Sunday, October 28, 2007

Interview with valsa

Thanks to valsa who kindly consented to this interview despite his busy schedule in real life.

valsa made the first Geb on 27 Aug 2007. The challenge was uploaded on 13 June 2007.It went through some changes to fine-tune Part 1, and was reloaded on 26 June 2007. Taking that as the starting point, it was cracked some two months later.

If you are curious about the first Geb, so am I. So let's hear it from valsa...

You have been around since the old Pyramid...what was your rank then?
I achieved the rank of Geb**** on 24 July 2003.

You made the first Geb on Rankk...tell us about that.

I've only been lucky that other high rank and smart players didn't accomplish it before me :-) Anyway, after climbing and reaching the apex, I was satisfied.

In your opinions, what makes a good challenge and what makes a crappy one?

Difficult to say. Mostly all the levels that are good are also the easy ones, because otherwise it would become like work and not like a game or something amusing anymore.

Additionally, a level which is easy for you could be difficult for me because maybe at that point in time I could not figure out what it was about.

The only thing I don't like is when it's not clear what to do and you really have lots of different things to try. I mean discovering is also nice, but then again, it must be a game.

Let me take the opportunity to once again say thanks to you for the nice site and for the challenges.

At what point do you say "Enough is enough. I'm not going to touch that challenge."?
I rarely say this because I do want to have a look at it again. Like some of the programming challenges which I haven't solved. I can imagine they are doable but in real life, I'm really busy and have no time to code. The consequence is that there are quite many challenges I haven't looked at for a long time.

Sometimes, I got through Part 1 (or 2) but got stuck in the next part and had no idea how to go on further or what the missing step is, despite trying a lot of times. Usually, I'll wait a couple of weeks before trying these challenges again.

What is your favourite OS?
I do not have a preferred one, and unfortunately there is no perfect OS actually. Depending on what I've to do, I use Microsoft OS'es (Win XP and sometimes Win 98), Linux (Suse and sometimes Red hat) or Solaris.

You know the Geb secret. Do you care to protect it?
I think that Sphinx, Bio and others spent a lot of time in giving people the opportunity to play these challenges, so I see no reason why I should damage the spirit of the Pyramid. I don't see any reason to share this secret.

Where do you see Rankk five years down the road? Would it become a popular challenge site or would it fade away slowly?
 I hope it will not disappear or fade way. Now some clever people who used to play on other popular challenge sites are arriving and are climbing the Pyramid.

And most of the high rank old pyramid members are returning, so it would be nice to see the site still up and running in 5 years!

Do you have a pet? Tell us more about it.
Yes, a bird. When there were two they made a lot of noise, especially when I was watching TV. Now only one is left and he's very quiet. But to be honest, I do not dedicate much time to him.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Interview with quangntenemy

First of all, we would like to thank quangntenemy for taking the time to participate in this interview.

If you're a Rankk member, quangntenemy needs no introduction. He's the top rankked member, with 153 challenges solved at the time of this interview. Not only has he contributed challenges, he has also been helping with providing feedback and fixing bugs.

Speaking for myself, I'm always curious about the person behind the username, and so this interview was conceived. quangntenemy gave very frank and interesting answers to our questions. I enjoyed reading his responses and I'm sure you too will be delighted to hear his story.

How did you discover Rankk?
One nice Friday evening, I felt a little bored. Had a nice chat on #tbs at and ch0wch0w and Sapr0 referred me to the site. It looked interesting and very unique. And so the journey began :D

So you're a Java hacker...could you tell us more about yourself?
I'm 23 years old, working for a bank in Vietnam. Solving computer-based challenges is my passion. I've been solving challenges on various challenge sites since 2003 and I have lots of experience :) Java is my favourite language.

Is there a particular challenge you enjoyed and one that you hated a lot?
Among those I have solved blackjack and python 103 were the most interesting. And of course I hate the challenges I haven't solved :P

How did it begin for you? What was your first challenge site?
Well it all began in 2003 when someone gave me the link to an academy challenge site. It was called StarFleet Academy I think. There were a total of 10 levels and I solved them all in just one night.

As I really enjoyed the challenges, I continued searching for challenge sites and finally found All the good challenge sites are listed there. I fought my way through various challenge sites, notably arcanum, slyfx, ma's reversing, modx, theblacksheep, hackquest, netforce. theblacksheep was the most enjoyable. I even contributed many challenges there.I really can't imagine how I missed good challenge sites like cyberarmy and the old pyramid. But I'm glad now that I'm here on the new one :)

Do you ever give up on a challenge? How much time are you willing to spend on a challenge before you surrender?
Yes, when I have been working on a challenge for a long time without making any progress. But that's only temporarily. I'll come back once I'm in a good mood to start working on it again or when a new brilliant idea pops out of my mind.

I solve challenges mostly for fun, so the more interesting the challenge looks like, the more time I spend on it.

You are rankked #1 at Rankk...what do you think of that? Do you think you'll be bypassed? If so, who's this person likely to be?
To be honest, it's the first time I can reach the first place at a challenge site, so I consider it my own accomplishment. But I am well aware that some day someone better than me might come and take over the place. It could be an old member like valsa or coobb, or maybe a new guy. Whoever that is, he's gonna have a tough battle. I'm not giving it up easily :)

You haven't solved the Geb challenge - the one that will get you to heavens. Do you have a time frame for it?
No plan yet. I'm currently stuck on the second part although I have been trying it for so long. Maybe one nice day the right idea will pop out and you'll see my name written in blue ;)

If you were to set up a challenge site, how would you do it?
An interesting question. As Java is my favourite language the site would probably be a collection of Java-based challenges. Maybe it'd be divided into different sections for different groups: beginners, intermediate and advanced. And of course it would be Java powered :)

What is your favourite food?
Sheep barbecue, of course. Maybe that'll help you in some challenges ;)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The beginning

Cyberarmy's Zebulun ( must have been the mother of all challenge sites. It was started around the year 2000 by Overlord (a.k.a pengo) and had a following of 50000 members. It enjoyed such a phenomenal success that it even got into the news CyberArmy declares war.

But partly as a result of its huge success, it was beset with "troubles" leading to its subsequent demise. The site later became known as, headed by a team that didn't include the founder Overlord.

Alas, the new site doesn't quite have the lure and mystery of the original Zebulun.

I was a Lt Kernel and was trying for the Kernel challenge before the fun ended...

The first challenge was a Javascript challenge. You had to guess a number combination. I didn't know what I was in for, so I happily clicked away. One try, two try, three try, four try, five try and without a warning...the blue screen! I was shocked and angry. Was it a virus or what? I rebooted but was haunted by that blue screen experience to return to the challenge...

A few months passed and I found myself playing with my new toy Redhat Linux (Version 5++). I also had more free time to kill so I decided to revisit that devil...

But this time round, I was very careful. I started with reading the source ;) Then it made sense. I passed that challenge in a couple of minutes...

The next one was a bot challenge - eliza. It was obvious that you had to "chat" with her, so I did just that for an hour or two. It was quite frustrating at some point, if you know what I mean. But I finally got an idea of what the objective was, and began changing my approach. I remember I solved it after some 3 hours and I was really elated. It was totally worth it, despite the "agony" of talking to the "bitch", as it was called by some of the whinners.

And that was how the journey began for me ;)