The Hoarder's Hunt – Solving the Mystery
After a month-long parade of riddles, enigmatic clues and listening really hard to a parrot, The Hoarder’s Hunt has reached its conclusion. With a real-life golden skull, silver keys and Reaper’s Mark medallions up for grabs, the competition to outwit the mysterious ‘H’ was certainly fierce, but things didn’t always unfurl exactly how the puppet-master intended – so let’s take a look back at exactly how Sea of Thieves’ second Mystery reached its end…
Stage One: Skin of Gold
The Mystery began with a taunt from ‘H’ to the Gold Hoarders, warning them not to let pirates get involved in what was to come (as if). Several words in the message were capitalised, and the note was accompanied by a post on Instagram showing a banana, precisely bruised to show an image of the Gold Hoarder.
This cryptic story pushed players through to the Instagram account of Banana Bruiser who, as their name suggests, had plenty more edible art on display. One image in particular showed the creation of the Gold Hoarder banana, and thirteen mysterious symbols.
Some cursory cryptology and the note from ‘H’ revealed these symbols were intended to be decoded with a Pigpen cipher, and once translated they read ‘bitlysotfruit’ – a shortened internet URL that led to five images, each with more Pigpen symbols, a symbol of a fruit found in-game and an intriguing Spotify logo.
The angle at which a Pigpen symbol should be rotated is critical, and pirates were able to glean that information by aligning the fruits with an image posted on the Sea of Thieves Twitter account, giving a total of 16 scrambled letters. Pirates began to speculate that these should be decoded via a Vigenère cipher, which shifts letters ahead in the alphabet according to a keyword.
Where was that keyword? Scouring the canvases in the Sea of Thieves Spotify account soon revealed six more hidden letters spelling out ‘BOUNTY’, but the order of the original 16 still needed to be taken into consideration. Here, most pirates seemingly missed another clue available via Spotify – this time, the #BeMorePirate playlist, which had recently received a sneaky shuffle.
Now fittingly headlined with New Order, the first letter of each remaining song in the playlist spelled out ‘POM’, ‘COC’, ‘MAN’, ‘BAN’, ‘PIN’, hinting at the order in which the letters associated with each fruit should be entered into the Vigenère cipher. Even so, with only so many possible combinations to work through, the community cleverly put the undecoded clues in alphabetical order and soon decrypted the phrase ‘ZEROUTCFOURFIVET’ – or, when written another way, 0UTC45T – the first keyword to enter back on the Sea of Thieves website.
With this accomplished, pirates raced to grab their Voyages for Larinna and set sail with the clues from ‘H’ in hand, ultimately digging up the Plated Silver Key from beneath the tallest tree at Lone Cove. Then it was time for a well-deserved rest before the next stage of the Mystery began…
Stage Two: A Feathered Fortune
When a second note from ‘H’ arrived, they seemed to have birds on the brain. As soon as Stage Two began, ‘A Message from ‘H’’ began to broadcast on the official Sea of Thieves Twitch channel, showing a pair of parrots in the tavern squawking various, apparently random words.
During the stream, one of the birds took a fancy to a rather bruised banana, revealing another series of Pigpen symbols – by now, pirates immediately knew to translate them to ‘WHATTHREEWORDS’, suggesting that only a couple of the screeched phrases would be needed.
Oddly, though, the YouTube video of the stream seemed to be sending players to Google Maps instead of a more understandable location… In fact, what3words.com is a website that converts three-word phrases into map coordinates, so the true trick was to work out which three phrases resulted in locations that would mean something to pirates.
There were a lot of combinations to try, but by working together the community divined that ‘TURKEY GOAT LIVES’ equated to the Cutty Sark – once a British tea clipper, now a maritime museum. Exploring the community’s uploaded photos of the surrounding area via Google Street View revealed a perched parrot, a Gold Hoarder symbol and more Pigpen, which was promptly decoded into another shortened URL.
Things now took a musical turn, as a parchment covered in parrot prints turned out to be a cuneiform cipher hiding the lyrics of Sea of Thieves shanty ‘We Shall Sail Together’, albeit viewed through a purely phonetic lens. The last line of the parchment, however, was entirely new and read ‘Xbox Wire marks the spot’.
That Xbox news site had recently published an article about The Hoarder’s Hunt, and a thorough examination of the accompanying artwork revealed that not all was as it should be. A miniscule X was distorting the picture, and examining it in an image editor showed its true colours – in this case, the hexadecimal colour value ‘#2FACED’. Like 0UTC45T before it, this could also be read as another veiled insult from ‘H’, and 2FACED was duly confirmed to be the second of the Mystery’s keywords.
The hunt for the Argent Silver Key could now begin, with the musings of ‘H’ guiding pirates to Plunder Valley. Their interference in a game meant for the Gold Hoarders was not going to go unnoticed much longer…
Stage Three: Portrait of Plunder
In this third stage, ‘H’ revealed previously unseen artistic talent which he used to further his schemes. The newest note was accompanied by images of Gold Hoarder portraits, some of which had been scuffed with unusual scratch marks.
There were dozens of these to discover; some on social channels, others in videos or developers’ tweets. Pirates gathered up the portraits, once again turned to the Pigpen cipher and realised that many of these scratches were the parrots’ words from the last stage of the Mystery. What hidden value did they still possess?
Quite a lot, as it happens. Correctly combined by pairing parchments , these phrases were determined to be the identities of Twitter accounts – @WashedRobot, @frost_locker and @rockeddiet, each of which had posted a painting of a crew playing cards, titled ‘A Pirate Hand’. These images appeared identical at first glance, but it didn’t take long for players to spot a key difference in each painting (specifically, unique Roman numerals), nor to notice that the accounts’ profiles seemed to be teasing a new website address. However, one key piece was still missing…
Following the remaining Pigpen clues took pirates to Instagram, where a striking 3D image containing a skull and cannonball with a blue bird atop them clued artistic admirers into the existence of a fourth Twitter account. @SkullCannonball possessed not only a fourth version of ‘A Pirate Hand’, but the information in their profile allowed for the completion of the partial web address. Pirates flocked to ‘youareapiratepuppet.com’ in earnest, but there was still more to uncover.
Studying the cards being held in each painting variation unearthed the word ‘HEARTLESS’, which certainly seemed like the kind of term ‘H’ would use. Appending it to the newly discovered URL gave ‘youareapiratepuppet.com/heartless’, a page which held an abstract kind of map, first glimpsed alongside the parrots, and a new riddle to solve.
Applying some keen anagramming skills to the capitalised words in the riddle to form Sea of Thieves phrases and places, then pairing those with their co-ordinates on the adjacent map, led to the sequence ‘B07R1SSGJ5’. When searched for online, results included Amazon’s ASIN for the Sea of Thieves: Origins comic ‘The Price of Gold’, a sure sign pirates were on the right track.
Next, by treating certain suspect details in the paintings and map image as inputs for an Arnold cipher (historically used to pull specific terms from larger volumes of text), pirates were able to focus on a particular page, panel and word – ‘grudge’. Appending this to the piratepuppet.com URL just as they had with ‘heartless’, a new webpage and the final keyword, 3DGURG, were located.
In-game, the Sterling Silver Key was retrieved from Kraken’s Fall and returned to the Gold Hoarders. With all three keys found, the chest was opened at last – only to reveal another, smaller chest! ‘H’ was clearly not to be trusted, and this meant that the final stage of The Hoarder’s Hunt would be what revealed both the final key and the true treasure.
Stage Four: The Crowning Glory
As the last stage began and another note from ‘H’ berated pirates for interfering in his scheme, the Sea of Thieves account tweeted out a short, Pigpen-dotted addendum from ‘H’ bidding pirates to find him, and a mysterious chest decked out with seafaring symbols.
Meanwhile, @SkullCannonball and the other accounts that had previously hosted paintings revealed themselves to be under the control of ‘H’, then unleashed fresh puzzles of their own: a riddle, a star chart, a word grid and a story full of jumbled words.
As if that wasn’t enough, each of the accounts now guided players to a map fragment covered in markings, which when pieced together correctly made an ‘H’ in the centre. The remaining markings could be overlaid with the original treasure chest image – a fact that would become important later…
Not content with dispensing map fragments, revised profiles on these four accounts also clued pirates into the need for a Foursquare cipher, populating it with the three Voyage-unlocking keywords discovered in the prior stages, and the standard alphabet in the fourth square.
One by one, three of the accounts’ puzzles fell to pirate ingenuity, revealing the phrases ‘Monarch’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘Snake’. Writing these out in sequence and plucking eight appropriate letters (indicated via the Pigpen) revealed a new pirate phrase in the making, and although pirates didn’t yet have all the pieces they needed, they were confident enough to head back to Twitter in search of ‘H’.
Sure enough, a new @HSeesAll account held a lengthy riddle surrounded by coins that left everyone stumped for a while, at least until a second note surfaced with suspiciously similar traits. This proved that players were on the right track, while also confirming that the word grid puzzle still held a crucial piece of information.
At this point, the cunning ‘H’ almost got the best of our pirates. Each of the clues that players had uncovered corresponded to a symbol on or around the chest image, with the fourth symbol being hinted at by a new phrase, ‘AFORECLOUD’, that had already been found in the word grid. That same word grid now needed to be treated as a word search.
Hidden within the heart of the grid’s many recognisable words was a seemingly meaningless sequence, ‘LOSSURRIC’. Words in word searches can be laid out in any direction, and immediately before ‘cirrus’, the cloud, was ‘Sol’, the sun. If pirates had located all four symbols around the chest – the Monarch, the Eagle, the Snake and the Sun – and drawn an X between them, they would have spied their starting point on the overlaid map: Booty Isle.
But even though they didn’t have a clear origin for a journey, nothing will keep a pirate from forging into the unknown. By returning to @HSeesAll’s riddle, treating the first letter of each line as a compass bearing and the number of words in each line as squares on the Sea of Thieves map, pirates soon found themselves aiming for Tribute Peak.
One last, spoken message from ‘H’ now confirmed the significance of the coins surrounding their riddle. By counting the cash piles and taking the appropriate letters from the phrase TRIBUTEPEAK, pirates were able to spell out ‘bait’, ‘trap’, ‘break’ and ‘retake’, a lengthy phrase that served as the keyword for the final Voyage.
Heading out onto the open waves, players saw the final clues fall one by one as they took a whirlwind tour of many of the game’s iconic landmarks. The Hoarder’s Hunt was complete at last, although ‘H’ – finally unmasking himself as the embittered outcast Hogarth, once of the Gold Hoarders and last seen in their Sea of Thieves: Origins comic miniseries mentioned above – remains at large.
Congratulations to our lucky winners, and thanks to all to set sail and joined The Hoarder’s Hunt!