Cicada 3301: CIA recruitment game, or the Internet’s Greatest Practical Joke?

Treasure hunts are no longer just for the likes of Indiana Jones or a Dan Brown character. A new breed of digital scavenger hunts has popped up over the last three years from a mysterious online organization calling itself Cicada 3301.

According to The Independent, “Cicada 3301 (the name given to both the scavenger hunt and the unknown organization responsible for the puzzles) first began in January 4, 2012, baffling participants with a series of puzzles and codes spread across the internet and various locations worldwide.”

Cicada’s first message appeared on Reddit. “Hello,” it read. “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.” The communiqué was signed: “3301”.


Hackers, cryptologists and stenographers pounced. They began to crowdsource clues and theories. The veritable rabbit hole of a journey included messages hidden with the text of the original post that could only unlocked by steganography software, requiring deciphering ancient texts, knowledge of Mayan numbers, and even investigations into portals to the “darknet” and physical locations offline.

There has been a slew of theories regarding the mysterious organization.

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