OOO Message Mystery: Where in the World is Yannis Yortsos?

USC invented the out-of-office message over 40 years ago. It’s still giving us clues.

It all began with a prank.

The out-of-office-message, or OOO, or OOTO if you like, began at the USC Information Sciences Institute over 40 years ago, according to Robert Balzer, one of ISI’s founders.

“We created a very early email system, and we would put a lot of features in it to test before moving them to another network,” Balzer explained. “I remember a time when we had just put in a vacation message feature, in 1979 or 1980.”

But Danny Cohen, another ISI pioneer, was known for his practical jokes. When Balzer created an OOO to let co-workers know he was going on vacation, Cohen forged a message to Balzer, from Balzer, thinking he would create an endless loop of auto-replies in Balzer’s inbox. Unfortunately for Cohen, Balzer anticipated this, writing the vacation message code so an OOO could only be sent to a recipient a single time.

In honor of these internet visionaries, we have created our own unique Out of Office (OOO) Mystery. Can you discern the location of Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, based only on these OOO messages?

  1. At the harbor of the king, it’s 72 and sunny. But on the admiral’s street, inside a black box, lies the coldest spot on Earth.
  2. Sir Harry Hotspur died in the Hundred Years’ War. But his lads in white and navy blue keep fighting here.
  3. Perhaps you consider yourself an oracle,
    Mouthpiece of the dead, or of some god or other.
    Thirty years now I have labored
    To dredge the silt from your throat.
    I am none the wiser.
  4. I’m not here right now. However, in my absence, a far, far better thing to do is contact
  5. ! Message Not Delivered
    Message bounced – 404 Error
    We were unAble to deliver the message to This recipient despite several attempts. Please check if you have typed the email address correctLy.


Stumped by the OOO mystery? For a special message from Dean Yortsos himself, click here.