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Only A Few People Have Ever Solved The Cicada 3301 Puzzle, But What Is It Exactly?

In the glut of internet mysteries and deep web puzzles, none are quite so confusing, compelling, and complicated as the Cicada 3301 puzzle.

Several message boards saw a mysterious invitation of sorts pop up on January 4, 2012. It asked individuals to find the hidden message in the plain white text on a black background. Soon sites like 4chan and reddit had communities popping up to figure out who or what Cicada 3301 really was. 

What solvers got instead were stories about people being recruited to the anonymous organization, more questions, more puzzles, and links to sites in the deep web.

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  • Cicada 3301 Is Supposedly A Recruitment Tool For A Shadowy Organization

    Cicada 3301 Is Supposedly A Recruitment Tool For A Shadowy Organization
    Photo: By 3301 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    According to Marcus Wanner, a teenager that claims to have solved the original Cicada puzzle of 2012, there is an organization behind the mysterious puzzles. They aren't a movie studio hoping to get interest in a new franchise, and they aren't any government organization that has come forward.

    Wanner claims they are a group of people searching for more members to spread their philosophy and beliefs about the sharing of information, the protection of privacy, and opposition to censorship.

  • Solving The Puzzles Requires Extensive Amounts Of Time

    The first puzzle released in 2012 took three weeks for one man, Joel Eriksson, to solve. Those three weeks were spent decrypting images with steganography software to find more code that needed to be used in later parts of the puzzle or led him to websites. 

    Marcus Wanner spent a month of sleepless nights deciphering book code, finding location coordinates, and pondering cryptic messages.

    A book of runes from the Cicada puzzle of 2014 appears to be unsolved to this day.

  • Few People Have Solved The Puzzle - Even Fewer Solved It Alone

    Marcus Wanner told Rolling Stone that he solved the Cicada 3301 puzzle of 2012 with a group of internet acquaintances via a private chat room. He also claims that after solving the puzzle in the span of a month, he was invited to join the organization and did so.

    Joel Erikkson also claims to have solved the puzzle, but alone and with a late start. That late start may be what left him without an invite to the group.

    A few other anonymous posters claim to have solved the puzzle, but there is no concrete proof concerning an actual "end game" or finish line, nor verifiable information about what prize allegedly awaits.

  • Some Theorize The Internet Group Anonymous Is The Real Architect Of The Puzzles

    Stephanie D'Amo of Edgy Labs speculates that infamous 4Chan group known as Anonymous could be the hive-mind behind the complex puzzles and their widespread physical presence. 

    D'Amo says the Cicada ideology of privacy, freedom of information, and opposition to censorship are quite similar to those of Anonymous. However, it has been claimed that Cicada does not tolerate illegal activities, such as hacking, and Anonymous has never been afraid to use that sort of tactic.

  • Finding Clues Required Physical Travel To Coordinates

    After solving a clue that required the multiplication of three prime numbers found in the original 2012 message, sleuths were provided with strings of numbers that were coordinates. In most augmented reality games or hoaxes, the coordinates may be in one location or only in America. In this case, the coordinates pointed followers to Mexico, South Korea, Spain, Russia, France, and the USA.

    Clues containing the trademark cicada and a QR code were found at the different coordinates, presenting two new links to more puzzles and clues.

  • Solving The Puzzle Takes More Than One Discipline

    In order to decrypt the original 2012 image, sleuths had to use computer programs like Notepad and OutGuess. There were references to works of literature, philosophy, science fiction, and poetry. People hoping to solve the puzzle needed to know number theory and cryptology.

    They also needed to understand PGP (Pretty Good Privacy, an encyptrion program); ciphers; how to verify the source of information; and navigation of the dark web.