiting for the game to begin!”
@Steven_Gill embarked on his mission to Basingstoke (with A to Z and a flask) the minute I tweeted that the package was in Basingstoke.
“@TheSuggmeister …. I’ve bought a flask with me!”
It should be noted that it wasn’t a for sure that the clue would be sent out on that day. This gave me a real laugh, a guy driving an hour up the road, with a flask, willing to sit it out until the clue got tweeted by Tony Hawk.
Shortly before 4pm local time in the UK, Tony tweeted the clue…
“@tonyhawk: UK Basingstoke: Guarded by a fearsome troll, NW from a house where you might have to pay money to pass & a sk8park”
Now @Steven_Gill had been pretty prolific in his #THTH tweets up until now, but as soon as the clue went out, he went “dark”. The #THTH feed was eerily quiet. It took somewhat over an hour before this popped up…
“@TheSuggmeister has it been found yet?”
Nope. Another 10 minutes then this….
“@TheSuggmeister camo net! you’re a bad man!! photo to fallow(sic)”
5 more minutes and…
“@ifoundone in Basingstoke, UK #THTH http://pic.gd/2d2f41“
And here he is. The clearly stoked @Steve_Gill with his #THTH box of goodies.
2 sides to every story
It wouldn’t be a complete story if I didn’t post @Steven_Gill‘s side of events. For @Steven_Gill’s side of the story (as a “seeker” ) click here…
But what about the other clues and the big event?
Each of the USB sticks had a clue on them, which in turn would point to an event somewhere. Here’s a link to the video that was on the USB in the package I hid (I was itching to post this sooner)
Honestly, I lost track of the twitter frenzy that was breaking the codes, but the result was to be a skate/BMX demo in Columbia, Missouri on Saturday 17th October…
“Whatup Columbia! We’re here, it’s cold (but sunny). Shakespeare’s provided 100 pizzas, come get some. It’s on… skating in 20”
Check out this short video of the event (I’m sure there’ll be more to come and I’ll update this if there’s anything official).
Wrapping it up
Wow! What a week. What a buzz. Doing stuff for a living legend, someone you’ve respected for years, in your small town community; that kind of thing doesn’t happen too often in a lifetime. Is it a big marketing stunt? So what if it was? I’m not even going to spend time wondering. Go have a look at the pictures and tweets… One man (OK, @tonyhawk, @sweetjerome and
whoever else helped at TonyHawk.com) put real smiles on kids of all ages. When there’s so much bad news around and so much greed, it’s truly heart warming that Tony Hawk has come up with this excellent use of Social Media and brought some joy and excitement around the world.
I’m roughly two weeks away from becoming a first time dad and I know I’m going to remember three things about this year.
- Becoming a dad.
- Helping Tony Hawk make people happy around the world.
- Having a signed TonyHawk deck at in my hands, albeit for 3 hours.
YES, I’m going to be buy THRide as soon as it’s available here in the UK.
NO, I’m not on commission, nor did Tony Hawk’s organization ask me to write this.
Tony left the week long #THTH event with this simple request (Caution, it makes pregnant ladies cry)
“After all the giveaways, I only ask this in return: watch this vid about Watts Skatepark project & consider donating $5 http://j.mp/I01vL”
You might notice the Amazon links on this site. I’ve updated them to point at Tony Hawk stuff and I promise to donate any proceeds made by you accessing Amazon through this page, to the Watts Skatepark project via Tony and Jerome.
Thanks to everyone involved for hosting an event that an awful lot of people are going to be talking about for an awful long time.