Quick quiz: Which of the following are B-School mottoes, and which are invitations to cult Internet puzzle/scavenger hunt Cicada 3301?
1. “Let knowledge grow from more to more; and so be human life enriched.”
2. “Epiphany is upon you. Your pilgrimage has begun. Enlightenment awaits.”
3. “We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck.”
4. “Toughen up. Because you want to change the world.”
So No. 3 is obviously the puzzle invite. But wait—so is No. 2. (No. 4 is actually the new motto embraced by the University of Rochester’s Simon School in October, narrowly beating out the runner-up, “Simon: No wusses welcome.”)
The prize for solving Cicada is a closely kept secret. Some suspect it’s a career at the CIA or Google. I suppose it could also be a full ride to Harvard Business School. Here’s what we do know. If you solve the puzzle or one like it, consider putting it on your school applications or your résumé. As games of all kinds enter the mainstream, respect for the skills they require rises too.
“Solving a puzzle with notoriety would confer an elite status,” says Paul Brockmeyer, a software entrepreneur, adding that most smart tech companies look at applicants’ side projects to get a sense of personal passions and talents that may be hidden on a résumé. In fact, says Brockmeyer, he once made a hire who had no formal experience in his job role, quality assurance, because he had “an awesome story about how he set up dummy websites to catch traffic destined for popular poker sites and made enough in referrals to buy a house in Chile. That’s the kind of guy you want.”
Vincent Tseng, entrepreneur, global marketing executive, and former World of Warcraft devotee, notes that for him, seeing a reference on a résumé to a leadership position on WoW would merit discussion. “It’s just management experience like any other—‘What did you learn, what did you accomplish, what were the challenges that you overcame?’” he says. Still, “given the general perception that video games are a waste of time, it’s not something I would generally put down myself.”
The CIA may disagree.