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. Pink Floyd's lead singer, David Gilmour, denied any involvement while album artist Storm Thorgerson was bemused by the ordeal. According to drummer Nick Mason, EMI Records were ultimately 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 engineered in part by the band's management. Regardless, the mystery continues to attract a small but loyal cult following.
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. It is unclear if the original poster remained or remains active, or if the enigma has been abandoned by those responsible for starting it.
During a 2002 webchat, David Gilmour responded to a question about the subject.
"Lynne from Floydian_Hemptress asks: Would you agree that the instrumental, Let's Get Metaphysical, on your About Face cd, was a precurser to the later alleged phenomenon, known as Pink Floyd's Publius Enigma? [sic]
David Gilmour: No it had nothing to do with it, there was no connection. The second thing 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, Nick Mason also asserted that the Publius Enigma had been instigated by the record company rather than the band, and that the prize for solving the riddle would have been a "crop of trees planted in a clear cut area of forest or something to that effect".
"That was a ploy done by EMI. They had a man working for them who adored puzzles. 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 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."
Brickman later expressed regret regarding his comments:
"i know that sean and the other people were persistent, so i spoke, but really regret saying the things i said in the interview..
if the enigma got people to talk and discuss then it is a good thing, but honestly, i had no part of the matter..."
"Question-from James Heaver > Is the publius enigma real?
Douglas Adams > It has nothing to do with me - I can't say anything about it."
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.
Possible references to the Publius Enigma can be found in various Pink Floyd releases: