The Publius Enigma is an Internet phenomenon and an unsolved problem that began with cryptic messages posted by a user identifying only as "Publius" to the unmoderated Usenet newsgroup alt.music.pink-floyd through the Penet remailer, a now defunct anonymous information exchange service. The messenger proposed a riddle in connection with the 1994 Pink Floyd album The Division Bell, promising that the answer would lead to a reward.
Guitarist David Gilmour denied any involvement while album artist Storm Thorgerson was bemused. According to drummer Nick Mason, EMI Records were responsible. It remains unclear if the enigma involves a genuinely solvable puzzle as part of an early Internet-based contest or was a convoluted hoax.
During the 1994 Division Bell World Tour, Columbia Records flew a 194-foot-long (59 m) airship named The Division Belle between Pink Floyd concert locations. The Columbia Electronic Press Kit was released to the media, along with the Promo Spots Video consisting of interviews with band members, footage of the airship in action, and a segment which contained the following:
"A spokesperson for Pink Floyd has issued the following statement: You have spotted the Pink Floyd Airship. Do not be alarmed. Pink Floyd have sent their airship to North America to deliver a message. The Pink Floyd Airship is headed towards a destination where all will be explained upon arrival. Pink Floyd will communicate."
>>>>>>>> T H E M E S S A G E <<<<<<<< My friends, You have heard the message Pink Floyd has delivered, but have you listened? Perhaps I can be your guide, but I will not solve the enigma for you. All of you must open your minds and communicate with each other, as this is the only way the answers can be revealed. I may help you, but only if obstacles arise. Listen. Read. Think. Communicate. If I don't promise you the answers would you go. Publius
A follow-up clarified the challenge:
AS SOME OF YOU HAVE SUSPECTED, "The Division Bell" is not like its predecessors. Although all great music is subject to multiple interpretations, in this case there is a central purpose and a designed solution. For the ingenious person (or group of persons) who recognizes this - and where this information points to - a unique prize has been secreted. How and Where? The Division Bell Listen again Look again As your thoughts will steer you Leading the blind while I stared out the steel in your eyes. Lyrics, artwork and music will take you there
In order to refute the ensuing scepticism, Publius agreed to provide proof of his authenticity. On 16 July 1994 he delivered a prediction:
To validate the trust of those who believe, as well as to reconcile the doubt of others, I have gone to great lengths to plan the following display of communication: Monday, July 18 East Rutherford, New Jersey Approximately 10:30pm Flashing white lights. There is an enigma. Trust.
In September 1996, the Penet remailer service was shut down by its creator over legal threats posed to the guaranteed anonymity of its users. As a consequence, contact to the newsgroup through the associated Publius account ceased. Subsequent Publius-style posts from other addresses have led to differing opinions over the status of the enigma and whether or not it has ever been solved.
During a 2002 webchat, guitarist David Gilmour said the puzzle was "some silly record company thing that they thought up to puzzle people with". In April 2005, during a book signing of his biographical work Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, drummer Nick Mason affirmed that it had been instigated by the record company:
That was a ploy done by EMI. They had a man working for them who adored puzzles. He used to work for the Reagan administration. His job then would be to be in meetings with the president and when Reagan would say "Let's bomb these people" he would say "That's not a good idea sir!". He was working for EMI and suggested that a puzzle be created that could be followed on the Web. The prize was never given out. To this day it remains unresolved. The prize was something like a crop of trees planted in a clear cut area of forest or something to that effect. It was not to be a prize of some tangible thing but rather a touchy-feely sort of gift that was more of a philanthropic thing than something you could hang on the wall.
The comments made by Mason corroborate parts of a previous interview by Sean Heisler with Marc Brickman, Pink Floyd's lighting and production designer and the man apparently responsible for putting the "ENIGMA PUBLIUS" message in the lights at the New Jersey concert.
...I think it really came and out of though - it came out of some guy of Washington DC, that used to be with the CIA or FBI or something that was in the encryption game. He decided he wanted to do some kind of album cover, and he started talking to Steve O'Rourke, and I think what happened was Steve O'Rourke had in his brilliant mind that he was going to try something on the internet because he had been listening to me. And he got this guy, cause if you notice a lot of this stuff can't be traced where it comes from. And I know that Dave for one thing didn't even know how to sign on.
Douglas Adams, who was credited with having given the album its title, categorically denied any knowledge or involvement and dismissed the idea of the band members being responsible:
What I said was that I myself knew nothing about it, and had never heard Dave or Nick mention it, and that it didn't sound like anything they'd be bothered with. But I'm speaking from experience rather than specific knowledge. Everybody who writes, whether it's novels or songs or anything at all that happens in the public eye, knows that there are always a million theories about whether you meant v,w,x,y, or z when you said a,b or c.
The only thing I know of that was added to a Floyd concert recently was a message flashed up on a screen from Dave's daughter Clare, wishing Dave and Polly a happy wedding. That's an actual thing to do with actual people. You have to remember that rock musicians, however talented, are just a bunch of human beings playing guitars, like novelists are a just a bunch of people who stare blearily at a word processor in the morning and maybe trying to think of something that's a bit funny without being embarrassingly stupid. All this secret message stuff is just blah.
So, as far as this Publius thing is concerned, I don't know anything for sure. All I can say is it sounds like nothing at all that the band would do - they're doing a serious job making sure the tour goes well - and sounds everything like something that a fan with too much time on his hands would dream up.
The Pink Floyd magazine Brain Damage had a Q&A section reserved for a correspondent known only as "Uncle Custard". The name (phonetically similar to "Uncool Car Stud") was created by Glen Povey, apparently an allusion to Nick Mason's passion for auto racing.
Issue No.34 of the magazine contains the following:
Q: Who is Publius Enigma, what is the meaning of it all, and what is the treasure to be had? A: (Uncle Custard) As the Infamous Q has emphasized, 'you humans are so limited'. This is a project for all those out there with higher IQ's, it does require a mastery of diverse languages, along with a lot of spare time. Now get with it...the lights were brighter, the meaning is worn inside out, the bell has tolled and the surrogate band is coming back to life. The answer lies, non-linearly, within the paradox of the theme of The Division Bell -- communication breakdown. (Hint: Watch the Learning to Fly video!) It may also involve an anomaly in the time-space continuum. There is an obvious solution and you do not need to be a Floyd historian to figure it out! Winners will receive official entry into the Mensa Society and some dry ice to cool down all those neural pathways in your brain. It is important to note that neither I nor anyone involved with this zine will enter into any correspondence on this topic. It's a puzzle for you, devised by the one who loves you enough to drive you mad. Besides, I'm much too busy creating crop circles and executing think-tank projects for the Pentagon.
Although the answers given by Uncle Custard over the years have all been written by several different people affiliated with the magazine, this particular response has been attributed to former editor and final publisher of the printed version of Brain Damage Jeff Jensen. The accuracy of the content of this answer and under what authority (if any) Jensen had to produce it remains unclear.
In the media
Possible references to the Publius Enigma can be found in various Pink Floyd releases:
- Pulse, a DVD of the 20 October 1994 televised concert at Earls Court, London, contains footage of the word "ENIGMA" being projected in large letters on to the backdrop of the stage during the song "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)". The DVD's authoring company, Das Boot, uses an enigma machine as their logo, which can be seen at the end of the show.
- In the 2019 re-edit of Pulse included in "The Later Years" box set, different camera angles are substituted so that the "ENIGMA" projection is less prominent. You can still see "MA" in one shot, and the bottom of "IGMA" in another, but the prominent wide-shot which clearly said "ENIGMA" appears to have been deliberately removed.
- In the artwork for the MiniDisc release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the word "PUBLIUS" has been inserted into the photo of the man in the rye field. The word "ENIGMA" appears in the lower corner of the picture of the man standing on the edge of the cliff.
- The words "Publius Enigma" are spoken just before the song "One of These Days" on the 2003 DVD release of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.
- Storm Thorgerson's cover for John Harris' book The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece includes the following text: "[...] despite numerous attempts to elucidate the mysteries of its success the ubiquitous popularity of this record remains an enigma..."
- Page 13 of The Division Bell's CD booklet contains an anagram of the word "enigma" in the third column from the right of the top verse of the lyrics to Wearing the Inside Out, aligned with the page number "jyusan". Anthony Moore, who wrote the lyrics to the song, has denied that this was intentional on his part.
- The official Pink Floyd biography contains the statement "[...] true to their beginnings, there has always been an enigma at their heart" and ends with "For at the heart of Pink Floyd, there has always been an enigma..."
- The Ian Emes movie The Endless River (2019) that can be found in The Later Years box shows the words Publius Enigma at the end of the second Allons-Y song.
- Publius (June 11, 1994). ">>>>>>>> T H E M E S S A G E <<<<<<<<". Newsgroup: alt.music.pink-floyd. Usenet: 165304Z11061994@anon.penet.fi. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
- Strauss, Neil (February 16, 1995). "The Pop Life". The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2008.
- "Brain Damage - January 2002 - Dotmusic webchat". braindamage.co.uk.
- Thorgerson, Storm. "Phonecall on the Enigma" (Interview). Interviewed by Sean Heisler. Archived from the original on March 20, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
- "Nick Mason's Inside Out Tour". A Fleeting Glimpse. Archived from the original on October 8, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
- Brickman, Marc (December 5, 1995). "Marc Brickman 12/5/95: Phonecall on the Enigma" (Interview). Interviewed by Sean Heisler. Archived from the original on March 21, 2015. Retrieved October 6, 2014.
- Johns, Matt. "The Great Pink Floyd Airship Mystery". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
- "Guitar World Jan. Vol. 17, No 1".
- The Publius Enigma: In a "nut" shell
- Dekhtyar, Alexander. "T*H*E E*N*I*G*M*A I*M*A*G*E*S". Retrieved October 6, 2014.
- video of ENIGMA PUBLIUS in flashing white lights.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on March 3, 2016. Retrieved October 28, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- A Brief History of the Publius Enigma (Archived)
- "People Publius referred to in letters". folk.uio.no/ericsp. Archived from the original on October 16, 2001.
- "ENIGMA PUBLIUS • View topic - Matt Johns". enigmapublius.chinagreenelvis.com. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- "Nick Mason". Ten Tenths. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- Heisler, Sean (June 20, 1996). "Publius: Reality-Duality-Spirituality 2". Newsgroup: alt.music.pink-floyd. Usenet: email@example.com. Retrieved October 11, 2009.
- "Dusting 'Em Off: Pink Floyd – Division Bell". consequenceofsound.net.
- "Publius Enigma - The Laïus theory". www.paradigme.ch.
- "Live At Pompeii - One of These Days". www.youtube.com.
- "Enigma Anagram". www.chinagreenelvis.com. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
- "ENIGMA PUBLIUS • View topic - Anthony Moore". www.chinagreenelvis.com. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014. Retrieved January 8, 2015.
- "Pink Floyd The Official Site". www.pinkfloyd.com. Retrieved January 8, 2015.
- "The Endless Enigma". www.atagong.com. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
- alt.music.pink-floyd @ Google Groups The original discussion forum
- alt.music.pink-floyd.publius @ Google Groups The Publius Enigma subforum
- The Messages Sent by Publius
- Publius Enigma: some history of the matter by Mark Brown
- Pink Floyd and the Publius Enigma by Eric Spierings
- The Division Bell Concept
- A Guide to the Publius Enigma by Cordelia
- The Publius Enigma by Nicholas Palffy