There are few prospects more enticing than the possibility that one has stumbled upon a genuine mystery, one that might be solved with a combination of diligence and brain power. It is the basis upon which countless movies, books, and TV shows are founded, particularly those dealing with spies and detectives. The Reddit community thought it had discovered just such a mystery when, a little over five years ago, a strange subreddit known as r/A858DE45F56D9BC9, containing only strings of letters and numbers, appeared on the site. What happened next is detailed in an investigative piece by Robert Guthrie for The Kernel.
Reddit’s users decided that the seemingly random characters on this subreddit “looked like a code” and thus began to decipher the posts there, in some cases devoting huge amounts of time to doing so. Subreddits about r/A858 sprang up, and theories began to emerge about the original thread’s purpose and origin. It was “an insidious government program,” some said. Others felt that, like Cicada 3301, it was a recruiting program devised by clever programmers. It could even be the work of extraterrestrials. Who knew?
Reddit’s users had no way of knowing what r/A858 was, but they knew they had to keep working on it. Guidance from the original creator of the subreddit was, to say the least, scarce. But the puzzle solvers of the world were encouraged when occasional messages were successfully decoded. A seeming breakthrough occurred in August 2015 when certain hexadecimal chains began appearing in a forum devoted to solving r/A858. This proved to be the most indirect AMA in the history of Reddit. “It left the amateur code-breakers with perhaps more questions than answers,” Guthrie writes, “but also with a renewed enthusiasm.”
But the project seems to have reached an impasse of late. The original subreddit has gone private, and a message appeared saying that r/A858 “has concluded” and advising users to unsubscribe. But the faithful continue to plow through the archived posts, still seeking an ultimate answer. Says one such aspirant: ““I only hope A858 actually has a purpose. I don’t particularly care if it is a good one.”