The Internet can be a wonderful place, but it can also be a very strange one. "Strange" also frequently coincides with "freaky," and that's where these five creepy unsolved Internet mysteries lie: At the technological intersection of weird and terrifying. Are they intentionally creepy? Not all of them, no; but there's always an element of fear lying somewhere in the depths of the unknown.
And let's face it: Even though the Internet puts a wealth of knowledge and information at our fingertips, there is still so much about the world that we don't understand — even when it comes to the Internet itself. We all log onto it every day, checking our email, posting our statuses, looking up exactly what that word you heard on your favorite podcast during your morning commute means... but very few of us actually know how the Internet works. While it's true that you don't need to understand what's under the hood of something to appreciate everything it can do for you, it's still kind of odd that we all surf the web so thoughtlessly much of the time, isn't it?
Given all this, then, it's perhaps unsurprising that the Internet has its secrets, the same as anyone else. We may never get to the heart of these wacky unsolved mysteries... but that's not going to stop us from trying to figure them out, is it?
Or, at the very least, freaking ourselves out over them. Because we all just love to be scared.
Consisting of a person dressed in a plague doctor mask performing a series of odd activities in a dilapidated building, this video — which is titled “01101101 01110101 01100101 01110010 01110100 01100101,” or “Muerte” (“death” in Spanish) when translated from binary to text — was the Internet's favorite obsession back around Halloween. And you guys? It's weird. Really, really weird, and also kind of threatening. No one really knows what it means yet (if anything), but a growing crowd of people are determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Technology and science news site Gadgetzz posted on Oct. 12 that they had been mailed this strange and unsettling video as a DVD. But although they only recently brought it to the Internet's attention, it has apparently been floating around for longer than that: After digging up the envelope it came in, Gadgetzz staff determined that the postmark was dated May 23, 2015; furthermore, the earliest known online appearance of it thus far is May 9, 2015, at which point it popped up both on 4chan's paranormal board and YouTube. Both the 4chan and YouTube posters, however, maintain that they did not create the video.
There is, of course, a thread on the r/creepy subreddit devoted to figuring out exactly what's going on here; also unexpectedly, there's a ton of weird stuff in it, some of which might be interpreted as threatening: Morse code messages reading things like “RED LIPSLIFE TENTH” and “2015THEREWILLBE(THREE)”; a list of chess moves; disturbing images depicting violence against women; the coordinates of the White House; and more. Like I said: Weird and threatening.
Is it just a hoax? A game? A viral marketing campaign? Who knows. But whatever it is, it's certainly mysterious.
2. Cicada 3301
Given my admittedly bizarre fascination with the strange and unusual, it's a little surprising that I only first heard about Cicada 3301 a few months ago. Like so many of these online mysteries, this one first came to the attention of the Internet via 4chan's paranormal board. A simple image consisting of white text on a black background appeared on the board on Jan. 4, 2012, reading as follows:
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.
It was signed “3301,” which, when paired with an image of a cicada that surfaced during what was to follow, gave the mystery its name: Cicada 3301.
So what did follow? A puzzle that could only be solved by those willing to go the distance — cracking codes, image manipulation, and even global travel to gather clues in specific locations. We don't know who is behind Cicada 3301 (an intelligence organization? A group of hackers? Someone else?), or what the end goal is (why do they need all these “highly intelligent individuals?”); furthermore, the few who have actually made it all the way through don't even know what the deal is. One person who did solve it in spoke to Fast Company in 2014 about having been given access to a darknet site and being put to work developing something called the Cicada Anonymous Key Escrow System, or CAKES.
Yes, CAKES. But not the frosting-covered and delicious kind.
There has been more than one puzzle, too: New ones followed in 2013 and 2014. And even more oddly, once the 2013 puzzle was underway, the 2012 “brood,” as it was called, were summarily expelled from Cicada 3301 with no warning of reason given.
Unexpectedly, a new puzzle did not begin in 2015. What exactly that means, though? You guessed it: No one knows.
A858 is the abbreviation given to A858DE45F56D9BC9, both the name of a mysterious Reddit user and an actual subreddit. Since 2011, the Redditor (who may or may not be a bot — we have no idea who or what is behind it) has been posting long strings of code to the subreddit; furthermore, according to the welcome post on the subreddit devoted to cracking these codes, there are actually multiple related subs and multiple users, all of which connect right back to A858.
Thoughty^2 notes that the messages look to be written in the numerical notation system hexidecimal, which is a) used in computer programs, and b) the name of my favorite villain from ReBoot. A small handful (and I do mean a small one — A858 has been posting stuff almost daily for years) of the messages have been decoded, and the results are… interesting. They run the gamut from a simple “thank you” for having been gifted Reddit Gold to an excerpt from Actions and Passions by Max Lerner, and from “meaningless pseudocode” to an ASCII image of Stonehenge.
4. Webdriver Torso YouTube Channel
Happily, this YouTube channel isn't nearly as gruesome as its name suggests. (Seriously, does anyone else see the phrase “Webdriver Torso” and picture something involving a human torso with all its limbs cut off? No? Just me? OK, then.) It consists of videos of weird beeping noises and bright red and blue blocks flashing slowly across the screen. Most of the videos are short — 10 or 11 seconds long — but there are a couple that are real doozies, like this one that is literally 25 minutes of high-pitched, unabated weirdness. The weirdest thing about the channel, though? Undoubtedly the frequency with which the videos appear. New ones are uploaded nonstop, often within seconds of each other.
Confession: I'm cheatig a little here — this mystery has actually been solved. Webdriver Torso first kicked up in September of 2013, and for a pretty substantial portion of time, no one knew what the deal was with it. But after a lot of Internet sleuthing by some fantastic armchair detectives compiled a huge body of evidence about what it might be, the mystery was finally cracked: It's a YouTube test channel. Engadget confirmed it with the company in 2014 — and, indeed, YouTube and Google appear to have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Their message to Engadget read:
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.
Yep: We got Rickrolled. Ah well; it kind of serves us right. Sometimes weird videos that look like test screens are just weird videos that look like test screens, even if our collective curiosity makes them go unexpectedly viral.
5. Markovian Parallax Denigrate
Let's end by reaching way back into the early days of the Internet: In 1996, the Usenet community was spammed with a series of messages that basically consisted of the most bizarre examples of word salad you can think of, always with the subject line, “Markovian Parallax Denigrate.” Here's an example via a longform piece exploring the mystery originally published by the Daily Dot in 2012:
jitterbugging McKinley Abe break Newtonian inferring caw update Cohen air collaborate rue sportswriting rococo invocate tousle shadflower Debby Stirling pathogenesis escritoire adventitious novo ITT most chairperson Dwight Hertzog different pinpoint dunk McKinley pendant firelight Uranus episodic medicine ditty craggy flogging variac brotherwood Webb impromptu file countenance inheritance cohesion refrigerate morphine napkn inland Janeiro nameable yearbook hark
I don't know about you, but I'm really curious about chairperson Dwight Hertzog and what exactly he's chairing.
But perhaps stranger than the mystery itself is its persistence. The folks who frequented Usenet at the time of the event puzzled over it, but eventually let it go; later on, though, the popularity of the now-deleted Markovian Parallax Denigrate Wikipedia page launched it from relative obscurity to a place of hallowed Internet lore. Theories abound about it, of course; some believed it to be a cypher or the Internet version of a numbers station. It's never been satisfactorily solved, though, and since the surviving Usenet archives are incomplete, it's unlikely that we ever will.
But we'll always have chairperson Dwight Hertzog.