2021 was one of the most volatile years in crypto’s nascent journey. Observers witnessed the extremes of the technology’s adoption: from a countrywide ban of crypto transactions in China to the adoption of Bitcoin as legal tender in El Salvador.
At Rest of World, we’ve spent the last year following the impact of crypto across the world, from a hacker house in Buenos Aires that created the foundation of the metaverse to the rise of DeFi in Latin America to the trend of low-cost trading in Southeast Asia.
Crypto has creeped into the mainstream and even become a viable idea for virtual stocking stuffers, with services like Coinbase and Square allowing users to send crypto as gifts. With that in mind, we wanted to share some of the wackiest — and riskiest — projects we’ve encountered while reporting on the space. We don’t recommend investing in them, but we apologize in advance if they rise 100,000% in value over the next quarter.
A token inspired by the Netflix program Squid Game that promised to be used in an online “play-to-earn” game.
The story of the Squid coin is illustrative of one of the most common scams in crypto, known as the “rug pull”: Developers create a new token paired to a more established cryptocurrency, such as Ether or Binance Coin, and make it available on an exchange with little to no regulation. Then, they drive up publicity around the token on popular channels such as Telegram or Discord, so that people buy in hoping that the price will skyrocket.
Once people swap their cryptocurrency for the questionable tokens, the developers withdraw all the pooled funds that were used to acquire the tokens. The price of the token then plummets down to zero.
That’s what happened with the Squid coin, based loosely off of the wildly popular Korean Netflix program about a dystopian reality show that pitted contestants against each other in a deadly contest orchestrated by capitalist overlords.
As it turns out, irony is dead. Even though experts warned that Squid tokens looked like a scam, investors rushed in, driving the price of the token from 1 cent to almost $3,000 in less than a week. And just as quickly, in early November, the developers of the project absconded with an estimated $3.38 million. The token, which is still available on decentralized exchanges, is now trading around 9 cents.
A coin that benefited from its serendipitous name choice.
Sometimes, cryptocurrencies don’t need to piggyback off other hype cycles the way Squid did. They can often lurk in the shadows and hope to stumble into untold riches on luck alone. That was the case with an obscure crypto project named Omicron that fortuitously launched in early November, weeks before researchers in South Africa reported a new strain of Covid-19 that would share the same Greek name.
The Omicron coin does not seem to hold any significance apart from its name and is only available on one decentralized exchange, known as SushiSwap. Before the WHO’s announcement, it was trading at around $65. Then, as the news cycle began to churn about the new global health threat, the value of an Omicron coin spiked 900%, hitting a high of $711.09 in late November.
Just as quickly as it rose, by early December, Omicron’s value had declined to $100.
“If this isn’t a sign we’re in a giant bubble, I don’t know what is,” one popular crypto Twitter account posted. Others warned that it may be another rug pull, while others chalked it up to serendipity.
The main takeaway seemed to be that the worth of crypto tokens is often arbitrary and as difficult to predict as the next Covid-19 variant.
A competitor to Dogecoin’s meme coin supremacy, launched in 2021.
Elon Musk has remarkable sway in the crypto community, famously championing Dogecoin in a series of tweets, including referring to himself as the “Dogefather.”
Dogecoin is the king of the meme coins, which occupy their own lucrative niche in the world of cryptocurrency, ostensibly launched as jokes but still worth billions of real-world dollars. Their extreme volatility, and lack of any real technical purpose aside from making people angry (and rich), leads to their other name: shitcoins.
Considering Musk’s impact, it makes sense that other coins would try to replicate the viral success of Dogecoin.
Floki Inu coin, which launched in 2021, is even more cynical in seeking his endorsement. Named after Elon Musk’s pet dog, the project gambled that it didn’t even need the Dogefather’s explicit endorsement. Instead, it could just hope that he would tweet about his new pet — a lot — and ride the inevitable hype cycle.
Sure enough, when Musk announced on Twitter in September that he had officially adopted a real-life doge and named it Floki, the homonymous coin’s price spiked 400%.
It has since attracted a large fan base, known as Floki Vikings, as well as its own scheduled NFT gaming metaverse and a crypto education platform called “Floki Inuversity.”
A ToN oF coke
Skirting drug officials by selling cocaine — as pixels?
In a world dominated by buzzwords and jargon, one term still easily took the crown in 2021 — NFT, or nonfungible token. Although the concept dates back to 2017, NFTs did not take off until this year, when people began selling everything from tweets to their very own NFT eggs.
NFTs introduce scarcity into the unlimited landscape of the internet. Sure, anyone can download a JPG image file, but if you can mint a JPG as the very first of its kind, using blockchain technology, then maybe it can hold value?
What seemed like a far-fetched value proposition has turned into a multibillion-dollar market in less than a year. The inflated demand is also a ripe opportunity for scams.
In mid-2021, a Colombian artist from Medellín launched an NFT project on the marketplace OpenSea that consisted of 1,000 one-kilo “cryptococaine” packages available for sale. As he wrote in the description, “For the first time, since the War on Drugs started, a ToN oF cocaine floating on the open sea can be legally owned and its ownership officially verified.” The catch, of course, is that they exist only digitally — 1,000 identical pictures of a white three-dimensional rectangle against a gray background, with a serial number in the bottom-right corner.
The only real difference between the packages is that they escalate in price, with the most expensive costing one ether, which is currently worth somewhere between $3,500 and $4,500. It was quickly bought and resold at twice its initial price to a sophisticated art collector with the username “JeffBezosForeskin.”
Is the project a brilliant social commentary or exploitative money grab?
A dystopian fever dream that its creators hope will usher in a new age of digital payments.
If none of these satisfy your craving for “harebrained scheme modeled after a bad sci-fi movie from the 1980s,” we saved the best for last. Worldcoin was created by former Y Combinator president Sam Altman and has the noble mission of creating a “more unified and equitable global economy” through its form of universal basic income. It even raised $25 million from venerated investors such as Andreessen Horowitz.
And yet, there is one inescapable fact: to claim your Worldcoin, you must have your retinas scanned by a large silver orb.
The goal of the company is to give a share to every single person on earth, which would presumably mean bringing their basketball-sized sphere around the world and individually collecting an imprint of everyone’s eyeballs. As of June, there were fewer than 20 prototypes in circulation, which have been sent to locations across South America, Asia, Africa, and Europe.
If this sounds of interest to you, by all means, go chase the orb. For now, we’ll probably keep our retinas to ourselves.