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March 25, 2014 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Someone is leaving what appear to be coded messages in the stacks of Weldon Library at the University of Western Ontario. (via)
posted by Horace Rumpole (63 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Probably some stupid viral marketing gimmick. Is there a major motion picture or video game coming out soon that features coded messages, or is Dan Brown releasing a new novel?
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:07 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Coooool. Ad gimmick or pointless art project, I love weird stuff like this. Thanks for posting.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:11 AM on March 25


I hope it’s just someone fucking around and trying to make things interesting. In that case thumbs up, I love it. If it’s viral marketing; really, stop, we’ve had enough. I can’t even read this blog without thinking it seems fake.
posted by bongo_x at 10:11 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


That library has obviously gained sentience and is trying to communicate
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:17 AM on March 25 [23 favorites]


I'm guessing it's not viral marketing. It seems too site-specific for that.

This is extremely cool. Thanks for posting it, Horace.
posted by zarq at 10:18 AM on March 25


My first thought is some kind of ARG or LARP, which is likely messed up now that the notes are out of the books.
posted by gimli at 10:19 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I usually like things like this, but there's this feeling of contrivance that reeks out of this blog. Shame. I hope it's just some guy messing with people and not some sort of movie tie-in thing.
posted by my-username at 10:20 AM on March 25


Reddit detectives are on the case. One user has tallied up the symbols and finds that there are 52 unique ones.
posted by jbickers at 10:22 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Is Wingdings font a code now?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:23 AM on March 25 [7 favorites]


There's a subreddit devoted to news and speculation: UWOCipher
posted by zarq at 10:23 AM on March 25


Hint: Ovaltine.
posted by The White Hat at 10:29 AM on March 25 [5 favorites]


Ideograms? Syllabograms?
posted by Iridic at 10:29 AM on March 25


pope: not wingdings, not a font (that anyone has found yet)
posted by dilaudid at 10:31 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I want to have a bunch of librarian opinions about this thing, but, really, I only have two:

Leaving envelopes with jewels and feathers inside books isn't really great for the bindings.

The thought of an economics professor taking a three-week break from blogging about unemployment to instead blog about coded messages in library books is kind of amusing.
posted by box at 10:36 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Honestly, if you hate viral marketing with the power of a thousand suns, you should probably just not participate in things like this. There is at least a non-zero chance that someone has paid something to someone for this, and if that sours the whole deal for you, perhaps you should just move on. But at this point, I think it's a huge derail to start talking about advertising.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:37 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Some of us just like it when people do interesting things because they’re interesting, not trying to sell us something, and like it even less when the seller hides their intent.
posted by bongo_x at 10:41 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


Is Wingdings font a code now?

Seriously. When I was in school we all learned how to read and write in Wingdings. If college students these days can only handle the Roman alphabet like a kindergartner in short pants, well, I don't even know what to say.
posted by threeants at 10:44 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


From the blog: "The earliest note is from January 2013 (15 months ago), but anecdotally we have heard of notes being discovered over 2 years ago."

Two years seems like a very long time for a viral marketing gimmick.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 10:47 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Calling it now: It's the Zodiac killer, and since he would be in his geriatric years now it explains why he is in a library all the time.
posted by edZio at 10:50 AM on March 25 [4 favorites]


52 characters certainly implies alphabet - has anyone assigned letter and stuck it into a cryptogram solver?
posted by maryr at 10:58 AM on March 25


PS: If you like this sort of thing, you should see if DASH is running in a city near you...
posted by maryr at 10:59 AM on March 25


That library has obviously gained sentience and is trying to communicate

Return..
the card..
catalog...
I...
love her...

posted by griphus at 11:12 AM on March 25 [35 favorites]


Leaving envelopes with jewels and feathers inside books isn't really great for the bindings.

I hate that this is one of the first things I thought of too.
posted by jessamyn at 11:18 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


[plate of beans]
posted by clvrmnky at 11:23 AM on March 25 [3 favorites]


[assuming that this isn't viral marketing, because fuck that] I love this kind of mischief: Mostly harmless (book bindings notwithstanding) and it creates a mystery that gets certain kinds of people (points to self) obsessed with the riddle.

I don't know if it is an art project, or someone just screwing around, but the fact that it has captured the imagination of so many people who've found them makes it a good knot to break. And the world could use more of that.
posted by quin at 11:25 AM on March 25


Yes, color me fascinated.
posted by morganannie at 11:34 AM on March 25


The notes appear to be similar to each other (if not identical) depending on the kind of item they are enclosed with. F'rexample, pink feather and orange feather.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:46 AM on March 25


The images smack of IKEA to me - table, vase, pillowcase, frame, glass. Even the cardboard box looks like something that would be in a catalogue. The table is from IKEA, definitely.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:47 AM on March 25


This is the kind of thing I used to do in college to mess with people. If this were my work (it's not), the whole thing would be a trap. An exercise in pure, low-key bastardism. Put in enough of a pattern to make it seem like a genuine cipher and enough lunacy to make it seem like a great cipher. Leave it for people to find. From a safe distance, enjoy the people driving themselves nuts to solve a nonsensical puzzle. Eat a snack.

I hope that's not what this is. Younger me was kind of a prick with stuff like this.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 11:48 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


jimmythefish: The images smack of IKEA to me

Yeah, the table is definitely a LACK table. Maybe that name means something...
posted by Rock Steady at 11:50 AM on March 25


This is the kind of thing I used to do in college to mess with people.

I'd try to work a lot of 42s in there to really mess with people.
posted by jimmythefish at 11:51 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


If it’s viral marketing; really, stop, we’ve had enough.

Oh god yes. I wish all this energy that can apparently be marshaled towards solving fake mysteries could be directed towards real ones. My tolerance for these things is rapidly approaching zero, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.
posted by JHarris at 12:12 PM on March 25


Ray Walston, Luck Dragon: "That library has obviously gained sentience and is trying to communicate"

But it's not Chinese...
posted by symbioid at 12:24 PM on March 25


That library has obviously gained sentience and is trying to communicate

I used to work in the basement of Weldon, copying card catalogue entries into MARC records. The building has been feasting on human intelligence for years.
posted by maudlin at 12:26 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


The only thing I can see is there's an 'empty' theme. Empty glass, vase, frame, coverless pillow, 'This blog is empty' from the blog link etc...which would hint that there's nothing to be gained from it.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:31 PM on March 25


I would bet dollars to donuts that a bored page had something to do with this.
posted by annekate at 12:48 PM on March 25


(Page as in book shelver, not page as in part of a book)
posted by annekate at 12:49 PM on March 25


Hey, I remember not studying at that library.
posted by chococat at 12:49 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


52 characters certainly implies alphabet - has anyone assigned letter and stuck it into a cryptogram solver?

This makes a lot of sense, but works only if the letters are the 26 letter alphabet and it's in English and you can make a similar cryptogram solver that allows for 52 characters and is allowed to assume that letters can be repeated for other substitutions. I'm sure this is easy enough, but I'm not that smart.

I don't have time to look right now, but are there pages with more than 26 distinct characters on them?
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:52 PM on March 25


52 is twice 26, as any card player knows. So, it could be that there are two symbols that can encode one letter, or pairs of symbols do that.

I haven't analyzed the symbols at all, it's just a guess.
posted by eriko at 12:58 PM on March 25


52 is twice 26, as any card player knows. So, it could be that there are two symbols that can encode one letter, or pairs of symbols do that.

... or it's upper- and lower-case?
posted by jbickers at 1:04 PM on March 25 [6 favorites]


52 implies to me that there are different symbols for upper- and lowercase letters. It seems very likely that this is a custom font (easy enough to make or have made for you) given how regular the spacing & alignment of the symbols is. It's possible the the original message was written in English, run through some kind of cipher, then converted to the custom font so letter incidence wouldn't make it trivial to solve.
posted by annekate at 1:04 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


The images smack of IKEA to me - table, vase, pillowcase, frame, glass. Even the cardboard box looks like something that would be in a catalogue. The table is from IKEA, definitely.

Yeah, the table is definitely a LACK table. Maybe that name means something...


In the article, they mention that each of the items appears as one of the top results in a Google image search. Sure enough, the Lack table comes up as #1 "table" for me.
posted by gimli at 1:10 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


In all fairness, the amount of energy being devoted to fake mysteries is probably not a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of energy that goes into solitaire, so if you're looking for something to be angsty about, I'd start with that.

My personal guess - the inset images are all kind of identifiable and are a top result via GIS when a certain word is chosen, which suggests that that word is important and that it might be a key of some sort.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:11 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


One interesting bit about the symbols that I picked up from the subreddit is that there is one symbol that appears once and only once on each letter, near the end of the text (It's the circle with two half circles within it). To me, that suggests that it's not a letter, but rather some sort of functional symbol -- a "Sincerely" or "PS" symbol.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:24 PM on March 25


These two are rather similar.

ETA: Three. Four. So are all the gems identical pages? What about the feathers?
posted by maryr at 1:29 PM on March 25


The circle symbol could be a dash, making the last bit a name (and perhaps the whole message an attributed quote). Or maybe I do too many crosswords.
posted by annekate at 1:37 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


OK, I'm pathetic, some brief work typed up on Google Docs- which is to say, just links to all the images and such. Feel free to add/comment/whathaveyou.

There appear to be three letters - Gem, Feather, and Leaf. There is only one leaf. There are 6 feathers and 9 gem letters - I'm not sure if the gem shape matters. I would assume the order doesn't matter - these were found in the stacks, right? Was there a way to guarentee they'd be found in order?

At least some characters (including the leaf, feather, and gem) are shared between the three letters. There are six objects pictured - pillow (only with leaf), glass, vase, box, table, and frame.

I assume the work I just did has been done before, but it's not on the page with the links posted above by zarq.
posted by maryr at 2:02 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I take it back - another note not on the Reddit page was found with a leaf - looks identical to leaf note 1's text.
posted by maryr at 2:10 PM on March 25


Of course, to guarantee permanent ever-lasting and legendary fame at the University of Western Ontario, the mastermind here needs only to make part - perhaps at least half - of the messages solvable , not easily but tantalizingly possible, and then deliberately construct the remaining part as unsolvable/secretly meaningless.
posted by Bwithh at 2:34 PM on March 25


Gah, I am wrong. The feathers and gems all start the same... but then there are different endings. Or some endings are cut off? Blargh. This is rapidly becoming not fun.
posted by maryr at 3:34 PM on March 25


This reminds me of the chase prank kids at my high school often put into textbooks.

INSIDE COVER: Turn to page 83
PAGE 83: Turn to page 119
PAGE 119: Turn to page 47
PAGE 47: Turn to page 233
PAGE 233: Turn to page 28
PAGE 28: WOW YOU SURE HAVE A LOT OF TIME ON YOUR HANDS SHOULDN'T YOU BE STUDYING HA HA HA
posted by Spatch at 5:12 PM on March 25 [5 favorites]


I found two notes in books at Weldon a few years ago. They were identical threats against the local police service. I believe the font was courier. I handed them in to the service desk and assumed they were the result of some unhinged person and/or art student. I guess it would be funny if these new notes were variants of "fuck the police." I'm not sure how all those Internet People would react to wasting so much time.
posted by wollaston at 7:16 PM on March 25


I'm not sure how all those Internet People would react to wasting so much time.

I would imagine (and this thread has evidence for this) that the only thing that would upset people is if these messages were somehow commercial in nature (viral marketing).

I hope the creator is having a great time watching everyone try to solve the problem. Now that the internet is on the case, I imagine it won't be too long.
posted by el io at 10:41 PM on March 25


Hm. The glass and box images come from an interpretation of dreams website, oddly enough. Table from IKEA, pillow and "Pera" vase from Crate and Barrel.
posted by aught at 6:08 AM on March 26


So the endings after the last colored symbol are of different lengths. This very nearly correlates with the image. I am not entirely convinced this is a purposeful difference and thus I give up.
posted by maryr at 8:17 AM on March 26


I know what this is but I don't want to ruin it for you guys. If anyone is deperate to know send me a direct message, but you must swear to secrecy. Remember: You Are The Judge
posted by analogue at 4:09 PM on March 27


Is anyone still reading this thread? It appears the mystery has been solved
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 12:43 PM on April 5 [2 favorites]


Wow that was a really interesting article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on April 5


That was pretty interesting, although pretty much what I imagined. I guess because it’s the kind of thing I would do. Still, I always want it to be a little more, have another level, a deeper meaning or statement. I think it does say something about art and the world today, I’m just not sure what it’s saying is a compliment.
posted by bongo_x at 4:58 PM on April 5


What i got from the article was that the puzzle was unsolvable. That's no fun at all. I feel cheated.

The beautiful thing this puzzle could have done was bring people together to solve a problem. Instead it provided a code that was unsolvable.

Lame lame lame.
posted by maryr at 6:23 PM on April 7


(note: I spend a fair amount of free time solving puzzles presented as rows of pictures or mazes or overlapping codes. Even if it required finding all 121 envelopes, something actually solvable would have been a lot more fun.)
posted by maryr at 6:25 PM on April 7


People are more interested in puzzle mysteries than they are in high-concept art projects.
posted by box at 6:49 PM on April 7


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