New alternate-reality game? Or package I should worry about?

What do the odd items inside a UPS package with no return address mean?

This memo, dated January 30, 1985, supposedly comes from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and concerns the demanded resignation of a scientist named Eugene Gough. The memo came in an unmarked UPS package containing several very odd items. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

Update 1:14 p.m. PDT: This has been edited to reflect some new information about what's in the package and its source.

Usually when I get a UPS package it's some boring book or prospectus. But the Express Envelope that landed on my desk Wednesday certainly got my attention.

Inside were the following things: a sticker with the words "Scientific Anarchy Now" and "Holomove;" a photocopy of a memorandum purportedly from Los Alamos National Lab dated January 30, 1985, regarding the termination of a scientist named Eugene Gough; and lastly, and most disconcertingly, a cut-open package of Emergen-C vitamin C powder. The tracking number on the package had been manually scratched off.

The package contained this 'Scientific Anarchy Now' sticker and a cut-open package of Emergen-C powder. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

Now, if it hadn't been for the powder packet, I would have taken little notice of the package. I would have assumed--and actually, I still do--that the contents were clues for some new alternate-reality game. I am one of the most frequent writers about ARGs, and it was only a few weeks ago that a box arrived on my desk with a series of odd items that ended up being clues for a large-scale new Olympics-themed ARG called The Lost Ring .

But the powder packet, I must admit, is pretty worrisome. This, after all, is the age of anthrax attacks and the Unabomber. True, the anthrax attacks came in envelopes with hand-lettered addressing and not via UPS packages.

True, even though the tracking number had been meticulously gotten rid off, CNET's mail room slapped on its own sticker that did have the tracking number on it. So I was able to determine, by calling UPS, that the package originated from the San Francisco office of the global ad agency McCann-Erickson.

Still, this is pretty weird. A call to the ad agency got me nowhere and some woman in its mail room is supposedly trying to find out where it came from. I don't really expect a call back.

But as my editor put it, even though these probably are just clues for an ARG, it's in pretty bad taste. Does anyone really think sending unmarked packages with cut-open powder packets is a good idea these days?

The tracking number for the package was also scratched out, though a secondary sticker had a tracking number that seemed to originate from the San Francisco office of ad agency McCann-Erickson. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

What if, instead of trying to track down the package, I had freaked out and called security? I think the folks over at McCann-Erickson probably would be getting a visit from some law enforcement officials right about now.

Of course, PR agencies sending clues to odd projects in bad taste would be nothing new. My colleague Charles Cooper said that in 1989, he got a package sent to him that contained a spent bullet and a hostage-note-like letter--compete with cut-out words--that said, "Who's killing all of Computer & Software News' readers?" He later got an apologetic call from a PR person taking responsibility for the package.

Back to my package...the included memo, by the way, purports to involve the employment status of Eugene Gough, a LANL employee who was supposedly up for the position of the leader of the lab's Weapons Physics division. But the writer of the memo seems unhappy with Gough's personality and says that rather than promote him, Gough should be forced to resign.

"This isn't a policy position, nor is it personal," the memo, written to "Pat," reads. "(Gough's) work ethic is outstanding--how many people regularly get in before you!--but the emotional issues...and his reluctance to meet with the counsellor leave me with few options. We've got a role to play here, and he's made his choice. Now, it's time what we do the same. We'll need his resignation by the 1st."

The memo is signed by "Michael."

The back of the Emergen-C package had the logo from the Scientific Anarchy Now sticker pasted over the nutrition facts part of the package. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News.com

Lest you think I'm lazy, I Googled most of the phrases (see addendum below) involved with this package that I could think of. And nothing came up. There were some results for "Eugene Gough," but nothing meaningful. Nor was there anything at all for "Scientific Anarchy Now."

Generally, these ARG clues actually lead somewhere when you Google them, so I'm a bit confused by the lack of any search results.

Neither did the two leading ARG Web sites, Unfiction.com and ARGN.com, have anything on this.

So, for now, I'm waiting for my call back from McCann-Erickson and hoping that someone who reads this blog post will know what it's about.

In the meantime, I know that I've probably started the PR campaign for whatever game this is. If so, then I guess the package was successful.

Addendum: A reader of my Twitter post about this rightly points out that the "rabbit hole" for this--which indeed is an ARG of some sort--was the word "Holomove." I had Googled it, but never clicked through to Holomove.com because the Google result didn't look relevant. But now, clicking through, it becomes obvious that it is, in fact, related to this package.

Among the information on the Holomove.som site is a link for information on "Dr. Eugene Gough," who "was the founder of Holomove, Inc....Gough worked as a researcher at the Los Alamos National Lab as well as Ames Laboratory. In 2004, Dr. Gough's interest in holographic representations led to the creation of NexTech, which subsequently became Holomove."

The site says that Gough died in 2007.

So, now that my fear of dying has been alleviated by a little bit of smart sleuthing by an astute reader who pushed a little farther than I did, I'm mixing up my Emergen-C and looking for more clues to this puzzle.

 

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