Cryptics — A Novel by Dr. Shiva Kintali
I have been writing a series of three novels for almost a decade now. The first book in this series is almost ready. It is titled ‘Cryptics’.
What is Cryptics ?
Cryptics is an adventure novel, aimed at teaching some of the most amazing concepts of cryptography, zero-knowledge proofs, blockchain and several fundamental mathematical concepts in a very fun, exciting and a memorable way.
It’s a story of five middle school students, who coincidentally meet at a talk (in Bay Area) given by Dr. Shiva Kintali, a billionaire mathematician, technologist and an entrepreneur. Dr. Shiva Kintali (a.k.a Doc) brings their attention to a puzzle, whose solution is worth $10 Billion. Yes. Billion with a B.
Yes. The billionaire in this story is me. Some of the incidents, lifestyle and mannerisms of this character are based on my real life. If you don’t know me, visit my homepage. I am NOT a billionaire in real life. Not yet ;)
My character appears on very minimal occasions in the story. Most of the story is about the five middle school students. The students race their way towards solving this $10 Billion puzzle, against the rest of the world… including some of the topmost genius mathematicians, anonymous hackers, large corporations with unlimited resources and a global network of mafia with evil tactics. During the course of this ‘once in a lifetime’ global race, that attracts ‘never before seen’ international attention, the five middle-school students co-operate with each other, overcome some of the toughest real-life obstacles together, learn some of the most important values of life and become BFFs.
Most of the events in this story take place in the Bay Area between January 2018 and January 2020.
The origins of Cryptics
I got the idea of writing this series of books in 2009, during my PhD days at GeorgiaTech, after teaching some classes in complexity theory. I taught some of the most elegant, amazing and exciting concepts in this course: asymmetric key encryption, zero-knowledge proofs, undecidability… to name a few.
I constantly noticed that students often find these concepts boring, because we teach them in a “theorem…. proof… theorem…. proof” style. Most of the students forget these concepts right after the semester end. There must be a better way to teach these concepts in a fun and a memorable way. I started making a list of mathematical concepts and started writing several short stories about them. Eventually, I merged all these short stories into three long coherent stories… one of them is Cryptics.
What to expect from the book ?
Cryptics story is aimed at curious learners of ages from middle-school level and above. It reveals several mathematical concepts in an interesting, fun, suspenseful and an exciting way. Concepts from cryptography, blockchain, cryptocurrencies and theoretical computer science are revealed first in a subtle way in the story, developing a sense of curiosity in the reader’s mind. These concepts are expanded as the story develops. All the essential concepts are eventually explained at the right time with the right context. Sometimes the readers must solve simple puzzles, connect hidden clues in the story to understand some concepts and appreciate the “Aha moments” in the story. The entire story invigorates a sense of creative puzzle-solving with applications to real-world technologies.
Quick fun puzzle
What is the precise mathematical function plotted on the cover of the Cryptics book (shown in the above image) ?
Cryptics — Chapter 0
Chapter Title: Silicon Valley Bitcoin Meetup
Chapter Subtitle: “Welcome to the real world”
It is January 9th 2018. Bitcoin price has hit $20,000. More than 400 people are at the Silicon Valley Bitcoin meetup at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, California.
Dr. Kintali is giving a talk titled ‘Blockchain: Algorithms, Data Structures and Game Theory’. He is wearing lace-less white Skechers, dark blue jeans, an unbuttoned dark blue blazer on top a royal blue unzipped sleeveless hoodie on top a black ‘Black Sabbath US Tour 78’ t-shirt. It is almost the end of his talk and everybody is eagerly waiting to ask questions. Doc’s last slide has a large triangle. The three vertices of the triangle are labeled ‘decentralization’, ‘security’ and ‘scalability’.
“That’s the trilemma. Currently there is no blockchain achieving all these three properties simultaneously. Any questions ?” he concluded his talk, placing his hands on the sides of his waist, eagerly expecting technical questions from the audience.
Several hands from the audience went up simultaneously.
“How high do you think bitcoin price will go ?” asked one person.
“A million dollars ?” asked another.
“Which ICO should I invest in ?”.
“My mom took a reverse mortgage and bought bitcoin. Is it a good decision ?”.
“What do you think about BitConnect ?”.
Doc looked around the audience with a mixture of cringe, shock, confusion and disbelief.
As Doc is walking out of the Plug and Play Tech Center, still in disbelief, a self-driving car stopped right in front of him. It’s a perfectly washed, clean and shiny, white Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC SUV with beige interior with custom-made self-driving functionality. The back passenger door opened itself and Doc got into the car and sat down. The car is driving itself to his mansion in Menlo Park. As he is placing his slim royal blue laptop sleeve by his side, a voice (coming from the car’s twelve surround speakers) says “I can guess what happened”.
Doc: With a heavy sigh, “They did not appreciate the elegance of technological breakthroughs. They just want to speculate and make a quick buck”.
Car: “Welcome to the real world. You should have stayed at Princeton…. in academia. Real world is not for you.”
Doc: “Blockchain is an amazing technology. It is frustrating to watch it being tarnished by speculators, charlatans and scammers”
Car: “Doc, Do you know….in 1706, Hauksbee playfully designed a machine that generated static shocks. It was quickly embraced by the conjurers and street magicians, to trick common people and make a quick buck. It was not until much later…. it was embraced by intellectuals and then the world witnessed”, raising its voice with excitement, “an electrical revolution !!”
Doc: “No. I did not know that. Thanks for enlightening me.”
Car: “Is that sarcasm I hear from you ?”. After a brief pause, “By the way… you have a new invitation to talk… in March”.
Doc: “No. No more talks.”
Car: “This one is from a middle school in Los Altos”
Doc: “Middle school ?”
Car: “Yes. They are organizing a ‘STEM career day’. They invited you to give a talk about your research and entrepreneurial journey, to their 7th and 8th graders”.
Doc: Shaking his head… “Sheesh… during my middle school, we played cricket with friends, flew kites and had lots of fun… on the streets. We never cared about career, research or .…”.
Car: Quickly interrupting Doc, “Oh Yeah? Welcome to the Silicon Valley”.
Doc: “Remind me to upgrade your sarcasm. All you say is ‘welcome to this’, ‘welcome to that’…”.