2010 Ginter Code Solution

Welcome to the solution blog/manual for the 2010 Ginter Code!  My name is Nick Jacoby and I was also the 2009 Ginter Code champion (with help from Mike Gellner), and was awarded a card in this year’s set.  I am the first back-to-back Ginter Code champion, and may or may not return next year for a chance at the three-peat!

This is not just a simple “how to” guide…I will give commentary of my thought process along the way, as most people seemed to appreciate that from last year’s solution blog.  However, if you’re just interested in the final answer, scroll all the way to the bottom and you can skip the story! 🙂

So when I heard that I would have the luxury of getting my own card in this year’s set, I decided to buy an entire case (12 boxes) of this year’s Allen & Ginter, as I’m trying to collect all my variations (by the way, if you have any extras, let me know!).  I also figured this would be a good way to help me crack this year’s Ginter Code, and hopefully become the repeat champ.  I did a lot of research as I’ve never bought an entire case before, and settled on Global Sports Cards as they have the best prices of any site online.

So I ordered my case about a week and a half before the release date of June 30, 2010 and was anxiously waiting for them to arrive.  I mean, who else gets to say they opened a pack of baseball cards and pulled a card of themselves (I pulled 8 of my cards in case you’re scoring at home)?  Not many people!

While I was waiting for the package I was scouring the internet looking for any clues on this year’s Ginter Code.  I figured they would make it much tougher after Mike and I cracked it last year in about 72 hours (don’t let that fool you though, last year it was TOUGH!).  There were absolutely no details anywhere to be found…I wasn’t sure if the cards would be parallels like last year, or if they’d be on special sets like 2008, or some other crazy format.

About a week before the release date, Beckett’s Chris Olds put up a sneak peak box break video with the first look at this year’s set.  In an awesome twist of fate, Chris pulled BOTH my regular base card and mini base card, IN HIS FIRST PACK!!!  He emailed me before he posted the video and told me to watch out for it and said “you’ll probably like my first pack.”  That I did.  I shot him an email and asked him about the code cards this year and he said he didn’t remember seeing any, but could have just passed over them quickly without knowing what they were.  Hmmm.

The weekend before the release date I was continuing to search for any clues online and stumbled upon an auction on eBay for a Justin Upton rip card.  I immediately emailed the seller and asked how he got the product so early.  His name was Tony K. and Topps shipped him a box because of an issue he had with another product (more on Tony later).  I asked him about the code cards and he said he didn’t get any, other than the typical spacer advertisement cards:

Front and back of the 2010 Ginter Code advertisement card

Hmm…he only got one box, so maybe the actual code cards were going to be much tougher to track down this year to increase the difficulty.  I started seeing other auctions pop up, and messaged those sellers, who all told me the same thing…no code cards (all of these auctions were from the rip party that Topps had in Florida).

I figured I would just have to wait until my case arrived to get a good look for myself.  In the meantime, Tony was nice enough to send me scans of most of the cards he got in his box, including the Ginter Code ad card listed above.  After looking through and marveling the newest edition of my favorite baseball card brand, a card jumped out at me that was particularly odd…a ‘Celestial Stars’ card of Tim Lincecum.  Interesting, the Celestial Stars insert set wasn’t on the official checklist, and I could find no record of them anywhere.  This Lincecum card would end up creating a hoopla over the link between the Celestial Stars cards and the 2010 Ginter Code!

I had a huge hunch that these were this year’s Ginter Code cards…think about it, there was no mention of what the Ginter Code cards would be anywhere, and none of the sell sheets or other product reviews mentioned the Celestial Stars cards…from here, I knew my first goal was to get my hands on these things as quick as possible.  One problem, it was still the weekend and Ginter wasn’t coming out for another 3 or 4 days!

I made another interesting discovery that weekend…on the front of the Ginter Code advertisement card, there are three really bright stars together in the window, along with another couple that are less bright elsewhere in the window (scroll back up to see for yourself).  That seemed really odd to me…why put the stars there so obvious?  Sure, the artist could have put them there just to add more detail, but something about those stars didn’t seem right.  Then I started thinking…wait, stars on the ad card…the unannounced Celestial STARS cards…BINGO, I was certain now that this had to be the right path.  I figured there would be 12 of them in the set, one for each sign of the zodiac.

So while I waited I kept searching eBay for more of the Celestial Stars cards, but kept my eye open for other things just in case.  I also called my mom because she’s always been into horoscopes and constellations and stuff…I’ve always joked around and made fun of that stuff before but I played nice this time because I needed her help! 🙂

I had her look at the front and back of the Lincecum CS card, and she said that the back did seem kind of odd (she knows astrology very well), but we couldn’t really do much without any of the others.  I then showed her why I thought those were the code cards, because the ad card had the bright stars.  She immediately told me that was Orion’s Belt, which I’ve heard of, but couldn’t have pointed it out to you if it was in my face.  Interesting.  I later did some more research on Orion’s belt, and noticed a part of the constellation was a star named Betelgeuse…the same Betelgeuse that has a card in this year’s set (#68)!

So at this point I think it’s Monday evening and I got in touch with someone who ordered 25 cases (yes, 25 cases, that’s 300 boxes for all you math majors out there).  Many of you may know him…he goes by “brentandbecca” on the forums and on eBay.  I reached out to him for a couple reasons…first, he was opening a lot of the product and I wanted to see if he could save any of my cards that he pulled…second, he was getting his stuff before everyone else and I wanted to get my hands on more of the Celestial Stars cards!  I chatted with Brent over email and we exchanged numbers…I called him Tuesday afternoon to see how his break was going so far…we talked about the Strasburg (or lack thereof) in his cases, and then I asked him about the code cards.  He told me he hadn’t seen one of them in the 10 or so cases he had opened already.

I then did something that I was so pi$$ed off at myself for after I looked back on it…after he told me he didn’t see any code cards and had no clue what they would be this year, I asked him if he could scan me any of the Celestial Stars cards he got.  I didn’t tell him they had anything to do with the code, but after looking back I’m sure he put two and two together and figured that was why I was asking.  When the 2009 Ginter Code champ asks for scans of the Celestial Stars cards, it’s a safe bet that he thinks they are the code cards this year!  He told me he would send them over and I let him go back to breaking his boxes.

This was Tuesday the 29th, and that is the day my case finally arrived.  Finally, I could do some good searching on my own for the code!  I opened box after box but didn’t get a Celestial Stars card until my very last box (M. Teixera).  I anxiously read the back because I thought that is where the clues were at, but after reading it I was let down…the back didn’t seem as interesting as the Lincecum, and I was having trouble how it could be code related.  I knew once I got them all though, it would come together (or would it?).

I heard that a lot of others were getting their cases the day before the release date, so when I was done with mine I went to eBay and started looking for more.  What I saw made me nervous…an eBay seller had two Celestial Stars cards up for sale already…the subtitle under on the auction said something like “these are the 2010 Ginter Code cards”.  Bummer, what lead I thought I may have had was lost, everyone would now know what the code cards are.  Apparently this person had noticed what I noticed with them not being on the checklist, and Orion’s Belt on the ad card.  I shot him a message via eBay to see how he knew for sure they were the code cards…his response: “brentandbecca told me I should increase the price on them because they were the code cards.”

Wait, brentandbecca? Brent is the guy I asked to send me the scans of the CS cards…crap, he figured out why I was asking and was now sharing my secret!  Another seller posted a CS card and mentioned they were part of the code…when asked how he knew?  One guess:  Brent told him!

At this point everyone in the world seemed to be focused on why there were no Stephen Strasburg cards like Topps said there would be.  I could care less, I just wanted to hurry up and crack the code before someone else did!  I think Brent sent me the scans of all 12 CS cards on that Tuesday night, and while I was happy (THANKS BRENT!), I was upset at myself because he was telling everyone what I had found!  EDIT:  Don’t get me wrong, Brent is free to share whatever information he wants from anyone else…I was mad at myself because it was pretty obvious to him why I was asking for them.  Here is the scan of the back of the CS cards that Brent sent me:

I didn’t really get to sit down and analyze these cards until the next evening (Wednesday the 30th, the official Ginter release date).  One problem, I didn’t get how most of them could fit into the code at all after reading them.  I didn’t think the fronts had anything to do with it, and the backs just didn’t seem to connect.  I was now questioning if I was on the right path or not.  One thing that was very interesting is that the Ryan Howard card has a typo on the back (“has” instead of “as”), which seemed like it could have been a clue…turns out it wasn’t.

A couple other things I spent a lot of time on was the This Day in History set, as I thought the dates on those might correspond to the CS cards.  Also, WHY IN THE HELL IS THE MOST POPULAR PLAYER IN THE GAME (arguably), DEREK JETER, NOT IN THE BASE SET??!!  To me that was crazy, considering he did have a Celestial Stars card…many people thought this was a clue, but as you will find out, it had absolutely nothing to do with the code.  I also analyzed the Sailor minis as sailors used the stars to navigate.  Not to mention, there were multiple cards of astronomers like Galileo and Copernicus.  All of this had to connect, right?

That night I decided to go back through all the cards from my case and look at everything.  I looked at which way the players were facing, the background colors, the sailor cards, the animal cards.  Nothing.  I started studying the ad card again to see if there were any more clues.  I saw the email address that you are supposed to send the answer to when you have it (code@topps.com), and I sent a quick email that said something like “I’m completely lost!!”.  30 seconds later I got an auto response….this is what it said:


The Codemaster
P.O. Box 785
Pittston, PA 18640

Interesting!  A group of characters that form a cipher, and an address for “The Codemaster.”  Last year you emailed your answer, I was now believing that this year, you are mailing your answer!  I immediately started analyzing this cipher and when I was done I had noticed several key things.  First, and most important, there are 401 characters.  Sound familiar?  There are 401 cards in the set when you include Strasburg.  There were around 30 capital letters, 41 punctuation marks, and 11 numbers.  In the punctuation marks there were two quotation marks, so I figured a quote was in there somehow.  There were also two dashes, which I believed were added to some of the numbers to form either a date or a phone number.

I was convinced that each of the 401 cards had one of the 401 characters, and that you had to put them in some sort of order to spell a message.  The problem was, I had no clue how to match the cards to characters…did card #1 have the first character and so forth?  When you got to the end of each row in the cipher did you snake back to the left, or start back at the left and continue just going left to right?  You could also start at the bottom right corner and go up and down…the possibilities were endless.  There were so many ways to do this, but I determined to try them all.

I thought about the & sign that was in the cipher for a bit…why put that in there?  Why not just spell the word ‘and’ out?  I also noticed that there were capital A’s in there, and capital G’s in there.  I was willing to bet that somehow you spelled “Allen & Ginter” in the message, and if you could find how to get from the & sign to one of the four capital Gs (because they are in sequential order when you spell “Allen & Ginter), you had your key to breaking the code.

All the while, Celestial Stars mania had hit primetime.  Every forum, blog, and ebay auction was calling these the code cards, and all because I said something to Brent, who said something to others, and then it caught on like wildfire!  I started to see this as a blessing though, because after reading the backs and thinking they didn’t have to do with the code, and the fresh lead in terms of the cipher, I WANTED people thinking those were the code cards, because it kept everyone on the wrong path (assuming I was right, otherwise I had blown it and someone else would probably crack it).  I also had looked heavily into the “This Day in History” set because of how dates could match to zodiac signs.  I looked into the Sailors cards as they used stars to navigate.  There were also people like Galileo and Copernicus in the set…those all had to be part of the code, right?

Around this time, Tony and I were putting the cipher in spreadsheet format to work on the code.  Tony put in massive amounts of time putting all of the characteristics for each card in a spreadsheet…card number, player name, background color, team, birthday, all kinds of stuff (Tony is the ultimate workhorse!).  All I kept saying to myself and Tony…find how to connect the & and one of the Gs, and you have this thing broken!  Now, the & could have been with another phrase, and the G could have been a part of any other word, but I was convinced they were there to spell Allen & Ginter!

So Tony and I spent probably another week analyzing this cipher and the 401 cards, and couldn’t find anything.  We were completely lost.  I had considered quitting a couple times and just moving on…something kept drawing me back in though.  I figured what we needed was some fresh eyes on things.  The first person I reached out to was the 2008 Ginter Code champ, Jason Wong.  Jason is a great guy and when I started feeling him out, he didn’t really come off as being too interested.  But as I started to share all the clues I had gotten so far, I knew he was getting excited, and agreed to come aboard.  The next person was another Tony (Tony M.), and he’s from San Diego.  He works for a well-known law firm down there and I figured a lawyer’s brain could be just what we needed to bust this thing out and cross the finish line.  So I basically sent everyone an email laying out everything we knew, and told everyone to share info and ideas.

After a few more days…nothing.  Well, other than negative thoughts in my head about quitting.  I have to admit what kept me going though…Tony K.’s passion.  That guy was determined to crack the code, and I honestly think he would put in 15 hour days for months if that’s what it took…great work ethic and totally dedicated.  Speaking of Tony K., he was running some sorts in Excel of the cards one night (this was probably about Wednesday the 7th, so one week after the release), and noticed that when he sorted by birthdays, he could take the characters from the Scorpios and spell “2010 Topps Allen & Ginter”.   Tony was running sorts of the data in Excel to see what would keep the & and the G together, and birthday did it in this instance, but it also brought multiple other characters with it to spell the set’s name.  The problem though, was that the message wasn’t in order (we pulled the letters and had to re-arrange them to spell that), and there were still about 15 other characters in the Scorpio’s that spelled absolutely nothing.  One other problem…what in the hell did we do with all of the non-baseball players?  The majority didn’t have birthdays, although most of them at least had some date or year on the back, so we tried that.  I knew Topps didn’t have my birthday, so my card couldn’t have been sorted by birthday.  That’s when I wondered if the non-baseball players were either set in stone in their order (meaning their corresponding character in the cipher stayed where it was), or that they weren’t needed at all.  I also started thinking…wait, if Topps wants us to have the super short print minis from rip cards (351-400) and the Strasburg that was also tough to get, they would be out of their minds.  Getting all those cards would cost thousands of dollars.  However, all we really would have to do was look up their birthdays online, so maybe we didn’t need to physically have them.

Another thing that made us believe we would need to leave all of those cards out, is that many of them were punctuation marks and numbers.  As I said earlier, there were 41 punctuation marks, and 22 of them were sentence enders (periods, exclamation points, and question marks).  With only 401 characters, that would mean each sentence would be about 18 characters long…that didn’t sound right at all.

Thursday night Tony decided to run the sort by birthday again, but leave out the non-baseball cards and the 351-401 minis.  He found that not only would you still be able to spell “2010 Topps Allen & Ginter” with the Scorpio characters, but many of the other extra characters went away.  I think there was something like 23 characters at this point who were Scorpios, and 21 of them spelled the set name (again, the letters weren’t in order, we had to unscramble them).  I saw this really early on Friday morning and was convinced we were on to something.

I wrapped up all my work for the day around 5 and sped home so I could start looking at the rest of the zodiac signs after the non-baseball players and the super SPs were taken out.  Tony and I were comparing notes and I had this string for Aries:

w k r d r w d , G b c o o i k a o r ! o e T e e o

I started seeing what words I could form here and it took me about 5 minutes to spell this:

“Good work, codebreaker! To wi”

I was extremely pumped at this point…I bet the next row (Taurus) started with “n” to complete the word “win”.  Tony K. and I started breaking out all of the zodiac signs and word hunting.  On the last line, Pisces, the characters were this:

C t T d r r m e a e e s o h c d e . o t a m

Interesting.  Only one period, yet two capital letters.  I then noticed they were C and T…sound familiar?  Look at the address from the code…the submission goes to “The Codemaster”.  So my last line now was broken down to say this:

“card to me.  The Codemaster”

I now had the first and last lines, now it was only a matter of minutes before I cracked the entire thing, right?  WRONG!!

I stared at the 12 rows until about 4 in the morning, and we could pick out certain words here or there, but nothing concrete.  One thing was for sure though, I was seeing what could possibly be the word “birthday” in many of the lines.  Hmmm.

At about 4am I decided to call it quits, knowing my brain was fried and my wordsearch puzzle wasn’t going anywhere.  I set my alarm for 8am and was determined to spend the rest of the weekend doing nothing but finishing this…we were so close I could taste it.

Saturday morning (the 10th), I woke up refreshed and ready to work.  I took a step back and started to try and figure out a key to unscrambling each line, rather than just guessing on words.  I figured there had to be a way that told you to choose one character, and then the next character, and then the next, etc.  That would make it soooo much easier than just taking characters and spelling random words, which is what we were doing.

The only problem with this, is that in order to back into a key, you had to find a sequence of cards that were right next to each other that spelled something, and there couldn’t be two of those characters.  I felt pretty sure I knew what the first and last line said, but guessed on most of the middle.  So I started with Scorpio and what I thought said:

“Good work, codebreaker! To wi”

I knew there was only one “c” in Scorpio, and only one comma in Scorpio.  The comma was Daniel Murphy’s card who was born on April 1st.  The “c” was Jay Bruce, who was born April 3rd.  I started to look at each way the Murphy card could be ordered before the Bruce card (because the comma is before the c in the phrase).  Birthday worked for these two, but you couldn’t spell the rest of the phrase that way.  Then it hit me…the very first stats line was Games Played…Murphy had 204, while Bruce had 209.  I then went through all the Scorpio cards and organized them in order by Games Played…BINGO, it worked and spelled out the phrase correctly!  Now I knew what the key was, I knew it would be cracked very soon!

I then moved to the Taurus cards and started sorting them by Games Played…one problem (and a BIG one)…it didn’t spell a thing.  It couldn’t have been a coincidence for Scorpio could it?  Then I realized something else…when I ordered Taurus by the second stats line, it spelled out a message.  Then I realized for each zodiac sign 1-12, I would take the corresponding stats row and order the cards that way, and the characters associated with the cards would then spell a message!  Another twist is that you have pitchers and position players, so even though you are taking the same stats row and ordering them, the actual statistical category won’t be the same.

After all of this was done, this is what the final message spelled:

Good work, codebreaker! To win, you must send a birthday card to the player of your choice. However, his birthday must be within one week of the post mark on your card, so choose your wishes wisely. Please also include his 2010 Topps Allen & Ginter base card with the birthday card. Oh, one more thing. It’s a surprise, so please send the card to me. The Codemaster.

And there it is!  So who did I send?  Card #56, Shin-soo Choo, whose birthday is July 13th.  This was Saturday the 10th, so I figured that the card would arrive on the 12th or 13th, which is why I picked him!  I rushed the post office as fast as I could in order to make it before they closed since the post office closes early on Saturdays…I grabbed a cheap birthday card off the wall, requested delivery confirmation, and that was that, the waiting would now begin!

Something we later found out was that since this is a PO box, obviously someone wouldn’t be there to sign for it, so they left a notice in the mailbox that they needed to come to the desk and sign for it.  I checked the tracking non stop for the next few days…the card arrived on this past Tuesday, but no one came to sign for it until Thursday.  This worried me a bit because if no one came and signed for it, it would have gotten sent back.  Thankfully they came before that happened!  On Friday the 16th I got an email from Topps telling me that my card was the first to make it, and that I am the 2010 Ginter Code champ!

I have to finish this by giving credit to the guys I worked with.  This blog was written in my point of view so I didn’t discuss those guys much, but that was not because they didn’t do any work.  Tony K. probably worked more hours on this code than anyone in the country, and I was lucky to have Tony working with me.  And even though they joined us pretty late, Tony M. and Jason Wong also provided help.  A big thanks to those three guys for all of their help, they should also consider themselves 2010 Ginter Code champions!  I also would love to see how the code broke down from their point of view, so any of them may also put together a blog outlining that…that’s something I’d love to see!

2010 Ginter Code solution…the cliff-notes version:

1) Email code@topps.com and get the cipher

2) Match each of the 401 characters to the 401 cards in the set, so the first character (a comma) is for card #1 (Adam Lind), etc.  Once you get to the end of the row, start on the next row with the first character in the row.  Once you have the characters matched to the cards, they will remain with those cards (Excel is the easiest way to do this)

3) Delete the cards/characters for non-baseball players, and the minis from 351-401.

4) Sort the remaining cards by birthday (year doesn’t matter, just month and day).

5) Break the cards down to zodiac signs, and start with Aries, which is the first sign of the zodiac.

6) Sort the cards inside of each sign by the corresponding stat line.  For instance, the first sign is Aries, so sort the Aries cards by the first stat line, all the way through Pisces, which you will sort by the 12th stat line.

7) You have your message…pick a card with a birthday coming up, and send it with a birthday card!

Final Thoughts:

The question everyone keeps asking me, is which was harder, this year or last year.  To me, I’d say they were overall about the same, but this year was slightly harder.  Last year you knew where to get started because you knew which cards were code cards, as they were parallels.  However, the code itself was pretty hard.  This year, it was extremely tough to get started, because there was no clear place to start…also, I’d guess the majority of people cracking it didn’t even know about the code from the email.  The code itself this year though, was easier than last year.  So I look at it this way:

2009:  Starting was easy, code was hard

2010:  Starting was hard, code was easy

The tie-breaker is the fact that last year only took about 72 hours, while this year technically took about two weeks.

I have also heard a couple people sound angry that you had to figure out to email Topps in order to get the code.  I guess I kind of see their point, but there was never anything that said the code HAS to be on the actual cards.  And I’ll be honest, there could be another code in the cards somewhere that says to email the address, and I could have just skipped over that thanks to blind luck…who knows.

Also, I apologize if I gave too many or too little details.  I could have posted a lot more pictures to show you how to do things, but the above steps are pretty easy and should allow you to do it yourself pretty quickly.

Oh yea, and Topps…you got Jered Weaver’s birthday wrong!  We noticed this when checking birthdays we pulled online for each player and compared them to the birthdays on the back of each card…will Topps correct this error?? 🙂

A final time I have to give more credit to the guys I worked with.  Without them, I’m not sure if I would be here writing this.  I may not have mentioned them much above, but that was not intentional…they are all great guys and great teammates!  A big thanks also goes out to Brent for sending me the scans that I had THOUGHT were part of the code…his help also led a lot of people on the wrong track, so without him, I may not have won!

One last thing…to all the people who sold the Celestial Stars cards on eBay for much more money than they are probably worth (and to the people who were selling scans only!), you’re welcome!  The Celestial Stars cards ended up not having anything to do with the code at all.  Even though zodiac signs were used, you could have cracked the code without any of the CS cards.

If any of you have any questions, leave a comment below or email me at nickjacoby AT hotmail.com, and I’ll answer anything you want to know!

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