The Mystery of 1033

The Owl of the Stewards
The Owl of the Stewards

If you recognize this image or perhaps the name “Stewards”, then you may just know the incredible sense of mystery that followed this peculiar owl. February 16, 2016 at 10:48pm — An email hits the mailboxes of essentially the entire student body, from a so-called Bob Robert, under the subject “A Message from the Stewards.” Although most would just chalk the weird, somewhat creepy message up to a random student who got bored playing Minecraft and decided to troll the school, it ended up being much more than that.

November 3, 2015 at 10:33pm (Peddie Week) — the official Stewards website unlocked. Weeks prior, a paper had been slipped under the doors of many Blair students to excite interest in the puzzle. It contained the iconic owl and the following message:
History is an imitation.
Life is a game.


Those who received the message instantly found themselves searching up the website, which for the record no longer exists.. The page led to the owl insignia as well as a computerized audio recording that said, “Hello. We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. Solve it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few who will make it all the way through. Good luck.” Interestingly enough, this message was almost identical to a message associated with a previous phenomenon that hit the web in 2012. This was the mystery of Cicada 3301, an organization that on four occasions has posted a set of complex puzzles both on the web and in real life to recruit code breakers and “highly intelligent individuals.”  So was this a spin off of that iconic puzzle or was this something completely new? Two recipients of the flyers were YZ Fong and Sammi Hui Bon Hoa, who were kind enough to tell me a bit about their experience with the fall puzzle, “After we accessed the webpage, it brought us to a riddle: ‘My friend John told me to meet his friend and him on Bethany Street at 11:38. Who was his friend?’ It turns out that the riddle referred to the Bible, specifically John 11:38-44. This ultimately gave us the answer ‘Lazarus’’ which led us to the next clue.” says YZ. From solving simple math problems to figuring out riddles the puzzles covered the full spectrum of enigmatic problems. Some of the most interesting clues were the “1848” and “Rothschild,” riddles that came later in the game.


A Man in the year of revolutions from sea to sea,
who guided the pigs to stand on two feet;
although the red guard seemed so stable,
even there new men were brought to the table.
Yet Amongst the revolutions was born Blair,
and amongst Blair you will find your Resolution.
With the Kapital,
multiply his surname by four and subtract twenty
to find you Xyst
and C behind the world. 




When we die, we all end the same, 
but what of the man who profits from our end?
Do past grievances lay quietly down
when our loved ones meet the same fate? 
Does the music of life cease to play on
when the man falls ill with consternation?
Enemy, Musician; Friend, Equal.
What have the man to give to repent for his sins? 


Ultimately, there came a portion of the puzzle that stumped all but a few intrepid codebreakers; the instructions were to decrypt the “DNA” of the owl image, answer the question, and email the puzzle makers. Since most of the participants couldn’t solve this problem, the puzzle was simply forgotten about until February. This brings us to the part of the mystery that all of Blair knows about, the “There is a book in the library. Find it” part.  

February 17, 2016 (Headmasters’ Societies Week) — Seemingly less than 24 hours after the email from Bob Robert arrived in students’ inboxes, the focus of much of the student body shifted from Headmasters’ Societies to “What was that email, and what book are they talking about?” Things took an even stranger turn when a banner, displaying the owl and the number 1033, was hung above Hardwick between 8 and 11am. At this point, Blair students were simply dumfounded. The only viable clue was a secret code in the image, which was only visible by increasing the contrast:


Way up in the sky where the big birdies fly.


That afternoon during A block, an old, maroon copy of Audubon’s Birds of America had been found and identified as “the book.” The first, most noticeable detail was that the book wasn’t a library book. It had been brought into the library and left discreetly amongst the other books on the shelf. Secondly, inside the pages had been cut, leaving room for a small, yellow notebook wrapped in a brown leather sleeve. Within this notebook were two pieces of “literature” and many shorter clues scattered throughout. The first was assumed to be a poem or combination of lines from other literary works, but after careful inspection we came to the conclusion that it was an original work by the puzzle master.

Although the actual literature in the notebook will remain confidential, its apparent meaning will not. Primarily, this message discussed what seemed to be the end of the world. This was due to the fact that this particular riddle centered around the theme of the beginning and end of humans, or, more descriptively as “the end is salt and ash.”

The second clue was a lengthy, encrypted message. The first two lines of which are: ZF UZF SRU UV VWJBFCHBANRO / EVL IO NGFS. What first started out as a few hours trying to solve the cipher quickly turned into days. At first, we applied common ciphers such as the Caesar shift cipher, steganography, and even vigenère to the message, but all of them failed in cracking the code. As the options ran out, more intricate ciphers involving number theorems and keywords were tried. Simply nothing was working. It could easily be hyperbolized that every known cipher had been attempted, yet all still failed to solve the riddle. From the information gathered through attempting to crack the code, a few new things were learned; for one, we can hypothesize that the fate of cracking the code rests on a key word — one that has yet to be figured out. Secondly, we came to the conclusion that this wasn’t just one person. In almost every clue, especially during the fall portion of the mystery, there was a side note that involved a “we.” However, all this codebreaking brought us more questions than answers. Who are the Stewards? What is their motive? What will happen when we figure out the riddle, or will we ever figure it out? What can we say; it’s a mystery.

Jung qb lbh guvax?


(Copyright 2016 Janice Negvesky)

Janice Negvesky