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of the Publius Enigma

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written by Mark Brown

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During the 1994 Pink Floyd Division Bell tour, a self-described messenger (using the common Latin first name Publius) started posting to the Usenet group alt.music.pink-floyd through an anonymous contact service. The letters use the following subject line or some variation of it: ">}}}}}}}}} T H E M E S S A G E {{{{{{{{{". (The name Publius was also used as a pseudonym early in U.S. history by the writers of The Federalist Papers. John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton wrote under one name to promote discussion of an idea.) The posts continued on an irregular basis, with a mysterious tone and many ambiguous clues, inviting us to look at the new album with open minds, discuss it in the newsgroup, and solve some sort of enigma or puzzle in The Division Bell. Publius promised a unique, tangible prize.

The newsgroup was generally pretty annoyed by the posts, but on July 16, Publius told us to watch for a sign: flashing white lights, East Rutherford, New Jersey, July 18, at about 10:30 p.m. At the Pink Floyd show in N.J. that night, "ENIGMA PUBLIUS" was displayed from the foot of the stage by the lights they use during KT and ABITW. Then more people accepted that Publius was on the level and began to take the enigma more seriously, excitedly looking for clues. They believe they have found some.

Many theories have been entertained, but we don't know who Publius is. Publius says that his/her/their identity is unimportant. Douglas Adams, the friend of the band who suggested the name of the album, said in 1994 that he was not involved and was not aware of band involvement. In May 1995, it was reported that neither Durga McBroom or Jon Carin, two supporting performers on the 1994 tour, were aware of an enigma.

click for a movieAnother sign was predicted last fall by Publius, and on October 20 the word ENIGMA was projected in large letters on the back of the stage during the beginning of Another Brick In The Wall Part 2 during a show at Earls Court in London. This show was televised in Europe the same night, and in the U.S. on November 1. Publius then posted that this sign was the world-wide announcement of the enigma. In June 1995, the same show was released on videotape, and the signal remains. However, the word is now disguised somewhat with added strokes on the letters.

In late 1994, A Momentary Lapse of Reason was released in MiniDisc format, with revised artwork in the booklet. On one photo is the plain white text ENIGMA, and on another is the plain white text PUBLIUS.


In the fall, Guitar World magazine received a packet of newsgroup articles about the enigma (sent anonymously) and writer Dan Amrich collected information from the newsgroup via email. The resulting article in the January 1995 issue unfortunately featured artwork that confused newcomers to this investigation. The pictures depicting clues hidden in TDB's cover art are purely fictional representations. The microscopic clues shown aren't actually in TDB art. GW did an update of the situation in their March 1995 issue.

Writer Neil Strauss also received a packet of newsgroup articles last fall "from the Publius-Concern" -- that is, from someone using that name without the knowledge of the group. His February 16, 1995 New York Times music column, The Pop Life, discussed the events surrounding the enigma. Mr. Strauss interviewed the band members and manager early in the tour. He described them as having a mysterious air and as saying that "there's all sorts of other things" in TDB, and that clues would be forthcoming. When asked about the sound-clip on the first minute of the album and the quiet phone conversation at the end of it, David Gilmour said, "I like puzzling people." Asked if some songs are veiled references to Roger Waters, he smiled and said, "Are they? You'll just have to work it out for yourself."

An article in the June 5, 1995 Toronto Star mentioned the puzzle, and other papers have used the information from the N.Y. Times story.

Publius said he will not solve the enigma for us, and that it will require considerable cooperative effort on our part. Because early Publius speculation in the newgroup was hampered by flamers, some people began using private email to develop theories. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that all discussion in the newsgroup was hampered by flamers. However, Publius has said that the ideas should be discussed openly, so virtually all discussion of the enigma has returned to alt.music.pink-floyd. There are still skeptics, and it's wise to be considerate of them so as not to rekindle the flames.

Here are a couple of recommendations to minimize the problems: If you don't want to see the discussion, use a "kill file" filter if you can. When discussing the enigma, please use a subject line with the name Publius in it so skeptics have a simple way to filter it. Similarly, skeptics should avoid using a Publius subject line, since argument with believers is a pointless waste of resources. Lastly, an often neglected point of "netiquette": don't be lazy and abuse the "reply" command, retaining the old subject line when you are changing the subject of the news thread. Always avoid starting a new topic of discussion using an old subject line. When this sort of abuse gets out of hand, it can appear that the news is dominated by one topic when that's not actually true. It can also lead some people who might have been interested to ignore your post.

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