Wade’s Latin teacher is teaching the class the Latin word for “learn,” discere, when an idea suddenly pops into Wade’s head. Students are people who have “much to learn,” and he is on a planet filled with students. Could the Tomb of Horros be hidden on Ludus? Wade double-checks the definition of ludus in his Latin dictionary, realizing that it means both “school” and “sport” or “game.” He is so excited that he falls out of his chair, and tries to calm himself down. Ludus is not the only planet that houses schools and universities. However, it is the home of the OASIS public school system, which Halliday founded and personally funded.
Here is one of the first examples of Wade’s underdog status giving him a direct advantage in the hunt. Unlike most other gunters, he is restricted to just one planet and can’t go travelling around the OASIS searching for the egg. On the other hand, he is fortunate to be confined to the one planet where the Copper Key may actually be hidden.
The Tomb of Horrors booklet specifies that the tomb is located near “a low, flat-topped hill.” It’s possible that this could be in one of the generic forests on Ludus that lie between schools. No one would think to search Ludus for the Copper Key, so if it is hidden on the planet Halliday must have hidden it there because he wanted it to be found by a schoolkid. Class ends, and Wade immediately pulls up a map of Ludus. It is a pretty small planet, about the same size as the moon, and it is always daytime there. Wade uses an image recognition plug-in to compare the Tomb of Horrors booklet to the map of Ludus, and before long the software identifies a matching location. He exclaims in triumph, convinced he’s found the Tomb.
The fact that Halliday wanted a schoolkid to find the Copper Key suggests that he may have wanted to tip the scales, giving those with a natural disadvantage an added advantage at the beginning stage of the hunt. Perhaps he even predicted or desired that the hunt be won by someone like Wade—a poor, isolated geek just like Halliday himself had been, yet one with tremendous insight and a genuine passion for Halliday’s obsessions.
Wade calculates that the hill is 400km away from his school. If he runs there it will take three days; he could teleport in minutes for a few hundred credits, but he doesn’t have any. Aech would lend him the money, but he doesn’t want to raise any suspicions. Wade suddenly remembers that that night, his school’s football team will play an away game at a school that is only an hour away from the tomb. His school will give him a free teleportation voucher to attend the game, which he immediately retrieves from the school office. He runs to the nearest transport terminal, enters an empty booth, and slides his voucher into the slot. Instantly, Wade appears in an identical booth near the other school.
Wade does not only have the advantage of thousands of hours of research on Halliday and his obsessions on his side. He also has the kind of quick-thinking and ingenuity that allows a person to be a successful videogame player. He is able to think strategically, foreseeing potential problems (like making Aech suspicious by asking him to borrow money). As a result, Wade is able to quickly solve the problems that appear before him.
Wade dons his armor, shield, and sword and runs toward the forest. He gets a phone call from Aech but lets it go to vidmail. Aech asks where Wade is and if he still wants to join the Spaced marathon. Wade texts back, saying that he has too much homework and can’t make it. He then rereads the Tomb of Horrors module, and is concerned by the detail that there is an evil demi-lich, Acererak, inside the tomb. A lich is a terrifying undead creature who was once a wizard or king.
While some elements of the OASIS, such as Wade’s school, are remarkably similar to reality, others—such as the undead demi-lich Acererak— are completely fantastical. It is this combination of fantasy and reality within the simulation that makes it so engrossing and exciting, as well as times somewhat terrifying.
Wade studies the map and realizes that if Halliday’s Tomb of Horrors is anything like the D&D module, he will surely die instantly. If Wade’s avatar is killed, it would not be a total disaster, because it is only at the 3rd level. He resolves that if he is killed, he will come back every night, gaining XPs and increasing in levels until he finally gets the Key. Wade climbs up the hilltop and sees that the entrance to the Tomb is an exact replica of the D&D module. He finds the spot where the Tomb’s entrance is supposed to be and begins to dig. Before long, he finds the mouth of the tunnel, and—after pulling his sword from his scabbard—enters the Tomb.
Once again, Wade is set up as an underdog with little to no chance of survival, let alone success. However, as this passage makes clear, it is not only Wade’s knowledge and ingenuity that increase his chance of success, but also his determination. He is undeterred by the thought of his avatar being killed off because, if that happens, he has simply resolved to come back again and again until he is finally able to retrieve the key.