Tricky social media puzzle makes audience feel smart

I’ve been a long time fan of Trent Reznor and the Nine Inch Nails, to the point that I pay an unhealthy amount of attention to every project Reznor becomes involved in. At least enough that I know that after winning an Oscar for scoring David Fincher’s The Social Network last year, Reznor collaborated with Fincher again on the upcoming The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo movie sound track.

Not only was Reznor involved in the soundtrack, but it’s become clear to me that he’s also involved in the marketing of the movie. There’s been a couple of cryptic Web sites set up and a Twitter account called MouthTapedShut. Much of the design on the Web sites harken back to artwork NIN has featured both online and in its album art over the years with images of natural elements in a square grid. And today, the MouthTapedShut Twitter account engaged its users in a puzzle that is reminiscent of the tactics Reznor used to promote Year Zero.

Here’s what I saw come up on my screen in TweetDeck, and the same puzzle as it appears on Twitter, where it is a bit easier to read:

TweetDeck is on left, Twitter page on right.

Staring at the cryptic text over my lunch, I realized the message could be read by starting from the top and reading down, column by column to reveal a Web address: The “What Is Hidden In Snow” domain is one of the Web sites attached to promotion of Fincher’s new movie. This particular page featured a photo of a street bench, a clock with time running down from 6 hours, and two numbers separated by comma. Also the phrase “Trouve l’objet avant que le temps soit écoulé.” The french translates loosely to “find this object before time runs out.”

I guessed that the two numbers under the photo were longitude and latitude and input them into Google Maps. (A bit later on, the Web page just embedded a Google Map of the location for those who solved the Twitter puzzle, removing a step needed to solve this riddle.) The location is on a busy street in Paris, and I confirmed the bench location using Street View. Unfortunately that was as far as I could play, as the object of the game was to physically get to the bench.

Following the trail of this puzzle was quite a delight, and I felt pretty smart when I tracked down the bench in question, even though I had no idea what was there in the real world. The step-by-step puzzle was tricky enough to trip up the casual observer, but solvable by anyone willing to think it through and with a basic knowledge of available Web services. It provided a real sense of discovery as you worked through it and succeeded at making those talking about it feel like they were “in” on something exclusive.

The clues had me scouring Twitter for people talking about the experiment, and I discovered that similar games have been played in other cities including Orlando, New Orleans and Toronto. I was disappointed to have missed out on Toronto, but don’t think I would have solved the puzzle that required knowledge of how braille works.

It’s a refreshing example of how social media marketing can be about more than link sharing, and sometimes making the payoff a bit more challenging (but still fun) to get to can make for a memorable experience.

Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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