For a number of years, one of my 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 aliens. 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 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 is very popular among the prankster community called Ask Peter (or Peter Answers). The footer text lists the page as a “Virtual Tarot,” as though the page truly has the ability to predict your future or answer any of your questions. In this article, I answer 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 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 the Peter Answers site alone and you don’t know the secret behind the site, you’ll typically get an answer like this:
What’s up with that? 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 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 to 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.
At the end of the answer, type another “.” and then continue typing the rest of “Peter, please answer the following question:” To the person sitting next to you, it only appears as though you’ve typed that one question — especially if you’re a fast typist.
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.
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 CSS using class “inp” to handle each input field. You simply can’t see how these fields are processed without access to the CSS files. However, if you look closely at the form code, you’ll discover an interesting anomaly.
At the footer of the page script, you can see various variables used to return different text to the text field:
var O000000="en", O00OO0O="Peter please answer the following question:", O000O0O="No connection.", O0O0O0O="You must enter a valid petition.", O0O0OO0="You must enter a valid question.", O00O000="Peter answers: ";
Each variable is given a coded name that looks similar, but it isn’t — with zero and the letter O in various places in the name. The technique is clearly intended to cover up the true purpose of the script, but it’s obvious that if you aren’t aware of the secret use of “.” behind the entry of the “answer,” then the page is coded to provide lots of different error messages back to you.
Now You Know the Real Answer
The answer, of course, is that if you’re in the “Petition” field, the 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?
Looking for more pranks to play on your friends? How about freaking them out with fake virus pranks?
Image Credit: risnandar2/Depositphotos