In 1992, mere days after Windows 3.1 was released, it was revealed that typing the letters NYC in Wingdings—Microsoft’s all-symbols font—produced the following antisemitic and/or Jewish conspiracy-backed text, depending on who you asked:

Microsoft insisted the arrangement of glyphs was wholly random, which only ended up encouraging the Wingdings truth-seekers. Because of course that’s what someone who hid secret anti-semitic messages in a nonsensical font would say. There was an even an article in the New York Post about the drama, breathlessly titled “Anti-Jewish Code Lurks in Popular Software.” And an eye-opener it was:

[Friend of the anonymous programmer who discovered the issue, Brian Young] calculated the odds of three letters of the alphabet being combined with 255 symbols, and said he found that the odds of obtaining the message were less than one in a trillion.

“I found it hard to believe some of the stories about the resurgence of Nazi sympathizers — but this puts things back into perspective.”

Things eventually got so bad that Microsoft had to take great pains in its ‘97 release of Webdings (the Unicode-compatible version) to ensure that there would be no New York/Jew/skull-related confusion. You’ll notice that typing NYC in Webdings produces quite a different message:

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But the reincarnation of Nostradamus in font form wasn’t done prophesying yet. A few years later, at the height of the Y2K frenzy in 1999, people found that typing “MILLENNIUM” in Wingdings would give you the following apocalyptic promise:

Spooky! But what does it mean? Possible translations include:

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  • You can’t stop the bomb. Sad people will be killed. Say goodbye. Where’s your god now? Bomb.
  • Computers are about to revolt so let’s all buy bottled water.
  • Lyrics to “Zombie” by The Cranberries.

Even though Wingdings wasn’t correct in its prediction that time—at least as far as we know (there is a case to be made that this is, in fact, hell)—the font had more up its sleeve.

In the weeks following 9/11, some variation of the following email got sent around to the severely shaken masses:

Subject: FW: Scary

One of the planes that hit the trade centre towers was flight number : Q33NY

1) Open a new Word document and type in capital letters Q33NY

2) highlight it

3) enlarge the font to 48

4) click on Font Style and select “Wingdings”

You will then will be amazed!!

Should you decide to follow the email’s instructions, this is what you’d find:

Again, this one has two interpretations depending on which school of thought you ascribe to. Either it’s depicting a Jew-orchestrated 9/11, or a 9/11 specifically targeting the Jews. Both, however, are irrelevant considering the fact that there was no plane with the number Q33NY.

The internet, however, wasn’t about to let a little thing like explicit factual inaccuracy get in its way. The idea that an absurd whimsy of a font could hold the secrets to one of the worst disasters in American history was just too perfect for the particularly deluded members of the populace to pass up. Which gave birth to beautiful disasters like this:

And this:

And even more interpretations than there are voices in your head telling you to burn things:

33 is the sum of September 11, plus the flight number 11, plus the twin towers that look like number 11.... The jet and the towers are self-explanatory. The head and skull can be seen as death, but in Maxwell’s website, he represent this as the secret society known as the Skull N’ Bones. Ex-president, George Bush, was supposedly in it. The star, represents the order of Zionism and the thumbs up, of course, represents “right on.”

“Of course.”

In the weeks following the 9/11 attacks, Microsoft even went so far as to comment on the assertion that a Neo-Nazi programmer had hidden secret anti-semitic prophecies inside their font made of suns and puppies—again. A spokesperson for the company told Wired that “To Microsoft’s mind, it’s very unfortunate that people are bringing this up again in light of the tragedy” and that it had found “no evidence of malicious intent.”

The fact that Microsoft has had to comment on this on multiple occasions is equal parts absurd and delightful. But despite everything, there is one, very real thing we can glean about Wingdings from its unfortunate online reputation: It is both the ultimate Rorschach test and a modern conspiracy-theorist’s wet, chemtrail-soaked dream. Meaning that those convoluted strings of symbols will be a truther goldmine for years to come.

Quick, someone figure out what it says about Benghazi.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby