THE MANY PUZZLES OF CICADA 3301
Cicada 3301 first made itself known in 2012, when it released online a set of puzzles and alternate reality games, supported by posters in physical locations around the world. It has done this again on a further five occasions, which made up three rounds of puzzles. In each round, those who answered the puzzles successfully were asked increasingly complex and individualised questions, and allegedly, if ultimately successful, were invited into a private forum to devise ideas to further the aims of the group. Who Cicada 3301 are, and what their ultimate aim is, remains mysterious; it is not even known whether they are, in fact a group, or whether Cicada 3301 is the cryptographical equivalent of Banksy. Their only stated aim is to “recruit intelligent individuals”. Inevitably, the finger has been pointed at all the usual suspects, with speculation that the puzzles are a recruitment tool for the NSA, CIA, MI6, a “Masonic conspiracy” or a cyber-mercenary group, possibly Russian, such as Fancy Bear or Sandworm. Alternately, it has been proposed that the whole thing is an elaborate fantasy game; but given that, five years in, no one has claimed responsibility or tried to cash in on it, this is probably not the case. However, Cicada 3301 has released a statement, saying that they typically use non-puzzlebased recruiting methods, but created the Cicada puzzles because they were looking for potential members with cryptography and computer security skills. Solving Cicada 3301 puzzles is not a trivial undertaking; they have required competitors to travel to multiple cities worldwide to retrieve clues and have used an eclectic range of references within the puzzles. These have included William Gibson and Robert Anton Wilson books, Mayan numerology, steganography, the Atbash cipher, Godel’s incompleteness theorem, MC Escher, Zen, Gematria, Crowley, Pre-Raphaelite painting and cuneiform. They have also communicated clues by many different means: Internet, telephone, original music, bootable Linux CDs, digital images, physical paper signs, and pages of unpublished cryptic books. They have been accused of being a cult, and also of being a criminal gang, but no one is even clear why they are called Cicada, and what the significance of 3301 is.