The creepy YouTube puzzle that's proving impossible to solve

The video contains numerous strands of code that have provoked a frenzy of internet sleuthing

Amy Ohlheiser
Tuesday 20 October 2015 12:49 BST
A still from the video befuddling internet users
A still from the video befuddling internet users

A shaky video shot in front of a gloomy, windowed brick wall and filled with coded messages has become an object of fascination in certain corners of the Internet, as Redditors and tech writers rush to try and figure out what it means — and why it even exists in the first place.

The video features a single figure, covered in a dark cloak and a death mask, who gestures to several different visual codes. The edits are short and jumpy, and the whole thing plays out with a grating, noisy soundtrack. It’s, well, very creepy.

An embed of the video is available below, in case you wanted to view for yourself. But please be warned that the video may contain graphic imagery, and also could turn out to be a viral marketing scheme. Also, please mind your device’s volume:

Internet sleuths have found earlier versions of the video available online on Youtube and 4Chan as early as May, but they went largely ignored at the time. The mystery took off last week — just in time for Halloween — when Johny Krahbichler of Gadgetzz blogged about it. “This Creepy Puzzle Arrived In Our Mail,” the headline reads.

Partial spectogram of the videos sound, run by author

Krahbichler also asked Reddit for help. Someone immediately created a spectrogram of the audio, which helped to deepen the mystery even more. The frequency visualizations contained a written message, “YOU ARE ALREADY DEAD.” Although the clarity varies between spectrogram-generating software, one spectrogram produced by Reddit user M4nic_H3dgehog (and more or less successfully replicated using the same software by us) contains detailed, and very, very graphic images of what appear to be one or multiple women being tortured.

Krahbichler doesn’t remember exactly when he received the CD containing the video, he said in an e-mail to the Intersect, because he ignored it at first. “I thought it was someone who wanted me to try out their software,” he said. He guesses it arrived in June; the package was sent from Poland to Gadgetzz’s address in Sweden. When the 20-year-old tech writer and university student eventually popped it in a spare laptop to take a look, he discovered the video.

“I was unsure what to think of it, but I found it very odd. I later reexamined it and started noticing the ‘codes’ and letters hidden all around the video. That’s when I realized it’s some sort of puzzle,” he said in an e-mail. “I didn’t really try that hard to solve it, but I had no luck either way.”

There are other decoded clues, too, including the coordinates to the White House, and a message that apparently reads RED LIPSLIFE TENTH. The DVD menu also produced additional clues, including an entirely different spectrogram of a skull and coded messages, including what appear to be wingdings.

Krahbichler’s post got an immense response online, he said, especially once Gizmodo picked up the story. “Of course I have no idea what the final solution is, but safe to say I’m more intrigued than ever,” he wrote.

Although engrossing video mysteries like this one aren’t quite a daily occurrence on the Web, there’s a thriving cottage industry of creepy content out there for anyone looking for a good scare. The popular subreddit r/NoSleep specializes in this sort of thing in the form of short stories, for instance. But this video is particularly intriguing for some. It comes with the typical hallmarks of an intentionally creepy, but ultimately harmless, film: weird costumes, jump scares and an anonymous industrial location. But then, encoded in that packaging, there appear to be some genuinely disturbing images, leading some to speculate that the story behind the video will be the scariest reveal of all.

The whole thing appears ready-made for a good Halloween scare video — maybe a little too ready-made for some sleuths. But with its origins still a mystery, wild speculation is everywhere as to what the real purpose of this video. Here are a few of the theories being floated:

It’s creepypasta, or it’s a joke

The idea of a coded video containing a bountiful salad full of disturbing images and ideas has some assuming that the whole thing was created as a joke. Or at least as an attempt to make creepypasta — the fictional images and stories that circle the Web because of their intriguing ability to horrify.

“My first response, after I realized it was a puzzle, was that it’s probably some sort of joke,” Krahbichler told us.” He “got a bit scared” after some of the more disturbing parts of the video were decoded, he said, but now, “I’m starting to think again it’s just an elaborate joke.”

Not everyone’s totally buying it, though:

It’s a scary/dumb prank on Krachbichler

Others have suggested that someone is playing a trick on Krachbichler personally, perhaps one of his friends. But Krahbichler doubts it. “If the person who sent it knew me personally, they would know I don’t have the expertise to crack it, at least not the whole thing,” he said to us. Plus, although it appears he’s the first news outlet to receive a copy of the video, there are two other YouTubers who uploaded copies earlier this year.

The earliest comes from YouTuber aetbx — this is the only video on his account, and it was uploaded in May. Barely anyone watched it until this weekend. As the view count started climbing Monday morning, aetbx dove into the comments to ask, “This video was uploaded about 5 months ago, why everyone is interested?”

The YouTuber, who identified himself as Daniel from Spain in an email to the Intersect, said that he received a digital copy of the video from a girl he says he didn’t previously know, who told him that she “was sitting in the Park and found the DVD” containing the video. Daniel, who speaks limited English, says he has “no idea” who made it. He uploaded it months ago to see what other people thought, but “no one saw it,” he said. That is, until Monday. The video had just a handful of views going into the weekend; now it’s up to more than 10,000 views.

Daniel has taken to the YouTube comments section of his own video to push back against suspicious sleuths who believe that he created the film.

On Gadgetzz, Krahbichler notes that the same video was posted to a paranormal 4chan forum in May, where the original poster also claimed he or she found the video on a park bench.

Man almost drowns after balloon stunt goes wrong

It’s a serial killer

Based on the disturbing images contained in the spectrogram, it is easy to see why some might come to this conclusion.

“I was pretty scared when people started to suggest it’s a serial killer,” Krahbichler said. “Although it seems someone had found one of the ‘gruesome’ images on Google, making that seem doubtful.”

He remains cautiously skeptical that the video might pose a danger to him or to others, especially since the whole thing feels more like how a film maker might depict the mind of a killer than anything based in real life. There are other questions nagging at him, too, like why would a real serial killer send the video to him, and not to a bigger news outlet, or directly to the police?

It’s a marketing stunt

It hasn’t escaped the minds of some that the whole thing could be a marketing scheme. Draw in the collective attention of Reddit’s best sleuths — and with them, the media — and then reveal that the video’s true meaning is that we should all go buy some sort of commodity or other.

If the video is a marketing scheme, then whoever’s behind it will probably have to explain why they chose to incorporate several disturbing images of what appear to be the brutal torture and deaths of multiple women.

But it’s still a possibility, and one commenter had a very specific idea of what this video could be.

Additionally, a Redditor from Poland (the country from where the video was mailed) said that it resembled a lot of amateur Youtube productions from there. “Our bets are that this is a indie videogame promotional, since our fledgling studios don’t have large budgets for “standard” advertisement,” 9u4d wrote. “Plus a few years ago we had another “creepy” YouTube video stunt called “Poradnik Uśmiechu” (“Smile Guide”). It was actually quite good as a spoof ’80s/’90s kids tv series, and was a student art project. But I don’t think its the same crew — they had way better production values.”

Whatever it is, Krahbichler is just happy he could give the curious something to talk about. “What’s so amazing is the engagement, people are reposting it everywhere and there are so many comments around the web,” he said.

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