But there was another link between the couple; one they didn’t discover for a while. Biddulph knew who Satoshi was. In fact, he had personally designed the Billion to One card. Biddulph says it’s hard to recall exactly when it came up in conversation, but it was probably about a year or so into the relationship. “I think I just mentioned it at random one day,” he says. “And she was like, ‘Uhh, what!?’”
Hall’s reaction was consistent with her life-long approach to puzzle-solving: “I made him promise to never, ever tell,” she says. “Because if he just came out and revealed it, all of that work would have been for nothing.” Biddulph respected the promise. “I bit my tongue for years,” he says. There was no teasing either. “He knew it was important to me,” says Hall. “I think he enjoyed being mysterious about it, too.”
Biddulph notwithstanding, it was around this time that Hall may have come within a close person-to-person connection with Satoshi. She received lots of tips via her website over the years. Mostly these weren’t much use, just dead-end leads, spoof messages or a photo of a random Asian guy found on Google images. But one tip stood out.
Subject: He’s in Japan
My coworker used to live with Satoshi. She even brought an old photo of him to work today. Anyway, she said she does not know how to reach him, but that he is definitely in Japan right now, that he was in L.A. about three months ago.
I hope this helps.
“It was anon so it might have been BS,” says Hall, “but it just seemed genuine”. Hall responded but never received a reply. Years later, in 2011, the tip was still on her mind. She sent another follow up. This time, a response: “I quit the job five years ago, so I don’t think I’ll be able to help you. Good luck.”
Despite her resolution to work things out for herself, when she received a good tip, Hall mentioned it to Biddulph and scanned him for tells. “Normally he’d be completely stone faced with no reaction,” she said. “But this was the only time he reacted. It was so subtle, subconscious even.” She adds: “That was the most confirmation I wanted or could get. To think I was so close… that did feel like sand slipping through my fingers.” The trail went cold.
THE HUNT FOR Satoshi was not advancing. But technology was. The first cryptocurrency was founded, and Googling Satoshi now churned up results about Satoshi Nakamoto, the creator of Bitcoin. Some posited that the two were somehow connected (they were not). Smartphones were now in the pockets of millions. By 2010, Facebook and YouTube each had around half a billion users. Instagram had launched. A Perplex City player, going by Paraboloid13, actually cracked the cipher on the “Thirteenth Labour” card, according to reports from the community. Social media networks – and the memes that flurried through them – fuelled political movements from the Arab Spring to uprisings in Hong Kong. By the end of the decade, Facebook had 2.3 billion users and even TikTok, a relative newcomer, was pushing 1 billion. The “good internet” Hall fondly remembers was giving way to something more conflicted. Social media provided data for commercial and political interests. Algorithms moulded culture and society. People were falling down rabbit holes, and this time it really wasn’t a game. Occasionally the Perplex City community would discuss Satoshi, or Hall’s website would receive a spike of interest thanks to a blog or a podcast, but for many years, the search was forgotten.
Then, in February 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic crept from person to person around the world, Inside a Mind, a YouTube channel with more than 600,000 followers, posted a video about the hunt for Satoshi. “Can You Find This Man” generated hundreds of thousands of views in a short space of time. The world went into lockdown. People had time on their hands. Spurred on by the video, and completely separate to Hall’s search, a Reddit and Discord group were set up. Suddenly hundreds of people – many of whom had nothing to do with the original Perplex City game – were passionately working to track down Satoshi. As Albert-László Barabási, a professor of network science and author of Linked: The New Science of Networks, puts it: “When a hub gets infected, there’s a dramatic change in the system”.