Going in Circles

UPDATED 09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

FOR 15 YEARS THOSE STRANGE FLYING saucer—size rings pressed into the corn and wheat fields of southern England have had folks running—and thinking—in circles. How they got there was anyone's guess. Meteorologists spun theories of whirling air masses, and farmers speculated about crazed hedgehogs. Scientists from as far away as Japan spent millions searching for evidence that extraterrestrials were at work.

Then last week editors at the London tabloid Today trumpeted a solution to the magic-circle mystery: The creations were a down-to-earth scam, perpetrated by a mischievous pair of Englishmen. Artists Douglas Bower, 67, and David Chorley, 62, say they made more than 200 circles by flattening the fields with a couple of wooden planks, guided by some string and a Rube Goldberg sighting device attached to a mangy baseball cap. The pranksters say they've been at it since 1976, when they devised their con over a few pints in a pub near Winchester. "We enjoyed that first one and a good giggle about it after," Chorley said. Weary of all the authors and self-styled experts who were getting rich oil their scheme, the circle makers felt the time had come to fess up. Besides, Bower added, "We're not getting any younger."

Scientists and circle savants, however, are loath to abandon their theories. Researcher and author Pat Delgado concedes he was duped when he declared a recent ring the creation of a "superior intelligence"—only to have Bower and Chorley gleefully confront him and take the credit. But Delgado and other researchers point out that the two men could not possibly have made all of the 2,000 or so circles that have appeared worldwide over the past years. Bower and Chorley don't claim that they have, which means that some form of superior intelligence—or at least one equal to theirs—may yet be out there, keeping the mystery alive.

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