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Google's homepage shows the company's name in the form of crop circles, minus the "L."

Turns out the folks at Google know the aliens are coming. Or they're trying to market something. Nobody really knows.

The Internet's vast community of amateur detectives - active enough even on a slow day - have been handed a convoluted mystery to pore over by the world's most popular search engine.

10 days ago, Google updated the logo on its search engine, replacing the traditional one with a drawing of a UFO abducting one of the Os in the search engine's name. Normally, Google posts unique logos - doodles, in Google-speak - to commemorate certain dates, such as Valentine's Day or the birthdays of important historical figures. However there was no obvious significance to the Sept. 5 UFO logo. Clicking on the link led users to the search results page for "Unexplained Phenomenon."

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Simultaneously, Google's posted a coded message on its Twitter feed that translated to "all your O are belong to us." The phrase is a play on a badly-translated line from a 20-year-old video game that became an Internet phenomenon a few years ago.

At the time, Google issued a decidedly unhelpful statement only saying: "We consider the second 'o' critical to user recognition of our brand and pronunciation of our name," and promising to resolve the mystery in the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, Google posted yet another variation of its logo. This one showed the company's name in the form of crop circles. This time, it was the letter L, not O, that was missing. Eagle-eyed users quickly noted that the file name of the image - goog_e.gif - was missing an L, just as the file name 10 days earlier was missing an O.

Once again, Google's Twitter feed included another clue - a set of geographic co-ordinates that directed users to the town of Woking, near London, England. The clue prompted a whole new wave of speculation. Some pointed out that the HG Wells novel The War of The Worlds was set just north of Woking.

There are a number of theories floating around on the web as to what's going on. None of them have been corroborated:

  • The crop circle logos and associated cryptic clues are part of a marketing campaign for an upcoming product release.
  • The logos are an ongoing tribute to science fiction great HG Wells, who would have turned 143 years old on Sept. 21.
  • Google is drumming up interest in science fiction as part of a deal with Hollywood ahead of a major sci-fi themed movie release. The leading candidate so far is Avatar, a much-hyped James Cameron movie set for release in December.
  • There is no significance to the logos at all - somewhere, a Google designer is having a laugh.

A Google spokeswoman offered the following response when asked by the Globe and Mail about the new logo: "Clearly, the situation has escalated since the last occurrence on September 5th. We're currently in negotiation to restore the Google logo to its natural form. We hope to resolve the situation within the next week."

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