DARPA Shredder Challenge 2011 (Ofer Abarbanel online library)

DARPA Shredder Challenge 2011 was a prize competition for exploring methods to reconstruct documents shredded by a variety of paper shredding techniques. The aim of the challenge was to “assess potential capabilities that could be used by the U.S. warfighters operating in war zones, but might also identify vulnerabilities to sensitive information that is protected by shredding practices throughout the U.S. national security community”.[1]

The competition was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a research organization of the United States Department of Defense.[2] Congress authorized DARPA to award cash prizes to further DARPA’s mission to sponsor revolutionary, high-payoff research that bridges the gap between fundamental discoveries and their use for national security.

Under the rules of the competition, the $50,000 challenge award would be granted to the first team to submit the answers to questions relating to a hidden mystery. The mystery verified that the team was able to extract meaningful intelligence from the page that was thought destroyed. The secret answers could be acquired by reconstructing five individual puzzles that were created by shredding one or more single-sided hand-written documents.[2]

Winning team

Nearly 9,000 teams participated[3][4][5] between 12:00PM EDT on October 27, 2011, and the deadline of 11:59PM EST on December 4, 2011,[2] with the San Francisco-based team “All Your Shreds are Belong to U.S.” winning the competition three days ahead of schedule.[6][7][8]

The team used a combination of techniques to solve the puzzles: custom-coded computer-vision algorithm were created to suggest fragment pairings to human assemblers for verification.[5] The eight-person team led by a technology entrepreneur Otavio Good also included Keith Walker, Winnie Tong, Luke Alonso, Zina Tebaykina, and Sohana Ahmed with two more persons joining to help in the end.[3] The team’s three programmers had strong image-processing skills that enabled them to win this challenge: at the time of DARPA Shredder Challenge 2011, Otavio Good was leading the development of the visual translation tool Word Lens, Luke Alonso was a developer of the mobile phone application “Cabana”, and Keith Walker was a programmer working on a satellite software at Lockheed Martin.[4]

Approximately 600 worker-hours were dedicated by the team to reconstruct five documents shredded into more than 10,000 pieces.[5][7][9] According to Good, the team’s name was based on an Internet meme “All your base are belong to us”.[3]

Other teams

Second placed team, “Schroddon”, was composed just of husband and wife Marianne and Don Engel living in Baltimore, Maryland.[10] In contrast to the winning team, Schroddon used a human-assisted algorithm that the couple created. Both physicists, Marianne used her background in cryptography and Don used his background in computer science.[11] The couple was ranked first from November 14 until November 18, 2011.

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) reconstructed three puzzles through an online crowdsourcing approach, but their work-in-progress was repeatedly sabotaged.[12][13]

Top performing teams

In the final standings,[14] the top 10 teams reported are:

Place Name Points
1 All Your Shreds are Belong to U.S. 50
2 Schroddon 30
3 wasabi 26
4 MKI 22
5 mmvd 22
6 UCSD 22
7 Craig Landrum 19
8 mkelly 19
9 Icandoit 19
10 Goldsong 17


  1. ^Geller, Tom. “DARPA Shredder Challenge Solved”. Communications of the ACM. Retrieved 2012. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  2. ^ Jump up to:ab c “DARPA’s Shredder Challenge Rules”. DARPA. Archived from the original on February 21, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2013.
  3. ^ Jump up to:ab c Walker, Richard (December 20, 2011). “How 8 Enthusiasts Beat 9,000 Teams To Solve DARPA’s ‘Shredder’ Challenge”. AOL Government. Archived from the original on April 28, 2012. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  4. ^ Jump up to:ab Aron, Jacob (December 3, 2011). “DARPA’s Shredder Challenge has been solved”. New Scientist. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  5. ^ Jump up to:ab c Drummond, Katie (December 2, 2011). “Programmers Shred Pentagon’s Paper Puzzle Challenge”. Wired. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  6. ^“DARPA’s Shredder Challenge Solved”. DARPA. Archived from the original on December 4, 2011. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  7. ^ Jump up to:ab Orlin, Jon (December 2, 2011). “”All Your Shreds Are Belong to U.S.” Wins $50,000 DARPA Shredder Challenge”. TechCrunch. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  8. ^Bingham, Amy (December 2, 2011). “Calif. Programmers Win $50K in Pentagon’s Un-Shredding Contest”. ABC News. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  9. ^Dillow, Clay (December 5, 2011). “DARPA’s Impossible-Sounding Shredder Challenge is Already Solved”. Popular Science. Retrieved January 1, 2012.
  10. ^Ruediger, Nicole. “Puzzle Pair”. UMBC. Archived from the original on 2014-10-15. Retrieved Winter 2012. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. ^“UMBC Team Places Second in the DARPA Shredder Challenge”. UMBC. Retrieved December 3, 2011.
  12. ^Harris, Mark. “How a Lone Hacker Shredded the Myth of Crowdsourcing”. Retrieved February 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  13. ^Rahwan, Iyad. “How Crowdsourcing Turned On Me”. Nautil.us. Retrieved February 2015. Check date values in: |accessdate=(help)
  14. ^“DARPA Shredder Challenge 2011 Final Standings”. DARPA. Archived from the original on February 21, 2013. Retrieved May 20, 2013.

Ofer Abarbanel – Executive Profile

Ofer Abarbanel online library

Ofer Abarbanel online library

Ofer Abarbanel online library