The Original CryptoPunk

Andrew Schreiber
4 min readJul 25, 2021

Reverse engineering the CryptoPunks art algorithm, part 1

In March I became obsessed with the CryptoPunk art, reverse engineered the CryptoPunk generator algorithm, and noticed a few cool things.

  1. The Original CryptoPunk
  2. Why CryptoPunk Females don’t Smile or Frown
  3. Tassle Hat was originally for Males
  4. Do Zombies face left or right
  5. PunkScale: the colors of CryptoPunks
  6. The mystery of transparency values
  7. Hat or hair
  8. Do CryptoPunks have a right ear
  9. Do Zombies face left or right
  10. Attribute Asymmetries
  11. The TOP attribute
  12. The making of RebelPunks

Of the 10,000 CryptoPunks, which was first designed by Matt Hall and John Watkinson in 2017?

I believe the provenance of such a punk would be significant, as Da Vinci’s early art is today. CryptoPunk #0 is cool too, but that is the first punk made by the algorithm, not the artists. No, I do not own the original punk.

Full disclosure: the case I’m about to lay out here is simply the best I was able to make, based on the available evidence. Could Matt and John have done things differently without leaving evidence? Yes. Could the evidence here not be the right evidence or mere coincidence? Yes. With that said, let me show you what I’ve found.

Evidence. We know from interviews such as this one that during the creative process Matt and John wanted to compress the size of the CryptoPunks art so that they could store the Ethereum NFTs fully on-chain. Though on-chain storage proved impractical, one of the optimization techniques they tried early on was reducing the number of colors used. Fewer colors, less storage needed. Noticing unusual color matching will be a key tool in identifying the original attributes.

There are dozens of colors used in CryptoPunks. Pure black (#000000) is by far the most common. Many seemingly similar colors are actually different.

Different color hexes for Earring, Tierra, and Police Cap, respectively.

In my upcoming blog post in this series titled “Punk Scale”, I’ll discuss the full CryptoPunks color set in greater detail. For now, know that in CryptoPunks it is extremely rare for a color from a punk’s skin tone to exactly match an attribute.

In fact, such a match only happens once.

Here is the Mohawk, which I believe to be one of the first attributes created.

Early attribute: Mohawk

A mohawk is perhaps the quintessential punk hairstyle. The simple name Mohawk is strongly suggestive that it was the firstborn among its direct attribute siblings (Mohawk Dark, Mohawk Thin, and Red Mohawk).

Here is another trait I believe to be one of the first created: Normal Beard.

Early attribute: Normal Beard

Normal Beard also has a rather basic name and a sibling attribute in Normal Beard Dark. But even more excitingly, we have an attribute color match!

Original Brown #a66e2c

I’ve started to call #a66e2c Original Brown.

This one special color connects several of what could be the earliest attributes (including other beards such as Front Beard and Muttonchops). That would be a big clue alone, but the biggest clue is this: Original Brown is the singular color which exists on both an attribute and a skin tone.

That skin tone is on the light human skin of both Male and Female. It turns out the four pixels of the eyebrows are Original Brown.

The eyes of Human Female with light skin tone.

Beautiful! Now how can we go from 10,000 down to 1?

Finding a needle in a punkstack

Let’s filter logically. The CryptoPunk algorithm used a layering system, where each attribute was its own ordered layer. Before Matt and John made any attributes, they needed a base to build upon. Therefore the original CryptoPunk was a zero attributer.

The zero attribute CryptoPunks, of which there are only 8.

Now we’re down to eight. Using the Original Brown clue, we may proceed that either light male or light female was first, leaving us with only two options.

It turns out that several male-only beards use Original Brown. Meanwhile, no female-only attributes use Original Brown.

Therefore, I propose the theory that the very first CryptoPunk that Larva Labs designed is none other than 281.

The Original CryptoPunk

Wrap up

Thank you for going down the rabbit hole with me.

Next on the blog series will be “Why CryptoPunk Females don’t Smile or Frown”, which also reveals a major motivation for the creation of the upcoming 10k NFT avatar collection RebelPunks (

RebelPunks fight for freedom of expression. They introduce the Rebellion mechanism, making them the first truly unburnable NFT and a yielding asset to active community members.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts! Is there evidence or logic that further proves or disproves that 281 is the original CryptoPunk?

We’ll be giving away a RebelPunk (a 0.069420 ETH mint value!) to the best case for the original CryptoPunk!