ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ong's Hat, or The Incunabula Papers, is a conspiracy theory that arose on the early internet. Combining cutting edge science, mysticism, and obvious hokum, it intrigued thousands of people who tried to find out what it all meant. Today we uncover the secrets of Ong's Hat, the man behind it, and the new art form it inadvertently birthed. Check out our showpage at slate.com/culture/decoder-ring

This episode is brought to you by the following advertisers:

Aleph Mattresses, a handmade mattress experience: TrustAleph.com

English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

00:02:00Near ong's hat instead of an ashram there called the morris science ashram it was for seekers interested in studying spirituality radical politics tantra psychopharmacology and other counterculture interests A couple of former princeton scientists ended up there and other oddball researchers soon followed They founded the institute for chaos
00:02:21studies at the ashram full of people who are interested in exploring hard science using esoteric spiritual tools By the late eighties they had developed a device called the egg to explore something called cognitive chaos It was a kind of modified sensory deprivation chamber they were hoping would help
00:02:42them experience the point at which a wave becomes a particle But during a test of the egg with the young man inside of it the whole thing just disappeared Seven minutes later it came back and the young man who was still inside still alive told them what had
00:02:58happened He had dived down to the quantum level and followed a wave all the way into an alternate dimension into another version of earth This other earth is geologically similar to our own thick with forest but with no trace of human life Over the next few years the
00:03:18scientists moved their operation over to this alternate earth leaving behind on ly a secret laboratory where the egg occasionally returns with its passengers to restock supplies Throughout the nineties and the very early two thousand's pieces of apparent evidence evidence supporting the existence of this alternate dimension would occasionally
00:03:41appear online One example was this interview allegedly with two childhood survivors of the i wanted to ask you did you when you were a young hot mom and you guys were kids I know but did you actually physically see one of the travel devices known is an egg
00:03:59that was supposedly was housed A young hot owns hat from I did I didn't know Okay so maybe you're confused now I promise by the end of this episode you won't be But in the meantime i want you to let yourself sit in that confusion for a bit
00:04:24longer because that sensation when you're not quite sure when fact has ended and fiction has begun That's the essence of the youngs hat legend and the songs that legend israel It's real in the sense that it's a real story that is still inspiring people to go to the
00:04:40pine barrens looking for ong's hatch We're trying to find a band in town called long's hat here in the pine barrens supposed to be a gateway to another dimension Is that what it says That's a youtube video from a user called that handsome devil It's not the only
00:04:57one like it It's a real story in the sense that it captivated thousands of people who encountered it on the early internet and who didn't know quite what it wass A spiritual quest a game a cult The truth All they knew is that they wanted to find out
00:05:20this's dakota ring a show about cracking cultural mysteries I'm slates tv critic willa paskin Every month we take a cultural question habit or idea crack it open and try to figure out what it means and why it matters The story of hung's hat isn't just some urban legend
00:05:37It was related in a siri's of documents that first started appearing in nineteen eighty nine hitting the peak of their popularity on the internet from nineteen ninety nine to two thousand Won an online community formed around these documents investigating their scientific suppositions parsing their references exploring their spiritual
00:05:54ramifications and debating how much of them were true These documents have been downloaded two million times The documents were created by a number of people and over a period of years under the influence of mohr people they became a kind of crowd sourced conspiracy theories But there is
00:06:13still one man who is primarily responsible for ong's hat a mastermind who wasn't trying to birth a conspiracy theory but who unleashed one nonetheless today on the coterie what is on a hat Now is the time we must talk about a sponsor Aleph mattresses at al if they
00:06:45believe inspiration is as easy as getting a good night's sleep Each aleph is handcrafted in brooklyn new york from six different kinds of foam including their exclusive soft bounce foam with memory technology which means the bed remembers how you like to sleep getting more and more comfortable each
00:07:02time you sleep on it The aleph is also the first mattress to feature sense activated sleep tech that helps you learn more about your sleep patterns via their website and upcoming exclusive aleph app Each aleph comes with free shipping and arrives at your doorstep in a surprisingly small
00:07:17box To find out more go to trust al f dot com T r u s t a l e ph dot com dream big dream better with aleph in order to understand the youngs hat legend you've got to know a bit about the documents that created that legend
00:07:38the way that most people first heard the story of ong's hat with threw a piece of writing called ong's hat gateway to the dimensions It was laid out like a brochure for the ashram And it told a much more detailed version of the story than what i relate
00:07:52earlier This is how it begins You would not be reading this brochure if you had not already penetrated halfway to the i c S You have been searching for us without knowing it Following oblique references in cruelly xeroxed marginal sum is not publications Crackpot mystical pamphlets mail order
00:08:15courses in chaos magic a paper trail and a coded siri's of rumors spread at street level through circles involved in the illicit distribution of certain controlled substances And we know your address in the early nineteen nineties Copies of this brochure were passed around through the mail occasionally appearing
00:08:40in scenes and we're even stuffed into brochure racks on hiking trails in the pine barrens But the russia is not the on ly source for the story Here's the cornering producer benjamin fresh There's a second document a cryptic catalogue of books called incan abdullah a catalogue of rare
00:08:57books manuscript and curios a conspiracy theory frontier science and alternative worlds It's a list of books about quantum physics and spirituality that are available for purchase Some of them are completely made up and some of them you can still buy an amazon like quantum reality a book by
00:09:13the physicist nick herbert Each entry in the catalog is like a mini essay describing one book But taken all together the entries reveal a larger story and alternatives The one told in the brochure including contradictory details about the work of another group of scientists on the west coast
00:09:29who had opened a gateway to yet more worlds Eventually to more documents would appear to interviews Both of these interviews were conducted by someone investigating the veracity of the ong's hat story a man named joseph matheny In the first document metheny interviews the physicist nick herbert and in
00:09:48the second metheny interviews emery cranston the publisher of the mysterious book catalog who says that all the secrets to interdimensional travel are hidden within the documents just waiting to be unlocked All of these documents together are collectively known as the incan abdullah papers If you couldn't tell ben
00:10:07got really into this thing it felt a little bit like i was going crazy It's hard to describe but one example and the first time i felt like i was really falling down a rabbit hole was when i was reading an interactive version of the book catalogue the
00:10:20entry about knicker bert the physicist and it took me to the rial website for this really physicist But it was a whole page dedicated to something called quantum tantra which ties into the egg and the songs hat story And it was just like this experience where truth and
00:10:35fiction drop away and you feel very vulnerable It's it's weird and then felt this way right now in two thousand eighteen for people coming across songs hat at the beginning of the internet age who were interested in the subjects it touched upon but had no way to figure
00:10:53out what it wass it felt Even stranger i was like is this for real That's michael kinsela a professor at central michigan university who go on to write a book about ong's hat legend tripping online supernatural folklore and the search wrongs hat but who first came across the
00:11:10material in the late nineteen nineties Some of this stuff you know it's grounded in some really highly speculative you know material And i came across the document related dogs hat and they if memory serves me right It was a photograph of like the last remaining survivors known to
00:11:28have actually been it ong's hat And it was a photo of the brady bunch Yeah okay so far we've got documents and supporting materials that are a mix of real world science really speculative science spirituality science fiction conspiracy theory and the brady bunch who made this thing to
00:11:47answer that we have to go back to the nineteen eighties not to the pine barrens of new jersey but to san francisco california most pressing of all My interest is communication among humans because i see that it was a something that's become broken and is becoming more broken
00:12:08as time goes on That's joseph mazzini the same joseph mazzini who appears in incan abdullah papers supposedly investigating whether or not the youngs hat story is true He's a real person and these days he makes his living as a computer programmer engineer and product manager But he also
00:12:25describes himself as an artist and a technologist We talked to each other west unless unless and i think that talking to each other and telling each other stories is something we've always done and it's something we've got turned over to merchants in a lot of ways So i
00:12:41tried to find subversive ways to bring people back around to realizing that they are the storytellers in the late eighties mazzini was living in san francisco and fascinated by fringe culture He loved scenes and xerox homing mailers that addressed a huge variety of strange subjects you couldn't learn
00:13:00about elsewhere including conspiracy theories I've always loved americana and i've always seen conspiracy Culture is kind of a a folksy americana It's gotten a little darker and more dangerous and he's days But you know it's back then It was it was kind of folksy and and it was
00:13:19cute It's hard to understand for those of us who don't remember it what it was like trying to learn about things before the internet existed before wikipedia before google before the millions of online forums addressing every topic in the universe If you wanted to know about a band
00:13:33or an author or a tv show or meditation or crackpot theories about alternate universes how would you begin if you couldn't begin with an online search in the late eighties and early nineties One of the answers to this question wass read the classified sections of vault weeklies All
00:13:51the ufo stuff and paranormal stuff that you see on the internet now was sitting in a p o box somewhere waiting for you to send two dollars in a stamped envelope And if you did that then they would send you back there information which they probably published via
00:14:05xerox It was not hard You just had to know the right channels Matheny was so fascinated by the narrative possibilities of this kind of information exchange that he placed an ad in an all weekly They said that they had copies of a mosque epistle that was found in
00:14:22a drawer of the vatican's secret library Andan fact It was a story that i wrote It was called the epistle of joran the juggler and it was about the lost years of christ So i had him running away with roman circus and learning all the tricks about how
00:14:37to turn water into wine and walking on water and all these kind of things So i responded to the ad You would Then you would just send me a copy of the story I would send you the xerox copy of the story This piece of playful speculative fiction
00:14:49posing not all that convincingly as a piece of non fiction was part of a decades long reality bending counterculture literary tradition part of what jesse walker calls the ironic school of conspiracy in his book the united states of paranoia There's this tradition of people who were sort of
00:15:06interested in conspiracy theories and sort of more broadly and quote unquote weird ideas not only to believe or debunk them but to have fun with him and sort of create this move Mutant mythos This sort of thing was exemplified by works like the illuminated astrology a set of
00:15:22novels that both revel in and send up conspiracy theory These books are part of a whole group of satirical conceptual art projects from the nineteen sixties and seventies projects that included made up religions and even a concerted effort to get rumors circulating about the illuminati is involvement in
00:15:37various national events that push people to ask themselves what's real and what's a put on the ultimate aim being to get people you know to think for themselves And james ken line an artist who frequently collaborated with wilson They sent the roche or to friends and other people
00:17:06who already receiving mail about oddball topics Basically they sent it out to the equivalent of a fringe culture mailing list You address all this stuff and you put it in envelopes and then you put all the envelopes in an envelope or a box and then you send it
00:17:18to this re mailing service in hong kong and you give him a check for twenty five dollars and then they stamp and send these things out for you with a return address And you know the posted shipment mark from hong kong So it looks like you're getting what
00:17:34you are You're getting a letter from hong kong That's amazing It's a very early version of a proxy When i asked mckinney why he went to such elaborate lengths he told me it was a way to utilize an alternate medium as a method of distribution and a bit
00:17:48of a joke It was art It doesn't always have to have a purpose in the mid eighties before the incan abdullah project had even begun mazzini had gotten really into bulletin board systems bbs a precursor to the modern internet They were essentially message boards forums but they didn't
00:18:13exist online They existed on silent machines and toe access Want you had to dial into it directly you had to know the phone number Some of them were public and they charge by the hour but others were underground I had a couple of them that we're running out
00:18:28of my apartment in san francisco that that had no names He was kind of like fight club You didn't talk about it But you know if you talk if you if you kind of vetted somebody and you hung out with him for a while and you thought they
00:18:39were cool and you found out that they had a computer on the modem you'd eventually say do you do bulletin board systems Yeah here's a number Meth cds interest in bbs and his interest in songs hat had originally been separate but after sending the original ong's hat story
00:18:57around in the mail for a few years he started to do the same with the incan abdullah book catalog After lam born wilson and james ken line wrote and illustrated it he realized he wanted to combine these interests He wanted to put the papers on bbs both the
00:19:11public and private ones around nineteen ninety three All the guys involved in mailing ong's hat out as well as a number of other thinkers and characters involved in fringe culture philosophy anarchy conspiracy and speculative fiction gathered for a conference in san francisco One night when a bunch of
00:19:28them are hanging out at bethany's house he explained his new idea to them And i said look there's this thing called the bulletin board system in the internet this new way of distributing texts and is going to revolutionize the way that we read and what we read in
00:19:42how we read it I really want to go the next level and i have this idea for this new form of literature And you know it's like i'm sure i sound like a crazy man Peter wilson just kind of looked at me and i could just see that
00:19:54You know computers are not something he's interested in so he's like you know if you're going to do that you do that I don't want to do that So i'm like okay i'm gonna do this alone And i did So matheny began putting the documents on bulletin board
00:20:06systems around this time He also wrote two new documents the interviews between joseph mazzini and other people with knowledge of ong's hat And he put them on bbs as well So by the early mid ninety's the court Okay will it's clayton from lf mattresses with just got off
00:20:23the phone with her and seen and touch base Give me a call back We'll touch base and yes talk to you soon Thanks Even on bbs though the papers were still being circulated among a relatively small community of like minded people These people might not have known what
00:20:39was true and what was false in the incan abdullah papers but they would have at least recognize the type of thing that it wass After all they had been part of a system The mail that had been distributing printed material about the fringy the weird and the prankish
00:20:53Two interested parties for decades When they encounter the incan abdullah papers they knew what genre they came from They'd seen the ironic school of conspiracy style before and they knew what to do with it Play along somebody I don't know who to this day but props Somebody went
00:21:10down teo hong's hat into the lebanon state forest to the ranger station and stuffed the brochure rack with ease with with these brochures from the onset institutes And i called the ranger out there one day and i said you ever see this brochure bubble He was all god
00:21:28yes the things we can't get rid of that thing that keeps coming back But as the document started to be spread around a larger increasingly public internet the context that had previously existed around them began to disappear Instead of being something recognisable to the people encountering it thie
00:21:44ong's hat story turned into something alien It turned into something new are you Allie compels us to pack our bags and go to a new place Your board go In this series we'll ask three americans to explore great britain on experience A new kind of travel one that
00:22:09pushes them to embrace their adventurous spirit and make connections with local broots I don't know what to expect out there Uh well there aren't any bears with red sparkles Could i get you guys to sing a song And well we're commencing in banning and we have his indian
00:22:25pumps in pub That's such a beautiful fusion from american airlines british airways and visits britain This is i travel for a podcast that searches for the answers to why read travel subscribed now on apple podcasts or wherever you listen As the internet started to come online various bulletin
00:22:55board systems began to put their archives there where they could be searched in the mid nineties Mazzini setup incan abdullah dot org's where he would archive any and all references to arms hat There are now hundreds of references to it on the internet with metheny seating mohr and
00:23:10more sites all the time creating rabbit holes for people to fall into seemingly serendipitously My first interaction with it was in the very early days of the web that's denny younger who's currently ceo of cloud games Avi are gaming company About nineteen years ago he fell through one
00:23:28of athena's rabbit holes It was this weird like um almost like art house website where they would have these kind of fractal images and like a little poetic saying below them and you click on the image and it would take you to another page that had another you
00:23:44know artistic fractal image and and then it would start branching As you kind of dug deeper into the website It's sort of giving you more information about what it was all about It took me about a week to dig to the very bottom of it The first bit
00:23:58of information that i found was kind of telling the tallest of tall tales about the internet blogs So it was super attracted to me right away I'm like what the hell is this What Did you think that it wass then Well i definitely thought it was a cult
00:24:13and the way that they recruited was by seeding a lot of really verifiable information with a lot of garbage So at that point to me it was more about teasing out what parts of the story were true and what parts weren't And so over the course of doing
00:24:32that i ended up forming a website called dark planet online And that ended up kind of being the nexus point for a lot of where people would kind of compare and contrast the different things that they had discovered or found out about the story There was lots of
00:24:48new stuff to discover Mazzini made sure of that If you pushed on the names the references the science mentioned in the documents you would find additional layers other puzzles more things to investigate Mazzini for example dropped hints that emery cranston the supposed publisher of the incan abdullah catalogue
00:25:06had a hotmail account If you took a chance and emails Emery underscore cranston at hotmail dot com You get a response from a body that mazzini had set up They would say you know i see things different than most of the world You know i have had paranormal
00:25:21experiences and done it you know just like kind of opening their soul to this box I don't know if they completely new or i don't know if they completely cared This is somebody or something that i can talk to that is a safe space That was that was
00:25:36very touching In the e book version of the papers which came out in nineteen ninety nine he included a hidden animation that if you clicked on it would prompt a request for a password that you could deduce from the text If you figured it out you were sent
00:25:49to another website and another puzzle where you eventually given gps coordinates Tongs hat new jersey where mazzini had buried some things One box had buffalo head nickel eh Eagle feather could old old pharmacy bottle that you had on opium label on it But there was no opium in
00:26:06the bottle There was no meaning to that But of course the person that found it wrote me like these long letters about what it meant The result of all these clues and mysteries is that they made the people who are interacting with a story feel like they had
00:26:21stumbled into a conspiracy which they were actively working to uncover Here's vinnie caggiano a musician in venice beach talking about what it felt like at the time I actually kind of was living through a kind of altered reality Really weird Things began to happen including strange phone calls
00:26:40with strange like a kind of like garbled voice saying something but not being able to make out what it is You looks weight so it became a lot of fun It was it was like a living adventure You know we have no way to verify if the phone
00:26:56calls Vinny is talking about where a part of the ong's hat experience or if they were just a coincidence or if they even happened at all But strange coincidences and synchronicity sze are something that people into the incan abdullah papers report experiencing or maybe just noticing an unusually
00:27:12large numbers Here's denny younger again and it really only happened at that period of my life when i was looking into the material and it was just like a lot of kind of you know non important synchronicity is would occur But the number of synchronicity tze was insane
00:27:29like and this this is a very common experience when you're digging in songs hat stuff I had a couple of these while working on this episode Umberto eco the novelist and seven petition who was a big influence on mckinney kept popping up everywhere for a while and one
00:27:43night i had a dream that involved a pair of suspenders i've had as a kid and the next day instagram served me an ad for fashionable suspenders And even though a few coincidences in the space of a month is totally normal just knowing that this was a thing
00:27:56that happened to people who are looking into hung's hat it gave them a little extra sizzle Matheny says That hangs hat was designed to create these kind of experiences though there was enough space in between so that people could have their own liminal experiences And if you leave
00:28:10enough flexibility in the framework of the story people will find those meaningful moments So i would get emails from people telling me things like this like i was reading I was reading the website and you know this This really odd synchronicity happened and a lot of that i
00:28:27mean a lot of e mails It's a personal spiritually that they had an experience that they had not anything I did anything that story did but what they did to a certain extent Metheny stoked this confusion He was regularly on the boards in character as the lead investigator
00:28:45of the ong's hat materials a man who seemed to have a special connection to the papers Here's then younger in nineteen ninety nine or two thousand when he did a few web radio broadcast about ong's hat describing to his listeners how he believed matheny fit into the picture
00:29:00Just a meth idiot himself is I said that when he first received the documents he i didn't believe them He thought it was a joke but he did plant the seed anyways He dropped it into the public eye and when he did that a lot of strange things
00:29:17started happening in his life He's receiving threats and his phones were tapped our freaking out of whatever his office was ransacked Mazzini would also use the boards to stay abreast of the conversation often planting clues having to do with topics the forum was really fixated on which gave
00:29:38participants the sense the mystery was responding to them One thing that struck me over and over again as we were reporting this episode is just how strange the early internet wass Not just because so much of it was quirky individual web sites You know physicists who made web
00:29:53pages for themselves and then made what pages for their dogs which is apparently a thing because of how knew how magical it wass to be able to seamlessly communicate with so many different people who are basically invisible to you Obviously people believed outlandish stories and conspiracy theories before
00:30:10the internet and they believe them now when the internet is no longer brand new But this inflection point when the internet was first widely adopted is it crazy to think that it might it made other fringe Your kinds of science briefly seem more plausible like if the internet
00:30:26was possible that who was to say interdimensional travel wasn't you can kind of recreate this headspace for yourself just by considering contemporary technologies in development that sound far fetched if you don't know anything about them but are so crazy when someone explains them to you Things like self
00:30:43driving cars or genome editing or the ability to record someone else's dreams There's so many apse that can already monitor your sleep in the quality of your sleep We're making so much progress on being able to monitor the function of the visual cortex even remotely I think we'll
00:30:58be able to record dreams in the near future We were even working on controlling them giving people the tools to suppress their nightmares to regularly experience waking dreams and so on and so forth It's really fascinating stuff that's clean drowned the founder of alice mattresses one of our
00:31:15sponsors At its peak around the year two thousand there were thousands of people actively engaged with songs hat discussing and analyzing it on message boards looking for clues trying to parse the real from the fake denny younger site Dark planet online had become a major hub for all
00:31:35of this inquiry and the people using it came from many different backgrounds You know there was accountants and housewives and artists and that's science some people with science backgrounds If i didn't say this i would be lying in the mix of that There was kind of like a
00:31:49quarter of that population that were just absolutely crazy crazy people that were drawn to the material and took a super deep dive into it Meanwhile matheny was doing everything he could to spread on his hat This is around the time when he recorded that interview with the childhood
00:32:06ashram survivors We played at the top of the show and put it online she was a way for you but it was very firm about it In two thousand he put out a press release in character saying that mazzini with the backing of an outside institute was going
00:32:28to that The documents that press release got picked up I don't know how it got picked up the way it did but it got picked up and i spent the next couple of months on talk radio all over the world and i decided to play it straight on
00:32:43dh So i did And then lo and behold coast to coast called me and i thought to myself twenty million listeners can i do better than that No Okay so i played straight I admit a couple wei are back at it Good to have you with us Mike
00:33:00siegal with you were talking with justice mazzini and we're talking about infinitely leading up to dimensional travel light This is a major turning point for the youngs hat story Coast to coast am is a very famous very long running conspiracy theory radio show with a reputation for entertaining
00:33:17very fringe ideas It's not a place stephen the ironic style of conspiracy Well mazzini says He played it straight He means he played it straight Is it possible we're building with a giant scam here i don't think you know In the beginning i kind of thought that myself
00:33:35and this time progressed more and more things started to come forward You know just the very fact that i started finding out that there was a scientific group in this area at all was a big shock to me They went to another universe Now how would they have
00:33:52written the document before they left to know they wouldn't be back Says this appearance on coast to coast precipitated a huge influx a more serious paranoid conspiracy theorists into the project As things went on more and more participants began to believe that mazzini his motive his identity with
00:34:10a core part of the ong's hat mystery Obviously they were on to something But instead of feeling as though they'd solved the puzzle some of them felt betrayed What he was doing like kind of duping naive people which i was a night night I was you know at
00:34:24the time so i was way into it That's mini caggiano again As ong as hat went on vinnie fell in with a small group led by a forum regular She declined to speak with us for this episode that became convinced that mazzini was a malevolent hoaxed Er she
00:34:39took this stuff really seriously and she dug and dug and dug and dug and her whole modus operandi i was to expose joseph methane e For being a pt barnum of modern times like the whole thing was just a big ploy for him to get media attention Another
00:34:56group began to attribute otherworldly powers to him Specifically the ability to create the synchronicity is mentioned earlier people were having synchronised iq experiences and instead of realizing that it was them creating that phenomena they're looking at me is the creator of the phenomena This is this is how
00:35:16culture gets started For mazzini who estimates he's been contacted by tens of thousands of people about hangs hat the whole experience online and in the real world began to get very dark I've woken up to people peering through my windows I mean there was people camping on my
00:35:33lawn This just got weird I would ask them what they wanted what they were after what they were looking for Try to turn them back on themselves and say i don't have anything for you You have everything for you Did that work sometimes Other times they would get
00:35:50angry Metheny had always intended for people to know that part of the story was made up but it was around this point that he became convinced he had not accomplished this particular goal I was imagining that people also that there was enough clues in the text to people
00:36:07would not take it seriously completely I was wrong about that I guess eventually came to the conclusion that i was wrong about that and the people who believe in aunt's hat completely They started to ruin the experience for mckinney You have people that shouldn't have showed up that
00:36:22absolutely positively were convinced that we're up to something nefarious that we're probably a government mind control program that we were whatever and those people are not pleasant and posted They don't make the environment pleasant and they started to make the game unpleasant Now is the time we talk
00:36:43about a sponsor slack the collaboration hub for work No matter what work you d'oh teamwork on slack happens in channels where your information and conversations are organized around projects offices and teams and because everything you need to work is in one place It's faster and easier to get
00:36:59things done Designed to support the way people like you naturally work together sock makes collaborating with their colleagues online as easy and efficient as face to face The more slack is used across a company The more value it provides as tools and information shared by one department become
00:37:16accessible across departments helping teams work together across locations time zones or job titles With flack the right people in your team are kept in the loop and the information they need is always at their fingertips Learnmore aslak dot com okay back to the show i do not have
00:37:39the answer There are no answers there only questions in this game If you are to look up ong's hat right now you would find that it is widely considered to be a game In fact it is widely considered to be one of the first if not the first
00:37:51examples of a specific type of game An alternate reality game in a rg An allergy is a form that uses different types of media not just the internet Pra phone's text chats bots real life encounters to engage players in a kind of boundary lis play presenting them with
00:38:09puzzles and mysteries no one person could solve by him or herself At the same time the matheny was starting to have misgivings about his own creation Other heir geez ones that were bigger and better funded began to appear One of the first and most notable of these was
00:38:23called the beast which was released in two thousand Won The beast was created by ellen lee and jordan weissmann from microsoft as a tie in to the steven spielberg movie Aye aye It's probably helpful to think of ong's hat is a scruffy experimental prototype and heir geez like
00:38:38the beast as a more professionalized gamer oriented final product Both involved intricate mythologies obscure clues and puzzles But the beast had an entire staff dedicated to creating gameplay Millions of players ah storyline that progressed and clues that lead somewhere led to an ending Ong's hat in comparison had
00:38:58no end The clues didn't lead to anything but mohr mystery The journey was the destination Still like hung's hat the beast faithfully abided by one rule that this is not a game This is not a game is We all know this is a game Therefore we don't have
00:39:14to talk about the fact that it's a game and ruin the game Of all the people we spoke to for this story the person with the most insight into why ong's hat fell apart Why that this is not a game ethos almost predicted the sour turn ons hat
00:39:27eventually took It was the beast co creator ellen lee At one point for the beast he planned an event in chicago at a bar fuji and hire an actor to pretend to be murdered The idea was that as the actor lay on the floor the players who were
00:39:45there would gather clues and then you know leave But a few players wouldn't do that Instead they stayed staring at the actor who was pretending to be dead if they finally had to get up and go home Here's lee with the rest of the story They thought this
00:40:01was part of the game because this isn't a game because everything's inbounds because we told everyone this is real This is real This is real So they followed him thinking why is this corpse walking around And he got on teo a bus and they got on the bus
00:40:15and at that point he got he got off the bus and they got off the bus and he stopped them And he said listen totally out of game here I'm an actor They hired me to do this thing I did the thing stop following me and they looked
00:40:28at each other and they thought oh this is so cool and they kept following him and he went to his house and they followed him to his house and he went in his front door and they sat on his front porch and he called the police and the
00:40:41police showed up and they threw these guys in cop cars and the players looked at each other and i thought this is the coolest game ever and that's where we got in tow just so much trouble because like i had to build these guys out of jail and
00:40:55we had to talk to the authorities and we had to like clarify all this stuff Li like mazzini had assumed that there was a limit to how far players would go to solve their mysteries But they underestimated them not just because the players were so much more dedicated
00:41:11than they had imagined but because the very structure of these games made it inevitable that some players would run afoul of the rules When you walk into a movie theater you're entering into an agreement with the makers of that movie Theodry mint is I'm going to sit in
00:41:25this chair and i'm gonna look at the screen and i'm going to believe the things on the screen But i always know that i can get up out of this chair and the exit is right behind me I know those things and you know those things and we're
00:41:36going to agree on those things And as long as we can all agree on those things i'm going to sit here and stare at the screen and believe your fiction in our thing when we scream this is not a game We have no agreement with the players Nobody
00:41:48knows where the edges of the screen are Nobody knows where the seat is Nobody knows where the exit is on when those things aren't known The parameters of the game are very unclear and it creates huge problems because nothing is out of bounds And when nothing is out
00:42:03of bounds the game has to fall apart because in essence it has boundaries and where it butts up against the real world If those boundaries are invisible than the players have no ability to play versus not play If you don't know where the game ends even the case
00:42:21of long's hat you don't even know it's a game at all At some point you may unbeknownst to yourself have slipped off the board You will then be behaving inappropriately irrationally perhaps in a way that is dangerous to yourself or to others not in some game but instead
00:42:38in the very real world In august of two thousand one Troubled by the fan response and seeing bigger more corporate heir g is like the beast Mazzini pulled the plug I made some lifelong friends and i saw some people go off and do some amazing things But then
00:42:59i also saw this very dark side which is thes people becoming obsessive compulsive around it And then i began to realize that if anything stays around long enough it becomes an institution And then of course it does become ugly So so i blew it up He wrote a
00:43:12not entirely straightforward note online and he stopped creating content for the game Open letter to the conspiracy community I decided today to publicly announce in the near future that the lungs hat project has now concluded I think we were successful in laying the groundwork for the coming change
00:43:29The gateways are open now P s This is not a joke The player response was mixed Some people were disappointed somewhere outraged Some didn't believe it Some just thought it was another clue But soon after it without matheny seeding new material and then with the arrival of september
00:43:48eleventh on that kind of died out Dem youngers dark planet site stayed online for several more years But the forums groom or and more desolate Still the idea that there's something tongs had process Bits and pieces of the story have survived In other conspiracy theories people still visit
00:44:05aunts hat new jersey looking for that interdimensional portal used in younger again It gave me a very different perspective on reality in a really positive way It was if it was an air g It was a very noble cause You think it might not be so the way
00:44:25that the material tried to tease out certain personality types was really interesting to me because i didn't it didn't feel like an energy It felt like a recruitment tool Yeah i mean joseph would hate me saying this because i think he just wants it tio But i do
00:44:43I think that there's a i'm just saying there's a possibility that the idea of a travel cult that gets together and discusses these ideas and pushes them really hard I think that's totally possible whether or not they travel to other worlds totally a different discussion Mazzini would really
00:45:05hate this I'm so over it man You have no idea over it Turns out the being known for creating one of the first aridjis is actually kind of complicated For one thing though matheny still makes games He doesn't really make a rj's anymore Very few people dio they
00:45:21become extremely hard to scale Players have gotten so savvy that the amount of resource is woman need to mount a game is enormous That khun really only happen with the backing of a really lucrative marketing tie in which might undermine the strange mysterious vibe of any game and
00:45:35would certainly undermine mancini's noncommercial philosophy The most common contemporary equivalent of an air ji is actually not on a computer at all It's an escape room Were you in Some friends pay to spend an hour in a room seated with clues and puzzles you have to solve in
00:45:51order to be able to free yourself before your time is up Escape rooms unlike heir geez don't have to outsmart millions of internet users at once and they have a built in business model Both Hey will a plate I'm not kidding around here Give me a call back
00:46:08all right force from athenian in the fact that he moved past aridjis is the way that his work on ong's hat has been used by other conspiracy theories The thing that probably your treats me the most is that a lot of the methodology of air g has been
00:46:22coopted bye projects that i that i don't care to associate with and i don't like my work being associated with For one thing i've received an awful lot of email in the last six months Accusing me of being the person behind q and on cue anon is is
00:46:39still ongoing far right conspiracy theory that supposes various politicians hollywood actors and government officials are part of a child sex trafficking Greg trying to bring down the trump administration I know it's you and it doesn't make me happy It seems worth noting here that what happens to conspiracy
00:46:58theorists is that to a certain extent they turn really life into a game They look at reality and begin to see innit Clues hints a pattern a way to turn coincidences and synchronicity is into something meaningful on that asked people to do this kind of pattern recognition It
00:47:14actually supplied them with clues hints and patterns until they began to create their own One of the great ironies of long's hat it's as though it was not originally a conspiracy theory It was in a sense an actual conspiracy not a criminal one but a plot an art
00:47:31project masterminded by one man And when the players began to figure this out instead of accepting the simple explanation they instead saw a whole new level to the conspiracy And while i can understand why i'm athenee hated this he of all people should understand why that happened Why
00:47:48the players one confronted with the truth with an explanation with unending wanted instead to keep searching It's what he taught them to dio so we tried to confirm everything that we could about matheny story and well everything more or less checked out And matheny never seem to be
00:48:08anything less than totally straightforward with us We would be remiss if we did not point out that much of this piece is based on his word is based on what mazzini says happened and as you now know that hasn't always been completely reliable So even after all of
00:48:23this there's still an element of uncertainty This is why even though ong's hat is widely considered to be a game thinking of it as just a game is reductive It's something much less well defined A new kind of game yes but also a piece of literature and art
00:48:38project Well mazzini calls a living book This lack of definition is what drew people to it is what let them see innit what they wanted to see in it however disturbing Personally i have to say i don't find the story of the lungs hat story all that dark
00:48:59because i can't get over how generous the whole thing is It's like if your smartest weirdest friend put echo and pension and nabokov and borges and a ton of science fiction some cutting edge physics research papers and a whole lot of computer code into a blender and then
00:49:12made you a scavenger hunt out of the results A scavenger hunt that spans years and the entire internet The amount of work mazzini put into this thing just to entertain people to try to enlighten them to give them something to play with I find it sweet and it
00:49:29bums me out that mazzini doesn't get any joy from it anymore But even if he doesn't there are people who played it Who still d'oh Here's vinnie caggiano It was a moment in history but on ly select people we're there for it You know if his intention is
00:49:47what i think it might have been it was actually a work of genius All told well people played on his hat They got to feel like a different version of themselves An adventurer inside of an unfolding mystery living in a different version of reality One full of strange
00:50:03possibility were access to the truth was just one revelation away thanks that never literally transported anyone to another earth but also it did This is dakota ring I'm will pass Hi clayton This is willa paskin Hey Well something to do with al It has nothing to with mattresses
00:50:30or sleep It's finished We're happy with it It's going up in a week We don't have time to crash another episode Not that we would I actually don't want to understand the like why were so many tell you that the episode needs to be pulled I i to
00:50:44tell you i'm obligated to tell you that because threw up their attack is disrupting your tack I mean a mind virus Willis's bananas I thought i was I'm dead serious willa And we're concerned that if you air it you should be concerned about our concert like we're airing
00:51:03that not i am not threatening you will But i am telling you that if you do wear this episode you will regret it All right have a good night skin You can find me on twitter at willa paskin and you have any cultural mysteries You want to see
00:51:18the code You can email us at decoder ring at slate dot com You haven't yet subscribe and radar feed in apple podcasts or ever you get your podcasts and even better tell your friends This podcast was co written and edited by willa paskin and benjamin fresh who also
00:51:34produced it and does illustrations for every episode could download the art for this episode on our show page thanks to june thomas daniel hewitt haley gavin matthew desam dan coy's gabe roth and everyone else who give us help and feedback along the way we would also like to
00:51:49give a special thanks to michael kinsela whose book about anne's hat was indispensable resource thanks for listening we'll see you next month no warning if you keep listening to this episode way have talk what's going on did you just see those guys the what no i i i
00:52:09was these guys in black they just like walked in and then they took my computer who all my hard drives i back up that the the episode is gone do you know like did they say who they were we all know who they were what are we going
00:52:22to dio we do exactly what they told us to dio we do something else we do the conspiracy theory thing ong's hat or whatever it's called We can't do that in a week We don't have a choice of it We cannot get back There's like no thing you're
00:52:34not thinking of like we just do No the only people that have it now is what they have I guess it's probably on their website somewhere like that is totally useless to us I mean unless somebody were to like hack into their website i guess how would anybody
00:52:49do that I mean i could leave clues in the episode so that people would know to at least try somebody Somebody should hear this Why don't we try Because well they're watching us while we sleep Men in black just came and took all of my stuff

Transcribed by algorithms. Report Errata
Disclaimer: The podcast and artwork embedded on this page are from Slate Podcasts, which is the property of its owner and not affiliated with or endorsed by Listen Notes, Inc.

EDIT

Thank you for helping to keep the podcast database up to date.