Video series about the weird mystery of Cicada 3301

I got a sneak peek at the first episode of a new Great Big Story series called "Cracking the Code of Cicada 3301." It doesn't answer the question of who is behind the puzzle world of Cicada 3301 or why it was created, but that's because no one knows. Instead it focuses on a few people who have spent a good part of their young lives solving the maddeningly difficult puzzles posted by Cicada 3301. It's worth watching.

In 2012, a secretive group calling itself 3301 began recruiting for “highly intelligent individuals” online. Candidates had to prove their skills in codebreaking, cryptography and computer programming by solving a complex puzzle dubbed Cicada. It required knowledge of steganography, contacts on the ground everywhere from Seoul to Sydney, and the ability to obtain a copy of William Gibson’s famous disappearing poem “Agrippa.” What was the purpose of the puzzle? No one knows, but many set out to solve one of the internet’s greatest mysteries. At the age of 15, Marcus Wanner became one of the few to crack the code. But the Cicada challenge didn’t end there. Suddenly, more mysterious codes appeared—including a 58-page book of runes known as the “Liber Primus.”

Image: YouTube/Great Big Story Read the rest

The explorer who found the Titanic is off to find Amelia Earhart's plane

Robert Ballard is the oceanic detective who turned up the Titanic in 1985, the lost Nazi ship Bismarck, and many other shipwrecks. Now he's off to to find Amelia Earhart's plane that hasn't been seen since she and her navigator disappeared over the Pacific ocean on July 2, 1937 during their flight around the world. And based on a photo taken just a few months after Earhart disappeared, Ballard is pretty sure he knows where the plane crashed. From the New York Times:

Kurt M. Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Obama administration, invited Dr. Ballard to a meeting. The two had known each other since their days in Naval intelligence.

Mr. Campbell ushered him into his office, Dr. Ballard recalled in a recent interview: “He closed the door, and he said, ‘I want to show you a picture.’”

First, he offered Dr. Ballard a grainy black-and-white photo. “He said, ‘What do you see?’ I said, ‘I see an island with a ship on a reef?’ And he said, ‘No, look over to the left.’”

As Dr. Ballard squinted at the blur, Mr. Campbell handed him a second, digitally enhanced image. Mr. Campbell said the smudge was landing gear from a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra. And the reef in the picture was part of tiny Nikumaroro Island, in the mostly uninhabited Phoenix Islands.

There it was, a precise place to look for Earhart’s plane.

“I went, ‘I’ll be damned,’” he said.

Read the rest

Celebrate the mystery of D.B. Cooper at this weekend's DBCooperCon in Portland!

In 1971, "DB Cooper" hijacked a plane from Portland, Oregon and eventually parachuted into the Pacific Northwest wilderness with $200,000 strapped to his body. He was never seen again. The D.B. Cooper tale continues to thrive in popular culture while sparking a seemingly endless stream of theories about the mystery man's identity. In fact, a new suspect was put forward just this week!

You can celebrate Saturday's anniversary of this captivating crime at the free DBCooperCon in Portland:

Please join us at the 2018 DB Cooper Conference and hear experts discuss all aspects of America's only unsolved hijacking. In addition, see a real Cooper $20 bill from the ransom money found, a parachute just like the one Cooper used, a tie clip just like the one Cooper left behind on the jet, and much more.

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What is this mystery object that washed up on a South Carolina beach?

This mysterious large object washed up last week on Seabrook Island in Charleston County, South Carolina. Apparently it has the consistency of foam and does not seem to contain any metal. Read the rest

John Varley's "Irontown Blues" - noir doggy science fiction from one of the field's all-time greats

John Varley is one of my all-time favorite authors, whose "Eight Worlds" stories and novels have been strung out over decades, weaving together critical takes on Heinlein and other "golden age" writers with mindfuckingly great technological/philosophical speculation, genderbending, genre-smashing prose, and some of the most likable, standout characters in the field.

Mystery man found dead in wall of women's washroom

The Core Shopping Center caters to the needs of Calgary, Canada's downtown office workers. Wandering its multiple floors over a series of city blocks, you'll find a mid-ranged food court, travel agencies, cell phone stores and stores flogging business attire – pretty standard stuff. Its white walls and polished floors give it an institutional feel that shouts "shop and bugger off." It's a mall! You could mistake it for any number of other shopping centers around North America, except for one thing: the Core has, or rather, had, a dead fella in the wall of one of its women's washrooms.

I spend six months of the year in and around Calgary and worked for a number of years managing mall cops. Lemme set the scene.

Instead of forcing maintenance personnel to rip a hole in a wall to access plumbing every time that there's a problem, a lot of mall bathrooms are designed to include small, lockable doors that provide access to the pipes. The wall that this door is baked into is often referred to as a "pony wall." Pony walls aren't designed for load bearing. They're there, primarily, to hide plumbing, HVAC and electrical conduits from folks using the building. It looks nice. In between a pony wall and the wall that lies beyond it, there's usually a small chunk of space – maybe one and a half feet feet deep – to allow workers to get parts of themselves and their tools into to make repairs. The access hatch for a pony wall can be locked and unlocked from the outside. Read the rest

Study: Bones found on Pacific island in 1940 are likely Amelia Earhart's

Aviator Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and almost made it around the world: her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937. Many hypotheses cropped up over the years to explain her mysterious disappearance. Perhaps she simply ran out of fuel far from land. Perhaps she was forced down and captured by the Japanese military. Or, maybe, she was stranded on a desert island. Read the rest

Cult of Personality: Two crime writers discuss the allure of cults in their own dark fiction

I’ve always been intrigued by cults. The idea that someone would be willing to give up everything: their wealth, family connections, personality or livelihood, to be a part of something presumably greater, something more all-consuming than religion, fascinated me. I knew, at some point, I’d want to write about it. I didn’t get the chance until I started my fourth crime novel, Blackout, which hits in May from Polis Books—the latest in a Miami crime series featuring recovering alcoholic private investigator Pete Fernandez.

Odd moment with a rubber chicken

It would be gauche of me to explain this wonderful moment of web video, but I feel obliged to protect you from any potential disappointment with respect to the interactions of rubber chickens and ceiling fans. It's a sample from this performance by Vitas, Russia's answer to Babylon Zoo:

(Nor is the the first wedding of Russian glam pop and chickens)

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Find out if you are a Twitter bot with Botometer

The Botometer is a simple single-serving website that reports whether any given Twitter account talks like a bot. It seems quite accurate, tracking not just the content but "sentiment" and its networking characteristics.

My account, @beschizza, has a "green" score of 38%, so I have passed my Twitter Voigt-Kampff test. But @boingboing scores 53%, perhaps reflecting its mix of human chatter and automated links to posts. (Trump also scores 53%, oddly enough.)

How should I interpret a bot score?

Roughly speaking, one can interpret a bot score as a likelihood that the user is a bot. As such, bot scores closer to the extreme values of 0% and 100% are more confident assertions of the account's bot-ness.

It's tempting to set some arbitrary threshold score and consider everything above that number a bot and everything below a human, but this is probably not the best way to think about it. Many accounts score in the "yellow" range of 40-60%. A middle-of-the-road score like this is a signal that our classifier is uncertain about the classification.

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Giant "void" detected in Great Pyramid

A new scanning technique has revealed what scientists believe is an empty space within the Great Pyramid at Gizeh. While it might be an architectural feature intended to limit the load upon the hallway beneath it, it could be a huge room. They also detected a smaller void at a different spot in the pyramid.

"We don't know whether this big void is horizontal or inclined; we don't know if this void is made by one structure or several successive structures," explained Mehdi Tayoubi from the HIP Institute, Paris.

"What we are sure about is that this big void is there; that it is impressive; and that it was not expected as far as I know by any sort of theory." ... Much of the uncertainty comes down to the rather imprecise data gained from muography.

This non-invasive technique has been developed over the past 50 years to probe the interiors of phenomena as diverse as volcanoes and glaciers. It has even been used to investigate the failed nuclear reactors at Fukushima.

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Crowdsourced sleuthing exonerates politician viewing "dirty" pic

What happens these days when a photographer's photo inadvertently shoulder-surfs your phone screen? If you're a politician and the content vaguely resembles porn, internet sleuths are on the case. In one case this week, depending on your point of view, the results were a disappointment or a relief. Read the rest

Arc Symphony is a Playstation game that never existed. Or did it?

Arc Symphony is a text-only game about being a fan of an elaborate Japanese Playstation RPG in the 1990s. Designed to evoke an old-timey USENET group and the ancient DOS PC used to connect to it, it's a perfect and mysterious capturing of a long-gone moment. To promote it, the creators commissioned designed jewel cases, complete with glossy booklet (no disk, of course), in perfect imitiation of a PSX game that never existed.

At shows, people spot the clever mockup and say, hey, I remember that game.

People tell them they remember playing it.

People insist they remember. There are fansites.

Arc Symphony works because of Park and Evan’s marketing of it—it becomes easier to pretend to be a fan of the game when they’ve managed to slip a little nostalgia for it into your drink. Both Park and Evans were very surprised by the success of their campaign, and how quickly it got away from them.

“It’s actually really unsettling when it stops just being indie game devs having fun with each other,” Park said, “and starts being, well, rewriting cultural memory…”

Previously: Nomen Ludi, the game you can't quite remember. Read the rest

What was in the safe

About a year ago, I reported my discovery of a mysterious old safe at the back of a closet in the old house I'd just bought. After much fooling around with combinations and pointless gadgets in my spare time over the course of many months, you finally insisted I call in the professionals. I ignored this plea until you summoned them yourselves.

It took a little time to actually find one, though: the skills it takes to crack a 1920s safe are both uncommon and in-demand, and local locksmiths in Pittsburgh ultimately sent me on to master safecracker Gary Timchak.

He drilled a hole, slid a rigid borescope within, and had it open in minutes.

What was inside? Spoilers are below! Read the rest

Investigators uncover identity of mystery man found dead on remote moor

Last year I blogged about the mysterious death of a man found on a remote English moor. Found with only a pocketful of pills and no identifying documents, "Dovestones" sent investigators hunting worldwide in search of answers. They found them: Dovestones was 67-year-old Londoner David Lytton.

Officers identified the smartly dressed man in CCTV footage from Ealing, west London, where he is believed to have started his journey on the morning of 11 December. He arrived in Manchester shortly after midday after taking a train from London Euston, then went to Greenfield, Saddleworth, and visited the Clarence pub at 2pm, where he asked the landlord how to get to the top of the 460-metre (1,500ft) Indian’s Head peak above Dovestone reservoir.

Despite being warned about treacherous weather conditions by the landlord, Mel Robinson, he left the pub and was spotted by witnesses walking up the hill at about 4.30pm.

His body was found the next morning by a passing cyclist on a boggy section of track. He was wearing slip-on shoes and had £130 in cash in his pockets, along with three train tickets, including a return ticket to London. He was carrying no documentation.

The mystery of how and why he died near a mountaintop remains. The suicide hypothesis, based reasonably enough on the presence of strychnine in his body, seems solid. But why travel all the way from Pakistan? Why there? Read the rest

Three-year search for missing flight MH370 called off

Malaysia Airlines flight #MH370 pitched somewhere in the vast oceans west of Australia three years ago, the only evidence washing ashore thousands of miles away. The search for its remains, and those of hundreds of missing passengers and crew, has been called off.

Families of the victims of flight MH370 say a decision to halt the search for the Malaysian airliner that vanished in March 2014 is "irresponsible". ... More than 120,000 sq km (46,300 miles) of the Indian Ocean has been searched with no results. Pieces of debris have been found as far away as Madagascar. But only seven have been identified as definitely or highly likely to be from the Boeing 777.

It's 2017 and they still dress airline pilots up like commodores and let them turn off the transponders. Read the rest

I'm helping launch Echoes of Sherlock Holmes at LA's Chevalier Books tomorrow night

In 2014, lawyer and eminent Sherlockian Les Klinger comprehensively won the legal battle to establish that Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain and available for anyone to use, abuse, alter, celebrate or mock; now with a new anthology of completely unauthorized Sherlock tales, Echoes of Sherlock Holmes, Klinger and co-editor Laurie R. King have shown just how much life there is in the old tales. Read the rest

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