The Fourth Annual Obfuscated Perl Contest

Felix Gallo

Obfuscated Perl Contest

You were born into this. From the first day they swaddled you in scarlet silk blankets, put one of their own into the crib and stole you crying away into the black stillness of the forest, you have been in a school of previously unknown purpose.

Your eyes, once childish and full of wonder, have matured all too quickly. They've roamed books not written to be read, murals not drawn to be viewed; they've watched macabre puppet theatres that portray the studied arts of deception.

Your fingers, thick and clumsy compared to theirs, have been trained to work the skeins of falsehood and lies made fabric. In the glow of the phosphorescent toadstool circle the needles flicker and glitter like shooting stars.

Poison has become your tongue. As their emissary you walk the daylight world, chatting and laughing in streetside cafes or talking to colleagues in your office; but inside the guileweave hides a venomous calculus. Every night you lay out the candles and the breadcrumbs and wait.

Today the air is different. The sun still shines, but you feel the chill of invisible clouds passing over its face. And the smell is sharper, like the taste of the dark earth at the foot of a graveyard. Today you know your decades of secret schooling draw to a close, and as the power wells up inside you, you hope that you are ready.

There are four circles of judgement in which you may prove your worth as a master of deception.

The first circle is judged upon the ability to craft a lie which commands an infernal computing engine to print the words "The Perl Journal" in human-recognizable form. You may only use one thousand glyphs, including the invisible ones, or fewer in the completion of this screed.

The second circle is judged upon the ability to forge a deviousness which commands an infernal computing engine to perform some task of extreme might and puissance. Your limit is six hundred glyphs, whether visible or no. The third circle is judged upon the ability to create a monstrosity which exhibits artistic cunning and creative guile in its dread formulation. The limit is one thousand glyphs, including those which cannot be discerned by the naked eye.

The fourth circle is judged upon the ability to cause your fell creation to appear as a chameleon or doppelgänger does: as a deceptive imitation of another tongue. You must pick a different language and endeavor to make your handiwork fool the eye into believing that it was written in that language. For this purpose you may select up to two thousand visible or invisible sigils.

The laws of the circles are few but severe.

  1. All dweomers must be penned in the language of the fifth camel.
  2. While you may use the hide, the hair, the nails, and the teeth of the pure camel, your spell may not be able to rely upon the existence of any other animal, neither ibex, vampire bat, rhinocerous nor warthog; nor the vile children of the palaces of Berkeley, Redmond, Finland or New Jersey.
  3. Your incantations will be pronounced within the confines of a memory cage capable of holding four million things; attempts to use more may succeed, or may shatter the cage and release your bound spirits into the air with the crashing of glass and the tinkling of tiny bells.
  4. Your writings belong to you; but you provide the judges and the Perl Journal with the right to duplicate, quote, edit for style, and disseminate them freely upon an unsuspecting world.
  5. Your works must be sent to the Stronghold by the first day of the eighth month. You must use the anonymous Foetid Transference Petals to connect to and place your entry in /pub/orwant/obfuscated. The tar or zip archive must include:
    • The incantation.
    • A README file providing attribution (including e-mail addresses) and information about which circle of judgement the spell is for.
    • A SOLUTION file explaining the magics and powers you have woven into your script.
    The archive must be named YOURNAME.CATEGORYNUMBER.SUBMISSIONNUMBER.tar or Entries not conforming to this rule may be given as a ritual plaything to the void faerie. Entries may not be submitted by any other method than that described above.
  6. The champions and their monstrosities will be announced in comp.lang.perl.moderated, in the magazine, and on By this iteration of the nightbird's cycle you may be familiar with the methods of judgement. But as there are newborns amongst us fresh from the amniotic dew, I relate them here.

First, the committee examines the work. If we can determine its nature visually, then we disqualify it as being too human.

Second, the committee hands the work to an infernal computing engine and examines the results.

If after this act we still can't unravel the tortuous webs of your thinking, we examine the SOLUTION text you have helpfully provided.

Most victors attain that rarefied third strata.

In addition to the quality of being merely impossible to understand, much of the judgement relies on aesthetics, cleverness, newness, humor, and interest, especially manifold and in combination. As an example, many entries in the last circle relied on using a plethora of invisible glyphs -- which was mirthful, but too obvious. Obvious means failure.

The void faerie hungers for new toys.

Remember, you were born into this. In the underworld the leaves rustle as an unseen crowd gathers closer to the camel stone. Make your masters proud.

Felix Gallo, Lead Inquisitor, The Obfuscated Perl Contest.


Felix Gallo is an emergency philosophy technician in residence at the Santa Monica beach, a base of operations from which he schemes to conquer the continent. Conspiratorially participate by reading