New semaphore puzzle lights up at Adobe HQ

At Adobe, creativity is at the center of everything that we do. It’s deep-rooted in our groundbreaking technology, how we partner with and inspire creatives around the world and yes, it’s embedded throughout our Adobe offices.

Adobe Headquarters in San Jose, CA is a prominent example of this inside and out. We have called San Jose home for nearly 30 years, laying roots in the downtown area as the first major tech company. Ever since, we’ve committed to the enrichment and vitality of the city of San Jose through community partnerships and the presence of our offices.

We recently expanded our headquarters with the opening of the Adobe Founders Tower, a physical manifestation of the workplace of the future: sustainably built and run, optimized for hybrid, designed for community, adaptable, and resilient to change. Creativity is woven throughout from the strategic use of color; to artwork on display from our creative community on Adobe Stock and Behance; to the public-facing murals designed by incredible local artists as an homage to the rich diversity of the City of San José. This isn’t the only place on Adobe’s campus where you’ll find compelling artwork on display though.

Beaming atop Adobe’s Almaden Tower – one of four buildings that make up Adobe’s headquarters - is Adobe’s San Jose Semaphore. The Semaphore was conceived in 2001 when Adobe first developed plans to build the Almaden Tower. The idea was brought to life in partnership with the San Jose Public Art Program whose mission it is to infuse art and innovation through the downtown area. As the Semaphore’s wheels turn slowly and come to rest, it transmits a message that is visible for miles (and online!), just waiting to be solved! The Semaphore is illuminated by 24,000 LED lights and has transmitted two codes since its installation in 2006. Now, the third code is waiting to be solved! Are you ready to crack the code?

So, how does it work?

A semaphore, also known as an optical telegraph, uses visible signals or symbols to transmit information. Each wheel of the Semaphore can assume four positions – vertical, horizontal, left-leaning diagonal, and right-leaning diagonal. Together, the four wheels have 256 possible combinations, which may explain why it took nearly 4.5 years to solve the previous code. The Semaphore transmits the message at a steady rate, with the wheels turning to a new position every 7.2 seconds. A soundtrack also supplements the visual transmission, which may be helpful in decoding the message.

Ben Rubin, a leading American new-media artist, is the creator of San Jose Semaphore. When building out new codes for the public, he finds an art in crafting a message with just enough difficulty to challenge even the most advanced puzzle solvers.

“Today, it’s easy for anyone to encrypt a message so strongly that only a government agency would have the resources needed to decode it,” Ben said. “Instead, I’ve had to find ways to make it challenging but still possible to decode the message.

“The interactive art piece is a way to connect with the local and global community. While it’s exciting when the code is cracked, an equally rewarding piece of the Semaphore is the community that forms around solving it,” said Eric Kline, Director of Global Workplace Experience Design at Adobe. He believes that the Semaphore is a symbol of Adobe.

“The San Jose Semaphore celebrates technology and creativity coming together – something we are very passionate about ,” Eric said. “We are excited to be continuing our partnership with Ben, launching this new puzzle, and supporting art in the City of San Jose and among our creative community.”

At its core, the Semaphore encourages people to come together and look more closely at the world around them.

“It prompts people to get curious about whether there might be more than meets the eye,” Ben said. “Most people probably don't pay much attention to those big orange shapes slowly turning on the San Jose skyline, but my hope is that when people hear about the challenge and learn that these shapes are actually transmitting a message, that they'll feel that they are ‘in the know,’ and that they'll feel a new connection with this piece of the city.”

Crack the code

You can check out the Semaphore in person in downtown San Jose (visible 7am PST until midnight daily) or join the web simulcast which operates around the clock. The first person or team (up to five individuals) to send a complete and accurate submission will be awarded bragging rights and a two-year subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud. Learn more about what’s required to crack the code and rules for participation.

Good luck!

San Jose Semaphore

A new code is ready to be cracked.

Learn more