As It Happens

This painting is actually a Bitcoin puzzle worth more than $40K — and someone finally solved it

Marguerite deCourcelle, a crypto artist, created the puzzle three years ago. She speaks to As It Happens about how her puzzle was finally solved.
TORCHED H34R7S is a painting created by deCourcelle, which she later turned into a crypto puzzle. (Marguerite deCourcelle)

Story transcript

For most people, the painting of a turtledove and phoenix is a colourful piece of art. But for one Bitcoin enthusiast, it was the key to more than $40,000 US worth of the digital currency.

The Bitcoin puzzle belongs to crypto artist Marguerite deCourcelle, and she's celebrating her puzzle being solved after nearly three years.

"He's a very brilliant man," deCourcelle told As It Happens host Carol Off about the programmer who cracked her puzzle.

The man who solved the puzzle wishes to remain anonymous, deCourcelle explains, because he doesn't feel it is safe to have Bitcoin where he lives.

He told Motherboard that he found it a little over a month ago, after looking for a cryptocurrency puzzle he could work on with his wife. He has written an explanation on how he solved the puzzle. 

An anonymous programmer receives around $50,000 US worth of bitcoin after breaking a code in a painting created by Marguerite deCourcelle. (Photo submitted by Marguerite deCourcelle)

What is a Bitcoin puzzle?

DeCourcelle created the puzzle during Easter 2015, alongside fellow crypto artist Rob Myers, as a way to conclude a series of Bitcoin puzzles called The Legend of Satoshi Nakamoto. 

This particular painting, TORCHED H34R7S, is based on of William Shakespeare's famous poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle. Within the painting, there are two pieces of information that have to be decoded in order to access the Bitcoin wallet.

The first piece of information is found in the 16 different types of flames on the border of the painting, based on their colour, size and width. There are Greek symbols in each corner, which hold clues for how to read the information contained in the flames.

After that, the key to the puzzle is the literal key in the painting.

"You use the key, which has bits of information as well, as basically a cipher key to decrypt the flames and you'll have then a Bitcoin private key," deCourcelle said.

Once the player had that key, he was able to access the five Bitcoins within the wallet, which are worth, in total, more than $42,500 ($53,480 Cdn.)

"His way that he went about it was such a logical way that it showcases his brilliance," she said. 

Her inspiration

When deCourcelle made TORCHED H34R7S in 2015, it was more than just a game. The Phoenix and the Turtle, the poem that it's based off, held significance for her at a time when her life was not going as she had planned.

An Israeli holds a visual representation of the digital cryptocurrency Bitcoin, at the Bitcoin Change shop in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on Jan. 17. (Jack Guez/Getty Images)

"I made this almost like a prayer that my life was going to turnaround, because I made this at rock bottom," she said.

"And I felt like if I made something really amazing then, you know, somehow things would start to turn around." 

'This space has given me so much opportunity'

A Bitcoin was only worth a few hundred dollars at the time. Now, a Bitcoin is worth closer to $8,500 US ($10,700 Cdn) depending on the day.

But deCourcelle is not upset to have given away the grand prize.

"From that rock bottom time in my life, I've really had some amazing friendships, networks and just being involved in this space has given me so much opportunity that now I, myself, am a successful blockchain entrepreneur," she said.

"It gives me an opportunity to give back to someone that really could go on and do something really amazing."