'Evil Genius': Mind-Bending Illusion Built Into Skyline Confuses Internet

An optical illusion created by the angle of a famous building in London has left the internet in awe this week after a man shared the mind-bending picture on Twitter.

Posted on Wednesday by Simon Griffiths—who uses the Twitter account SPGriffiths—the picture was accompanied with the caption: "Every time I look out my office window I think someone needs to press Play."

The image of the London skyline features the commercial skyscraper nicknamed "the Gherkin" among other famed office blocks in the country's capital. But the striking illusion that looks like the image has a play button overlaid is caused by the Scalpel development which stands in the city's Square Mile.

Originally a nickname but since designated as the official name, the term Scalpel was coined by the Financial Times as a result of the building's angular shape. Referred to on the development's website as "London's sharpest landmark building," the 39-floor tower was built in 2018 at a cost of £500 million.

London skyline illusion
A picture of the mind-bending built-in optical illusion that is confusing the internet. London's Scalpel building has received viral attention online. Submitted image

But it's the building's appearance from a distance that has wowed people. From the south of the River Thames, the building's distinctive shape appears in the skyline like a media play button on a digital video.

Simon Griffiths teaches politics at Goldsmiths, University of London and took the picture from his office.

Griffiths told Newsweek: "I've noticed that the reflection of the sun looks like a 'play' button loads of times, but not really thought anything of it."

After taking the snap a few days ago he sent it to family who commented that it would make a good tweet.

"I shared it without really thinking anything of it," he said: "By the end of the day a couple of people had retweeted it and I even joked to my brother that it had gone viral after two retweets—he pointed out that one was his."

But it wasn't long before the tweet really did go viral. With more than 176,000 likes and over 10,000 retweets, the image has confused viewers around the world.

"I have tried pressing the screen. It doesn't work," wrote one viewer of the image.

Another commenter said: "Alright so I just spent a good 15 seconds trying to play what I thought was a video. Time for bed, I guess."

"That's crazy," wrote another: "It's a perfect play button, the architect responsible for that is an evil genius."

Scientific American explains that: "Visual illusions are defined by the dissociation between the physical reality and the subjective perception of an object or event. When we experience a visual illusion, we may see something that is not there or fail to see something that is there."

Created with the expertise of architectural firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, the angular shape of the Scalpel was created to allow it to be built in the busy center of the city without interfering with any of London's protected views.

"I read the tweet and still tried to press play on the picture," said another exasperated viewer of the tweet.

"I just tried to click on it," said another commenter: "I am an idiot."

"I guess it's just a genuinely confusing optical illusion. Lots of people were convinced it was a prank. It seemed to hit a sweet spot anyway," said Griffiths. "Quite a few people commented that it had really made them laugh. That's not bad, given everything else going on in the world at the moment."