"It was exhilarating,” said Eriksson. "I was suddenly aware of how much effort they must have been putting into creating this kind of challenge.” For the growing Cicada community, it was explosive – proof this wasn’t merely some clever neckbeard in a basement winding people up, but actually a global organisation of talented people. But who?
Speculation had been rife since the image first appeared. Some thought Cicada might merely be a PR stunt; a particularly labyrinthine Alternate Reality Game (ARG) built by a corporation to ultimately – and disappointingly – promote a new movie or car.
Microsoft, for example, had enjoyed huge success with their critically acclaimed "I Love Bees” ARG campaign. Designed to promote the Xbox game Halo 2 in 2004, it used random payphones worldwide to broadcast a War of the Worlds-style radio drama that players would have to solve.
But there were complicating factors to Cicada. For one, the organisers were actively working against the participants. One "solver”, a female known only as Wind from Michigan, contributed to the quest on several messageboards before the community spotted she was deliberately disseminating false clues. Other interference was more pointed. One long, cautionary diatribe, left anonymously on the website Pastebin, claimed to be from an ex-Cicada member – a non-English military officer recruited to the organisation "by a superior”. Cicada, he said, "was a Left-Hand Path religion disguised as a progressive scientific organisation” – comprising of "military officers, diplomats, and academics who were dissatisfied with the direction of the world”. Their plan, the writer claimed, was to transform humanity into the Nietzschen Übermensch.
"This is a dangerous organisation,” he concluded, "their ways are nefarious.” With no other clues, it was also asssumed by many to be a recruitment drive by the CIA, MI6 or America’s National Security Agency (NSA), as part of a search for highly talented cryptologists. It wouldn’t have been the first time such tactics had been used.