Solving the Web's Deepest Mystery
January 19, 2015 10:50 AM   Subscribe

He was sitting on his bed, surreptitiously surfing the science and math board on 4chan, the notorious underground forum, when he came across a strange image that had appeared on the site three days earlier. It contained a message written in a thin white font against a black background. "Hello," it read. "We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck." It was signed "3301."

Cicada 3301 has been on Metafilter previously, but the story mentions some new developments.
posted by Chrysostom (37 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
tl;dr? Final image was a Langford Basilisk. Poor bastards.
posted by gwint at 11:02 AM on January 19, 2015 [21 favorites]


Whatsoever you have heard, O mortals, concerning our Fraternity by the trumpet sound of the Fama R. C., do not either believe it hastily, or wilfully suspect it.

Send $10 for details
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:05 AM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


4chan, the notorious underground forum

Underground??

(but seriously this is fascinating, I love reading about this stuff. Crap at them myself, but love to know how they unfold)
posted by Gordafarin at 11:11 AM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


the story mentions some new developments.

I couldn't find any. But let me guess. The puzzle was a recruitment tool for Samaritan.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:16 AM on January 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


A crummy commercial?
posted by k5.user at 11:16 AM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah, this kind of smacks of a viral marketing campaign
posted by surazal at 11:18 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I saw the Elementary episode about this. They are just trying to kill some guy.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


4chan, the notorious underground forum
Underground??
That's where the trolls live, no?
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:23 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


fnord.
posted by Gelatin at 11:31 AM on January 19, 2015 [8 favorites]


NGEgNGEgMzkgMzEgNTYgNTQgNzUgNzUgNzEgN2EgNDggNzQgNzEgMzIgNTMgNmQgNzEgNTQgNDkgNzggNTYgNTUgNzkgNjkgNzEgNGIgNTYgNzQgNzEgNTQgNzkgNjcgNGQgNDYgMzQgM2Q
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:36 AM on January 19, 2015


Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 11:36 AM on January 19, 2015 [34 favorites]


Gelatin, why are you just posting a dot? Did someone die?
posted by aw_yiss at 11:37 AM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


When it came time to fight the Xur and the Ko-Dan Armada, they at least had the creativity to write/create a real arcade game..
posted by k5.user at 11:40 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


the turth is uot there. good lukc.
.
.
Still, it's probably less dangerous than tagging. Well. Maybe.
posted by mule98J at 11:42 AM on January 19, 2015


At least we now know who put the Benzedrine in Mrs Murphy's Ovaltine.
posted by Devonian at 11:45 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Deepest mystery? Given how much of the worst stuff to happen on the internet in recent times has been the result of channers trolling other channers, it's hard for me to think that something like this is more likely to be a real mystery than, well, channers trolling other channers. As in plural--there's no reason for the ones who put it together to have to all be in one place. So you throw together some real clues and some fake ones and nobody ever solves it and presumably the trolls laugh their asses off at how many people get obsessed with it. This seems like a milder version of the same thing that created GamerGate--trolls exploiting lonely people who want to do something remarkable with their lives but don't want to actually go out into the world to do it.
posted by Sequence at 11:55 AM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


well, that folks have to set up web sites and print the QR posters and get them distributed all over the world ... There's coordination, and distribution, and a lot of work for just a lark ..
posted by k5.user at 11:57 AM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought the biggest mystery on the web is why there are comments on news sites and why people keep reading them.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:01 PM on January 19, 2015 [34 favorites]


The most interesting thing here is the fact that it caused the Navy and the NSA to create copycat games.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:07 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was in seventh grade I got this super mysterious letter to meet in the science room after school.

One of smart kids wanted to start a super top secret club to do, ah I forget, something or other because we were smart dammit and smart people needed to do something for the better of all of us or whatever.

Getting the same vibe here.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:15 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


When I was in seventh grade I got this super mysterious letter to meet in the science room after school.

Shit, all I got was an atomic wedgie when I showed up.
posted by k5.user at 12:22 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


that story hasn't advanced much beyond the last time i read about it. it kind of just seems like creepypasta. still, i'm always happy to read the little bits that have trickled in over the past couple of years.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 12:23 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.

That is wittier than the actual decoded message. I have been defeated by my own code. :(
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:26 PM on January 19, 2015


The Wikipedia summary of Cicada 3301 was extremely helpful, because that mobile formatted article was hell to read on my screen.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:26 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, ob1quixote, here's the regular page for the article.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:06 PM on January 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Clearly, once you get a high-score, you will be flown in a car into deepest outer space to defend a race of aliens against an invasion force.
posted by jefflowrey at 3:25 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Never too old for an old fashioned mail scam from the back of a zine.
posted by clvrmnky at 3:28 PM on January 19, 2015


At least it was 4Chan and not 8Chan. The picture would have been rather different there.
posted by happyroach at 3:44 PM on January 19, 2015


Only people on 4chan would think anyone would go to 4chan to find geniuses.
posted by empath at 5:30 PM on January 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


'lxxt>33m2mqkyv2gsq3q=w]O2ntk.'‚ÄČ

I, Too, coulda beena Ina Mensa.
posted by clavdivs at 6:33 PM on January 19, 2015


>>Underground??
>That's where the trolls live, no?


petition to start referring to sites full of awful trolls as "underbridge"
posted by NoraReed at 7:20 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


I want to hear more about the cicadas that only emerge during prime years.
posted by arcticseal at 8:14 PM on January 19, 2015


clavdivs:

"@[=g3,8d]\&fbb=-q]/hk%fg"

I, too, could have been Freakazoid.
posted by BiggerJ at 8:51 PM on January 19, 2015


well, that folks have to set up web sites and print the QR posters and get them distributed all over the world

Take a few people in a chat room who're bored and think trolling is high art and have members of the group in various countries or who travel regularly, which is not particularly unheard-of for a crowd like this. "Setting up websites" is something a lot of geeks have been doing since basically infancy at this point. QR codes can be generated easily. Watch a group of channers doxx someone and they will spend hours or days just paging through random Google results hoping to hit something even vaguely relevant. A lot of this kind of stuff could have been done in an afternoon. I know about the extra-text-in-an-image trick from a lesson back when I was learning Python. This isn't genius fare:

lxxt>33m2mqkyv2gsq3q=w]O2ntk

This is like challenge level "used to do puzzles out of Dell magazines", given how obviously it starts with "http://". It didn't need the additional clue of how many characters to shift, and yet there it is with too much information. The image is supposed to contain a message, and yet it goes to all this effort to provide a clue because they were using what seems at the time to have been a relatively obscure program to do the steganography. This isn't how to look for a "highly intelligent" individual. When Google Labs did it in 2004, they didn't use a puzzle this easy to start off. Viral marketing wouldn't have started something years ago that was intended to be solved this slowly unless it was someone hoping to sell it off like horse_ebooks. Unless somebody involved was just plain inept, that leaves trolling.

I guess, fundamentally--real highly intelligent people generally have jobs and bills to pay and this seems to have been tailored for "will spend a ton of time trying every possible solution " instead of "will find clever solutions quickly", and which of those do you want to hire to solve problems for you? Time is money. Brute forcing is work for computers, not for people.
posted by Sequence at 8:59 PM on January 19, 2015 [5 favorites]


the notorious underground forum

It's about as underground as hanging outside the library talking about D&D and lowering your voice when somebody walks past.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 10:19 PM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


Well if you all are so smart let's see you solve the code then!
posted by gucci mane at 10:37 PM on January 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


The most interesting thing here is the fact that it caused the Navy and the NSA to create copycat games.

Not even close. ARG-like games and puzzles has been used as recruitment tools to tech jobs for years, long before 3301. Arguably, almost a century.

3301 isn't really revolutionary, it's treading ground that has been done in ARGs for years now. It just has that extra dose of mystery and secrecy around it that makes for good headlines.
posted by ymgve at 9:10 PM on January 20, 2015


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