The truth is out: LSA senior Noah Finer has revealed himself as the admin behind the popular Instagram meme account @umichaffirmations. The account was created in June 2021 as a way to “end (his) senior year with a bang.” He revealed his identity on Sunday through a series of eight puzzles that he coded and created over several weeks.
While it took him a month to come up with the puzzle, Finer said the basic idea came to him much earlier in the year.
“A puzzle hunt has been something I’ve been wanting to do for a while,” Finer said. “Some clues involved posts that were on my profile since around November. … For me, an admin reveal coincided pretty well with a good sort of motivation for people to finish the puzzle.”
The @umichaffirmations account follows a trend of affirmation accounts on Instagram which quickly spread to other college campuses. Finer was inspired to start the account after visiting friends at the University of Texas at Austin and seeing their affirmations account.
“I was like, ‘wait, this is hilarious’,” Finer said. “This is like a meme format I’ve never seen before, and it’s very applicable to the college. … Michigan did not have one, and then I was like, ‘This is my senior year. I’m gonna have less work. Let’s ball out and make this page’.”
Affirmations are a meme format that are written in the first person with positive messages like “I will conquer all my midterms.” The caption usually includes a message such as “yes to affirm.” For Finer, the account serves as a place where he can express a different voice than his own.
“I do not text with emojis at all. I do not say bestie to people,” Finer said. “I have a completely different voice on this account of hyper positivity, maximalist sensory overload in terms of emoji pastas (strings of emojis designed to be copied and pasted to and from other sources) and besties.”
The puzzle hunt featured prizes sponsored by local businesses including Zingerman’s and Condado Tacos. Finer said he was persistent in contacting businesses until he found willing sponsors.
“(I) just DM’d a ton of different businesses on Instagram and waited for them to respond,” Finer said. “It was a matter of just sending a lot of different DMs to different businesses and hoping they get back. It worked out very well. We got over $350 of prizes to give out to the top 10 people which was very exciting.”
LSA sophomores Hunter Bishop and Maryn Cunningham worked together to complete all eight puzzles first, winning a $100 gift card to Zingerman’s. According to Cunningham, the two originally had no intention of completing the puzzles and did not start until three hours after the first clue was released.
“I was just looking at it for fun,” Cunningham said. “I was on the second clue or something, and I just asked Hunter if he was doing it.”
LSA freshman Maria Figueiredo finished in fourth place and was the only participant in the top five to complete the puzzles alone.
“I also didn’t know that a lot of people were doing it with other people because I was just kind of in my room by myself just trying to figure out stuff and I was like, oh, I guess I could have asked for help,” Figueiredo said.
Several participants, including Cunningham, posted their progress on their personal stories and were met with questions about how they solved some of the puzzles.
“I think I posted a couple times the progress I was at and then it would stir conversations under it,” Cunningham said. “I’d be like, ‘Oh, we’re on puzzle six’ and people would be like, ‘Oh, how did you do puzzle three?’”
Figueiredo also kept her friends updated on her progress and, similarly to Cunningham, was asked for hints.
“My friends were asking me, and I’m like, ‘I’m not going to give this away’ because I’m competitive, and I want to do this by myself,” Figueiredo said. “I just kind of proved to myself that I can do it, and I did, which is kind of crazy.”
YikYak also grew into a place for puzzle participants to share their progress and ask for hints from others. According to Finer, @umichaffirmations was never prominent on YikYak until the hunt began.
“Before this, I hadn’t really been very big on YikYak, like it was fun to see me pop up every now and then,” Finer said. “Then this hunt, people were crazy. (On Sunday night) I would say around 50 to 70 percent of the posts were literally about people trying to do the puzzles, and it was so nice to see I had this community of anonymous students working together, trying to figure out all these puzzles I made up for them.”
For Figueiredo, YikYak served as a motivation to continue working on the puzzles and reassure her she was not too far behind the pack.
“The second puzzle was a lot,” Figueiredo said. “I almost gave up because I just couldn’t find it. But then I would go on YikYak and everyone was stuck and I was like, ‘Okay, maybe I’m not too behind’, and then I kept going.”
Finer used his knowledge as a computer science major to build the website. But he wanted to make the puzzles accessible for everyone regardless of their technical knowledge.
“I had to figure out a way to make sure that password is not visible to people because on the front end, everyone has access to the code,” Finer said. “So basically, every single password is encrypted (…) and uncrackable. The majority of people following my account and the majority of people at Michigan are not nerdy computer science majors like me, so I wanted to make sure that this was a puzzle that anybody could solve.”
Despite this, many computer science majors who participated, including Figueiredo, tried examining the inner workings of the website to discover any hints they could find.
“I was looking at the source code for all the websites and there was a big warning ‘there is nothing in the source code,’” Figueiredo said. “I don’t even really know how to work the source code; I just know that something could be hidden there.”
Among leaderboard participants, there were varying opinions on the most difficult puzzle. LSA Freshman Sydney Cole, also studying computer science, said she felt the music puzzle involving Morse code was the hardest to crack.
“The most challenging one was probably the music one,” Cole said. “That one had Morse code in it which took me a while to realize. It took me quite a while to figure out the translation of that.”
When asked what they felt the most challenging puzzle was, LSA sophomores Isabella Scott and Brynn McClymont –– roommates both studying biopsychology, cognition and neuroscience –– listed off a few they had difficulties with.
“There was one where you had to generate a QR code,” Scott said. “I mean, that was just really bizarre. We were also confused on the Reddit one because we were just looking at the wrong post for a really long time.”
Similar to many of those participating in the hunt, McClymont said the two completed the hunt in one night, working together to solve the puzzles.
“(Isabella) sent it to me. We were like, ‘Wait, let’s try it. Let’s see if we can do it. And then, three hours passed and we were like ‘Oh my god we haven’t stopped,” McClymont said. “We just sat in our own rooms, screaming to each other when we found clues.”
Most of those who participated appreciated the entertaining and challenging activity, including LSA freshman Megan Huber.
“It was just a really fun experience to have,” Huber said. “We really appreciated the @umichaffirmations account putting so much time and effort into a puzzle that me and my friends enjoyed doing.”
After revealing his identity, Finer said he will graduate this semester and plans to pass the account on to a new administrator. However, he said running this account was an impactful experience in his senior year of college.
“It’s been an absolutely wild ride,” Finer said. “This account has been such a significant part of my senior year for me. I’m just really glad that I have a fan base who is down to actually do the crazy stuff that I put out.”
Daily staff reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at email@example.com. Daily News Contributor Natalie Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.