Adobe launches the third installment of its Semaphore puzzle contest

Will you be the next smartie to crack the code? The four, orange spinning wheels atop Adobe’s downtown San Jose tower is a Semaphore, or an optical telegraph — and it is now transmitting a new message.

The wheels of the Semaphore moving in a GIF.

The wheels move every 7.2 seconds.

GIF by SJtoday staff

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Have you ever looked up at Adobe’s Almaden Tower in downtown and wondered what’s the point of those giant, orange spinning wheels?

Well, it’s actually a Semaphore — or optical telegraph. And guess what? Adobe is challenging the public to crack its newest code — the first in five years.

🟠 A Sema-short history

This type of communication device was created in 1790 by Claude Chappe and used to deliver orders and receive information during the French Revolution. Only, instead of digitized circles, they used a system of handheld flags to do the work — a little exhausting and tedious, huh?

In 2001, Adobe teamed up with the San Jose Public Art Program to put its own spin on the optical telegraph with the mission to incorporate art and innovation into its downtown campus. New media artist Ben Rubin was tasked with designing the art + creating the code, and it has been running since 2006.

🟠 Who’s smart enough to solve that?

Actually, Ben’s codes have been cracked twice since its creation:

  • Bob Mayo + Mark Snesrud — In the summer of 2007, the two visiting scientists revealed the semaphore to be broadcasting the entire text of Thomas Pynchon’s 1966 novel, “The Crying of Lot 49.” They even wrote a whole scientific paper on it.
  • Jimmy Waters — Nearly 10 years later, the Tennessee high school math teacher determined the message was Neil Armstrong’s famous quote, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

🟠 What do you win?

The winner of the challenge will receive a 2-year subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud software, which is valued at ~$575. Ready to become the next champ? These tools may come in handy: