By Tom Watkins
(CNN) — Sorry, dear readers, but the crop circle discovered last week etched in a farmer’s barley field in Chualar, California, was not created by aliens.
Instead — surprise! — it was a stunt intended to attract publicity to the release of a mobile processor used in automobiles, tablets and cell phones made by the computer graphics company NVIDIA, according to its president and CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang.
“It is true. The NVIDIA marketing team is behind this phenomenon,” Huang said as he stood in front of a picture of the manicured field. “What you’re looking at here is 310 feet in diameter. It is what people call a crop circle.”
Huang made the announcement during a keynote address Sunday night at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“It’s like, out of this world, it’s practically built by aliens,” Huang said, referring to the new Tegra K1 graphics chip.
Brett Murray, who works as a marketer for the company, told CNN in a telephone interview that the idea emerged during a brainstorming session in early December about how to introduce the new product.
They came up with the tag line, “Impossibly advanced,” then tried to figure out how to “get some noise” around it, he said.
From “impossibly advanced” to “aliens” was not a big leap. “We eventually said, ‘You know, what’s graceful and alien? Crop circles.'”
They then set to work, swearing everyone to secrecy, hiring a Hollywood location scout to find “the perfect field in Northern California,” and flying in a British group who have made crop circles before.
Starting buzz for the creation, the company called anonymous tip lines for news stations in the Bay Area, telling them: “Something’s going on out in Chualar.”
A crudely made video also popped up on YouTube purporting to show two men — in reality, Murray and another NVIDIA employee — getting out of a car and looking at strange lights coming from the farmer’s field and then stumbling toward them.
By the morning of December 30, the news trucks were rolling in and, with them, throngs of curious onlookers. The company hired security to keep them from trampling over the farmer’s fields.
Murray described the crop circle as “a puzzle out there for the world to solve.”
The puzzle included clues to who was behind it — for example, the number 192 is posted in two ways in the design — as numbers on a clock and as a Braille representation.
That’s the number of graphical processing unit cores in the new chip. At least one person appears to have figured it all out. John Van Vliet posted this at 12:16 a.m. Wednesday, January 1, on doubtfulnews.com: “The crop art really dose (sic) look like a graphics GPU chip if i had to bet … one of the NEW CPU/GPU combos from AMD or Nvidia or intell.”
Murray said he understood why the story attracted so much attention. “This is like Santa Claus,” he said. “People want to believe.”
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