Gary Arnold in Elkton, MD on January 29, 2021. Photography by Mengwen Cao for OneZero

Hex Factor: Inside the Group Offering $250,000 for Proof of Superpowers

To defend science, the Paranormal Challenge devises experiments to test claims of X-ray vision, telekinesis, and other paranormal abilities

Corinne Purtill
Published in
13 min readFeb 24, 2021


WWhen Gary Arnold first heard the noise, he was alone in the library at the local college where he teaches writing. He was enjoying his lunch and reading a copy of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the story of a man whose life is changed by the unexpected spectral visitors.

He heard it in his right ear, a staticky, high-pitched crackle that reminded him of old dial-up modems. It was odd, but it also seemed important, so he pulled his inexpensive feature phone out of his pocket. He hit the voice memo button and for several seconds just recorded the room, and whatever was in there with him.

When he played the recording later, there was no evidence of the noise he remembered, only the crackle of the phone’s mic and his own quiet presence. But when he played it back again, and turned the volume way, way up, he heard in the amplified sound of his own solitude something that astonished him. It was a voice, whispering through the static: “Mr. Arnold.”

It happened the next day, too. Again, it began with the ringing in his ear; again Arnold reached for the voice recorder; and again upon replay he heard what sounded to him like a reply to a question no one had asked: Is anyone there? And the voice on the tape said: “Yes, people.”

Over the next two years, Arnold grew convinced that these experiences were not flukes of imagination or sense, but something otherworldly, something that needed to be shared. While Googling one day in search of someone who might be able to verify his recordings, Arnold came across something called the Paranormal Challenge, a contest offering $250,000 to anyone offering indisputable proof of supernatural abilities. The contest is run by the Center for Inquiry Investigations Group, a branch of a global nonprofit dedicated to the promotion of science and secularism. Over the years it’s devised experiments to test people who claim they can read minds, dim lights with the power of their brains, and peer, X-ray-like, through people’s skin. So far none have…



Corinne Purtill

Journalist with words at Time, Quartz, and elsewhere. Author of Ghosts in the Forest, a Kindle Single.