One of my favorite moments in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail is when the Bridgekeeper asks King Arthur, “what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” The film never answers that question, although more than a few resourceful folks have put forward their best estimates. Before the end of this article, I fear I may be asking an equally esoteric question about the noble European swallow: the only difference? I expect you to figure out the answer, because I’m flummoxed.
I received a package in the mail today containing a postcard with the picture of a bird on it, along with a Sony IC Recorder that contained a file named 50-112-251-215.mp3 with the sound of birds chirping for 18 seconds, with a picture of bird watcher Jonathon Jongsma as the featured image. On the back of the postcard was the following message:
Greetings from Innsbruck, Michael.
Spied this fellow building his nest unusually high in a tree. I believe that means the snow will be better here this year. Including a recording of his lovely little song for your enjoyment.
Do with it what you will.
I suspect the bird pictured is a European swallow, since the barn swallow is Austria’s national bird, and bears a striking resemblance to our fine feathered friend. What secret message is hidden within this bird’s idle tweets, and what did “J” hear that made him send the recording in the first place?
Be sure to check the Unfiction forums for the discussion of what has been uncovered so far, and check back soon for updates on the story as it unfolds.
EDITED 10/16 to add: those of you nervous about visiting the website at the end of the initial puzzle might want to try this link instead.
TV Tropes is an intimidating website. Over the past eight years, the community wiki has displayed frightening tenacity in indexing, codifying, and analyzing the tricks of the storytelling trade in an often irreverent manner. Remember the pilot episode of Community? The TV Tropes community flagged those 25 minutes of television for using over 46 different tropes ranging from Worthless Foreign Degree to The Dulcinea Effect. And the community doesn’t limit itself to documenting tropes that appear on television: everything from fan fiction and webcomics to alternate reality games are fair game.
Here’s where things start getting complicated. Starting in 2011, the TV Tropes homepage was taken over by Echo Chamber, an episodic web series dedicated to illustrating tropes through the lens of an increasingly eccentric cast of characters. For two seasons, Dana Shaw and her collaborators Tom Pike and Zack Wallnau played characters in a “Trope of the Week” Show Within a Show that paralleled events in their fictional lives, under the direction of Zack’s father Mark, Director of Transmedia for “The Other Wiki” (TV Tropes’ tongue-in-cheek nickname for Wikipedia) and the inscruitable Mr. Administrator. Season two ended with a Mind Screw, as Mr. Administrator explains that the entire show is part of a diabolical plot to understand the true nature of fiction and reality in order to inject tropes into the fabric of reality. And that’s where the alternate reality game, named The Wall Will Fall by its players, begins.
“We’re not for everyone. Just the 1% that matters.”
Byzantium Security International’s slogan embracing the financial elite’s privileged role serves as an uncomfortably poetic accompaniment to the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And with an out-of-home advertisement proudly flaunting a company’s exclusivity mere steps from Federal Hall in Wall Street, it’s no wonder the image has been repurposed to support the movement.
There’s more to Byzantium Security than an arresting hexagonal logo and a general disinterest in 99% of the country. The fictional company features prominently in Cinemax’s upcoming drama Hunted, and the Wall Street advertisements are merely one of a number of rabbit holes into the company’s inner workings. The series, premiering October 19th, revolves around Byzantium Security operative Samantha Hunt (Melissa George) as she seeks to unravel the mystery behind an attempt on her life. Fans can get a glimpse into the world of a Byzantium operative by completing a five-part examination liberally dosed with more than a few twists. Not everything is as it seems at Byzantium Security, which appears to be a recurring theme throughout the series’ interactive campaign, created by Campfire with the help of Jam3, the development team that worked on the interactive documentary Bear 71.
Yesterday, I received a puzzle box in the mail that serves as an alternate entry point to the Hunted transmedia experience. The hexagonal wooden box slid apart with relative ease, revealing a secret compartment carved into one of the pieces containing a miniature USB drive engraved with Byzantium Security’s overlapping hexagons. The drive contained a single password-protected file named “UNLOCK_ME.” Luckily, each of the three puzzle pieces had three letters etched onto their sides, spelling out “LOR / AGH / SSU.” Unscrambling the letters spelled out “Hourglass,” which unlocked a video driving to the Byzantium Security application page at ByzantiumTests.com.
The 23rd century is finally upon us. Humankind has mastered interstellar travel and has spread out to colonize 12 brave new worlds, forming a Union of planets with a vibrant trade network. Taking advantage of these breakthroughs in technology, someone went through the trouble of shipping empty cans of fish to me, courtesy of the fine folks at Koatoa Marine in Kariyo, on the planet Oceanus.
Along with a handful of others, I received this highly curious package in the mail from Yimmu Logistics. Buried beneath a sea of packing peanuts was a small crate bearing the Koatoa Marine logo, with a copy of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species firmly tied down with twine, covering up eight empty cans of Razorkan Fish, priced at 3 credits per can. The graphic sensibilities of the 23rd century are apparently equal parts Dharma Initiative and IKEA, with the heavily branded products evoking a utilitarian disposition.
By all accounts, Robert and Gabby Spencer have a perfect life. Only a few weeks away from their 13th wedding anniversary, the biggest marital conflict the pair currently face can be boiled down to some good-natured ribbing about over-salted sloppy joes. On Thursday, the couple took their three children out to see Unicorns vs Mechadon 3D, while tonight’s plans have the couple heading off for a romantic evening at the Candlelight Cafe. There’s only one problem: Susan Lucci.
That’s right, Susan Lucci, best known for her years playing the role of Erica Kane on the soap opera All My Children, is taking the Spencers’ wonderful life and predicting a dire future on the Is It A Deadly Affair website. And if anyone knows deadly affairs, it’s Susan Lucci. Since 1970, Erica Kane has lost more than a few husbands to infidelity, murder, faked deaths, and just about everything else an overly imaginative soap opera staff writer could conceive. Plus, Lucci is the host of a new show on the Investigation Discovery channel, Deadly Affairs, premiering September 8th at 10PM. To warm up for her stint at hosting a show about real life crimes of passion, Lucci is turning her attention to the Spencer family and the unknown tragedy that lies in their very near future.
“There’s this expression, “zed omega.” It means “so over.” When you go zed omega, you are done.”
-Ed Zed Omega Revealed
When it comes to public or private education, everyone has an experience, everyone has a story, and everyone has an opinion. The internet is rife with pointed discussions about the problems in education, and full of suggestions on how to solve them. While education issues vary broadly from state to state and nation to nation, they share at least one commonality: solutions tend to be easy to propose but difficult to implement. Education reform is an ongoing conversation amongst government officials, educators, and the public, and conversations between these groups are often politically charged and riddled with miscommunication and misunderstandings.
Andi McDaniel and Ken Eklund have brought something new to the conversation about education with their freshly-launched project, Ed Zed Omega. The project focuses on a set of voices that often gets lost in the cacophony that pervades the education discussion: the voices of those most directly affected by our education systems, the people currently subject to the state of “being educated.” Ed Zed Omega features the stories of six fictional teens who have decided that they are done with education, and that they’re not going back. Their guidance counselor, Mary Johnson, has convinced them to use the time they would have spent in school to complete one more assignment, exploring solutions to the problems they perceive in education. Ed Zed Omega launched on August 15, 2012 and will run through November 15, 2012 to follow their journey.