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The Space Rocket Kola Experiment

What’s the easiest way to grab the attention of a Rubyist on a big, long conference?

With cola.

Well, not only with cola, to be honest. Firstly, it’s Kola, like in Fritz-Kola. Secondly, it’s a hand-made Rocket Edition, as one guy dubbed it. Thirdly… oh, well, just decipher the code below:

Lunar Kola Base64 encrypted messageForgive me the eerie fingernail – it’s due to me getting high on glue. That tiny bit of Base64 is an idea by our scrum master and it leads to a website that might ring a bell in a tabletop Warhammer games –

If you’re already bored, skip to the space coder section. If not – I need to confess that being a kola craftsman is utterly ridiculous.

Here’s where the /b/ sections starts. Fingernails are nothing compared to my flip-flops.

Gruesomely Grisly Grind

Lunar Kola preparations

I purchased 96 bottles of Fritz-Kola, had a printing shop prepare diamond-shaped rockety stickers for the bottles’ necks as well as unfortunately not sticky front labels. What else was left to do?

I had set my shoulder to the wheel: I put the Kola in a bath full of ice-cold water for an overnight; ungluing them was a thrilling experience!

Then I tempered the glue with water, stuck the diamond embellishment to the bottle’s neck and began inhaling the glue… that is, carefully sticking the front labels to the bottles, wary to preserve the code underneath. I even checked the code on the first bottle by looking at the sun through the glass! Slowly, the Lunar Kola army ranks began to increase as my strength started to wither and the flip-flops were more flop than flip.

Finally, dazzled and exhausted after more than four hours of gluing alone, the batch of hand-made Lunar Kola was ready to go and amaze the Ruby people of Wroc_love.rb 2013. I’ll touch on this matter later on, but before that I wanted to explain a bit more about the whole hidden challenge.

Howdy, Space Coder!

Codehulk homepage screenshot

Code Hulk is basically a web app that checks your coding awesomeness. The texts & concept are mine, Mariusz did the design and Adam‘s code propels the whole app. It’s loosely based on the Space Hulk game, the Iron Sky film and some of our own internal exercises. It ruthlessly checks your programming skills.

In space. Versus space Nazis. We built it in around a week of non-full-time work and even got a nice test coverage.

The app consists of five phases with original, fast-paced story line full of unexpected twists and without any cliffhangers. The audience was thrilled and begged for more.

Erm… where were we? Let’s get back to the Ruby folk and their reaction to Code Hulk…

Kola! Kola! Kola!

I must admit: I was anxiously anticipating the outcome. Would they notice the code? Won’t they get frustrated going through the seemingly endless exercises? During the first day of the conference I’ve deployed the Kola, opened up Google Analytics with its real-time monitor and waited. Like a flak operator at the radar, looking for that one blip.


Huzzah! Allright! Someone found the code! It wasn’t really an epidemic spread, but some folks took the bottles home and tried to crack the app there. During the second day we run out of kola in less than a minute. Handing it out just after dinner break was a tiny bit Machiavellian, I suppose. We laughed demonically during the break. All in all, it seems that for every bottle we had at least 2-3 visitors without much aggressive marketing on our side (the conference-induced traffic only).

All in all, I think that the idea was fine, yet the execution lacks polish. Maybe the code should be exposed more? Fewer exercises? More bottles? Well, that calls for some conference testing. I’m sure of one thing – I really enjoyed doing it. Even while being half-submerged in ice cold water or getting increasingly intoxicated by glue.

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