Crop circles: how do those guys make such intricate patterns?

Note that I am not suggesting that crop circles are in any way paranormal. I know they are done by people flattening down crops, but I would love to know how they do it.

Back in the old days when they were simple swirled circles, I can see how that would be pretty easily done using a board tethered to a simple pivot to flatten the stalks relatively quickly.

But it’s turned into an art form. Designs like this, or this, which can be 200 or 300 feet across. How the heck do people manage to plot out these designs on a cornfield and flatten the crops so accurately overnight (and bear in mind these usually appear in England, north of 50 degrees latitude, during the summer, when there are not many hours of darkness).

This question was prompted by this pattern, which although it is more than 10 years old I hadn’t seen before. It contains an image created from lines of varying thickness (like a TV picture), and a “CD” pattern containing a binary ASCII code, with hundreds of “bits”.

This was apparently done in one night, on August 15, when the sunset and sunrise times in Winchester are about 8:30pm and 5.50am respectively. In other words the makers would have had less than eight hours of proper darkness to do their stuff. Can this really be done with string and planks of wood, or do they have some other tricks up their sleeves?

Basically, GPS and lasers. And no, I don’t mean that they are cutting into the corn with laser beams like some sort of sci-fi alien flick. They use the lasers to sight out straight lines and GPS to make reference points on the field. Using those simple technologies it is fairly easy to translate something you drew on a computer screen to real world coordinates in a cornfield.

Hence the strange “coincidence” that crop circles become more complex as GPS became cheap and commonly available.

GPS? I’m pretty sceptical about that. To get centimetre accuracy with GPS, as far as I know you need to use differential GPS, which takes several hours of data collection to set up. Would this even have been possible with consumer level equipment in 2002?

Or what about this intricate “basket-weave” pattern, created in 1999, almost a year before Selective Availability was turned off?

Or this Koch snowflake from 1997?

You don’t need centimeter accuracy for something the size of a cornfield. You just need your GPS to register some basic approximate points, then use something like a laser pointer or really just a paper towel tube to look through to get a straight line. Using straight lines, angles, and a few reference points, you can create extremely complex images and easily keep the scale right. It’s simple geometry.

As for the basket weave pattern and the snowflake, you don’t need GPS at all or anything fancy for either of those. The circle one is really easy to make. You start at the center, then measure with a piece of rope the distance out that you want to go, and use that spot as the center of your circle and use the rope to go around its perimeter. Then move the rope out again using a longer length, and voila, a larger circle outside of the smaller circle. Just repeat. The snowflake can also be easily made using something to measure angles and fixed lengths of rope. Heck, if you just use fixed lengths of rope you can figure out exactly how to lay out the pattern without even measuring an angle.

I’m just guessing on the methods that they actually used, but simple geometry and a bit of creativity easily explains it. The snowflake, for example, may look complicated, but it is really just a bunch of simple equilateral triangles.

“Many hands make light work.”

What you need is some math’s students armed with a long tape measure; some rods for markers; some rope and some boards.

Have a look here if you can, or search youtube for “crop circles”

If you see that one, then you might also google “Silbury Hill”. For all we know that was made by a bunch of prehistoric students who said, “Let’s build a big mound here - it sure will puzzle some people in the future.”

It really is amazing what knotted ropes, sticks, and a little bit of geometry can accomplish. These techniques have been used since the ancient Egyptians, and people still can’t believe they work.

Yeah, but someone would have talked by now to explain how they did it. Has anyone ever confessed to creating a crop circle? :stuck_out_tongue:

For a similar sort of topographic/geometric art form that’s less clandestine about its design and execution techniques, check out the mathematical snow art of Simon Beck.

Nazca art is 1500 years old, just how hard could it be?

I have wondered about this too. And what’s the motivation for the people who do it? Why do they give “aliens” the credit for their own remarkable ingenuity and hard work? I’d be like “Damn straight it was me. And I’m available for harvest fairs and bar mitzvahs.”

Sorry for the minor hijack, but I’ve also wondered if it harms the crops and so lessens the yield. If so, has any one been sued?

Actually, very hard considering that creators of the Nazca didn’t have paper or advanced degrees in the mathematics and graphic design. And since they couldn’t see how their finished works looked from the air, they had to “guess” how it might have looked upon completion.

I’ve always been convinced that farmers were “in” on the whole crop circle business. After all, getting to remote fields without attracting attention or alerting farm animals would seem to be exceptionally difficult. Ask anybody whose ever raised geese if you’ll ever sneak up on them.

Also, don’t forget, they can do all the mapping and marking during previous nights or even in broad daylight if the farm doesn’t butt up against a highway or anything the public is going to see. The only thing they have to do in one night is the actually flattening of the corn.

Also, The last basketweave pattern was about the easiest one I saw. A rope as long as the ‘great circle’ with a 4 marks. One for each circle. If they have 7 guys working, they can 10 or so people working on this, they sent them each out at one ‘radius’ to stick a marker at the right point.* Then 7 guys go out with their own ropes and start knocking out their out circles while the rest work on the basket weaves, which, you’ll notice have the same diameter as the outer most circle.

What I’ve always wanted to know is out to the knock down corn when there’s corn still standing between what they’re working on and the center? It would get in the way of the rope.
*And if that took more then 2 hours, they could call it a night and come back the next night to finish. No one’s going to notice cones or markers in the ground for one day.


Some may have been, but it’s easier than you think. I’ve done it and no one noticed me out there.

I always got the feeling the ‘original’ ones had nothing to do with the farmers. Don’t forget, even if the farm had animals, you could still get a a mile or two away from the barn and still be on farmland. The animals are in a clearing near the barn, not grazing in the corn and they’re used to background nose, they’re not dogs that bark and every squirrel runs buy the house.

I personally adore crop circles. I’ve watched many a program about them and have bought the calendars to hang in my cube.

The true explanation, the truth that I’ve always accepted was from an old British program where an old farmer firmly declared that it was “crazed hedgehogs”.

Dude, you are my hero. Keep it up!!!

Must have been very quiet and not brought any flashlights or lanterns. Sounds carries and a light can be seen for miles away at night.
I live across the road from a corn field and I have heard (although not SEEN) people footing around out there when the corn was high.

Not all trolls do it to get attention for themselves. Some prefer to freak people out so they can laugh at them.