Cicada 3301: the online puzzle that stumped the brightest minds

The recruiting scheme that drew in an endlessly invested crowd has remained a mystery since 2012.


Business Insider

The “logo” for the online challenge, showing the namesake of Cicada 3301

Of the list of unsolved mysteries, the Internet-based challenge known as “Cicada 3301” takes the cake for the most inexplicable. Since 2012, blogs and forums centered around computer science and cybersecurity have been buzzing about a series of cryptic messages, instructions, and puzzles that have (so far) led nowhere. In a new YouTube documentary series, a channel entitled “Great Big Story” sought out the masterminds plotting to solve the puzzle once and for all, as well as the shadow behind the cryptographic marvel.

Historic Mysteries
The first message in the Cicada 3301 puzzle series, originally posted on 4chan.

The docuseries primarily focuses on the five individuals who have made it the farthest in their quest to solve Cicada. This group is comprised of some of the most intelligent human beings in the world. Originally posted on 4chan message boards, anyone who was interested could take their shot at cracking the puzzle. Each time one piece was solved, another one was pitched to the online detectives.

After two years of intense deciphering and decoding, only a few people in the world remain on the quest. They were given a 58-page book by the Cicada creators known as Liber Primus, which has yet to be solved after five years. These five decoders brainstorm through video chat regularly to chip away at the latest piece of the all-consuming puzzle, but have not made significant progress in a long time.

The new docuseries also explores the possible origins of the mystery, but to no avail. Conspiracy theories suggest a connection between Cicada’s creator and the National Security Agency (NSA), but an interview with NSA technical director Neal Ziring indicates otherwise. Ziring denies any connection between the agency and the puzzle, but claims that the idea of an NSA employee creating Cicada cannot be ruled out.

Do you think the government is behind the Cicada puzzles?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Every so often, the creator of the elaborate scheme sends out a cryptic tweet or post, leading to more curiosity, but Cicada has recently laid dormant. In their absence, numerous fake posts claiming to be Cicada 3301 have circled the Internet, but none resonate as strongly as the authentic challenge.

It is unknown whether Cicada will ever be solved, but the challenge never ends for those five individuals– obsessed with the intricacies of the cryptographic phenomenon.

For more on Cicada 3301, watch the “Great Big Story” docuseries and check out the “Uncovering Cicada” Wiki.