Spy Puzzle Café

Puzzles about digital surveillance and cryptography, 2014

Untold Stories (NL)

07.08.15 – 01.11.15

Spy Puzzle Café

Thanks to Edward Snowden, we have learned about some of the government surveillance tactics that are used to spy on people around the world. Now that the veil of secrecy has been partly lifted, the challenge is to explain what the consequences are for the average citizen. On the one hand, everyone with a laptop or a cellphone is a potential target of digital surveillance. On the other hand, we feel powerless in the face of the complexity of the techniques and tactics that are being used.

Spy Puzzle Café is a project that tries to address issues of surveillance and digital espionage by letting people solve puzzles. Solving puzzles about matters of surveillance and cryptography brings people closer to understanding them. With a degree of difficulty varying from beginners to more experienced puzzle enthusiasts, the puzzles are designed to interest the average reader in matters of surveillance and privacy that affect us all, but are ignored because of their technical nature. Spy Puzzle Café is a space where visitors can sit down and try their puzzle-solving skills.

Completed puzzles can be seen at #spypuzzlecafe.


Under the name Untold Stories, Ruben Pater creates visual narratives about geopolitical issues. He initiates projects in which research is followed by visual storytelling to a wide audience, creating new relationships between journalism and design. His Drone Survival Guide received attention worldwide in 2013 as an educational and activist tool against military drones. Research into disaster communication in times of climate change resulted in the First Dutch Flood Manual in 2011, and Double Standards in 2012 was an installation and publication about the role of global maritime trade in Somali piracy. He finished the Masters Programme in Design at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam, and teaches at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam.


Q and A

What is your favourite dark corner of the internet?

What some would describe as the dark corners are, for others, the few last enlightened spaces of the internet. Free and open initiatives like The Pirate Bay and Library Genesis are, for me, the enlightened places that stay true to the original idea of the internet's free exchange of information.

What kinds of private information do you think will be valuable in 2050?

All information is valuable, but do not overestimate the value of your personal information on your social media. Although it is relevant for advertising, the real value of information lies in the security industry. With immigration numbers and global inequality on the rise, governments and companies will be more and more interested in our official legalities (like our civilian status, visas, and locations), our behavior online, and biometric information (our faces, eyes, fingerprints, posture, and so on) to assess the risk we pose to society.

Everyone has a secret. What's yours?

It is easy to have a secret, but it takes skill to keep a secret.