Source: A forum thread on Xbox365.com.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft spokesperson.
What we heard: Here we go again. It appears that Microsoft has started yet another viral marketing campaign. The first signs surfaced on the Xbox365.com forums on October 13. That's when a poster named "Lutz" started a thread titled "The beginning is nigh" above a photo of a curious, approximately 100-foot-wide symbol carved into San Francisco's Ocean Beach. The symbol displays the Roman numerals for 8, 1, and 6 in between a circle and a hexagon. Later on in the thread, Lutz posts two more pictures of the same symbol appearing in a field in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and another beach in Jacksonville, Florida.
When asked what the symbol was, Lutz's sole written reply was, "I will enlist the help of the truly committed, but first you must solve my puzzle." That statement sounds very much like the puzzle challenges on Ourcolony.net, the teaser site that helped hype the release of the Xbox 360. So it was little surprise when, within a few posts, fans were already speculating that the numbers were a date--8/1/2006--and that said date was the release of, in the words of one poster, "OMG! HALO3!!"
Yesterday, the connection between the pictures and the Xbox 360 became a clearer. That's when the site Hex168.com went online. It purports to be the Lutz World Report, a conspiracy newsletter written by one Dr. Jason Lutz from his subterranean bunker in Saskatchewan, Canada. It warns of increased "sightings" of the crop-circle-like "hexes" and warns of the megapowerful hex known as Hex 168. It turns out that name is a clue. An Xbox365.com poster of the number-crunching variety found that if one takes 168 as a hexadecimal value and then converts it into binary code, it becomes the sequence "0001 0110 1000." Put the three together into "000101101000" and that converts back to "360"--just the sort of nerd-friendly hint Microsoft's viral marketing campaigns are known for. The Hex168.com site also sports a countdown clock that ends on noon, October 18.
Today, members of the games press got proof positive that the whole hex business is indeed another viral marketing ploy. Late this afternoon, members of the games press were sent an e-mail "tip" with pictures of the oh-so-mysterious hex sign on various objects and still more mysterious text that sounds like the mutterings of a half-crazed pagan prophet. "The sign is a puzzle, and it is a promise: 'I will bring them together to witness the New Beginning before the rest of the world. And I will reward them with a physical manifestation of the power of this sign.'" It also says the sign will appear at four college football games on Saturday, October 1: Duke University vs. Georgia Tech (Durham, North Carolina); Syracuse University vs. Rutgers (Syracuse, New York); Rice University vs. Tulsa (Tulsa, Oklahoma); Connecticut vs. University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio). It also gives this bloated oath: "At noon on October 18, the true purpose of the sign will be revealed, and the truly committed will have their chance to experience the New Beginning before the rest of the world."
But for all the mysterious portending in the body of the "tip" e-mail, there's no question about its humble origins in Microsoft's hype machine. Bearing the subject line "TIP: the beginning is nigh for 360 fans," the e-mail was sent by none other than 4orty2wo Entertainment, the marketing firm that originated Ilovebees.com.
So what will be announced at noon on October 18? While not impossible, chances are it will not be Halo 3. A more probable outcome is that the company will use the date to unveil either the Xbox 360's final game lineup or the game price point. There's also the possibility of its being something along the lines of Origen360.com, which teased the world for weeks about...a contest in Europe that Americans can't even play.
(Author's note to 4orty2wo Entertainment: I want back the 76 minutes of my life it took to write up this rumor.)
Bogus or not bogus?: 100-to-1 it's bogus. Any takers?