On the 4th January of 2012, a user on 4chan posted an image to the site’s infamous /b/ or random board. 4chan is an English-language imageboard website. Users generally post anonymously, with the most recent posts appearing above the rest. They called themselves as 3301.

The picture is just a simple rectangular sized black background with a white-coloured text messages saying that they are trying to find a group of highly intelligent people and asked users to discover a message hidden in the picture. The hidden messages led to a series of other riddles, codes, and phone messages.

Solving the puzzle requires an esoteric knowledge, computer programming, hidden codes, history, art and literature.

Within minutes of the image being posted, someone discovered that by opening the file using a text editor, an appended string of readable text could be found. The string contained a cipher. That, once deciphered form a link to yet another image.

The image shows a duck with the message “Woops, Just decoys this way. Looks like you can’t guess how to get the messages out.” At first, this appeared to be a dead end to this puzzle. However Marcus Wanner, 15 years old at that time discovered he was supposed to take those words out and recognized the words ‘guess’ and ‘out’ and reminded with an application called OutGuess. OutGuess is just a tool that you can use to hide text inside of a JPEG image. 3301 Cicada used the idea of steganography for this puzzle. Using that application, users were able to extract hidden information embedded within the first image.


Marcus Wanner

The extracted information lead to a subreddit which in turn contained information about a book. The book along with a code could then be used to uncover a phone number that, when called, played a pre-recorded message by a man ranging from 20s to 30s. The phone number that they discovered is (214) 390-9608.

 

The pre-recorded messages are “Very good. You have done well. There are three prime numbers associated with the original final.jpg image. 3301 is one of them. You will have to find the other two. Multiply all three of these numbers together and a ‘.com’ on the end to find the next step. Good luck. Goodbye”. The weirder thing with the phone call is that customer support people from number phone’s provider cannot access the records for that particular number.

By the following day, the initial image had been reposted all over the internet. A growing community of armchair detectives sought to unravel this elaborate puzzle. No one was quite sure what to make of it. What was the puzzle for? Who was behind it? Is it a large corporation or a group of rich influence? What happened when you reach the end?

Some naturally dismissed it as an elaborate joke while others perceived its complexity as evidence against it being the work of a mere troll. Before long, rumours began to circulate that this could be the work of some secret society or intelligence agency with the intent of recruiting individuals proficient in cryptography, steganography and other related fields. Of course, it was nothing but a rumour.

The two missing numbers mentioned in the recording proved to be the dimensions of the original image. The width and height of the image are 509 pixels and 503 pixels. After multiplying 509, 503 and 3301 and using the product as a web address which is ww.845145127.com, users were taken to a website.

 

The website consisted of a countdown as well as an image of a cicada with a plain background. When the countdown reached zero, the page was updated with a list of coordinates. The coordinates pointed to 14 locations in 5 different countries. It was now up to participants living near the specified coordinates to rise from their comfortable armchairs and venture outside.

 

Those who believed Cicada to be the work of an organization now felt their beliefs had been justified. In their opinion, only some international secret society or organization possessed the means and resources to create a scavenger hunt of this magnitude. This was not the work of your average troll, this had to be something else.

What is it that awaiting them at each coordinates listed? Stay tuned for 3301 Cicada part 2.

Glossary

esoteric = intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.

steganography = the practice of concealing messages or information within other non-secret text or data.

armchair detectives = terms inspired by a British award show. An armchair detective is a fictional investigator who does not personally visit a crime scene or interview witnesses; instead, he or she either reads the story of the crime in a newspaper or has it recounted by another person.

cryptography = the art of writing or solving codes

venture = undertake a risky or daring journey or course of action.

Written by, Umi Nabila

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