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Gumby Coin: a story about a 1958 claymation character, cryptocurrency, and pizza
A grift, a failure, or a mistake?
Before I begin, this is an especially long post. Substack warns me that it may be truncated if you try to view it in Gmail. I’d recommend clicking through to the site to read, but if you don’t, you can click “View entire message” to see the truncated portion of the post in Gmail.
About a year ago, it was late in the evening here in Raleigh. It was cheat night on my diet plan, and I was in the mood for junk food. Sadly, most of the restaurants in Raleigh seem to close around eight or nine o’clock, which has left my cheat meal habits longing for the late night eats of Boystown back in Chicago.
After many of the restaurants in the city turn back into pumpkins, many of the options on Doordash and Uber Eats are for large fast food chains. And an unusual number are for trendy-seeming eateries that have the modern-looking listings and logos that I’ve never seen before. Many of these are ghost kitchens.
Ghost kitchens are not very new, and I’ve seen them many times before, though not with the density that they seem to be present in North Carolina. They seem to come in two forms:
The first is a restaurant with no public storefront at all that exists solely on apps like Doordash. Multiple listings share a single physical kitchen, with food delivery app listings tailoring to a single kind of cuisine.
The second kind of restaurant is a thinly-veiled rebranding (a “virtual brand”) of an existing chain. Chuck-e-Cheese sells pizza under the brand “Pasqually’s Pizza and Wings”. Hooter’s sells seafood under “Hootie’s Bait and Tackle”. What self-respecting adult is going to order a pizza from Charles Entertainment Cheese to satisfy a late-night craving? Ordering from Pasqually’s is, in a way, the gastronomic equivalent of clearing your browser history.
In our household, this has evolved into a bit of a game: can we identify which viable cheat meal candidates are “real” restaurants? And if they’re ghost kitchens, what is the parent brand? Is “The Melt Down” really a local restaurant for folks with a hankering for melts? Or is “The Burger Den” really a late-night option for burgers? (Surprise: they’re both just Denny’s)
One of the options that appeared on this fateful evening was Gumby’s Pizza. “Gumby’s” sounds enough like it could be some dude’s real name…but on closer inspection, it was actually Gumby-themed. Would a chain restaurant pay to license the 60-year-old Gumby brand for the sake of a ghost kitchen? After much back and forth, we Googled the eatery and found something far more wild than we could have imagined.
Gumby’s is indeed a real pizza chain. Its website is late-90s themed, complete with animated GIFs and a “graphic design is my passion” aesthetic. Here’s a screenshot of the website at the time of writing:
What you see today, though, is but a small taste of what was live at the time.
Just over a year ago today (see the Internet Archive), the website was adorned with a spinning gold coin that turned into an arcade machine button urging the viewer to “click for coin”. The button flashed to draw your attention. One is present in the header and another is in the footer.
If we go back in time further to November of 2021, a mystifying gold coin fills that spot, claiming Gumby Coin is “the world’s most flexible cryptocurrency,” with the tagline “Good as Gold”. Calling any cryptocurrency “good as gold” is a bold statement, but please, dear reader, read on. I promise this is juicier than you could have imagined.
November 2021 is the first record that the Internet Archive has of Gumby Coin on the Gumby’s Pizza website, and January 2022 is the last. All of the graphics link to https://gumbycoins.com, which is currently hard-down. The site seems to have either broken or become somehow only partially indexed towards the end of its life, but thankfully the Internet Archive has a semi-working snapshot from December 8, 2021. Many images are broken, but it still packs a punch. And wow, what a website!
The PDF whitepaper was not indexed at the time the site was indexed, but you can view it on the Internet Archive here. I normally find whitepapers dry and unfulfilling, but this one is a real treat. It’s not so much a whitepaper as…well I’m not really sure what it is. The first forty seven pages are just a collection of JPEGs (one per page). Perhaps these are NFTs? In any case, I highly recommend you give it a browse.
After the 47 pages of JPEGs is a reiteration of the “roadmap” from the Gumby Coins website. I know that cryptocurrencies tend to have “phases,” but it’s unclear what this is or why it exists. The bulleted list of checkmark-adorned items in each “phase” are seemingly a mix of “things we’ll do” (or “are doing”) and “things that will trigger this phase”. I say that because “Continue creating new Ghost Kitchen Brands” and “500,000 GumbyCoin Holders” seem like things which aren’t the same.
The list of items here range from par-for-the-course to “holy shit what the fuck.” A “YouTube Video Competition” is entirely within the realm of possibility for Phase 2. “Take over North America” would seem not to be.
And so, I think to myself, surely this must be a joke, right? They’re just doing this for the lulz. But maybe it’s only partially a joke? “Gumby and Pokey’s Frozen Pizza” for phase 4—again, well within the realm of possibility—contrasts sharply with “Gumby Telecommunication Corporation”. There are eight phases!
It’s not clearly a joke or not a joke. This was an expensive website! Someone designed all these graphics and wrote a whole bunch of CSS (and clearly not the same people that made the Gumby’s Pizza homepage). Someone paid a designer some money to do this. And moreover, all of this took time and energy. Just coming up with all the bullets for all eight phases was easily an afternoon.
Helpfully, there is a Legal Disclaimer page. Surely that should clear things up.
We created Gumby Coins, Pokey Coins, and Blockhead Coins to be a fun addition for the promotion of our expanding use of ghost kitchens, new adventures, and as a fun twist on the conventional gift card. We are a 36 year old company that has done over a Billion Dollars in sales throughout the United States and served millions of customers. We are looking forward to greatly increasing the types of foods offered and will even be developing Blockhead Booze, Blockhead Beer & Blockhead Wine which will be available at all of our restaurants. Additionally, we are huge fans of organic products and Pokey has been insisting on us letting him establish Pokey’s Organic Farms to supply some of our agricultural needs and, leave it to Pokey to push for more, he has also insisted that we have a horse farm for all of his racing buddies plus a huge animal rescue for all of his unlucky friends in need of some help. And, we enthusiastically agree! Finally, we think it would be amazing if one day we establish the Pokeyland Metaverse where you can purchase a virtual house through our real estate company or gamble at Pokey’s Casino. But since Pokey is pokey don’t expect this anytime too soon. And because we are jealous of some of our friends, who shall go nameless, we would love to open Gumby’s World Theme Parks with rides and attractions featuring all of our restaurant brands and delicious foods from our Gumby’s Pizza and World Famous Pokey Stix to our newer additions. Our journey is going to be a long one and we are delighted that you have decided to join us so that you too can be a part of Gumby’s World and enjoy owning your Gumby Coins, Pokey Coins, and Blockhead Coins. Most importantly, every time you look at or think about our Gumby Coins, Pokey Coins, and Blockhead Coins, or any of our fun NFTs, that you Think and Say ALOUD “I want my Gumby’s Pizza & Pokey Stix!”
This is a legal disclaimer? I’ll pick out the good parts for you, because this is a long-ass page with a lot more of this.
During our launch of the Gumby Coin tokens, Pokey Coin tokens, and Blockhead Coin tokens, […] we will raffle off Pokey’s First NFT (non-fungible token) of a fun cartoon photograph of the founders of Gumby’s Pizza standing in front of the original Gumby’s Pizza location […]. Thereafter you will be able to use your Gumby Coins, Pokey Coins, and Blockhead Coins to redeem our delicious food at gumbyspizza.com and try our delicious Gumby’s Pizza (which you can only purchase with your Gumby Coins), Pokey Stix (which you can only purchase with your Pokey Coins), and Blockhead Pepperoni Rolls (which you can only purchase with your Blockhead Coins). […] Although Our Tokens have no monetary value, they definitely have an enormous fun value and your ownership of them now makes you a part of the World of Gumby’s Goodness.
So there are actually three kinds of coins: Gumby Coins, Pokey Coins, and Blockhead Coins, which can be redeemed for pizza, cheese sticks, and pepperoni rolls (respectively).
Reading this, I thought to myself “oh, these are just account credit.” But no, dear reader, they are more than that. From the whitepaper:
GumbyCoin is a BEP20 token which is the native token on the Binance Smart Chain.
Oh. So they really are on the blockchain. Reading the legal disclaimer a bit further (emphasis mine):
Our Tokens are strictly utility tokens in each and every jurisdiction and are not and cannot be considered as being a security or otherwise a regulated token of any kind. Our Tokens are not in any way whatsoever e-money or a fiat or asset backed stable coin.
You hereby understand and agree that we are years away from building out everything on our roadmap and we can’t guarantee that it will ever get done, but we would love to accomplish all of our goals as everything on our roadmap along with Our Tokens will help promote our wonderful restaurants and delicious foods. And, you hereby acknowledge and agree that your purchase of Our Tokens and any monies spent by you in acquiring Our Tokens is being spent purely for the joy and fun of owning Our Tokens and becoming part of Gumby’s World of Goodness; and that you expect absolutely nothing in return, monetary or otherwise, other than your ability to redeem your Gumby Coins, Pokey Coins, and Blockhead Coins on gumbyspizza.com for our delicious foods.
This is probably the only legal disclaimer that uses the phrase “delicious food” at a rate of once per paragraph. But moreover, they’ve really gone out of their way to say that you might not get anything at all in return for your money except some hexadecimal numbers in a ledger somewhere.
A blockheaded move to buy these tokens
Did I buy Gumby Coin? No, I did not. But I am now dreadfully curious about how you’d use it to place an order. If you use the Internet Archive snapshot of Gumby’s Pizza to navigate to the option to place an order online, it directs you to a hosted ordering flow by Orders2.me, a SaaS company that offers online ordering to businesses like restaurants. This is the same ordering software that is available on the Gumby’s Pizza website today.
Clicking through the flow, there’s no option in the checkout to use cryptocurrency (of any kind) to pay for an order. Perhaps it was removed? The Orders2.me homepage does note that they have “apps an integrations,” which includes payment processors. I wanted to know whether there was a Binance integration.
Driven by curiosity, I called Orders2.me’s help desk and asked them if there was a cryptocurrency integration of any kind. The very kind person who answered the phone explained that there was absolutely no payment options other than credit card available for Orders2.me1. As far as I can tell, it may never have been possible to place an order using Gumby Coin.
If you browse the site on the Internet Archive, you’ll find the FAQs. This offers details on pricing for the various cryptocurrencies:
Only 7,500 Gumby Coins plus shipping & handling for a Delicious Gumby’s Pizza.
Only 75,000 Pokey Coins plus shipping & handling for our World Famous Pokey Stix.
Only 750,000 Blockhead Coins plus shipping & handling for a ½ dozen of our Best Blockhead Pepperoni Rolls.
How did you arrive at 7,500 Gumby Coins, 75,000 Pokey Coins, and 750,000 Blockhead Coins
Easy, on the last week of our promotional sale, $75 purchase will get you 7,500 Gumby Coins + 75,000 Pokey Coins + 750,000 Blockhead Coins and since we are selling our Large Gumby’s Pizza, Large Pokey Stix, or ½ dozen Blockhead Pepperoni Rolls on gumbyspizza.com for $25 plus Shipping and Handling the math works!
“The math works” is doing a lot of work here. $75 will get you one pizza, one order of cheese sticks, and six pepperoni rolls worth of tokens (and this doesn’t cover shipping and handling). Without analyzing the numbers any further, that’s…bad. $75 for one large pizza and two appetizers is absurd. And it doesn’t cover delivery.
“We are selling our Large Gumby’s Pizza, Large Pokey Stix, or ½ dozen Blockhead Pepperoni Rolls on gumbyspizza.com for $25 plus Shipping and Handling” is a questionable statement, because unless they artificially inflated the prices of those three items to $25 each during the promotion, that’s a lie (you can check out the order form now—each is well below $25). And because of the number of tokens only gets you one order of each of the three items, it doesn’t mean that you can redeem your tokens for three $25-subtotal orders of each of the three items. The math doesn’t work2.
I’m left with a question: who fell for this? It’s a decidedly bad deal. One might argue that the tokens are commemorative (as the legal disclaimer seems to imply), but if you have to spend them to get the pizza that they’re good for, then you don’t really have them after you derive the value. It’s not like a promotional mug or something where you can purchase it with your soft drink and keep the cup afterward.
Thankfully, the blockchain never forgets. We can find out easily who has Gumby Coin by simply looking it up on their ledger. Let’s go to the ham:
This is the official list of transactions for the smart contract and… there seems to be a grand total of…uhhh…three holders. Total.
Now I did ask whether this was the “real” Gumby Coin. The number of tokens in existence (1 trillion) does line up with the number posted on the Gumby Coin website, and I’m fairly confident that this is indeed the “real” Gumby Coin. Pokey Coin and Blockhead Coin seem to be identical. All three are created by the same address.
The ownership in the transaction list isn’t indicative of purchasers, though. If I bought some Gumby Coin because I wanted to redeem it for pizza, I’d have bought enough to equal some number of pizzas (probably just $75 worth, unless I’m some sort of enthusiast). We’d expect one address to own almost all the coins and a handful of addresses with a handful of coins each. But if we look at the data, it tells a very different story:
Someone owns half of Gumby Coin, someone owns 45%, and someone else owns 5%. I’m not sure that there’s a way to identify who those owners are. All of these transactions happened in November of 2021, apparently around the start of the Gumby Coin promotion.
Why transfer ownership of half of the coins to two separate entities? It’s hard to say. But for all the “monies spent by you in acquiring Our Tokens is being spent purely for the joy and fun of owning Our Tokens and becoming part of Gumby’s World of Goodness” happy feelings of the legal disclaimer, it sure seems like maybe someone thought that Gumby Coin might go to the moon.
I took the time to look over the smart contract that powers this whole scheme. I don’t know Solidity, but it’s close enough to most languages I’m familiar with that it isn’t hard to interpret. One bit stands out, and invalidates my earlier theory:
_setTotalSupply(initialSupply); // 1,000,000,000,000 // Public Distribution uint256 publicTokens = 450000000000; // 45% _initialTransfer( 0xA6AFcb9FCE9bEC749a7aaD3C59bBeC2f9e809902, (publicTokens * decimalFactor) ); // friends & family uint256 rewardsTokens = 50000000000; // 5% _initialTransfer( 0xD4ed4118e229bEB6E0F48fc9A779870F6396ED68, (rewardsTokens * decimalFactor) ); // Developer Team uint256 DeveloperTokens = 500000000000; // 50% _initialTransfer( 0x01536e61CC06fe1b8c1f115f16214D307AEB1932, (DeveloperTokens * decimalFactor) );
(I’ve made minor formatting changes for readability)
This comes from the constructor of the
Gumby contract. What’s interesting here is that the public distribution (the pool that tokens are sold from) gets 45% of the total supply. “Friends and family” get 5%. And the “developer team” gets half of the total supply. I suppose if you’re the developer and you’re grifting some poor schmuck that knows pizza and not crypto, this is an easy pull for you.
What’s the incentive here for the developers?
I speculate that their standard terms are 50% of token supply any time they are hired to build something like this. I don’t think they deeply considered Gumby Coin (and friends) specifically.
I expect that they sold the Gumby’s Pizza owners on a crypto project with prospects of getting rich, without explaining that people weren’t going to jump at the opportunity to buy an overpriced, glorified gift card (and NFTs, apparently). They almost certainly charged a handsome fee.
Essentially zero downside, huge (but unlikely) potential upside.
The Gumby Coin was built and launched. But apparently never sold a single coin (unless there was some unknown technical problem). And then it was abruptly yoinked from the internet.
Were sales pokey, or were purchasers set up to be rugged?
The mystery deepens if we read a bit further down the FAQ:
Why can’t I remove my coins from my dashboard on GumbyCoins.Com to my external wallet?
During our promotional 31 week Launch period, you must leave your coins on our dashboard for at least 100 days following your last purchase of coins. After that time, you will be able to move your coins onto your external wallet.
The promotional launch period was supposed to be 31 weeks long3. If the smart contract was created on November 25, 2021, and the last time Gumby Coin was ever heard from was January 2022, that means that it didn't make it meaningfully beyond 7 of its 31-week launch.
This does leave an open question: were token sales done off-chain, with the intention to move the tokens to wallets after the promotional period? Or were no tokens sold? If sales were done off-chain, that’s almost certainly indication of some kind of fraud. The whole point of cryptocurrency is that you’re not dealing with fiat. The whole point of smart contracts is that the purchased coins can be escrowed and transferred automatically. But none of that took place. So either the Gumby Coin order form was completely quiet for the seven weeks that it existed, or orders were placed, but then an off-chain ledger kept a record of those purchases with a pinky-promise that you’ll get your pizza coins at a date that never came.
I see three meaningful reasons why Gumby Coin was yoinked from the internet:
The owners of Gumby’s Pizza saw underwhelming sales and pulled the plug.
The developers weren’t paid, and they took the site down.
Law enforcement sent a strongly worded letter to Gumby’s informing them that they’re doing something that they shouldn’t be doing.
The possibility that Gumby Coins were a rugging seems unlikely, because when tokens are rugged, you try to get away without a trace. You generally don’t leave behind a brand and pizza chain that people can point lawyers towards. The pricing does make the scheme seem unscrupulous, but the tokens would need to sell in order for it to be possible to make money from them. If there was nefariousness at foot, the end of Gumby Coins came before it could play out.
On its face, this seems to be purely a grift on pricing alone. Once again, I’m still left wondering whether this is a joke or not: someone went through a lot of trouble for this whole promotion, for tokens that can seemingly only be redeemed for pizza at a chain with a handful of locations in college towns (though based on the language of the site, it’s possible that this whole thing is limited to only the Gainesville, FL location).
Maybe this was supposed to generate some press. The media was still reporting excitedly about cryptocurrency nonsense in late 2021, and a legitimate-looking promotion from a not-insignificant pizza chain in many college towns would surely generate buzz. Perhaps that was the goal after all?
But then the sheer depth of the process makes it implausible that it’s a joke. The amount of time and money that went into this…the actual Binance integration, the site design, the “whitepaper,” the legal disclaimer, the pricing, the fact that someone actually set up a smart contract for this…the complexity of the scheme masks whether the failure of Gumby Coin was driven by bad timing, incompetence, or whether it was shut down by a third party.
Looking at the blockchain
When I explored the smart contracts for the three Gumby-related cryptocurrencies, I looked at the address that created the smart contracts. It turns out, there’s some interesting information there. Notably, there was something I didn’t expect to see: a fourth Gumby cryptocurrency! The Gumby Metaverse Coin! As far as I can tell, this never appeared anywhere on the sites, but it was alluded to in the whitepaper. The contract, save for the name, is identical to the Gumby Coin contract. This was set up on Christmas Eve of 2021.
The address that created the contracts was funded twice, both times by this address, which I’ll call Dab (as it starts
0xdab). Dab is interesting because it goes back all the way to July of 2021, trading Tether and Binance’s stablecoin. I have high confidence that this is whoever the developer is. Looking at the address’s transaction history, they’ve sent and received tokens from all manner of curious contracts, like “Roki Metaverse,” “ELON BUYS TWITTER,” “ELON BUYS TWITTER v2,” “IRENA Green Energy,” and lots of dead, valueless tokens like “shibainu-dividend.com,” “Def8.io,” and “KK8.io”. Many of the tokens that were sent and received are flagged with messages like “Warning! There are reports that trying to withdraw or move this token via their website could lead to a loss of funds. Please exercise caution when interacting with the contract address.”
Dab remains somewhat active. At the time of writing, transactions into Dab were as recent as eight days ago. The most recent outbound transaction (a sign of life) took place in November of 2022.
When Dab created the address for setting up the Gumby contracts, the address was funded with a small amount of BNB. If we filter out very small transactions (<0.1BNB) and very large transactions (>0.7BNB), we find that there are a handful of similar addresses to the one that created the Gumby contracts:
The first address here created a number of contracts. The most notable is “Crypto Marketing Company,” along with a series of other contracts for “CMC”-related dividends.
The second address also created contracts. It is the creator of the “LYOCREDIT” scheme (I cannot for the life of me understand what it does from reading the website or the contract). It also created FXT, a token whose homepage seems to no longer exist, and BMT (“Blue Marble”).
BMT seems to be a token used for an ICO of “Blue Marble Fintech, LTD” with the goal of raising funds to invest “in companies on the cutting edge of developing new climate technologies and to sponsor climatech development projects worldwide.” It doesn’t seem to actually have done that, but that’s the crypto ecosystem for you. While there is a person’s LinkedIn attached, it seems unlikely that they are involved in this scheme (though I suppose they are no less culpable for the failure/fraud that was the Blue Marble ICO).
The fourth created OracleWrapper and InverseV0. Neither seems to have done anything, but it’s worth noting that InverseV0 is possibly the largest and most complex contract that Dab seems to have created.
Almost all of the addresses listed here have the contracts mentioned as well as other contracts whose plaintext source code is unavailable. Using a decompiler to convert the contract bytecode back to source text didn’t yield anything that I’m able to remark on, but I did not see anything with substantive activity.
All of the contracts share common components which evolved over time—something common with contractors. While I do believe Dab is the developer paid by Gumby’s, I also think it’s unlikely that they worked alone. The LYOCREDIT whitepaper, for instance, is elaborate and uses a documentation system as well as a PDF. It’s much more well-organized. I would hasten a guess that Dab works with third parties who facilitate the sale with clients like Gumby’s Pizza and perform the non-technical work involved.
Sadly, this investigation gave no real leads about the identities of the folks involved.
Not contacting Gumby
I was desperate for answers about what really happened to Gumby Coin. I needed to know if the coin was pulled from the internet because it had sold nothing, or if there were technical problems, or maybe a regulatory body got involved.
I submitted a question to the Gumby’s Pizza contact form, but didn’t get a reply. How would I get in touch with a real person? Returning to the FAQ page from earlier, there was a lead:
How do I contact Gumby?
Send an email to Gumby@GumbyCoins.Com.
That’s what’s present on November 28. Unfortunately it’s not useful; if gumbycoins.com is down, it’s unlikely any MX records are still going to be alive (I did confirm this). But by December 2, it was updated to the following:
How do I contact Gumby?
Sadly, the gumbycoins.com email address bounced as undeliverable. I did not receive a response to an email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
352 is a Florida area code, which is unsurprising as Gumby’s Pizza is based in Gainesville, FL. Florida is also known for its crypto community. It’s home to Miami, dubbed the “Crypto Capital” by its mayor and host to Miami-Dade Arena nee FTX Arena nee American Airlines Arena. It’s unclear whether this number belongs or belonged to an owner or the developer.
The contact number from the Gumby Coins website is sadly out of service. numlookup.com reports that this is a VoIP number, so it’s unsurprising that this would be dead.
I did take the time to look up the owners of Gumby’s Pizza, which is freely available information from the various secretary of state websites for states that Gumby’s operates in.
One owner, Jeffrey O’Brien, seems to have almost no online presence. There are a surprising number of Jeffrey O’Briens in Florida, but qualifying my search with “Gainesville” did provide some phone numbers.
The other owner, Chance Hippler, did not respond to my request to connect on LinkedIn. Googling his name and “contact information” did lead me to a data broker that happily provided two phone numbers—both in the 352 area code. numlookup.com reports these numbers are both landlines.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get in touch with anyone to ask them about this.
The mystery lives on
Gumby Coins and their three siblings sadly remain a mystery. Whose idea were they? What was the goal? Did someone get scammed? And if so, who? Why were they taken down so abruptly? Did anyone actually buy them, and if so, were those sales refunded?
The burning question for me is what triggered Gumby Coins to be taken down so abruptly? It clearly wasn’t planned; after all, why set up Gumby Metaverse Coins and not announce them if Gumby Coins was never meant to live very long? There’s a nugget of drama (or chaos) at the center of this story that I’m simply itching to hear, but it seems unlikely that it’ll ever become public.
I’d still love to speak to the owners, Dab, or whatever other individuals helped to bring Gumby Coin to life. If you have any information, I’d love to hear from you.
Can I just say, I absolutely love it when customer support folks know exactly what my question means and already know the answer. Props to the folks at Orders2.me for having some sharp folks manning the phone and thank you for taking the three minutes to speak with me.
Had the $75 gotten you three times the number of each of the coins, the numbers would work. That is, 22,500 Gumby coins, 225,000 Pokey coins, etc.
Why 31? I can’t think of a reason other than it’s more than 30 and less than 32. There’s no obvious significance to 31 weeks.