For a lot of people, the internet has become the first stop when it comes to most facets of their daily lives. Whether they are looking for information, entertainment, goods and services, or just silly, pointless memes, the internet has it all.
It also has its fair share of mysteries, from creepy videos to incredibly-difficult puzzles and emails from beyond the grave. Today, we will be taking a look at some of the most notorious enigmas of the online world.
10. Webdriver Torso
For almost one year between 2013 and 2014, Webdriver Torso was the most puzzling mystery on the internet. What was it? Well, it was a YouTube account that posted thousands of 11-second videos featuring blue and red rectangles. That was it, but human imagination did the rest of the work and, soon enough, people online were speculating that the channel could be run by spies sending encrypted communications to each other, or some kind of secret experiment, or, of course, aliens.
This rampant speculation went on for about ten months, until online sleuths finally tracked down the source and, spoiler alert, the real solution was a lot more mundane – it was a quality control channel, used by Youtube to ensure that the videos that ended up online were the same as the original files. Why did they use random colored rectangles? Because they were easy to make.
An Italian statistician who went by “Soggetto Ventuno” or “Subject 21” was the first to solve the mystery by seeing that the channel belonged to a Youtube network registered in Switzerland, that also contained other channels which posted content from the Google offices in Zurich.
Afterwards, Google came clean with an appropriately Rickrolling statement which said:
“We’re never gonna give you uploading that’s slow or loses video quality, and we’re never gonna let you down by playing YouTube in poor video quality.
That’s why we’re always running tests like Webdriver Torso.”
A very similar mystery occurred on Reddit in 2011, when a strange subreddit popped up that contained only posts made out of strings of numbers and letters. The name of the subreddit, as well as the account making these posts, was also a seemingly-random sequence of numbers and letters, but it became known simply by the first four – A858.
It took almost a year for other people to notice the bizarre account, but afterwards came the excited speculation over what could possibly be the meaning behind this unusual behavior. Soon enough, a related subreddit appeared called “Solving_A858,” which consisted mainly of amateur cryptographers working to crack the code. Only a few of the thousands of posts made on A858 have ever been solved, but they seemed to be random images or words with no relation to one another.
Then, in 2016, a post appeared on the subreddit that simply said “The A858 Project Has Concluded. You may unsubscribe.” A while later, the same account gave a bit more information, admitting that they had been paid by an undisclosed company to post encrypted code puzzles for an undisclosed reason. Some believe that this was a commercial stunt that backfired, but others think that the project is still ongoing, at a different stage.
8. The Plague Doctor
Officially, this internet mystery is known as 11B-X-1371 and, for a time, it was heralded as the creepiest video on YouTube. It is a two-minute, black-and-white clip which shows a person in a homemade plague doctor costume standing inside a dilapidated building, with a forest visible behind them. The video is accompanied by static noises and the figure has a blinking light in its palm, which appears to relay Morse code messages.
The clip went viral in 2015 when it was first publicized by a tech blog called GadgetZZ. As people kept investigating it, they discovered that there was a lot of disturbing content hidden in the video: bizarre sentences, threats, and even violent images were included in plaintext form, Morse code, and the spectrogram of the audio. The online world speculated that the video could have been a prank, a student project, some kind of viral marketing stunt, or something more sinister such as the work of a serial killer or a threat of bioterrorism.
After weeks of sleuthing, people actually found the location where the video was made thanks to the exterior shots of the forest. It was an abandoned mental asylum in Poland, near the town of Otwock. Next came trying to find the identity of the person who made the video.
This proved difficult since several tried to claim ownership and dozens more made copycat clips, but a few months later, the creator was tentatively identified by the pseudonym Parker Warner Wright. He claimed to be an American living in Poland and that he made the video as an art project.
7. The Jack Froese Emails
The story of Jack Froese is a familiar ghost story, but one that has been updated for the modern world. When the 32-year-old from Dunmore, Pennsylvania, died suddenly in 2011, he left his friends and family in shock, but he soon started contacting them from beyond the grave. He didn’t do this in the traditional methods, by moving things around the house or appearing as a ghostly figure, but rather through email.
Three of Jack’s friends had received messages purported to be from him after his death. The most obvious answer would be that a hacker was pranking them, or perhaps somebody else who knew Froese’s password, but they all insisted that the emails contained private information known only to them and Jack. Tim Hart, for example, received an email that had Jack Froese as the sender which simply said “Did you hear me? I’m at your house. Clean your f-ing attic!!!” Right before Froese’s death, the two of them spent some time in that attic, talking about what to do with the empty space.
Ultimately, the people who received messages chose not to look too closely at who was sending them, so the true source of the emails remains a mystery.
6. Markovian Parallax Denigrate
We move on now to an oldie, at least in terms of the internet, dating all the way back to 1996, when a discussion system called Usenet was still employed to read and post messages. In August of that year, Usenet was inundated with hundreds of strange messages that appeared to be nothing but random words strung together. They had only one thing in common. They all shared the same subject line, another seemingly-random grouping of words – Markovian parallax denigrate.
Since 1996 was a bit too early for most internet sleuths, the original posts were all dismissed as gibberish and lost. Only one survives, and it says things like “jitterbugging McKinley Abe break Newtonian inferring caw update Cohen air collaborate rue sportswriting rococo,” and so on…
It wasn’t until decades later that the online world started obsessing over Markovian parallax denigrate again, treating it like some kind of mysterious puzzle, especially after a feature about it published in 2012 by the Daily Dot. So far, nobody was able to find any hidden meaning to the message, which can be meaningful in its own way since many think that the posts were simply the result of a primitive spambot or text generator. Still, others believe that there could be something there, hidden among the gibberish, and even now, 25 years later, they are still working on one of the Internet’s earliest puzzles.
Let’s move on now to a mystery with a bit of humor in it, and one that also has an answer. It started quite innocuously in 2017, when comedian Nate Fernald posted a picture on Twitter of a metal pin depicting some kind of fantasy creature with the name Geedis. He had bought a bunch of them from an eBay seller, but didn’t know who Geedis actually was, so he put the question out in the online medium, confident that somebody would remember it from some old comic book or perhaps a TV show from a different country.
As it turned out, the internet had never heard of Geedis, and neither did the eBay seller. After Fernald’s post went viral, somebody contributed with a bit more information. They provided a picture of a sticker sheet with six fantasy characters, and among them was Geedis. The sheet was labeled as “The Land of Ta,” so, at least, we knew where the weird little creature came from, but that raised a new question – what was The Land of Ta? Was it a television show, or an old children’s book?
It wasn’t until two years later that the podcast Endless Thread solved the mystery. “The Land of Ta” was the work of Sam Petrucci, an artist best known for doing some of the original artwork of G.I Joe. “The Land of Ta” was a very short-lived series of fantasy stickers that he produced for the Dennison Manufacturing Company in 1981. It only ever existed as stickers, though. Who made the pins and why they only make pins of Geedis still remain unanswered questions.
4. Unfavorable Semicircle
Welcome to what some people call the strangest mystery on YouTube, while others refer to it as the creepiest channel that has ever been created on the platform. The name of the channel is Unfavorable Semicircle and it appeared in 2015. Like Webdriver Torso, it started publishing a lot of weird videos, but they lacked the uniformity of the former. Some videos lasted just a few seconds; others were hours long. Some had static or distortion sounds; others were silent. Some had abstract images; others just a few dots. Most of them, however, were titled using a random six digit number and the astrological sign for Sagittarius.
In less than a year, the channel uploaded around 72,000 videos, at one point averaging a video every few minutes. Of course, once the online world got wind of it, people started wondering what the point of all this was. Was it another test channel, or some kind of art project? Did it contain any secret messages or was it the product of a disturbed mind? Unlike Webdriver Torso, we never got an answer to these questions. YouTube deleted the channel in February 2016, once it started getting publicity, for multiple violations of its policy. Since then, nobody has claimed ownership of it and Unfavorable Semicircle remains a mystery.
3. The Most Mysterious Song on the Internet
If you are the type of person who knows a lot of obscure music, particularly 1980s new wave, then this is the mystery for you – it is a song whose author and title are unidentified, despite the collective efforts of the online world.
This whole thing started in 1984, when a German man identified as Darius S. recorded songs from the radio onto his cassette deck, primarily from the program Musik für Junge Leute, or “Music for Young People” on NDR station. There was one song which he really liked, but didn’t know its name, so he wrote it down as a question mark.
Two decades later, he digitized his collection and in 2007, his sister tried to help him finally identify the mysterious song by posting a snippet online. She had no luck initially, but such things don’t usually go viral immediately. For 12 years, the recording of this mysterious song languished in the forgotten recesses of the internet, until 2019 when the story was picked up and started spreading like wildfire.
Soon enough, there were podcasts, subreddits, YouTube videos, online magazines, and Discord servers all talking about the song, but still nobody recognized it. Somebody even contacted the DJ who worked at NDR in the ’80s, Paul Baskerville, but he didn’t know it, either, saying that he sometimes played obscure, underground music sent to him from across the Berlin Wall, or from Eastern Europe. There have been a few leads but, for now, the unknown track keeps its title of “most mysterious song on the internet.”
2. Mariana’s Web
Even if you have no inclination of ever visiting it, you probably still heard of the dark web – this shadowy part of the internet that can’t be accessed in the regular way and never shows up on search engines, where you could find all sorts of illegal stuff, including drugs, scams, and even killers-for-hire. Well, if internet legends are to be believed, then the regular dark web is a mundane, trivial place when compared to a much more sinister and secretive online world known as Mariana’s Web.
Named after the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the ocean, this web allegedly contains sites that cannot be found anywhere else, full of extremely confidential secrets that range from government files to the private archives of the Vatican to the location of Atlantis. Some even say that Mariana’s Web is fully-controlled by an artificial intelligence that has gained sentience.
Even just accessing Mariana’s Web should be technically impossible because it involves solving some equations that could only be completed using a quantum computer. Many remain unconvinced of its existence, declaring Mariana’s Web to simply be a boogeyman of the internet.
1. Cicada 3301
“Hello. We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck.”
That is the message from 2012 that launched one of the deepest mysteries on the web. Posted by an account named 3301 and featuring an image of a cicada as its logo, the mystery soon had a name – Cicada 3301.
Several codes have been posted since. They come in different mediums and use a wide range of techniques such as steganography and cryptography in order to hide their message, so that only the most skilled codebreakers would be able to untangle the web, discover the correct answer and win a mystery prize.
What happens if you get it right? We still don’t know. None of the people who successfully solved one of these puzzles went public with their findings. People have speculated that Cicada 3301 is a highly-advanced recruitment tool to find the world’s best codebreakers, organized by a governmental agency such as the CIA or MI6, or a private cyber security company. Others believe that a more shadowy outfit is behind the puzzles, such as a cult or the Freemasons. Maybe in the future, we might learn more about Cicada 3301 but, for now, it remains one of the internet’s greatest mysteries.