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MIT unseals time capsule of tech treasures

Justin Drake, Jeromy Johnson, Simon Peffers, Erdinc Ozturk, Bernard Fabrot, and Ron Rivest​ were there when the time capsule was unsealed at MIT’s Stata Center in Cambridge on May 15.​Rachel Gordon/MIT CSAIL

Twenty years ago, MIT officials issued a challenge of sorts when they revealed a puzzle that was supposed to take 35 years to solve. To raise the stakes even further, they pledged that if someone came up with the correct solution before 2033, they’d open a special time capsule.

They made good on their promise this week.

Daniela Rus, the director of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and former lab directors Anant Agarwal and Ed Fredkin were “like a group of giddy schoolchildren opening Christmas presents,” when they unveiled the contents of the time capsule on Wednesday, according to a story on MIT’s website.


Inside the capsule, which was designed by architect Frank Gehry, they found an array of tech treasures, including the original 1992 proposal for the World Wide Web; a 1979 user manual for VisiCalc, an early spreadsheet program developed by MIT alumni Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin; and an Altair BASIC interpreter that was donated by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Attending the time capsule ceremony were Ron Rivest, an MIT professor who devised the infamous crypto-puzzle known as LCS35, and Bernard Fabrot, a self-taught programmer from Belgium who became the first to find the solution to the puzzle in April. They were joined by Simon Peffers, Justin Drake, Jeromy Johnson, and Erdinc Ozturk, who worked as a team and finished the puzzle on May 10.

The time capsule and puzzle were announced in 1999 as part of an anniversary celebration of what was then known as MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science.

Rus noted that this isn’t the only time capsule on MIT’s campus. Several others remain waiting to be opened.

In 2015, a construction team working on the new MIT.nano building stumbled upon a glass time capsule that was buried in 1957. What made the discovery even more unusual was that the capsule wasn’t supposed to be found for 1,000 years.


MIT officials say another time capsule, located under an 18-ton magnet in the cyclotron building, will be unearthed “in the coming months as the Institute prepares to break ground on the new College of Computing building there.”

Emily Sweeney can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.