Cicada 3301. The name of the mysterious and unknown internet organization that posted their challenging puzzles on websites like 4chan and Reddit. Their puzzles have rightfully been called the most elaborate and mysterious seen in a long time.
Virtual Appearances and Clues
In January 2012, those browsing the website found a simple yet eerie message. The message called out to the users of 4chan, challenging them that if they are “highly intelligent individuals,” they have a puzzle for them. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything too special about the image. 4chan’s feature of being able to post anonymously made it easier for the organization to stay unknown. The only clue we do get about the sender, is the signature line of the message. “3301.”
It caught the attention of many right away, and the participants played along thinking it was a joke. One way many people did this puzzle was by opening the image in a Wordpad (an old editing software). Through extracting the image, participants found the clue within the image bytes.
As shown in the image, the last line of bytes read “TIBERIVS CLAVDIVS CAESAR says “lxxt>33m2mqktv2gsq3=w]02ntk.” The part mentioning Caesar indicates that the last line can be deciphered using the Caesar cipher method. Cool, right? After decoding the code, it was a URL that lead to another puzzle.
One thing after another led the participants to a website that gave them coordinates. These coordinates were locations to where they will find QR codes. The coordinates were in locations around the globe, suggesting that this might not be a one man operation.
In January 2013, the second clue of Cicada 3301 started, followed by the third clue a year later. The second clue of Cicada 3301 was not too different from the first. There was a message within the image, which can be deciphered using OutGuess, a steganography tool. The message led to the book, “The Book of Law,” also known as “Liber AL vel Legis.” Participants used the book to produce a link.
As the puzzle unfolded, participants were once again gathered at the select locations Cicada 3301 has placed QR codes for.
While this was all going on, another clue was found in an eerie Twitter account, which made sense for Cicada 3301’s history. The Twitter account provided users with even more clues, but the vital one was a picture of runes. The purpose of this picture wasn’t known until 2014.
At first, the process of solving the third clue seemed the same as the first, however, the puzzle now revolved around a special book. It was titled “Liber Primus,” meaning “First Book,” in Latin. The book contained pages of runes and pictures of cicadas, implying that the book was written by Cicada 3301. It is said that the next clue is within the book. However, of the 74 pages containing runes, only 17 have been translated. Resulting in Cicada 3301 being silent once again and the third puzzle being unsolved.
People on the internet theorized the entire scheme was a hoax, a simple internet prank. Each post from Cicada 3301 proves that these puzzles are for those with the “brightest minds.” From what we know, the criteria of being a bright mind includes lots of things. One of them may be the deep knowledge of different techniques of computer science. One of them may be the strongest and brightest ideals.
Liber Primus, the book made allegedly by Cicada 3301, contained lots of ideals and perspectives on life. The few writings that have been translated so far, are often compared to cult beliefs. This links to the claims that Cicada 3301 has asked the finalists for the first puzzle about their ideals. These claims have been supported by Nox Populi, one of the winners, along with Marcus Wanner. The two have been on multiple articles regarding their experience with Cicada 3301.
In Nox Populi’s video, Marcus Wanner is a guest speaker there and speaks about his experience with a representative of 3301.
“The guide said that 3301 had ben created by a few friends who shared the ideals we’d been asked about in the INVITATION: info and software freedom, strong ANONYMITY, privacy, ubiquitous encryption, and so on.Marcus Wanner in Nox Populi’s video: 2012 Cicada 3301 Solutions Part 3: What Happens If You Win? With Guest Marcus Wanner.
This brings us back to the questions revolving around the original image.
“What is the purpose of this?”
“What happens if you solve it all the way to the end?”
“Who did this?”
Cicada 3301 still remains clouded in mystery.
References and Credits
Nox Populi. (2016). 2012 Cicada 3301 Solutions Part 3: What Happens If You Win? With Guest Marcus Wanner. [Nox Populi.]. Youtube. 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ua8iP5VOclQ&t=253s&ab_channel=NoxPopuli
“Uncovering Cicada Wiki”. Uncovering-Cicada.Fandom.Com, 2022, https://uncovering-cicada.fandom.com/wiki/Uncovering_Cicada_Wiki.
Åhlén, Johan. “Cicada 3301 First Puzzle Walkthrough | Boxentriq”. Boxentriq.Com, 2022, https://www.boxentriq.com/code-breaking/cicada-3301-first-puzzle-walkthrough.
“Cicada 3301: An Internet Mystery”. Youtube.Com, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2O7blSSzpI&t=932s&ab_channel=LEMMiNO.
“1231507051321”. Twitter.Com, 2022, https://twitter.com/1231507051321/status/420087183957966849.