Who Has Been Placing Cryptic Ads In An Arizona Newspaper for 34 Years?

It’s known as the Mayday mystery.  Every year since 1981, a bizarre and cryptic advertisement has appeared in the Arizona Daily Wildcat on May 1st.  They message that the creators are trying to communicate, if any, is unknown.

5/1/91

5/1/91

In the late 90’s, Bryan Hance ad was a reporter for the Daily Wildcat when he began cataloging the advertisements after they piqued his interest as a freshman.  He found ads that went all the way back to 1981, and other staff members reported that they remembered seeing them as early as the 70’s.  At first, he believed that perhaps the messages were related to the school.

“The cryptic mix of languages, symbols, and mathematics intrigued me, but I chalked it up to an obscure campus organization…”, says Bryan.

But even after exhausting his resources he wasn’t able to find out the source.  He decided to start the webpage MaydayMystery.org as a repository of everything that he had found.

“The complexity of the puzzles was mind-boggling, encompassing cryptic historical references, symbology, languages and mathematical calculations. Someone is spending a great deal of time and brainpower to construct these mysteries”, Brian explains.

Since the launch of the website in ’99, plenty of interest has been generated worldwide, including attention from cryptologists who wanted to solve the puzzle.  To start the investigation, Bryan knew that the group or person taking out the ads had some money; full-page advertisements in the Daily Wildcat aren’t cheap.  Second, he knew that they were older than him since they had started in the 70’s.  Just a few months after the launch of his website, the case got more interesting.

5/1/97

5/1/97

A group that called themselves “The Orphanage” reached out to Bryan through the website and claimed responsibility for the ads.  In addition to emails, they sent him letters and packages in the mail (all of which he has documented here).

Some fellow investigators were able to track the source of the payment for the ads to a lawyer in Tuscon.  He claimed that he was simply and intermediary for the actual parties, but said that he received anonymous direction and payment to place the ads.

Bryan’s website is still updated and contains the ad for this year, but the mystery remains unsolved.  Some believe it is simply the lawyer placing the ads, which would be the simplest explanation.  Whoever it is, there is a chance that it is simply a game meant to be solved.  A few notes from Bryan:

  • Someone is doing their historical homework: There is a wealth of obscure historical infomation here. Ranging from references to historical figures, religious and otherwise, to items and occurrences, there is a historical relevance to solving the Game.
  • Someone is doing their mathematical homework: Once again, more strange symbols and whatnot. Ranging from physics to chemistry to binary encodings, the clues come in every shape and form. The Game’s author seems to have a fascination with informational encoding systems and the like…
  • Someone has extra money to burn on this puzzle: Full page ads in the Arizona Daily Wildcat aren’t cheap, and the pages have been running for over 10 years. This leads me to believe they (the author(s))are older in age, or an established professional.
  • The game’s author is familiar with the Tucson area, and the University of Arizona campus: Like I said, it’s a semi-local game, but you can’t tell that until you really get into the clues
  • There seems to be a reward, or an endpoint: There are references to a safe deposit box located in a bank in the downtown Tucson area. See this page for an example. I’m not promising anything, as I have not yet unraveled the mystery. It could be a red herring, in which case I’ll kick the author in the (censored) when I meet them.

Bryan believes that “all of this suggests a deliberate, organized effort to carefully construct a puzzle leading that leads to some eventual endpoint.”  If this is a game with a solution, this is one dedicated puzzle master.