There's no turning back now....
June 24, 2004 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Mayday Mystery. At the University of Arizona, a series of ads has been placed in the school's newspaper, the Arizona Wildcat. These ads have shown up every year around May 1st for the last 20 years or so, and seem to be cryptic puzzles relating to some sort of secret counterculture organization. Bryan Hance, the former webmaster of the Wildcat, noticed the ads, and has been trying to track down what's been going on ever since. He is chronicling his findings at (via ARGN)
posted by quibx (23 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm gonna guess it's the work of a single, likely schizophrenic, individual. It sort of reminds me of the "time cube", who's author I also assume is crazy.
posted by BigPicnic at 1:21 PM on June 24, 2004

The thing is that he knows the answer, he's just not telling right?
posted by milovoo at 1:24 PM on June 24, 2004

/me waves back at the mayday webmaster

double post
posted by Stynxno at 1:30 PM on June 24, 2004

Thank you for the double post, quibx, because i hadn't gotten back to May 10, 2001 in the MetaFilter archives just yet...

neat stuff!
posted by bluno at 2:47 PM on June 24, 2004

How did I attend this University for 5 years and have no idea this was going on?
posted by JeffK at 2:56 PM on June 24, 2004

Hmm. A search on "mayday" on mefi, with "all time" selected, does not return that post. I did check before I posted. But thanks for the obligatory doublepost message anyway.
posted by quibx at 3:04 PM on June 24, 2004

The Voynich manuscript, the Beale Ciphers, numbers stations, and now the Mayday Mystery. As if I didn't have enough to work on already. This one looks an awful lot like a wealthy, well educated person with a large library, a whole lot of time, and a healthy dose of schizophrenia.
That's not saying that it definitely is the work of a schizophrenic, it just looks like it. I imagine that there is a set of central texts from which the writer(s) is/are drawing including Bibles in various languages, medical literature, math texts, and various significant historical documents. Physical locations in the world, mathematical formulae, and prescription drugs mostly for treating leukemia and organ transplants seem to be central themes. This article suggests that it is entirely the work of one Robert Truman Hungerford, the hermitic lawyer who delivers the ads. This seems more reasonable than the "underground secret organization on the verge of a revolution" theory. There's an awful lot going on, anyway. I think its from aliens, and I defy anyone here to prove otherwise.
In any case, good stuff!
posted by leapfrog at 3:19 PM on June 24, 2004

Here's that fun thing we can all do together that scarabic was proposing a few days back.

Anyone for a meetup at the library?
posted by loquax at 3:25 PM on June 24, 2004

BigPicnic, that time cube page is a trippy read! My favorite quotes so far:

My wisdom so antiquates known knowledge, that a psychiatrist examining my behavior [...] knows no course other than to judge me schizoprenic.

Since I have informed you of Nature's Harmonic Time Cube 4-Day Creation Principle, your stupidity is no longer the issue. For now, the issue is just how evil you are for ignoring Life's Highest Order [...]
posted by Triplanetary at 3:39 PM on June 24, 2004

Bryan Hance, the former webmaster of the Wildcat, noticed the ads

I should think he wasn't the only one. A full-page ad like this tends to stick out.
posted by jjg at 3:54 PM on June 24, 2004

utterly brilliant stuff, which is to say the same as completely mad. i love it!
posted by moonbird at 4:30 PM on June 24, 2004

Oh yeah. This will kill my productivity.
posted by roboto at 4:43 PM on June 24, 2004

What mystery? This makes complete and perfect sense.

*loquacious fingers a shiny lucite and chrome tesseract generator thoughtfully*
posted by loquacious at 4:58 PM on June 24, 2004

Compare this to these stamps issued in China on May 1st, 1967. I'm surprised no one on the site has mentioned this connection.
posted by estey at 5:12 PM on June 24, 2004

quibx : the only way i knew about it was because the mayday webmaster guy mentioned it on his homepage (after he noticed the referrals no doubt).

but, this is great stuff! i had no idea this was going on.
posted by Stynxno at 5:34 PM on June 24, 2004

Leapfrog - excellent link. After reading the article I'm convinced it is the sole work of the lawyer they mention.

Kind of takes things from excitingly mysterious to bland and rather sad.
posted by bullitt 5 at 5:52 PM on June 24, 2004

This is so awesome my privates hurt.
posted by hughbot at 6:52 PM on June 24, 2004

I can't believe it would take anyone this long to solve it all. It's really quite simple. Frankly I thing this site is an ironic parody of the supposed "mystery". Anyone who actually take more than 5 minutes to solve the puzzles obviously hasn't been paying attention.

The Answer
posted by tiamat at 7:17 PM on June 24, 2004

More on the Voynich manuscript from SciAm.
posted by hockeyman at 8:21 PM on June 24, 2004

Seems discordian to me.
posted by drezdn at 11:49 PM on June 24, 2004

I live in Tucson and have read many of these ads firsthand in the Arizona Daily Wildcat. They are intriguing and I have spent far more time than I should have hunting for meaning in them.

If I had money I would offer a reward to anyone who can demonstrate that the ads refer to anything other than themselves. Anyone can go to a library and clip passages from books and periodicals to make a collage of disparate meanings. The reader will then bring his own context to the work and will find meanings in it. In a nutshell, I think the ads are an exploration of what is called reader-response theory.

People have pointed out that a great deal of money and time have been spent on producing these things and go on to suggest that this fact alone is some kind of proof that they are meaningful or that they refer to some real world group. I take issue with that. Plenty of obsessed people stand on street corners handing out pamphlets or shouting phrases that have meaning to them alone. The fact that a greater amount of money has been spent on this does not make it ipso facto more worthwhile than the rantings of the shouting man.

I actually think that the ads are shallow and that the whole thing (hints, letters, emails, and packages as documented on the webpage) is either a somewhat mean-spirited prank or a symptom of insanity.

Because I have no money, I offer a gmail (do people still want these or has the moment passed?) account to anyone who can demonstrate that these ads and associated phenomena are anything more than a prank. Or for that matter, to anybody who can hunt down the source of the second ad.

Another way to get a gmail account, or more accurately a rephrasing of the first way, would be to demonstrate to me any good reason why somebody with actual important, unique and valuable knowledge that needed to be communicated to others would take out an obscurantist ad in a college newspaper to, albeit obliquely, brag about said knowledge. An underlying premise of the ads is that they are communiques to members of some group of groups, but if that is so there are about a million better means of communication. Why would a person in possession of such knowledge choose such an insecure method for communicating it?
posted by mokujin at 12:59 AM on June 25, 2004

OT, but do Gmail accounts have any value any more? I can't seem to give them away. Everyone who knows what they are already has one, and everyone else has never heard of Gmail.

Nice post, though, quibx. Love this kind of stuff.
posted by icetaco at 12:15 PM on June 25, 2004

Following leapfrog's link, it seems pretty plausible, if not likely, to me that the lawyer mentioned is behind the messages.

According to Brauchli, Robert Truman Hungerford, 56, has placed the ads in the paper for at least the last decade. Before then, it is unknown whether he, or someone else, delivered the ads.

Hungerford claims he places the ads for an organization and that he sympathizes with its motivations, but he refuses to confirm his membership in the group or provide information about it. Instead, the reclusive lawyer in downtown Tucson says he acts as its legal counsel. The relationship, he says, bars his ability to discuss any aspect of its membership.

Though Hungerford is strangely cryptic and mysterious about his connection to the ads, he is the only solid connection to them and therefore is the key to unraveling the May Day Mystery.

An undergrad at the university in the 1970's and a UA law school student in the 1980's, Hungerford boasts an impressive number of connections to recurring themes and topics in each ad. A self-described anti-social hermit, Hungerford contends that he could be insane, and his relationship with the ads is inexplicably linked to that insanity.

"It is in all likelihood that I am a disturbed, mentally ill person," he says "and these writings are no doubt the ravings of a madman."

With an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the UA and a doctorate in theology from Drew University in New Jersey, Hungerford is a member of Mensa and a former member of a variety of mathematics, statistics and historical societies.

His downtown office is littered with books on cryptography, history, languages, physics, medicine and a variety of other topics. While he possesses a vast collection of language-to-language dictionaries, almanacs, encyclopedias and other references, Hungerford denies he has ever read the volumes in his office.

"I pick out books because of their color, nothing more," he quips.

Between an assortment of weapons such as knives, machetes and guns on his walls are handwritten messages in Hebrew and hieroglyphics, posters of human anatomy and framed collections of stamps and other oddities.

Given the fact that in its 25-year history no other real individual can be connected to the mystery, critics of Hance's site and even individuals who claim to know Hungerford directly say they believe he is the sole creator of the ads.

posted by Sinner at 6:22 PM on June 25, 2004

« Older Here comes the Judge   |   Castro asked US president for $10 Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments