I discovered the May Day Mystery some years ago via a MetaFilter post; now Conrad has done a typically thorough and exhilarating post on the subject.

Every year since 1981, more than once a year, and almost always on May 1, the [Arizona Daily] Wildcat has published a cryptic ‘advertisement’ from an unnamed source. These messages typically contain images, mathematical diagrams and formulae, quotations (literary, philosophical, religious, and commonly in the original language) and other fragments of text…
These advertisements were noticed in 1995 by one Bryan Hance, and in 1997 he established a website to collect and analyse them. He referred to the affair as the May Day Mystery. There also exists now a MDM wiki. On Hance’s site, the texts are arranged by date, with scanned images, and comments from various would-be exegetes, attempting to decode the individual piece and the overall pattern. For instance, the comments to the 1990 image provide translations and sources for the Biblical Greek and Latin, a gloss on ‘Weavers Needle’, a description of a circular slide rule, attempts at Biblecodesque wordcounting, references to particle physics and Lutheran theology, an identification of the musical passage, and so on and so on. These disjointed annotations remind me of nothing so much as the fragmentary insights heard around the table at a Finnegans Wake study group. One person notices that a word resembles the Irish for ‘wind’, another detects reference in the flow of a clause to a Victorian ballad, and another spots the letters H C E embedded in words running backwards through a line. But nobody has a damn clue why Joyce would have combined these elements (and many others) in the sentence—let alone what it all means. One thing is for sure: the comments on the MDM advertisements have become an integral part of the ongoing text as a whole…
The question, then, is what the devil is the point of these things? Who is trying to communicate what to whom, and why?

I don’t much care about the “solution” of the “mystery,” but I sure enjoy Conrad’s meta-exegesis. And I love his term “nutnut.”

Speak Your Mind