I was sitting in the hotel room that I had rented for the meeting and was trying not to get too nervous. In a few minutes I would meet Frank Walker, billionaire and cryptocurrency enthusiast, in person for the first time.
A few weeks ago he had become known in the scene as the man who believed a fortune teller that she could reliably predict the Bitcoin price, paid her half a million dollars for a specific prediction, went on to bet the cool sum of 20 millions based on it and lost all because the BTC price moved strongly against him.
Well, today I would present him something better than a shady fortune teller. Much better, in fact.
He would not come alone. Knowing him and his tendency to believe in supernatural and spiritual things all too well, some of his relatives had insisted that a cryptocurrency specialist would accompany him to this meeting and prevent him falling again for a scam easily. It was Walker's money of course, so this "minder" certainly had only limited powers, but things would get interesting nevertheless.
Sitting cross-legged on the big double-bed was the guru, the star of today's show; I was merely here as something like a servant. He seemed to meditate in complete calm, which was good - no need for two nervous persons!
"Hmm, strange. I can't see the hotel WLAN, and I have no mobile reception either." Mr. Logan was trying to set up his notebook that he had brought with him and connect it to the Internet. I think I had seen him before, maybe on last year's Monero Konferenco, but without speaking to him. Not important anyway. I handed him an Ethernet cable and said: "Here, try this. The immense mental power of the guru disturbs most radio signals, that's why so near to him basically only wired works."
Logan, Walker and I were sitting around the only table in the small hotel room. After Logan was finally online, all was ready.
"Thank you for coming. So, let me get straight to the point and explain what this is all about" I started. "The guru - I will address him simply like that, names are not necessary - is in mental contact with a higher being. There is a word in Hindu religion for such beings, but I always forget it. Let's just call her a goddess of numbers." Walker seemed to be very interested already, while Logan groaned a little, as to underscore his skepticism, and then asked dryly: "The being is a she?" I nodded.
"She stretches over countless parallel universes, so to speak, and is able to see through strong encryption like those fabled quantum computers that are forever around the corner. She can do an astronomical number of computations in a short time. Really a goddess of numbers."
"And the guru can ask her questions?" asked Logan. "Why does a goddess even bother to answer him?" I explained: "In the guru's monastery back in India there are dozens of monks and nuns that do special mental calculations for hours every day, which pleases the goddess, so she returns some favors."
"But there's a problem. With all their time spent calculating, no time is left for earning money. And as even monks and nuns need to buy food and other necessities of life, the guru here went on a mission to secure further funding. At which point you enter the picture, dear Mr. Walker."
Logan was out with some comments before Walker could say something. "Aha. Or course. You want money. This was to be expected. What will money buy us here? Don't tell me BTC price predictions, I warn you."
I smiled. "No. Something much better. The guru, with the help of the goddess, can give you almost total control over the Monero cryptocurrency, which of course could be very lucrative."
"Yeah, you already hinted at something like that in your invitation" said Walker finally. "This brought me here, after all. But say, how would that work in practice?" Logan added: "Exactly. Show us. Talk is cheap, demonstrate that control."
"OK. Let's have a look at so-called vanity addresses, like that special Bitcoin address that contains the word gigabyte". I handed them a paper with 1gigaByteSVzV6B7aoPdysVaYNfkh87si printed on it. "Mr. Logan, can you confirm that there is no other way known to find such addresses than searching through billions of secret keys and see whether by chance they produce an address with the desired letters? Which of course takes a long time, even with fast computers?"
Logan looked at the printout and then slowly nodded.
"Good. Mr. Walker, do you want a Monero vanity address starting with your family name? The guru will simply ask the goddess for one" I offered. It took Logan only a few seconds to come up with an objection. "Nonsense. That would prove exactly nothing. Trivial for you to prepare such an address beforehand."
"OK then. What about your given name?" Logan wouldn't have it. "Same problem. You simply prepare both." "Well, what about your mother's maiden name then? I take it that's not common public knowledge, so hard for me to prepare beforehand?" I looked at Walker.
When Logan looked like speaking up again, Walker gave him a stern look and then said to me: "Please go ahead. Indeed only few people know that. It's Casey."
The guru opened his eyes for the first time since the meeting started, took paper and pencil that he had ready at his feet and wrote something. I fetched the sheet and put on the table for all to see. It was a Monero address: 46CaseynvWDDZLcDAaS4apU9R2zcKNYfs16qe642uFbw1F9cc1VQdojHhDgMN2xPguNo9kXyoFHw61KQTZTzvZ2rDqNBksK
"Mr. Logan, would you be so kind and check whether that address is valid? We don't want to get fooled by some made-up gibberish that just looks valid, do we?" I teased him. After a minute or so of typing he simply muttered "valid" and seemed less than happy.
Walker sure was in a better mood. "Nice demonstration of ability, indeed. But say, how am I supposed to make a profit from such vanity addresses? Selling them for 10 bucks apiece isn't very interesting."
I shook my head. "No, no. That was just a nice trick to warm up and get your full attention." I put a big sheet of paper on the table. It was a very detailed multi-color picture of a complicated fractal, geometric forms within similar such forms, seemingly into infinite detail.
"Such beautiful mathematical things please the goddess immensely" I explained. "It's the data of a single block from the Monero blockchain turned into a mathematical formula describing a fractal, which was then evaluated and printed. The guru will show it now to her, she will pick one of the transactions in that block from the look of the fractal, and tell us the secret keys that are needed to control the receiving address."
Walker seemed intrigued. "How will she get to see the fractal? By looking through the guru's eyes?" "Exactly" I confirmed and handed the guru the sheet. It didn't take long, and he began to write down a row of words on paper: verification succeed biplane cabin cobra wallets plywood clue ourselves suddenly anecdote leopard around lyrics anecdote puffin ponies woken hubcaps payment being yahoo spiders tedious succeed.
"Mr. Logan, that's the seed that you can use to restore a wallet which will give you control over all the Monero that were moved by a transaction in the block in question - if they are still there of course. But you should at least be able to see that the transaction indeed happened."
The whole wallet restore process took a few minutes, but then Logan looked at both of us and said: "Hmm. There are coins for maybe 30,000 dollars waiting at the address that this seed encodes, and most came in by a quite recent transaction."
Walker smiled, but of course Logan did his best to spoil the fun. "Interesting, but how do we know that fractal is not just all show, and you simply handed over one of your own wallets?" I responded calmly: "Would I really, at this point, with you not yet committed to anything at all, put 30,000 dollars of my own money on a silver platter, for you to grab if you feel like it? How probable is that?"
Logan still did not look convinced, but Walker seemed to buy my argument. "Really impressive. Who would have thought: All that security and privacy shattered to pieces by a goddess and a guru. That answers my question how money could be made here alright. But say, if I take that money now, and repeat the process for more transactions, that's stealing plain and simple. I did not come here to get turned into a criminal."
I nodded. "Understood. I didn't want to suggest that. I was thinking of searching for addresses where the owners long ago lost access to them because not holding the private keys anymore. I imagine if you go back to 2014 and 2015 when Monero was not yet worth much, and people not yet experienced handling their coins, you will find many such addresses, amounting to a small fortune that is truly lost, unless you a have a goddess helping you to unlock it of course."
"Anyway, you may still feel that this is not right, and that's why I prepared something else as well. I will show you how to easily mine Monero blocks to earn block rewards and transaction fees from them. The guru will ask the goddess now for a nonce value that will produce a hash for the next block with the required difficulty, to demonstrate that."
"Well, I don't understand all the details about mining" Walker said. "Mr. Logan: Does that sound right, on a technical level? Magically coming up with a single number, with that nonce value, early enough of course, before any other miner does, will win me a Monero block and all connected rewards?" Logan laughed while nodding. "Jesus, this gets more fantastic by the minute. A goddess executing RandomX programs, in a million parallel universes I suppose, faster than any technology here on Earth. Go ahead, show me. I can hardly wait to see."
"It will be a pleasure" I answered. "Please use a web browser on your computer to display a Monero blockchain explorer with the list of transactions waiting for the next block and then put your computer in front of the guru, so he will be able to show the list to the goddess through his eyes."
3657434356: That was the number the guru had written down after only a short glance at the notebook's screen, of course earlier than the next block had actually been found. When the blockchain explorer finally showed the arrival of that block, after nearly a minute of us all waiting tensely in silence, Logan checked, and indeed: Its nonce was 3657434356.
Now Walker's face seemed to almost glow with excitement. "Fantastic! Name your conditions."
"1 million USD in XMR, paid upfront right here after we reach agreement. The guru will help you then earn XMR for at least a year. Half of that will go to you, the other half to the guru's monastery in India."
"Stop! Not so fast." Of course Logan had to intervene. "You can correctly recognize almost any scam by simply applying some good old logic thinking. So, my dear, please explain me this: If your guru is able to get access to all those heaps of XMR simply by mentally chatting with a lovely goddess, why bother us at all? How would it make sense to ask us for for a paltry million dollars? Just let the guru earn all the money his monastery will ever need, and leave us alone."
"Very good question!" I said, a little over-enthusiastic, feeling good that my solid meeting preparation paid off so nicely. "I will gladly answer it. The guru is a deeply religious man, and his religion tells him that it will amount to a grave sin if he directly profits from all this. It will greatly diminish all the good karma that he accumulated over many lives and rebirths and put the nirvana far out of reach again for him. If only other people profit from what he does, it's still a sin, but a much smaller one, and he will gladly face the consequences for the good of all his brothers and sisters."
Logan didn't counter, seemingly not able to topple this explanation right away, which gave Walker a chance to take over: "Don't bother, Mr. Logan. I have seen enough wonders in the last half hour to make me a believer. Mr. Brunner, please give me the XMR address for transferring that million."
"Certainly. But let me tell first about an exciting alternative offer: If you pay 10 millions instead of only one, the guru will teach you how to talk to the goddess yourself."
"Really? Ohhh! That would be possible?" I nodded. "Yes. The guru confirmed me that it's not that difficult, once you know how of course."
After this revelation Walker sat just there and seemed to stare into the distance. "Er, Mr. Walker. It just dawned on me that this mining stunt can't possible work. That must have been fake somehow." That pesky Logan again. "The required nonce value is dependent on every single bit of the transactions in the block, and you can't see all those bits by glancing at a simple transaction list on screen. Mr. Walker, you understand? Completely impossible!".
But fortunately Walker seemed to ignore Logan completely now. "Alright. 5 millions in XMR now, and the other 5 millions after my first successful chat with the goddess. Deal?" "Deal."
"This is so beautiful!" I was startled, and it took me a moment to realize that it was the guru, speaking for the first time since the meeting started. "4217777777! Did you ever see such a nice nonce value?" When I looked at him, understanding nothing, he added: "That's an alternative nonce value for the Monero block that we had before. If you replace 3657434356 with 421777777, it still works. Aren't numbers beautiful!"
We all laughed, feeling the whole tension of the meeting melting away - except poor Mr. Logan of course.
"Cool story, grandpa. Finally I know how you came to be such a big Monero holder." I had decided to tell my grandson Michael how I got rich all those years ago, by making a gullible billionaire a little less so. In my family he was the only one with a real interest in cryptocurrencies.
"But you can't stop now. Tell me how you did it. Certainly not by talking to a goddess, eh?" Michael looked at me expectantly, and I smiled: "No, of course not."
"We had indeed prepared that Casey Monero vanity address beforehand. Together with about a dozen other ones, to have leeway. We had paid some money to a private detective to find out suitable words from Walker's more private life. During the meeting we just had to make sure to move steadily forward and not give Logan time to recognize that only a completely random word would have ruled out us preparing beforehand."
Michael nodded. "Not too hard, yes. And that trick with the printed Monero block? Finding and decoding transactions by looking at a nice fractal?" "Well, technically that was even simpler, nothing to do with the printed block itself. Like Logan suspected it was one of my own addresses with XMR for 30,000 dollars on it that I gave them. The trick so to say was to dare something unexpected that scammers rarely do: Putting their own money on the line."
"No risk, no fun!" Michael laughed. "But how did you fake that feat with mining a Monero block by simply looking at waiting transactions?" "That was the most difficult one. Remember how Logan had to resort to using our Ethernet cable because wireless did not work? We had installed a signal jammer in the hotel room just for that. When he checked the nonce of the block in question, he did not look at the true Monero blockchain explorer, he looked at a doctored one running on a small server at the end of that cable. No wonder that block had the correct nonce: It wasn't the true block at all."
"Alright. Good preparation certainly pays off" Michael said. "And who was the guru anyway?" "He was a friend of mine from university that happened to look more or less Indian because his mother was from there. He got a very nice million for his little role; I took the other four because it was all my idea, and I had prepared almost everything. That 'guru' really did not know much about Monero!"
"So what then about the alternative nonce from the guru with a row of sevens? 421777777, right?" Michael asked. "Not sure, that was nothing that I had prepared. I guess my friend got carried away and also wanted to contribute something to the show!"
"Ok then. Astonishing how simple everything was. You really don't want to know how magicians do their tricks: It spoils all the fun!" Michael laughed. "Ah, can you do me a little favor, grandpa? Please look up the number of that block you 'mined' during your show and mail it to me later. Just to have the story complete." "Alright, grandson."
Two days later I got a reply mail from Michael. It completely took me aback and my mind returns to it now and then ever since: "Hello grandpa. Thanks for the number of the block. I checked, and you know what: 421777777 is indeed a valid nonce value for it. For the actual block as it is recorded in the blockchain. I am not sure what that means, but if you ever see your Indian friend again, get him to pass my regards to the goddess of numbers."