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Friday, December 28, 2018

Decemystery 27: Markovian Parallax Denigrate

Usenet storage. It's all I could find related to this mystery.

Usenet's history of mysteries wasn't just limited to bricks in the wall and being comfortably numb. It also included what may have been the first instance of internet spam; an incident that's simply known as the Markovian Parallax Denigrate.

Back in 1996, Usenet was bombarded with message after message of incomprehensible and frankly nonsensical chains of words. The first of these—to my knowledge anyways—was this.

jitterbugging McKinley Abe break Newtonian inferring caw update Cohen air collaborate rue sportswriting rococo invocate tousle shadflower Debby Stirling pathogenesis escritoire adventitious novo ITT most chairperson Dwight Hertzog different pinpoint dunk McKinley pendant firelight Uranus episodic medicine ditty craggy flogging variac brotherhood Webb impromptu file countenance inheritance cohesion refrigerate morphine napkin inland Janeiro nameable yearbook hark

These messages were all from a user named “Markovian Parallax Denigrate”. The name, to many, explains the peculiar nature of the messages. Namely, that they were made via a Markov chain (hence the name, Markovian Parallax Denigrate).

I can't quite explain what a Markov chain is, but I'll do my best. To the best of my meager understanding, you feed a bot some words and it'll utilize what you've given it to create sentences. So if I feed it “house”, “kid”, and “sociopath”, you may get a bunch of words that include things in a house, relate to a kid, and Ted Bundy's favorite things.

Granted, I can't vouch for this. It's just what I both assume and can grasp. If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me.

Anyways, after the initial message, dozens and dozens more of these cryptic and nonsensical messages popped up. Until they stopped just as quickly as they came. As would later become the case with any random event involving cryptic stuff, the internet went into a frenzy. Numerous boards on Usenet attempted to crack the case of the Markovian Parallax Denigrate—something that went over as well as you could imagine. 22 years later and nothing has come of the event and for one “breakthrough” in 2006 involving a former White House staffer named Susan Landauer.

Landauer's name appeared in one of the messages, so it was speculated that she may have been behind the whole thing. She, naturally, vehemently denies this allegation. Your guess is as good as mine if she's telling the truth considering the fact she's a 9/11 truther and was arrested for allegedly working with the Iraqi government. Thinking Sideways covers her story extremely well in their episode about this mystery, so if you wanna know more, give that a listen.

Anyways, that's pretty much all there is to the Markovian Parallax Denigrate. So, who wants some theories? I do! So let's dive in.

Theory one is that this is an unsolved puzzle.

Much in the way that Cicada 3301 and Unfavorable Semicircle have stumped armchair detectives for years, there are those who believe that the Markovian Parallax Denigrate is some grand puzzle that’s waiting to be solved. There’s no real evidence to back this up as far as I’m aware beyond the idea, though if I’m wrong, then I’ll concede. That said, I personally find it hard to believe that a series of Markov Chains can really amount to anything more than nonsense.

The second theory is that this was a Markov chain-bot made by someone—likely a university student—that malfunctioned and went rogue. As a side note: this theory has an alternative version that we’ll get to in a bit. As for this version of the story, it’s one of the more likely ones. Amateur software designers and other university students frequently used Usenet and it’s not likely that someone may have attempted to see how their test project would work, only for it to go haywire and start spamming the forum.

The third theory is that it was a troll. This one dictates that someone just released a bot onto the forum and laughed as it wreaked havoc. No more, no less. It’s likely, though I remain skeptical as to why they’d do that instead of trying something a little bit less… difficult. Why not just systematically put up stupid threads?

The fourth theory, and the alternative to the second theory, is it was the government. Theories range from a bot that malfunctioned (or worked as intended) to a weird social experiment.

The internet is a place that's had a plethora of weird art projects and social experiments performed; such as “Oct. 27, 2007”. Being that this was eleven years earlier than that, I can understand the desire to see how people would react to their voices being drowned out by nonsense—something that I'm sure plenty of people feel nowadays.

Where this theory falters is: why?

Neither the FBI or CIA really had a motive for an experiment like this. The government as a whole really didn't it, especially with Bill Clinton in office and the Monica Lewinski debacle looming high. One could argue this experiment was low effort and required little funding to perform. However, if this was done without Usenet's consent, then this would've been a risky move as it could've potentially damaged the servers. I think. Regardless, this theory has its believers and detractors and has had them for over twenty years now.

Theory five is aliens. You tell me why hyper intelligent beings communicated via Markov chain.

The sixth and final theory is that Susan Lindauer was lying and she really did it. This one’s up in the air for most as to whether or not she did it; some believe it while others don’t. Thinking Sideways covered her story extremely well if you want a more indepth look into who she is beyond my abridged version.

Whatever the Markovian Parallax Denigrate was is anyone's guess. At the end of the day, it's a landmark in the history of the internet. Nowadays, spam is as prevalent as one's morning commute. Go onto nearly any website and you'll find a comment saying that Google pays them hundreds or even thousands of dollars to do nothing. I guess in a way, the granddaddy of it all was someone using a Markov chain to say nonsense and a user name consisiting of three words.

Markovian Parallax Denigrate.


  1. Tyler "Bip" RodriguezDecember 28, 2018 at 11:51 PM

    Well anyone who is a 9/11 Truther isn't exactly something I fully trust. But outside of that, possible troll and or went rogue aren't impossible.

  2. This entire thing being believeavle is about as believeable as those clickbait stories about a girl who died some horrific death and if you don't post (Insert random number here) you'll get killed by her. It's just that off the wall.