66 Letters: A Mystery from the Not-So-Distant Past

Several German ARG players, along with two Americans, myself included, were sent vintage cassette tapes made in “Western-Germany.” On the cassette, a man plays a Mozart sonata on the piano but is interrupted by the phone. Irritated, in English the man tells “Sally” to answer the phone then continues to play. We find that he has an audience — a small child.  Switching to German, the man tells the child that he is going away.  Click here to listen to the recorded message in its entirety.

As reported previously, 66 Letters is a literary puzzle where participants collaborate to investigate a cold case — the latest from viral marketing experts vm-people to promote a just-released book from German publisher Bastei Lübbe.

In the past few weeks, German players have received nearly a dozen handwritten letters, clues of an ongoing correspondence between “C” and “Ella” in 1980. Their relationship, their shared history, and their personal lives are slowly being revealed through these letters, but it seems that C’s daughter has gone missing, and C writes to Ella from a mental institution. The letters between C and Ella go through intermediaries, including Sally, the person possibly mentioned in the cassette tape. Players were also sent a short guide to handwriting analysis so they can speculate on the emotional states and personalities of the letter writers.

As participants receive letters, they are encouraged to upload scans of the letters onto the 66 Letters site, which are then displayed in chapters and available to read through an interactive puzzle box. Ad hoc and informal translations were created by volunteers and published in the Unfiction thread at first, but recently, the site has started providing English-language transcripts, perhaps as a nod to the international crowd that has gathered around the game. To view the available transcripts, click on a letter, then look for “Transkript” and click on the “en” at the upper righthand corner of the letter image. For theories and speculation about the 66 Letters mystery, head over to the ARGRForum thread, where German ARG-players are posting the latest news and developments.

The overall feel of this literary puzzle is very realistic, with rich details (including vintage stamps and watermarked paper) setting the time and place. Playing the audio cassette was a challenge that stumped two ARGNet staff members, and one participant even resorted to playing the tape in his car and recording the audio with his iPhone. It’s really quite amusing that backwards compatibility would be such an obstacle for the hardcore ARG community, and perhaps raises a good question to put to the players:

Do you have a working cassette tape player? Let us know by leaving a comment below!


  1. tygr20

    Sure do. It’s in my totally rad Sony boombox with this “compact disc” thing I still doubt will catch on

  2. AtomicSnowflake

    Cassette player?? I still have an 8-track tape player!!
    Actually I have several. My favorite, is the one that records the phone calls! 🙂

  3. John Evans

    I’ve got a couple lying around the house.

  4. Addlepated

    Fisher Price, baby. Fisher Price.

  5. Therés

    Walkman from ’89!

  6. Mike Dunbar

    At least two in this room!

    This sounds ace.

  7. Lastarticle

    I’ve got a couple lying around the house.

  8. Jane Doh

    I’m embarrassed. I actually had to go looking for one to play this tape. :/