For almost 40 years, an unknown person has published cryptic advertisements in a US university newspaper. It is still unknown who is behind this game.

Many readers of this blog are certainly familiar with Cicada 3301, an internet mystery game organized by an unknown person or organisation. Cicada 3301, which started in 2012, published sequences of puzzles (some of them contained cryptography) that ended after a few weeks. The last genuine Cicada puzzle stems from 2016. Nothing new has been heard of this strange game ever since.


The Mayday Mystery

Blog reader Knox from Texas has now made me aware of another mystery game: the Mayday Mystery. While Cicada 3301 ran for four years, the Mayday Mystery started in 1981 (or perhaps even earlier) and is still running. Even after 37 years it is still not known what is behind it.

The concept of the Mayday Mystery is quite simple: every year on May 1st, and occasionally on other days, an advertisement is published in the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the campus newspaper of the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ.

I happen to have relatives in Tucson, so I have been there a couple of times. Some of my relatives went to the University of Arizona, and I remember that they mentioned the Mayday Mystery once, but I did no research.

The major expert of the Mayday Mystery is Bryan Hance. In 1994, Hance came to Tucson from Columbus, Ohio to attend college at the University of Arizona. He was majoring in Journalism and minoring in computer science. On May 1st, 1995, Hance ran across the first Mayday advertisement in the Arizona Daily Wildcat.


As can be seen, this advertisement is a cryptic mix of languages, symbols, and mathematics. One year later, on May 1st, 1996, Hance saw his second Mayday ad:


A year after that, in 1997, Hance saw the third Mayday page:


Meanwhile, Hance had gone to work for the Arizona Daily Wildcat, as their webmaster, so he had access to the back issues. He decided to dig deeper into the mystery. It turned out that the advertisements were placed by a local lawyer, who claimed to only represent a larger organisation called The Orphanage. The oldest advertisement Hance found was from May 1, 1981:


Bryan Hance set up a  website about the Mayday Mystery, where all advertisements are listed. Meanwhile, over 100 ads have been published. Apparently, the Mayday Mystery game is still afoot. Here’s the advertisement from May 1st, 2018:


What is behind it?

As it seems, someone, somewhere is spending a considerable amount of money to publish seemingly meaningless advertisements. The ads encompass cryptic historical references, symbology, languages and mathematical calculations. Contrary to the Cicada 3301 puzzles, the Mayday Mystery ads don’t have a clear, unique solution. It’s not about solving a certain mystery but about interpreting messages composed of different parts. Someone must be spending a great deal of time and brainpower to construct these mysteries.

Although the Mayday Mystery has been around for almost four decades, it still seems to be completely unknown what the purpose of it is and who is behind it. Sometimes, games like these are started to advertise a certain product or to recruit clever people. However, after 37 years still no product has been put in relationship with the advertisements, and no employer is known to be behind the cryptic messages. The Mayday Mystery seems to be a secret pastime of somebody who has enough time and money to create and publish strange advertisements.

If you have additional information about the Mayday Mystery, please leave a comment.

Further reading: How a blog reader solved the Tengri 137 mystery


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And, yeah, I spelled ‘Lamas’ wrong in about nine million different places. Sheesh….I told you it was weird…

Kommentare (5)

  1. #1 Rich SantaColoma
    9. Juni 2018

    “It turned out that the advertisements were placed by a local lawyer, who claimed to only represent a larger organisation called The Orphanage.”

    I would say “the buck stops” with that lawyer. Where did he/she go to school, where does he/she live, what cases does he/she represent, what is their family background (orphan?)? It is a marvelous and rare clue to actually have a warm body to connect a mystery to, and I would start there, and work back from them.

  2. #2 George Lasry
    9. Juni 2018

    Are some of the quizzes considered to be ‘solved’?

  3. #3 Carmen
    10. Juni 2018

    Well, I think this can be some kind of fake.

    There is certainly a local lawyer called Dr. Robert Truman Hungerford, who seems to know about the Orphanage but he is not likely to tell others about the Mayday mystery. He is a member of the organization and he claims he is a member too in MENSA, the international institution for Gifted people.

    And here it is where I get the feeling that everything is fake. If he (and some other members) belongs to MENSA, why are some ads in the Wildcat magazine badly written? Some Chinese ideograms have been written by a non-native person (those of ‘long live Mao’). The ideograms were written childishly, as if a three-year-old child started learning how to write vowels. That’s what happen to adults when writing Chinese for the first time.

    Besides there is a sentence in Spanish, which is badly spelled (has instead of haz). There’s a significant difference in meaning between the two verb forms.

    And last but not least… Some of these ads have some words handwritten on them. Suspiciously the handwriting is similar to someone else’s.

  4. #4 Stephen Prince
    30. April 2021

    An email sent in name of the “Orphanage” in November 2008 to a certain Mr.Hatch was in the name of “Jenny Geddes”.
    I don’t know if it is of any relevance to the mystery, but it might help to know that Jenny Geddes was an Edinburgh woman who threw her stool at the minister of St. Giles cathedral in Edinburgh in the 1630’s as a protest of him reading the new religious doctrine ordered by king Charles I of England and Scotland. This act practically started the religious uprising in Scotland and civil wars in both Scotland and England leading eventually to the beheading of Charles I in 1649.
    Like I said, I have no clue whether this is relevant or not, or whether this fact was known beforehand. I just read the name in a book by Steph Young in a chapter pertaining to the May Day Mystery and thought to inform you.
    Best regards
    Stephen Prince

  5. #5 Robert Hungerford
    4. Dezember 2022

    Klaus, it is suggested that you peruse the FB group: Mayday Mystery Fans. A new Announcement was posted early this morning.

    As for the clown who slandered me re: MENSA–I am 1092074.–Dr. Robert Truman Hungerford