The dispute with UniPress had highlighted a flaw in the Emacs Commune social contract. Where users relied on Stallman's expert insight, the Commune's rules held. In areas where Stallman no longer held the position of alpha hacker-pre-1984 Unix systems, for example-individuals and companies were free to make their own rules.

Two years after the explosion, the rate of innovation began to exhibit dangerous side effects. The explosive growth had provided an exciting validation of the collaborative hacker approach, but it had also led to over-complexity. "We had a Tower of Babel effect," says Guy Steele.

Such statements, while reflective of the hacker ethic, also reflected the difficulty of translating the loose, informal nature of that ethic into the rigid, legal language of copyright. In writing the GNU Emacs License, Stallman had done more than close up the escape hatch that permitted proprietary offshoots. He had expressed the hacker ethic in a manner understandable to both lawyer and hacker alike.

Such descriptions give rise to speculation: are judgment-laden adjectives like "intense" and "hardheaded" simply a way to describe traits that today might be categorized under juvenile behavioral disorder? A December, 2001, Wired magazine article titled "The Geek Syndrome" paints the portrait of several scientifically gifted children diagnosed with high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome.

Looking back and forth, between the puzzle and her son, Lippman says she initially regarded the offer with skepticism. "I asked Richard if he'd read the magazine," she says. "He told me that, yes, he had and what's more he'd already solved the puzzle. The next thing I know, he starts explaining to me how to solve it."