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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 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.

Guitarist David Gilmour denied any involvement while album artist Storm Thorgerson was bemused. According to drummer Nick Mason, EMI Records were 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.

Official statements

During a 2002 webchat, guitarist David Gilmour said the puzzle 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, drummer Nick Mason reiterated that Publius Enigma had been instigated by the record company, and that the prize would have been a "crop of trees planted in a clear cut area of forest or something to that effect".

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..."

Uncle Custard

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.

In the media

Possible references to the Publius Enigma can be found in various Pink Floyd releases:

  • Pulse, a DVD of the 20 October 1994 televised concert at Earls Court, London, contains footage of the word "ENIGMA" being projected in large letters on to the backdrop of the stage during the song "Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)". The DVD's authoring company, Das Boot, uses an enigma machine as their logo, which can be seen at the end of the show.
    • In the 2019 re-edit of Pulse included in "The Later Years" box set, different camera angles are substituted so that the "ENIGMA" projection is less prominent. You can still see "MA" in one shot, and the bottom of "IGMA" in another, but the prominent wide-shot which clearly said "ENIGMA" appears to have been deliberately removed.
  • In the artwork for the MiniDisc release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the word "PUBLIUS" has been inserted into the photo of the man in the rye field. The word "ENIGMA" appears in the lower corner of the picture of the man standing on the edge of the cliff.
  • The words "Publius Enigma" are spoken just before the song "One of These Days" on the 2003 DVD release of Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.
  • Storm Thorgerson's cover for John Harris' book The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece includes the following text: "[...] despite numerous attempts to elucidate the mysteries of its success the ubiquitous popularity of this record remains an enigma..."
  • Page 13 of The Division Bell's CD booklet contains an anagram of the word "enigma", hidden in third column from the right of the top verse of the lyrics to Wearing the Inside Out, perfectly aligned with the page number "jyusan". Anthony Moore, who wrote the lyrics to the song, has denied that this was intentional on his part.
  • The official Pink Floyd biography contains the statement "[...] true to their beginnings, there has always been an enigma at their heart" and ends with "For at the heart of Pink Floyd, there has always been an enigma..."
  • The Ian Emes movie The Endless River (2019) that can be found in The Later Years box shows the words Publius Enigma at the end of the second Allons-Y song.
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