“Has anyone tried to finish Mr. Riddles’ Halloween Challenge?”
I’m a sucker for puzzles. Give me a brain teaser, and I will likely think about it all day. Sometimes I even go to bed thinking about it so my subconscious can figure the problem out. Call it a hobby or an obsession, but I guess being stuck at home more has given me a chance to go down a few internet rabbit holes and get hooked on stuff.
One of my favorite pastimes is new ARGs, or alternative reality games for you layman. I’ve found Twitter to be a breeding ground for these types of games. Typically they involve a set pattern with regular updates, interesting tidbits of world-building, etc. Eventually, they are solved, and the account is closed.
When I found the account for Mister Riddles, I knew that it was different. It only showed up on my Reddit feed about a month ago, September 30th, to be exact. A brand new account was posting on r/arg, encouraging as many new members as possible to follow them on twitter. I had seen many similar ARGs do the same thing, but after going to their twitter, I saw the intriguing artwork of who I guessed was Mister Riddles, and I was impressed. The creators were taking their time with this creation. The first puzzle wasn’t even a puzzle; it was just a rhyme with a few emojis. All of those commenting on the initial puzzle were replying with the skull emoji over and over.
Day 2 was a little different. The account came out with a list of names with numbers alongside them.
Sam1, Robert4, Felicia13, and so on, all the way up to the number 30. I was surprised to find that my name was placed alongside the number 17.
All I had done was like the tweet. I hadn’t commented or expressed an interest in being involved. But now, apparently I was registered for some kind of contest. And the first challenge was about to begin.
The rules seemed pretty straightforward. Every day a new challenge would appear on the twitter feed, and people would try their damnedest to guess. Often no one could get the right answer. By the end of the day, there was an announcement that someone from the list was eliminated.
I think there’s only one winner on Halloween, and the way things are going with these puzzles, it won’t be me, one user wrote. Later that same day, a few of us that were hooked on the idea of this bizarre unsolvable puzzle decided to make a discord server and start putting our heads together.
“Hey, the rules didn’t say we can’t work together, am I right?” John, one of the initial mods of the server, said.
It sounded like a good idea. But then the next day, he was eliminated. The discord was shut down shortly after. Not because John deleted it, though, like everything else, it was frozen; none of the channels worked.
Another user reported when they tried to DM John’s account, he would just reply with gibberish, like a bot had hacked him. Or, he had gone insane.
Some began to speculate that John must have been a plant. For you lay folks again, that’s someone who involves themselves in the arg and pretends to be a player, but is actually part of the production behind the scenes.
It’s a brilliant tactic to do to make everyone suspicious of each other. Divide and conquer. But we all just assumed it was another part of the game.
That changed a few days later when someone shared a news article on my Facebook feed. It was a murder in the tricounty area. But what was really eye-catching was that it said the person died playing an online scavenger hunt.
I clicked on it and read in gruesome details how the person had become convinced their sibling had a clue to the puzzle sewed on their body. A transcript of their confession said that it was because they couldn’t stop playing the game.
“I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” the young man claimed. But the game had made him do it.
When further prompted to ask what the game was all about, the boy repeatedly cut himself, spelling out a name in his blood.
Riddles. Riddles. Riddles.
Police were baffled. The small community of players in the challenge were stunned. Was it possible this game was killing people?
“Maybe it’s like the Blue Whale Challenge, and it becomes to the point that the game convinces people to kill themselves,” one user told me during a conversation.
It wasn’t unheard of, but we both rationalized that it had to be that the game was only affecting mentally ill people in this negative way.
“Comes with the territory of arg, I guess,” I replied
“I don’t know, man, something about this feels different. Like, have you gotten one of the cards yet?”
I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about, and he showed me what appeared to be a shuffled picture. Putting it together revealed a picture of one of the major arcana of the tarot.
“When did you get this?” I asked inquisitively.
“Just yesterday, they sent it when I solved the puzzle.”
Strange as it sounds, I couldn’t remember the puzzle from the day before. Maybe I had missed it? Or perhaps it had been private. Some contests did that.
But I still shrugged it off. “They likely are going for a horror angle, just trying to scare you,” I said.
My friend didn’t believe me, insisting that the card that had been pulled related directly to their life.
“Let me ask you something. Did you ever actually give the contest your name?” he asked.
It made me uneasy when I realized they hadn’t either. Was someone doxing us? Their concern grew over the next few days as they began receiving odd messages from the person in charge of the twitter account.
“These riddles are bothering me, man. It’s like I feel I’m constantly watched. Somehow they always relate to whatever I’m doing. It’s fucking weird.”
“I got a friend who works in cybersecurity. Let me see if I can figure out who is running the show. In the meantime, just report it to twitter,” I retorted, wondering if the game was beginning to take a toll on my friend’s sanity. We didn’t know each other IRL, and given that the game was becoming more difficult by the day, it felt like we needed to rely on each other more than ever for a good outcome.
I was too invested to quit, I told myself.
The next day I got my own unique puzzle. This one was a cipher. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out. No clues to discover what the keyword was. Nothing even remotely connected.
I started putting in random combinations. Like my last name. My father’s last name. Anything. It wasn’t working. Then I researched and looked up the ancestral name of my family and put it in. To my surprise, it gave me a result.
The word was cursed.
I’m not sure why, but as I saw that cipher make sense to me, I got this sinking feeling in my chest. I felt like I was being watched. I tried to contact my friends to tell him that I was starting to grow concerned about this game, but they didn’t respond. Their Twitter had been deactivated.
I went to Reddit next to see if I could glean any further information on the account connected to Mister Riddles. There was still just that one singular post.
Maybe I was still overthinking it, but part of me was becoming convinced this was not an ordinary game.
For one thing, instead of posting a daily puzzle on Twitter like before, the account started to DM me. Just like it had done to John. It was showing me disturbing images of gore and violence, each one more graphic than the rest.
For some reason though, I kept looking to determine what the clues meant. I was convinced that it was another puzzle, masquerading as something else.
A taunting DM, unexpectedly, revealed an important clue.
“Find your friend, and you’ll find the rest.”
I scrambled the pictures this time, using his name as the answer. It revealed five other names; I didn’t recognize any of them. Searching them on Google, I discovered that all were dead or missing.
What was this game?
I shuddered as I went to bed, trying to close my eyes and not think about Mister Riddles. Those haunting deep eyes that had no face. The dark madness that swirled back and forth amid his aura. He was a devil, come to take human flesh and tear us limb from limb.
That night I saw him more clearly in a Dream.
His clothes were a patchwork of colors, sewn together and worn out over time; a long brown leather coat draped over most of his figure, and his shaggy hair covered his face. Two yellow eyes gently opened and closed in the shadows of where his face should be, but nothing else could be seen. His hands were gloved, and his feet covered by oversized boots. There was a ragged cane leaning beside him that had bite marks up and down, and as he spoke, he grabbed the cane and leaned up a bit once we noticed him.
“You came to play and thought you were done. But you stop, there’s my fun…”
And he made this strange laugh that I can never forget.
It was bizarre and echoed through my head. He reached for me and told me a secret.
“The game can’t be won, except by me. Give up, and you’ll be free.”
Then he cut me right across my chest with his fingernails.
I screamed at the top of my lungs and jumped up out of bed.
Ripping my shirt apart, I looked down at my chest to find it was, in fact, bleeding.
I rushed out of bed and to the washroom, scrambling to get some water on my face. The water got scalding hot, and I had to pull my hands back. The room got hotter and hotter, steam billowing and smoky letters forming on the other side of the mirror. In the shadows behind me was the form of Mister Riddles.
“We’re not done until I say. You’ll have no choice but to play.”
As I turned to confront the apparition, my bathroom seemed quiet and lonely. Just me and my paranoid mind losing sleep over some stupid game, I told myself as I reasoned that the wound had been self-inflicted. There was no such thing as a digital ghost, or even a real one.
I just needed sleep.
As I laid back down, I heard the laugh again.
It kept rattling in my head as I struggled to go to sleep.
I don’t think it stopped until the next day when I reluctantly got online and responded to one of the puzzles. There were three choices. It felt like none of them could be correct. I just needed my brain to catch a break and shut down for a little bit.
But that didn’t happen. The second I solved the puzzle, someone sent me another. And then another.
I shut off my phone and determined that I had spent too much time on this internet rabbit hole. I wasn’t going to let Mister Riddles control me anymore.
Or so I thought.
That day at work during lunch, one of my coworkers was doing the daily jumble.
“It’s harder than usual, Craig,” he said, showing it to me. I was studying the drawing, though. It was a white rabbit with the number 17 on it. The same number that I had pulled as a participant for the Halloween contest
“Can I see that for a second?” I asked nervously, taking the paper away and staring hard at the mysterious picture. The rabbit was talking to someone who was hanging upside down, and the caption said:
‘How do we decide who wins now?’ followed by two blanks.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I immediately started to unscramble the words. Each one was more disturbing than the last. Then, a clear answer began to form.
I crumbled up the paper and tossed it away. My co-workers thought I had lost my mind, and maybe I had. This game was controlling my life, and I couldn’t escape it even if I tried.
I started to hallucinate. Mister Riddles was around every corner, constantly taunting me to play a game. It felt like each time I tried to ignore him, things got worse.
But I tried as hard as I could to stop the game from going further. First, it was only hurting me. My stomach would constantly ache, or I would get a severe headache. And then, of course, the hallucinations and the nightmares continued. Mister Riddles was everywhere I was. Was I the only contestant left, and now he was haunting me?
Sometimes I would hear this nightmarish song hum in my head. It was like something out of a haunted carnival — dissonant organ music mixed with vaudevillian strings.
Hey diddly doo.
I have some riddles for you.
Who’s big and mean,
but not quite green?
Hey diddly doo.
I know the answer, do you?
Hey diddle diddle
Can you solve my riddle?
Who’s watching when you lie,
And snickering when you cry.
Come play the game
You’ll never be the same.
Hey diddle diddles,
Why don’t you come meet Mr. Riddles?
He’ll keep you busy from five to three
And never leave your company.
He’s the friend you never had
And the one that always does bad
You say you don’t want to play?
You’d rather be good and stay away?
Then don’t sing this song
Or else you’ll go wrong
Hey diddly do
What’s going to happen to you?
Hey diddly diddles
Come and play with Mr. Riddles
It disturbed me each time the tune rattled through my head. What did it mean? Was I doomed to play this game forever? Was there no way out?
The account on Twitter showed differently. Still, people struggled to figure it out; I wasn’t alone. But was it all an illusion?
A few days ago, right before the Halloween announcement, I received a disturbing call from my buddy in cybersecurity.
“I couldn’t find a singular IP address for the Twitter account. It’s randomly jumping around, showing locations all around the globe. It’s not tied down to one place,” he cleared his throat, “It’s a sophisticated artificial intelligence, that’s for sure.”
That deep hollow feeling in my chest was returning. I was fighting a force beyond understanding. And anyone that was even getting close to discovering the truth was being eliminated.
I got a DM that same day.
“You’re all that is left, what luck! Tomorrow we will see whether or not you really suck.”
October 30th. Yesterday. The final puzzle.
I was sure if I could solve this one, Mister Riddles would release me from his infernal grasp and return my sanity.
I was expecting something complicated, but what I got was much more than that — an enigma.
In case you aren’t familiar with them, enigma puzzles were codes designed by the Germans during WWII. It took Britain nearly to the end of the war to solve some of the encryptions because of how difficult they were. There were so many varieties that some have considered it the most challenging test of mental strength known to man.
This is what Mister Riddles was taunting me with, challenging me to finish a puzzle that had stumped much smarter men than me.
There were scrambled messages I couldn’t make heads or tails of. Like so many other ciphers, I needed a keyword. I had no idea what it might be, or how many rotations to go in the decrypting machine.
During the war, a brilliant scientist managed to find a way to decrypt them, which ran through all different combinations of ciphers. It was mind-numbing and time-consuming. I didn’t want to do that. Especially since the puzzle also came with a countdown.
Only 24 hours to figure out the final solution.
I could hear his supernatural laugh taunting me. I was going to wind up going insane, just like the rest.
Hour by hour passed by, and I tried desperately to stop thinking about the game, but I couldn’t. The farther I tried to push it away, the worse my luck got. I wasn’t even sure that there was a viable solution.
Then I realized there was only one hour left. Mister Riddles came to me. I saw his ghastly figure standing and waiting for me to fail, laughing with glee.
“Why don’t you just lose?”
Maybe that was the answer? To give up?
I couldn’t see any other way.
This is where you come in. There’s one final part to this game, and unfortunately, this sick, twisted puzzle involves you as well.
The tests of mental acuity I was forced to participate in are posted here, all of them. If you solve them, you will learn your role in all of this, and ultimately, your fate.
But be warned, Mister Riddles is impatiently waiting. There are no winners, only losers, and he will find you if you chose not to play.
Choose carefully before the countdown begins. Beware of what curiosity can do.