The Story Behind Project 192: How a Salinas, Calif., Crop Circle Became a Worldwide Puzzle

by Brian Caulfield

We can’t say who did it. Or exactly how. But we can tell you this: It didn’t involve aliens.

We can also tell you why we hired some of the world’s best crop circle artists to put an image of our latest mobile processor in a barley field near Salinas, California, two hours south of San Francisco.

We simply couldn’t think of any other way to explain that our new Tegra K1 processor, with 192 graphics cores, can do things no other technology — on this planet, at least — could.

Those energy-sipping graphics cores put an unbelievable amount of power into an incredibly tiny package. They use the same Kepler architecture used to accelerate some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, and power the graphics chips embedded in our top-of-the-line GeForce GTX graphics cards.

They can also tap into the same CUDA parallel computing platform used by scientists to simulate the streams of interstellar particles that blast out from the cores of galaxies and black holes.

Some of the possibilities seemed right out of science fiction. Like advanced robotic vision systems that can be slipped into mainstream cars. Or PC-caliber graphics running on devices you can slide into your pocket.

So, when our Tegra team tried to figure out how to tell this story – in a creative way – they kept returning to a simple theme: How impossibly advanced this stuff is. So advanced, it seemed otherworldly.

That’s when we reached out to a team of crop circle experts. They flew in after Christmas and quickly headed to a dusty field in an effort our marketing team dubbed “Project 192,” — a reference to the number of graphics cores in K1.

The field’s owner had planted the barley, as many farmers do, to be plowed under, renewing the land. Meanwhile, it provided the perfect canvas for our crop circle specialists who drove out to the site accompanied by our team. They worked quickly.

When the morning arrived, it wasn’t long before a crowd began to gather. Word spread, fast.

While we were hoping to get the word out — we even created a video showing the crop circle’s discovery to spread the mystery and the fun — we didn’t realize how big this thing would get. The story quickly went global, with websites and television stations as far away as Mongolia and Hungary reporting the story.

More than a few people told reporters they had a simple explanation for what they saw: aliens. And when the circle was plowed under by the farm’s owner, one commenter on a story posted to CNN even fretted that we just plowed under an integrated circuit more advanced than anything made by man.

An image of our latest Tegra processor left in a California barley field sparked a worldwide guessing game.

Many others, however, noticed a clue, hidden in the pattern: The number 192 represented in the clock positions of the spheres in “orbit” around the circle, and repeated over and over again, in Braille.

We decided not to step forward too quickly. Puzzle lovers — many of them our fans — were having too much fun with this.

What could it mean? Did the number refer to some sort of artifact with previously unseen power? Did it have anything to do with the 192 GPU cores we announced would be in our next-generation mobile processor, at the SIGGRAPH graphics industry conference back in July?

In a word: yes.