The Tantalizing Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles

Rectangles with enigmatic messages have been appearing on city streets for decades, but the tiler’s identity remains unknown. Believed to be made of linoleum and asphalt crack sealant, the license plate-sized, colorful mosaic tiles have been seen in about two dozen major American cities since the 1980s. They’re known as the Toynbee Tiles, and their origin and purpose are a bit of a mystery. Typically inscribed with the phrase “TOYNBEE IDEA IN MOViE `2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER,” the tiles were originally discovered in Philadelphia but have also been documented in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, Boston, Kansas City, New York City, and even as far away as South America. The tiles are generally laid in the summer months. After the design is created, it is believed that the tiles are wrapped in tar paper — a material commonly used during roofing installations, but in this case it is most likely used to prevent damage or removal before the tiles fully adhere to the asphalt. There are many theories on who the Toynbee tiler truly is, but no concrete evidence has been found.