Cicada 3301

This image showed up on various image boards in January of 2012 and it caught people’s imagination. Joel Eriksson recorded his adventure looking into the mystery and it feels like it could be the start of an Alternate Reality Game (ARG). Or is it?

According to this article on Cicada 3301 there is potentially a lot more to this than meets the eye. That article is also the best synopsis of this bizarre mystery.

“This is a dangerous organisation,” he concluded, “their ways are nefarious.” With no other clues, it was also asssumed by many to be a recruitment drive by the CIA, MI6 or America’s National Security Agency (NSA), as part of a search for highly talented cryptologists. It wouldn’t have been the first time such tactics had been used.

Back in 2010, for example, Air Force Cyber Command – the United States’ hacking defence force, based at Fort Meade in Maryland – secretly embedded a complex hexadecimal code in their new logo. Cybercom head Lt Gen Keith Alexander then challenged the world’s amateur analysts to crack it (it took them three hours). And in September this year, GCHQ launched the “Can You Find It?” initiative– a series of cryptic codes designed to root out the best British cryptographers. As GCHQ’s head of resourcing Jane Jones said at the time, “It’s a puzzle but it’s also a serious test – the jobs on offer here are vital to protecting national security.”

It could be a recruitment tool, but I like Reddit user Glizzard’s take. In the same thread, user Mirus provides helpful links to understand the past of Cicada 3301:

More info:

2012 Part 1 Part 2

2013 Part 1 Part 2

The discussion over at MetaFilter is concerned more about ski resorts than the mystery at large.

Will you solve the Cicada 3301 puzzle in 2014?