‘Alcatraz’ ARG: Unlocking the secrets of J.J. Abrams’ show

Jan. 17, 2012 | 3:29 p.m.
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The "Alcatraz" press kit came packaged in a battered metal box with a creaking hinged top. (Jay West)

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A torn magazine page with a critic’s review of the book "Inmates of Alcatraz" by Dr. Diego Soto, with Jorge Garcia of "Lost" fame pictured as Soto. (Jay West)

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A ripped portion of an "Inmates of Alcatraz" book. (Jay West)

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The last item in the box: A white chrysanthemum. (Jay West)

Jay West is a guest writer on Hero Complex with a focus on toys, collectibles and fan culture.

While being caught up with work at my computer last week, a friend accepted a Fed Ex package for me at my door. My friend, knowing that I’m a collector of movie-related collectibles, asked if I’d ordered some kind of vintage, movie tie-in lunchbox. I understood the question when I saw the battered metal box with the creaking hinged top. There was a letter inside with this message:

Dear Jay West,

We invite you to inspect these artifacts from Alcatraz. Over the next few months, we will be looking to you, and your audience, to help us uncover the mysteries of the island. Should your careful examination of the contents of this box lead you to any new discoveries, we urge you to share with your community. More of the story and further instructions are forthcoming. We hope you choose to participate!

Inside there was also a large Alcatraz prison key, a ripped-out newspaper article about the closing of the prison in 1963 and a tourist map of the grounds. I also pulled out a ripped portion of two entries in an “Inmates of Alcatraz” book and an eerie, child-like handwritten message on postcard. There was a modern artifact — a lenticular postcard with changing imagery of a cell block in 1960 (with inmates) to a vacated cell block of latter date (no inmates) and a torn magazine page with a critic’s review of “Inmates of Alcatraz,” a book by Dr. Diego Soto (with Jorge Garcia of “Lost” fame pictured as Soto). In the review, certain letters had been circled and they spelled out “Legends of Alcatraz.”

Ah, and there was one last thing in the box: a white chrysanthemum.

So, of course, back at the computer I typed in “LegendsofAlcatraz.com” — I was taken to a page displaying (at the time) a countdown clock for the premiere to “Alcatraz.” It’s all part of an already-intriguing alternate reality game (ARG), which involves players via problem solving and active participation so as to lead to content reveals of the mythos behind a project, and encourages interaction with the storyline itself — the likes of which have been done in recent years for “Tron: Legacy” and “Real Steel.”  The website for the new J.J. Abrams show later depicted an image of an antiquated typewriter, with a typed paper stating a call to action for players of the ARG:

ALCATRAZ. The most notorious federal penitentiary this country has ever known. Its history runs far and deep, as do the stories, the rumors, and the LEGENDS. Now it’s your turn to roam the cell blocks that so many have claimed to be haunted, to dig through its dark past, and unlock its many secrets. Over the upcoming weeks, you will be challenged to examine Alcatraz in its past and present form. You will be tasked to solve perplexing anomalies and crack the many puzzles that surround this most infamous rock. The search will lead some of you to seek out clues in city streets, and may even bring those who dare to the island itself.

Let us know in the comments section what you’ve discovered locked up in the “Alcatraz” ARG…

— Jay West


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17 Responses to ‘Alcatraz’ ARG: Unlocking the secrets of J.J. Abrams’ show

  1. Drew says:

    I saw the one hour pilot on a plane back from Mexico last month and thought it was incredibly stupid. The script was absolutely moronic and cliche. And frankly, who cares about disappearing prisoners in Alcatraz? No human interest for me.

  2. Adam says:

    I really enjoyed the first 2 episodes/pilot. Hope it keeps it up and does not go the way "Lost" did…

  3. chrissy says:

    i love aclatraz it is a awsome movie!!!!!

  4. qwer says:

    i was expecting better. it was a complete let down. they tried to build drama but it just didn't work. sam neil was awesome the first prisoner was awesome, everyone else just doesn't seem to fit. i hope they do better in the coming weeks

  5. Cody says:

    The solution to the first puzzle is 9:14. The missing letters on the menu are Roman Numerals CXIV or 914. A second page comes up that says something will happen on January 27th, 28th, and 29th at coordinates N37 49.6062 W122 25.37907…Alcatraz Island. There is a twitter handle @AlcatrazLegends and a hashtag #LegendsofAlcatraz

  6. megan says:

    The series see to be quite interesting but I am not sure that it will be able to replace LOST. As for the website; i found it to be very difficult to solve the questions. I am still unable to answer the first question abou the Alcatraz Spaghetti Riot as i have not previous knowledge of it. but i am guessing it has something to do with the numeric value of the missing alphabets on the lunch menu board.

  7. Alisha says:

    The show was pathetic. What was the point of the second episode? Just a repeated formula. Let's rip off other series and call it new.

  8. rahlow says:

    I got one Q here why the show don't have one good guy who can fight.

  9. Mataline says:

    Wow Drew, maybe you just should have stayed in Mexico?

  10. George says:

    I was incarcerated in Alcatraz and can tell you straight up there weren't any secret rooms or crazy doctors. I was in the infirmary several times and never once was placed next to some guy that was backlit and who talked about some ominous bad thing happening. The only thing ominous in the infirmary was the smell. Oh yeah, and none of the inmates I knew vanished… Thought I often wished my celly would have. He never shut up.

  11. Chris says:

    I turned it off after 30 or 40 minutes. Awful. A kiling spree in SF and there is one (of course rogue) cop on it, a comic book PhD (??!) and one mysterious govt honcho? Even superheros have more backup. I was troubled by the scene when the sniper killed innocent people in closeup with the scope — that kind of random, graphic violence is unnecessary and desensitizes viewers from real acts of violence. The show will be gone in the spring… good riddance

  12. Zort70 says:

    Hi, I am currently running a blog to investigate the puzzles in the game and wondered if you can tell us what date the postcard from the child (Susie) has on the back ?

    Several people have received the box and the only difference seems to be the postcard type.


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