Mr. Pringle Solves Crop Circle Mystery

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It’s not every day that the solution to a worldwide “unexplained” mystery appears on prime time television—especially not in service of advertising potato chips.

But a new television ad campaign from Pringles shows a group of fun-loving teens making crop circles and other patterns (including an image of the mustachioed Mr. Pringle), all the while, of course, munching on the delicious new snack! What better way to promote their new Multigrain line of crisps (they are technically not potato chips) than making crop circles in wheat (or grains, get it?).

When I saw the commercial, I immediately recognized their techniques and equipment. In my decade of investigation into unexplained phenomenon, I have made several crop circles. The public’s interest in crop circles peaked around 2002 when the Mel Gibson film Signs came out, and along with two colleagues I conducted field experiments in crop-circle making in a field south of Rochester, New York.

There are many ideas about what create crop circles, from aliens to mysterious vorticies to wind patterns, but all the theories lack one important element: good evidence. The public is largely unaware of the real way that crop circles are made, but the new Pringles commercial blows the lid off the “secret.”

Though many people believe that crop circles have been reported for centuries, in fact they only date back about thirty years. The mysterious circles first appeared in the British countryside, and their origin remained a mystery until September 1991, when two men, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, confessed that they had created the patterns for decades as a prank to make people think UFOs had landed. They never claimed to have made all the circles—many were copycat pranks done by others—but their hoax was responsible for launching the crop circle phenomena.

How did they do it? With the same techniques and equipment seen in the Pringles commercial: using homemade “stalk stompers” (wooden boards attached to rope) to lay the stalks in one direction. The process is actually pretty straightforward, and not nearly as complicated as many people assume.

It is a proven fact that hoaxers created crop circles—even very complex ones. Some people reject the hoaxing explanation, though no one has ever demonstrated any differences between a “genuine” crop circle and a hoaxed one: they are exactly identical.

The triple-circle crop pattern I designed and helped create was about 120 feet long by 40 feet wide, and took only a few hours from start to finish, including breaks to photograph our results. It might have gone faster if I’d stopped to eat multigrain potato chips.

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