Fortean Times - - News -

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.

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