Relevant links are included at the end of this article.
What curious mind doesn’t love a great mystery? The undertow on the Internet, much like powerful ocean currents, sucks the curious into many a mystery, but Cicada 3301 has to be among the most intriguing of them all.
A message deemed official emerged in early January on a Twitter account believed to be associated with the mysterious creators of what many call a puzzle. I have ideas about what to call it, but I think Cicada is a whole lot more complicated than the word puzzle connotes.
The 2014 message, dated January 6, was the first since January 8, 2013. The first puzzle reportedly started on January 5, 2012.
What’s in the name? Apparently, it’s based on the insect Cicada. That bug emerges in Florida every year; in other locations, its emergence is periodical with life cycles of 13 or 17 years. The name is Latinate, a loan word from that language for tree cricket.
Rumors abound about the Cicada 3001 mystery. Some bloggers believe it’s an endeavor of a tech company. Others think it has to do with recruitment for spy agencies in various countries. There’s no way to tell for sure unless you solve the mystery as one teen code breaker using the handle Tekk.nologi claimed he helped do in 2013.
Tekk’s story was featured by WNYC, a public radio station in New York:
“According to Tekk, it was a group of anonymous developers looking to recruit ‘highly intelligent individuals’ to build open-source software for the good of the world.”
That in itself sounds a lot like “Google-esque” branding to me, but there’s no way to tell for sure.
I assembled a list of links about Cicada 3301. There are many on the Web, but it’s hard to tell what’s legit and what’s prank. So the links I include in this column are those I felt mostly trustworthy.
I did have some thoughts on the mystery, though. I don’t have the resources to try to solve it myself, but I admit the mystery gets my mind wandering.
For starters, I don’t know if approaching Cicada 3301 as a puzzle is doing it justice. The process seems more like an intellectual journey to me, considering the injection of Enlightenment authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and the always mind-juggling William Blake.
I searched using only the numbers 3301 and discovered a page of technical information under the subheader Gene I.D. 3301. The National Institute of Health updated that page January 7, 2014, one day after the 2014 Cicada message was posted at Twitter. I also located a page at News Genius titled Sonic Hedgehog Gene with line after line of alpha-numeric characters. That could mean absolutely nothing at all.
I searched news sites for information about major events for March 3, 2001 (3301). Nothing shook the globe that day as best I can tell, so the number may have nothing to do with a date at all.
Prime numbers, however, are said to be part of the process for solving Cicada, and 3301 is a prime number as are 13 and 17, the number of years some periodical Cicadas emerge.
Various clues of past Cicada challenges related to more than prime numbers. Some were posted physically in cities around the world, including Miami in my home state of Florida. Along the travel path, users were directed to the Darknet, the labyrinthine world below the Internet where people who seek anonymity can do whatever business they choose to without worrying so much about Big Bro. Some clues have referenced classical works (Western), Mayan numerals, and paintings.
I think expert knowledge on knowing how and what to search for is an essential skill because few people would have automatic recall of all the different references necessary to proceed to the next clue station. Cicada sleuths often work in groups for that reason.
Whatever the case, I love a great mystery. Cicada 3301 seems to me a great premise for a film. Maybe Hollywood will crank one out if the 2014 mystery draws enough attention and the Internet undertow sucks in enough curious people.
By the way, the clues are reportedly verified by a privacy guard key.
Relevant links about Cicada 3301
Cicada 3301 at Wikipedia
Basics about the mystery; most sources are credible.
WNYC story about the teen who claimed he helped solve a previous Cicada challenge.
Article from Canada-based The Star (Toronto) with some technical information.
Article at Live Science that includes details about various data sectors used in past challenges.
Basic roundup news article at The Washington Times with interesting info about one Cicada sleuth.
Article about the Cicada insect at the University of Florida.
National Center for Biotechnology Information (U.S. Government) about Gene I.D. 3301.
Article at News Genius; anecdotally interesting alpha-numeric string about Gene 3301. Result of coincidental search.
Overview of the Darknet at PC World.
Article I wrote for Day on the Day about Cicada 3301 (2014).
Handle where clues have been posted: @1231507051321
Hashtag for messages from Cicada enthusiasts: #cicada
Site with original message used in graphic for this article at Day on the Day. Follow the link to Reddit for comments from Cicada sleuths about clues.
(Filed by Kay B. Day/Jan. 11, 2014)