By Ermis Efthymiou-Mouzouras & Kleopatra Giannika



Cicada is the nickname of puzzle project by an organization called 3301, with the final goal, as thought by many, to recruit only the elite of problem solvers and language experts around the world. What started it all was a post on a forum style website called 4chan.



On the 4th of January 2012, a user on 4chan posted this image (This screencap seems to be the only surviving archive of the original 4chan thread) to the site’s /b/ otherwise known as «random» chat board.

1  3301orig2012cesarincluded

 The anonymous author who went by the pseudonym 3301 called users to uncover a message hidden within the image. What a small number of people realized was that someone had just set in motion one of the Internet’s most elaborate scavenger hunts to have ever existed. And so, the mystery of Cicada 3301 started to unravel. Within minutes of the image being posted, someone discovered that by opening the image file using a text editor, revealed a secret message. This string of text contained a cipher that once deciphered, revealed a link to another image.

At first, the image was looked at as a dead-end, but using an application known as OutGuess (hence the reference in the image), users were able to discover hidden information within this seemingly dead end. The information contained a link to a subreddit which in turn contained information about a book. The book along with a code were then used to uncover a now deactivated phone number that when called, played a pre-recorded message.

The message was:

«Very good. You have done well. There are 3 prime numbers associated with the original jpeg image. 3301 is one of them. You will have to find the other two. Multiply all three of these numbers and add a .com to the end to find the next step. Good luck. Goodbye.»

2  Decoy

   By the following day, the initial image had been reposted all over the Internet. A growing community of Internet detectives sought on a mission to solve this very elaborate puzzle but no one was quite sure what to make of it.

Who was the creator of it?

What was the puzzle for?

What happens if one solves it?


Many dismissed the puzzle as a big troll while others perceived its complexity as a challenge.

Before long rumors started going around that this was just the work of a secret society or a government agency looking for skillful recruits in cryptography, steganography and another related field to join its ranks.

All of those, of course, were nothing but a rumour.

The two missing numbers mentioned in the pre-recorded message proved to be the dimensions of the original black and white image. After multiplying the width and height of the image 509 and 503 respectively with 3301 and adding to the result “.com” at the end like the message directed users were led to a website (Archive of original site).

The website mentioned had a countdown as well as an image of a cicada. Once the countdown reached zero, the page was updated with a list of coordinates all of which corresponded to a location somewhere around the globe. 14 locations in 5 countries to be exact.

It was now up to participants to venture outside and look for clues. Those who thought of Cicada as the work of an organization had just confirmed their suspicions. In their opinion, only an international organization possessed the resources for a scavenger hunt of such magnitude. This was by no means the work of the average Internet troll. This was something much bigger than the work of just one person.

At each location there was a poster with a cicada on it and a QR code that once scanned led to an image that contained a riddle which led to a book and the book to a website. Here is where the puzzle got even more interesting. Only a special group of the first arrivals to this website were allowed to participate in the final stage of the puzzle. The site was eventually taken down and the following message appeared in its place:

«We want the best, not the followers.»

The selected few were also warned not to collaborate with others on the puzzle nor to share the details of this private state of the puzzle. Obviously, since we have this information it’s safe to say that not all the participants adhered to the warning. But those who did presumably advanced to the final stages of the puzzle and reached its very end.

After nearly a month of silence, the following image appeared on the subreddit announcing the end of the hunt.

3  ChmYzh5syO1KSEU18p6hZIzxFfLh3vk7dcwMVwAC-rk

Whatever happened to the individuals that Cicada was looking to find through this puzzle is a mystery to this date. The lack of information after the end of the puzzle was conceived by many as an indication that the puzzle had been nothing but a wild goose chase intending to waste everyone’s time from the start.

The questing of the original image still remains unanswered.

Who was the creator of it?

What was the puzzle for?

What happens if one solves it?

It later turned out that this was just the beginning.



The organisation behind the puzzle had the foresight to include an authentication code known as a PGP signature along with each clue. This allowed users to verify that an image or message was truly for Cicada and not an imposter looking to confuse the to-this-point-devoted followers of the game. All messages lacking a valid PGP signature were quickly disregarded as fakes.

Exactly a year and a day after the original image was posted, a second image (This Pastebin dump seems to be the only surviving archive of the original 4chan thread.) followed, whose PGP signature finally matched that of Cicada’s.

4  Cicada 3301 quebra-cabeça criptografia, matemática, literatura 4

   Naturally, this led to the Internet going on a frenzy and the search for what this new puzzle led to once solved had just begun.

Round two was on.

The second puzzle was very similar to the first. The new image contained a message which led to a book, which in turn produced a link (the link used here is a mirror since the original has been taken down). The link directed to an .iso file that when booted from (Video of boot sequence) uncovered, among other files, led to a recording titled «The Instar Emergence«.

While people searched through the audio track for clues, a forum user found a Twitter account that was created shortly after the first download of the audio track and fit the overall style of Cicada. The account led to an image. The image proved vital to the continuation of the puzzle but the runic alphabet included with it would remain a mystery for quite some time.

Like the first puzzle, a new list of coordinates was revealed of8 locations in 4 countries that made once again aspiring solvers take to the streets for a new clue.

Eventually, the trail went cold again. A small number of individuals had once again been selected to partake in the final private stage of the puzzle.

Unlike the first puzzle, the second did not conclude with an official message from Cicada. Cicada had vanished once again leaving everybody no closer to an explanation. The original questions that were raised by the first image still remained unanswered.

Who was the creator of it?

What was the puzzle for?

What happens if one solves it?



At the beginning of 2014, it came time for round three. On the Cicada tTwitter account, an image was posted which led to a book, the book contained a link (This onion has since gone offline) and it was more of the same. Visiting the site, users found another image, this time a collage of four paintings by William Blake. What was even more strange this time was that the puzzle seemed to revolve around a strange book. The book is titled «Liber Primus» meaning «First book in Latin and was this time unlike all previous books written by Cicada. The runic alphabet that had been uncovered a year earlier in 2013 finally made sense as the book was mostly written in runes. The book appeared to be Cicada’s manifesto of sorts. The strange writing within the book has been compared to that of a cult. Nevertheless, the book is comprised by a multitude of clues and codes. For example, one of the pages advised participants to seek out a website in the deep web but the site remains undiscovered to this day. Another page led to a website containing another recording titled «Interconnectedness» A large portion of the book has yet to be translated. The runic text on some of the pages appears to have layers of encryption much of it yet to have been decrypted. Only 19 out of the 74 pages have been translated.

2015 went by without the launch of a new puzzle. This led to many believing that the Liber Primus had to be completed if Cicada was to return once again. This speculation was confirmed at the beginning of 2016 when Cicada encouraged the re-examination of the book with a new tweet.

More than 4 years have gone by since the book was first discovered and minimal progress has been made. The questions raised by the original image still go unanswered.

Who was the creator of it?

What was the puzzle for?

What happens if one solves it?



Uncovering Cicada Wiki Documentation of the puzzle by solvers

Iddqd Archive of miscellaneous puzzle assets.

Idkfa A toolset for working with the Liber Primus book.

OutGuess Steganography software used extensively by Cicada 3301. Official website is archived.

Telegraph uk article on Cicada

Rolling Stone article on Cicada

Cicada 3301 Wikipedia page

Liber Primus

Solved Pages

Unsolved Pages

Liber Primus Symbols A 4chan thread about the odd symbols featured on the pages of the book.


Hyperlinks used in the document:!N1oXRD5T!I22-ukwhArw1uBV5FCyegCc5Os996rtcKl5sqBKdbrw



Hyperlinks used in the Sources section: