A group of Nintendo fans could be facing criminal charges after leaving a load of Super Mario-style question mark boxes lying around their home town of Ravenna, Ohio.
The five girls involved, all of whom are aged between 16 and 17, said they got the idea after visiting a website which features instructions on how to make your own boxes using cardboard and wrapping paper. They made 17 boxes and distributed them around the town, at locations which included the county courthouse, a library, a high school and a church.
After several local residents became suspicious of the boxes and contacted the authorities, the Hazardous Materials Unit and Bomb Detection Unit were dispatched to investigate. All of the boxes were found to be harmless, containing no explosives, biological hazards, giant mushrooms or weird flowers.
One of the girls involved turned herself into police, telling them the whole thing was meant as a joke.
"The girls found an Internet site called Mario Question Blocks which told you step by step how the game is played, along with instructions on wrapping the packages, just to see what kind of response you get. This game is evidently being played all over the country," police chief Randall McCoy told the Record-Courier.
"The potential is always present when dealing with a suspicious package that it could be deadly. In today’s day and age, you just cannot do this kind of stuff."
The owner of the website which inspired the girls has described the response to their antics as "unnecessary and extreme," but added: "I understand that sometimes people get frightened when they see something they don't expect. I can't recommend that you put these blocks up yourself in a space you're not responsible for."
"This is not a sinister 'game', it is supposed to be a comment on public spaces being routinely used for advertising (billboards, etc) but not for art (these boxes)," he continued.
"Despite what Ravenna police chief Randall McCoy says, the purpose of these boxes is not "just to see what kind of response you get". It is to bring a smile to people's faces, to get them to connect with their neighbours, to bring colour into an otherwise grey urban landscape."
The police department is working with the county prosecutor's office to determine whether the girls should face charges.