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After five years of searching, I have finally found...
...something.
Back in 2014, I received an email with a link to an article.
The article was titled "Solve the Mystery of the Pointy S"
and was about this stylized symbol in the shape of the letter S.
Upon seeing the symbol, a dormant cluster of neurons and synapses
within the deepest recesses of my brain lit up like a Christmas tree,
and forced a long-forgotten memory to the surface.
I used to draw this symbol back in primary school.
Two rows of three vertical lines connected by four diagonal lines in the middle.
The ends were then capped, like so, to create an S-shaped symbol.
Beyond that, I could not remember where it came from,
what it was supposed to represent, nor if it ever had a name.
I think it was just a cool symbol that me and my classmates used to draw.
To my surprise, however, this wasn't just some localized fad but a globally recognized symbol.
People from all over the world reported they too had learned to draw this symbol as children or teenagers.
None of whom seemed to know where it came from.
After reading about this, I showed the symbol to my friends and family
to see if I could provoke a few more Christmas trees and, sure enough,
every single one of them recognized the symbol.
Unfortunately, they were just as clueless as I was when it came to its origin.
At this point, I was hooked.
This is exactly the type of inconsequential good-for-nothing mysteries
that make me want to wake up in the morning.
But as I began my search, I soon realized I was far from the first
to attempt to track down the origins of this symbol.
Many had tried and failed where I now stood.
But in my delusions of grandeur, I brushed it off as the failings of lesser men, and into the abyss I went.
I turned to my trusty board of keys, making sure to enable investigation mode,
and after some intense clickety-clang,
I managed to track down over 40 online discussions about this symbol.
From this, I quickly learned the symbol was strongly associated with the American clothing brand Stüssy.
So much so that many even refer to the symbol as a Stüssy.
Stüssy was founded in the early 1980s, and many insist they remember this symbol being one of their logos.
The problem is, there is no evidence of that.
Countless attempts notwithstanding,
no one has been able to produce an article of Stüssy clothing featuring this exact design
or even just a photograph of someone wearing such an article.
Although, to be fair, some designs, like these two, are quite similar,
and it's not difficult to see why people would conflate one for the other.
Now, this could have been the end of the story if it wasn't for the fact
that many claims to have drawn this symbol long before the 1980s.
I mean, it's not like people would just go on the internet and lie, but even a spokesperson for Stüssy
claims the symbol predates the founding of the company.
And so, I returned to my alphabet shovel and resumed digging.
Another frequent association is with the Japanese car and motorcycle company Suzuki.
While that emblem has the same basic shape, the differences are also quite pronounced.
The two most obvious ones being the spacing between the strokes of the letter,
as well as the complete lack of vertical lines.
However, the Suzuki logo has been in use since 1958,
and so it has the advantage of being old enough to possibly be the origin.
As such, one could argue that this is merely a simplified version which developed over time
because it's easier to draw.
Even so, I struggled to reconcile the fact that school children all over the world
would want to reproduce the emblem of a Japanese motor company.
At least the Stüssy explanation made sense as it is a clothing brand
specifically targeting that demographic.
And so, I spun up the ol' dexterity trampoline once more.
Another popular theory is that the symbol originated as a logo used by a rock or metal band.
For instance, the symbol is frequently associated with the American heavy mental band Slipknot
but there's not even a passing resemblance in that case.
Other bands include Styx, Slayer, and KISS, just to name a few.
The only band I've come across which actually does use the symbol as part of their logo
is the American thrash metal band, Sacred Reich.
Unfortunately, the band was founded in 1985, and so it's not a contender for the origin.
I could go on and on about all of these dead ends, but in the end, they're all just dead ends.
So after spending a whole lot of time on a whole lot of nothing,
I decided to do something productive.
I needed a way to gauge the prevalence of this symbol,
and so I spent some time extracting all the comments from all of these online discussions
until I had a list of more than 27,000 comments
I then sifted through this wretched hive of scum and villainy
to extract all the comments that mentioned a country, demonym, or capital city.
After filtering out all the false positives, I ended up with a list of 1,215 comments
which mentioned a country where this symbol had been seen or drawn.
When mapped out geographically, this is what that data looks like.
Alright, let's dial it back with the theatrics.
As you can see, this symbol is practically universal.
There is naturally going to be an overrepresentation of English-speaking countries like the US, UK, and Australia
as these comments were taken from websites dominated by those countries.
But it's still interesting to note that the symbol has a presence on every continent.
Well, except Antarctica.
As far as we know.
I then went through the same process, except this time, I extracted all the comments that mentioned a date.
This is what that looks like.
If these users on the internet, which is a sacred place of truth and nothing but the truth,
then sightings of this symbol may go all the way back to the 1940s.
It's not just international but an intergenerational symbol.
An S that transcends both space and time.
It's The Universal S!
Speaking of which, is this even an S?
Because some claim they always recognized the symbol as the number 8.
Which, when you think about it, makes perfect sense.
It could also depict the number 5 or the number 2 when horizontally inverted,
as seen in this graffiti from 2006.
And why limit ourselves to just alphanumerics?
It could also be a depiction of an infinity symbol, a dollar sign, or a double helix.
Some speculate it could be a simplistic rendition of an ouroboros,
which is an ancient symbol of a snake or dragon eating its own tail to represent the circle of life and death.
While it is tempting to think it could be a Möbius strip,
this is not the case as a Möbius strip famously has one side
while this symbol clearly has two.
To further complicate the situation, there are way too many names for this symbol.
One frequent name is the Superman S, presumably in reference to the iconic S of Superman,
despite the lack of similarity between the two.
Others have opted for more generic prefixes like Skater-, Surfer-, Stoner-, Cool-, and Gangster-.
In total, I've come across over 60 different names which make researching this symbol
an absolute blast.
I also noticed a tendency for people to combine the symbol with certain terms and phrases.
For example, it's frequently drawn as part of the word smile,
specifically with a palm tree in place of the letter L.
This is especially common in Greece for some reason.
As if that wasn't enough, quite a few people claim to have drawn a chain-, rope-, or braid-like pattern
by continuously adding rows of three vertical lines before closing off the ends, like so.
What this means is The Universal S may have originated as a pattern
that was eventually truncated down to an S-shaped symbol.
If that's the case, this pattern could have existed for many centuries, if not millennia,
because humans kinda have a thing for symmetry.
Every culture on Earth has, at one point or another,
made use of tessellation, interlacing, and decorative knotwork.
So, with that in mind, I spent an ungodly amount of time looking at
ornamental books, ancient artifacts, and medieval thingamajigs,
yet I have been utterly defeated in my quest to find evidence of this exact pattern.
Some were indeed similar and might have inspired this pattern, but I could not find an exact match.
Suffice it to say; things were going great!
In the midst of this action-packed adventure of indiscovery,
I happened upon this comment posted by a user on Reddit back in 2011.
According to them, The Universal S began as a puzzle.
The puzzle consisted of two rows of three vertical lines
and the challenge was to turn those lines into an S using nothing but straight lines.
This sounded quite promising, and so I contacted said user and received this response.
The puzzle was more specifically a matchstick puzzle
and it had supposedly been featured in a magazine titled Dynamite
published by the American publisher Scholastic.
Unfortunately, the first issue was published in 1974,
so even if this puzzle existed, it could not be the origin.
However, I decided to pursue this lead anyway because if I could find it,
at least I would have some tangible evidence of the symbol's existence.
Keep in mind, up until this point, all I had was hearsay.
A bunch of internet strangers, the most veracious group to ever walk this Earth,
claiming they had seen or drawn this symbol at various points in time.
The oldest photographic evidence came in the form of this aforementioned graffiti from 2006,
as well as this squiggly version of the symbol etched into a desk from a Danish prison
that closed down in 2006.
I... I don't even remember how I found that.
Anyway, I've since acquired about a dozen issues of Dynamite magazine
as well as a bunch of matchstick puzzle books, and this would turn out to be a massive break...
...of my spirit.
Not a single one of these issues feature a matchstick puzzle of any kind.
It's not even featured in the German masterpiece Streichholzspiele,
which is said to be the mother of all matchstick puzzle books.
And despite near endless repository of matchstick puzzles available online,
including every single puzzle featured in these books,
this one is curiously missing.
After spending so much time on this and getting absolutely nowhere
I reluctantly put this topic aside and moved on to other projects.
For April Fools of 2017, Reddit orchestrated this event called Place.
It was essentially a blank canvas divided into a million pixels,
and each user was allowed to alter the color of one pixel every couple of minutes.
Whole communities came together and painted anything and everything, one pixel at a time.
And as my eyes marveled at this pixelated microcosm of human civilization,
something caught my attention.
In the corner, there it was.
In this rainbow-colored soup of insanity, some loose-knit band of heroes
had joined forces to construct a symbol of which they knew nothing about.
The gods had clearly spoken.
The search had to continue.
And, this time, it was different because, this time, I found something.
Throughout the video, I've alluded to another potential origin.
Namely, graffiti.
Many believe the symbol originated within the American graffiti movement of the '60s and '70s
and claim that various street gangs, especially on the East- and West coast,
used The Universal S as their tag.
It makes a lot of sense because graffiti makes heavy use of outlined block letters
and drawing a symmetrical S in that style can be quite frustrating.
Perhaps, this frustration is what gave birth to the comparatively simplistic technique
we use to draw The Universal S.
Two rows of three vertical lines connected by some lines in the middle.
Simple.
I can't even remember how many tens of thousands of photographs of graffiti
I must have sifted through over the years,
but one day I found this.
It's an art piece by an artist named Jean-Michel Basquiat,
and it was painted in New York in 1982.
I almost missed it but in the corner, just as the pixel gods had promised, there it was.
Basquiat describes it as the "CLASSIC S OF GRAFF", graff being short for graffiti,
and it's not his only piece to feature the symbol.
Interestingly enough, here it's painted right next to what appears to be the Superman symbol.
Now, I knew this was not the origin, but it was some much-needed evidence
to substantiate this ocean of hearsay.
Furthermore, it gave me some much-needed motivation to keep digging
because I had all but given up at this point.
And with this newfound motivation I stumbled upon something totally unexpected.
I was reading about this photographer named Jon Naar who, in 1974,
had published an influential photobook about graffiti titled The Faith of Graffiti.
For some reason, the name Jon Naar sounded familiar,
and after retracing my research, I managed to figure out why.
Years before, I had watched an interview with Jon Naar conducted by none other than Stüssy.
I don't think I paid much attention to the video back then
but I really wish I had because 1 minute and 38 seconds into that video,
one of the photographs from The Faith of Graffiti is prominently displayed on screen.
And hidden amongst the graffiti in that photograph is The Universal S.
The photograph was taken in New York City in late 1973
and it's not the only photograph in this collection in which the symbol is featured.
What was so unexpected about this discovery
is the fact that the symbol was literally hiding in plain sight.
Not only was the interview conducted by the brand most strongly associated with this symbol,
the video was uploaded in 2010 and has since amassed over 25,000 views.
In spite of this, it seems to have gone completely undetected.
Nevertheless, these photographs were now the earliest known evidence of The Universal S.
After spending a few more weeks chasing down potential leads without success
I put the video back on the shelf once again and went to work on other videos.
Fast forward to mid 2018 when someone else discovered
that in the movie Piranha from 1978,
the symbol can be seen scribbled onto the wall of a jail cell about two-thirds into the movie.
I found out the scene was filmed in Los Angeles the same year
and while it did not predate the aforementioned photographs,
it was still more evidence.
Sometime thereafter, I stumbled upon another collection of photographs taken in Los Angeles
in the early 1970s by photographer Howard Gribble.
Many of which feature the number 8 in a style reminiscent of the The Universal S.
The least ambiguous of which is definitely this one.
Given that the symbol in this photograph is slightly faded compared to the text underneath,
which appears to have been written in 1970, it might have been painted in the late 1960s.
This was now the earliest known evidence.
Although, as I later discovered, I am not the first to find this.
A Reddit user by the name of GaryDuder posted a comment with a link to this photograph back in 2013.
Unfortunately, it was buried beneath a mountain of other comments,
and so this quite significant piece of evidence fell by the wayside.
In any case, I was fairly satisfied at this point.
I may not have found the origin, but I had found irrefutable evidence of the symbol's existence,
and that was a hell of a lot more than I had at the beginning of all of this.
So a couple of months ago, I began writing the initial draft for this script.
In doing so, I found myself going through my research for the quadrillionth time
just to make sure I had exhausted every conceivable avenue.
That's when I stumbled upon this illustration featured in a book titled Mechanical Graphics.
This book is not from the '60s, nor '50s, nor the 1940s.
It's not even from the 1900s.
This book was published in 1890.
What's so wonderful about this book is that it was written by a professor named Frederick Willson
who taught geometry at Princeton University in New Jersey.
So, perhaps, just maybe, this is the school where it all began.
As an expert on descriptive geometry and technical drawing,
Willson might have taught his students this neat trick of how to draw a symmetrical S.
I suppose we may never know.
Regardless, the existence of this illustration makes The Universal S well over a century old.
Presuming, of course, that you accept this slightly rounded version
as a distant ancestor of the more angular version we see today.
While it may seem strange for a symbol like this to be globally recognized long before the internet,
it's really not.
There are numerous pre-internet symbols with unknown origins
which have as much of a global reach as The Universal S.
The Sator Square and Kilroy are but two examples.
If anything, this symbol exemplifies the phenomenon for which Richard Dawkins coined the term meme
back in 1976.
An idea or behavior transmitted from person to person.
In this case, through writing and word-of-mouth.
Nor is it difficult to see why it spread as the method by which this symbol is drawn
is both clever and practical.
A perfect recipe for virality.
No, the mystery here is all about the origin.
Where did it come from?
Does it really stem from some generic pattern, or could this 19th-century illustration
truly be the beginning?
For all we know, this symbol may date back to the dawn of mankind,
plastered across the walls of paleolithic caves just waiting to be discovered.
Okay, that may be a bit of a reach but...
All I know is that I certainly won't be the one to definitively solve the mystery of the pointy S
because with the conclusion of this godforsaken video I am so @#%!& done with this topic.
Thanks for watching, bye.