For a number of years, one of my passionate hobbies has been researching paranormal scams. These are situations where an individual claims they can predict the future, that they’ve discovered the secret to antigravity, or that they work for the government and know the truth about whether aliens exist. A common thread in all of that surreal research is that generally, an unnerving number of people are very, very gullible.
That gullibility multiplies significantly when the event being portrayed includes something that appears supernatural or “magical” in nature. Deep down, many people still want to believe in the magic – and when they are presented with the opportunity to believe again, they jump all over it.
A case in point is a website that’s been growing in popularity among the prankster community called Ask Peter, or Peter Answers. It comes complete with creepy Old English font and a copyright line at the bottom that adds to the intrigue, “Peter Answers 3.5 – Virtual Tarot – Original idea: Wizard 666.” That’s right, Wizard 666….oooh, are you dealing with a supernatural entity hidden behind the bits and bytes of this mysterious web page? In this article, I would like to share the answer to the question – how does Ask Peter work?
How Does Ask Peter Work? The Believer Perspective
First, I’m going to show you how the website works for the person off of the street who knows nothing about the inner workings of the Ask Peter. When you first arrive at the website, you’ll see a very simple web form.
The point of the website is that it’s a sort of electronic “tarot” which will peek into your future and answer your questions accordingly. However, Peter is a fickle psychic, and he must be treated with respect or he won’t answer your question. Therefore, before you ask a question, you must petition Peter with the sentence, “Peter, please answer the following question:” If you’re using Ask Peter alone and you don’t know the secret behind the site, you’ll typically get an answer like this.
Tired? But he’s nothing more than electronic wizardry! Ah, but it’s all part of the show, folks. The magic really happens when you bring in a second person who knows Peter’s terrible secret (after reading this article, that will be you!) The second person needs to type in the petition and question for you, and then you’ll get the answer – which is usually remarkably accurate.
If the person typing the question knows the secret – you’ll get such an answer. In the second half of this article, I’m going to share the Peter’s terrible secret, and welcome you into the secret society of “Ask Peter” insiders. If you enjoy the childlike, magical perspective offered by your blissful ignorance – then stop reading this article now. Otherwise, if you would like a small antivirus shot so that you’ll be immune to this particular scam, then read on.
Welcome To The Secret Society Of Ask Peter
If you’ve read this far, then you feel prepared for the secret knowledge of how Ask Peter works. Let’s take a closer look.
So, now you know the secret. Submitting the question that you’ve already entered the answer for and clicking OK will result in Peter providing your answer. The person next to you who’s watching will be astounded and flabbergasted by the amazing accuracy of this virtual tarot. Just don’t be too accurate, as you’ll raise suspicion. Once you’re through, you can proudly claim another Ask Peter believer under your belt. In doing so, you’ve perfectly portrayed the terrible gullibility that runs rampant throughout the world.
Let’s take a closer look at how the background scripting for Ask Peter actually works.
Here, I’ve viewed the source code for the web page. Now, the creators of this website were clever enough to suspect that discerning tech geeks would try peeking under the hood, so they’ve incorporated a few safeguards. The first, of course, is processing all entries through an ASP script called “PeterAnswers.aspx” and that’s a script that you simply can’t see without access to the web server files. However, if you look closely at the form code, you’ll discover an interesting anomaly.
It appears that when each keyboard key is pressed (the onKeyPress event handler), a function is called that returns a character. What character is really returned? If you look at the function for each field, they appear identical, but they’re not. One is named with a leading letter O, two zeroes and three trailing letter O’s again. The second function is named with a leading letter O, a zero, another letter O and four trailing zeroes.
The answer, of course, is that if you’re in the “Petition” field, the ASP script returns what you type into the field, but watches for the moment you type the “.” character. At that point, it starts typing the rest of the statement “Peter, please answer…” as it saves each character you’re actually typing into a variable until you type “.” again. Finally, once you click “OK” – your saved text that was stored in a string variable is displayed below in the form of Peter’s Answer.
Now that you know the inner workings of this online Prank, are you more likely to try it out on a friend? Share your opinion about this online “virtual tutor” in the comment section below, and if you do try it out on a friend, let us know how it went!