Proponents of software copyright had their counter-arguments: without copyright, works might otherwise slip into the public domain. Putting a copyright notice on a work also served as a statement of quality. Programmers or companies who attached their name to the copyright attached their reputations as well. Finally, it was a contract, as well as a statement of ownership.

In 1962, computer scientists and hackers involved in MIT's Project MAC, an early forerunner of the AI Lab, took steps to alleviate this frustration. Time-sharing, originally known as "time stealing," made it possible for multiple programs to take advantage of a machine's operational capabilities. Teletype interfaces also made it possible to communicate with a machine not through a series of punched holes but through actual text. A programmer typed in commands and read the line-by-line output generated by the machine.

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.

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."

Another favorite maternal anecdote dates back to the early 1960s, shortly after the puzzle incident. Around age seven, two years after the divorce and relocation from Queens, Richard took up the hobby of launching model rockets in nearby Riverside Drive Park. What started as aimless fun soon took on an earnest edge as her son began recording the data from each launch. Like the interest in mathematical games, the pursuit drew little attention until one day, just before a major NASA launch, Lippman checked in on her son to see if he wanted to watch.