DARPA offering US$50,000 for shredded-paper puzzle solutions


November 1, 2011

In order to develop methods for reading shredded documents, DARPA is running a contest in which contestants must solve puzzles made from shredded paper

In order to develop methods for reading shredded documents, DARPA is running a contest in which contestants must solve puzzles made from shredded paper

Do you like puzzles? If you're good enough at solving them, it could win you up to US$50,000. That's the maximum prize that DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is offering in its Shredder Challenge. The agency is trying to develop methods of reconstructing shredded documents that U.S. soldiers could use when gathering intelligence in war zones - it also wants to identify shredded-document-reading strategies that could be used against the U.S., so that it can take preemptive measures against them. What better way to do it than by crowd-sourcing?

Contestants start by going to the Shredder Challenge website, registering, then downloading five different puzzles made out of images of one or more shredded sheets of paper. Using whatever means they can think of, the contestants have to reassemble those shreds into their original form, at which point a message written on the original document will become readable. Just to make things fun, each puzzle contains a few shreds that aren't from the original document, while it is also missing a few of its own shreds.

Each of the documents has been shredded in a different fashion, and some have more pages than others, the shreds of which have all been mixed together. This makes the reconstruction of each document more challenging than the last. In order to prove that they have completed each one, contestants will have to provide the answer to a puzzle posed by the message on each document, along with an image of the complete document.

Although contestants do not have to solve all five puzzles in order to be in the running, the winner will be whoever has solved the highest number by the December 4 deadline. In the event of a tie, the prize will go to whichever contestant's submission arrived first. The different puzzles are assigned different numbers of points, which will determine how much money is awarded.

Needless to say, DARPA will also require all contestants to describe how they went about piecing everything together. While people from any country are able to enter, only U.S. citizens will be able to receive the prize money.

Source: Cosmic Log

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Wonderful, now that were all shredding our mail and personal documents to protect ourselves from identity theft, DARPA will end up giving the world a way to reassemble doc\'s. It\'s back to burning I suppose.


I understand why DARPA would run such a contest. What I don\'t understand is why people don\'t use fire to dispose such data. Is there a law that makes it illegal? One thing I know for sure... DARPA sucks at this spy business. The fact that we all know they\'re cooking up something, tells the hole story. :/


Personally, I like using shredded documents as cage lining for my pets. If someone wants to go through personal information covered in rat feces, they can be my guest.

Charles Bosse

The rotory blade screen shredder we use in the US Navy turns piles of classified documents into talcum powder. Ain\'t nobody going to put those documents back together!! That was at a telecommunications center, at sea all documents are burned and go up the stack.

David Nichols

Heyyyyy. Can we use this to piece together some $1,000 bills from those novelty boxes of one million dollars that supposedly contain the shredded remains of approximately 1,000 $1,000 dollar bills? :)

Darn, I sold my shredded million on a yard sale a couple of years ago.

Gregg Eshelman

man this is hard

Paul Sheriff
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