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.