The Mystery of 77 Days

“Something will happen in 77 days.”

It started on July 9th, when the YouTube account “Pronunciation Book” took a sudden turn for the weird. What had originally been a channel dedicated to helping foreign language students pronounce English words correctly was now the source of a strange and expansive mystery. The unassuming source of linguistic tips was hiding something, and now without a disguise, it became a deeply compelling project for thousands of impromptu researchers, code crackers, and detectives.

The most strangely alluring aspect of 77 Days (as it’s colloquially called among those plumbing its secrets) is that Pronunciation Book has been flying under the radar for roughly three years. Whoever created the channel on April 14, 2010 knew this time would come, when its cover would be shed and its cryptic message begun in earnest. See, many of the pronunciation exercises uploaded since the channel’s beginning are clues. When pieced together, the example sentences that accompany some words tell a story. And it didn’t take long for the construction to begin.

”I’ve been trying to tell you something for 1,183 days.”

I first encountered 77 Days when The Daily Dot wrote a story about the videos. The site’s independent investigators called it then and there: 77 Days is an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), a marketing effort to build up excitement for a 2014 Battlestar Galactica reboot. The strange narrative weaving through the videos, the article suggests, seems to describe scenarios experienced in the sci-fi series’ most recent iteration, and the timeline seems to match.

Those diving into the riddle themselves are not so convinced. Each day as a new video comes out, they add more and more pages to a massive shared Google doc. The document currently rests at sixty nine pages, but it shares research space with a second and more static document as well as a growing wiki. Together the group has accomplished wonders.

The collective has isolated Ten Mysteries mentioned in the more than 700 available videos. They have also patched together the narrative pieces into an at least a somewhat cohesive collection of events. The tech savvy have also analyzed the strange audio segments following the cryptic countdowns. Put into a visual spectrogram and stacked on top of each other, the sound files appear to create an image that is slowly revealing itself. Others have counted the number of peaks in these audio segments and plotted the numbers on a map, creating a series of bizarre triangles that seem to overlay over significant world regions mention in other videos.

”I have plenty of information to keep my company.”

Many participants hesitate to call 77 Days a game yet. As one investigator in the group’s IRC chat described, “People want that moment where the game begins to interact with the players. Right now, it’s just interacting with itself.” Even so, elements of play persist in the interactions between researchers. While it may not be an ARG yet, 77 Days does feature user-generated goals, rewards, challenges, and other trappings of games. Researchers will suggest lines of inquiry, build upon the skills of others, and make progress in both small steps and enormous leaps.

Indeed, the collaborative act of play allows for a stunning amount of theories to exist. Everything from terrorist conspiracies to Tom Clancy’s The Division make appearances in various ideas, all of which are spawned from the work of others. The best theories are critiqued and expounded upon, and once again, those committed to the work jump back into the game.

”I’ve got a minute, let me tell you what I think is going on.”

There is a slow and plodding urgency to the videos that spurs on the collective. “For me, the most compelling thing about it is how menacing it is,” one researcher said when I asked why they engage with 77 Days. “It isn’t just mysterious. It’s also distantly scary.” In some ways, playing with others dulls how deeply unsettling media like this can be. It captures the reassurance of co-op play wonderfully, knowing we can rely on others to work through shared puzzles.

For others, the drive is in pure human curiosity. “Imagine a safe. It’s locked, and you don’t know what’s inside,” a research told me. “In theory,” another followed, “this is a safe that’s unlocking itself a day at a time.” With such a compelling and daunting mystery, if it weren’t for the participant generated goals and rewards, folks might give up. Instead, knowing a hard deadline is on the horizon only spurs that crowd further.

”A gemstone on a schedule.”

Tomorrow, at exactly 10:00 am Eastern Standard Time, another countdown video will drop. A massive crown of researchers will take one sentence and extrapolate its meaning endlessly. They will poke and prod at their own ideas and challenge each other to solve a mystery or unearth another one. In this playful and serious exercise, they will create one of this year’s most compelling interactive experiences. Finally, on September 24th, one way or another, the end will come. But until that day, I will count myself among a ridiculous, silly, brilliant, lively, and inspiring clan of internet detectives.

See the 77 Days Community Portal to contribute and find more information.