This is an actual CAPTCHA I was shown when trying to log into PayPal.

As an actual human and not a bot, I had no idea how to answer. Is this a joke? (Seems not.) Is it a Magritte-like existential question? (It’s not a bicycle. It’s a drawing of a bicycle. Actually, it’s a photograph of a drawing of a bicycle. No, it’s really a computer image of a photograph of a drawing of a bicycle.) Am I overthinking this? (Definitely.) I stared at the screen, paralyzed, for way too long.

It’s probably the best CAPTCHA I have ever encountered; a computer would have just answered.

(In the end, I treated the drawing as a real bicycle and selected the appropriate squares…and it seemed to like that.)

Posted on December 5, 2022 at 7:10 AM49 Comments


Jon December 5, 2022 7:32 AM

It’s a photo of the painting of a stencil of the drawing of a bicycle icon. No bicycles were harmed in the making of this image.

Personally, it’s always a relief when Captcha affirms that I am not a robot.

Winter December 5, 2022 7:50 AM

Is it a Magritte-like existential question?

I think this captcha does indeed summarizes the Human Condition in a single CAPTCHA. In that sense, it is the best CAPTCHA I have ever seen.

And indeed, only a human would answer Yes.

Bob Paddock December 5, 2022 7:53 AM

I was once showing one that asked “Identify the cats”.

Among the normal house cats was a Bengal tiger, which I duly identified as a cat.

The System told me that the tiger was not a cat.

SecurityMonk December 5, 2022 8:02 AM

Has anyone tried to figure out how the CAPTCHA’s work in the background? Is there a ‘correct’ answer or are they training a model as more people answer?

Paul December 5, 2022 8:12 AM

It is indeed and entertaining question.

But it does surprise me that as a Director of EFF, an organisation championing free expression, you still have an account with PayPal given that they have declared their intention to police speech which they (whoever “they” are) do not agree with and simply take your money as punishment if you voice or support the “wrong” opinions.

Pau Amma December 5, 2022 8:35 AM

I’ve had similar indecision when asked to select all squares containing a ship. One square, as I recall, had one speedboat and part of another. Another had a sailboat. A third had a ferry, which in practice means (IIRC) a motor vessel. I stared at that pic a minute or so before hitting Skip. Apparently that was the wrong answer.

Tom Preissler December 5, 2022 8:50 AM

What would you answer to this CAPTCHA “Type the two words”:

  1. Is clearly a word – but very hard to make out.
  2. 4 fields of a chess board showing the queen and 3 pawns.

Clearly, CAPTCHA generators have long outsmarted us and the generator
is infact testing us (for nefarious purposes?).

Tom Preissler December 5, 2022 8:56 AM

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that our (human) answers are indeed used to help train a machine(!) trying to “understand” images.

Maybe they (re-Captcha) are using this where the algorithm/training material isn’t sufficient to recognize particular patterns?

After all, re-captcha is widely used… and Google… knows how to “crowd source”… what should they let this (the time we spend on solving CAPTCHAs) go to waste?

Denton Scratch December 5, 2022 9:37 AM


I’m convinced that the CAPTCHAs with the grainy pictures of schoolbuses, fire hydrants and steps aren’t really for distinguishing humans from bots; they’re for training image-recognition models with ML. Which is ironic; because if you’re a bot trying to get past a CAPTCHA, a better image-recognition system is exactly what you want.

Anonymous December 5, 2022 9:41 AM

Honestly the system can barely tell what anything is. I’ve made myself a fun game of constantly messing with it. I have about a 60% success rate clicking all kinds of wonky poor bounds or completely mislabelling it. The only one that seems to really be testing you is the “click all of the X” where there’s always 3 of them. These image segmentation tasks tend to just accept whatever you say.

Sumadelet December 5, 2022 9:58 AM

Precisely none of the squares have bicycles (plural) in them.

Clicking on squares that have pictures of parts of a whole bicycle does not meet the definition required in the question.

But it’s another of those times where I have to stop and consider how most other people think to give the most popular answer, which isn’t the logically consistent one.

What is 2+2?

1) 4
2) 22
4) 11 (base 3)
5) A mathematical equation.
6) A set of symbols given meaning by context.
7) A type of seating arrangement in a sporty car.
8) Four
9) τέσσερα
10) Two plus two
11) Due più due
12) A four character string, or a three character string if the question mark is not included.

Click on all the wrong answers, or ‘Skip’ if there are none.

Clark Gaylord December 5, 2022 11:09 AM

It’s not a question of what captcha is, it’s a question of what it could be. And what it could be is a training set for bots to better impersonate humans being differentiated from bots. So we just all resist and intentionally answer wrong a random amount of time. I suggest all people carry a die and toss it before answering. If you roll 1 or 2, you must answer wrong. Let’s see how long before the bots learn that they must answer wrong 1/3 of the time. Once they learn this you’ll know it’s time for the revolution!

And Sumadelet: wrt 5). It’s an expression, not an equation.

Anonymous Coward December 5, 2022 11:16 AM

Several years ago I listened a radio news article describing how a large newspaper was scanning their previous issues so they could be digitized. (All the cool kids were digitizing their stuff.) Needless to say, the OCR couldn’t recognize everything. They put the unrecognized character strings to the public via CAPTCHA. IIRC, the newspaper used some kind of automated voting scheme, based on what was submitted, to determine the “correct” outcome. Something like 75% responded “out”, 10% responded “our”. The winner is “out”.

As a non-expert and with no data to back it up, I believe most CAPTCHA is used to train self-driving cars.

Anon December 5, 2022 11:17 AM


What would you answer to this CAPTCHA “Type the two words”

I’d answer “the two words” — or if I’m being nerdy something like “twos complement big endian integers” — your processor architecture may vary 🙂

AC December 5, 2022 11:50 AM

I’m tired of all CAPTCHAs, even the not-boring ones. People get tracked around the web in the most intricate detail possible, but they can’t figure out who is a bot and who isn’t?

Clive Robinson December 5, 2022 11:58 AM

@ Bruce, ALL,

My first “fist itching” thought when seeing this is,

“The A.I. is not”


“Is the A.I. fcking with me?”

At which point I click to get the next image, or just go do something else.

In fact more recently I’ve fine tuned my response, to,

“If captcha shows, click on close, then say 1…”

Strangely it appears to work every time… The browser window disappears and I go do something else for a while. If I try again later often the captcha does not come back. If it does then I say “2”…

The worst offenders for this captcha nonsense is supprisingly not Google, but a well known major supplier of network inftastructure…

I figure if people are stupid enough to use Cloudflare, then they very probably don’t actually know what they are doing, so what they have to say very probably is not going to realy be of interest to me, and there is always going to be somebody else that can tell me, that is not so stupid…

I’ve the same policy with “paywalls” and other dumb-hass obstacles rent seeking collectors throw down.

If we all did this then the message would get around fairly quickly and apart from the next level of morons who are so despetate to go bankrupt they don’t learn, then they would find other techniques or just stop doing it.

IMissClippy December 5, 2022 12:05 PM

This would be a solid skip because the “image” is of a bike lane. Select all squares with crosswalks, select all squares with bike lanes. Oops!

JonKnowsNothing December 5, 2022 12:24 PM

@Jon, All

re: Personally, it’s always a relief when Captcha affirms that I am not a robot.

I’m relieved when the AI says “I’m Approved” at the checkout stand.

The check out stand AI doesn’t care if I’m a robot as long as I’m Approved. It could be the start of some intertwine between robots and humans.

Perhaps, I didn’t get enough “approval” growing up, that I get a happy jolt about being “Approved” by the check out AI.

Certainly the education systems is rarely about “approval”. Work is about Not Getting Disapproved aka fired, so no relief from that quarter. Then there are the Interview SmartAz who spend their time memorizing Mensa Conundrums to use as Hire-NoHire filters; absolutely No Approval from those folks, ever.

Or it could be that there are still a few pennies in the bank account to cover the groceries.

I rarely understand CAPTCHAs, anymore than I understood questions on SAT, GRE, GMAT exams. There are just too many possibilities.

DougC December 5, 2022 12:41 PM

*CAPTCHA is a total barrier to those with below normal eyesight, especially poor Contrast vision.

Such vision limitations are common after age 50.

A very few websites offer Audio alternative to visual puzzles, which helps sometimes; however, these AUDIO gates have their own serious problems to users.

Anonymous Driver December 5, 2022 1:23 PM

What if the CAPTCHA is being used to train software for a self-driving car? What would driving be like if such a car reacts to a bike lane the same way it reacts to a bicycle?

V December 5, 2022 1:28 PM

@Jon: “Personally, it’s always a relief when Captcha affirms that I am not a robot.”

Particularly if the test is administered by someone named Deckard.

TexasDex December 5, 2022 1:41 PM

The real question is: If you assume a drawing of a bicycle counts as a bicycle for the purposes of this captcha, do you click that one square in the second row, first column, that has just a tiny bit of bicycle icon in the corner? Or leave it unselected?

Aaron December 5, 2022 2:24 PM

As a human, why is it that a robot is the qualifying entity determining what does and does not meet the requirements as the acceptable answer to the question?

The system is backwards!

Max December 5, 2022 2:28 PM


It’s bits of both. From my understanding, “select all ” captchas consist of some images that the systems knows about (both with and without the object in question) and some images that it is not sure about. That way it’s both a test and a training material.

Clive Robinson December 5, 2022 2:44 PM

@ Aaron, ALL,

Re : The implosion goes on.

“The system is backwards!”

True enough.


Now you know how the VC / Angels / money men in big Corp Silicon Valley not just think but behave…

So “Meltdown 1.0” is now up and running on track…

The only question is will it,

1, “Hiss down” like a punctured bycical tyre?

2, “Blarp down” like a Whoopy Cusion under a mastadon?

3, “Blow appart” like a pricked ballon?

Answers on a post card to “The only way is down boys… Care of the three balls, pawn shop…” as Social media may not be there when you try…

On the upside, the number of ICT jobs is apparently still rising even though we are now into December…

lurker December 5, 2022 2:46 PM

@IMissClippy, All

This is obviously drawn from a western cultural background. In much of East Asia a “bicycle” lane is not so marked because it is also available to be used by motorbikes, tractors, and animal drawn wagons. In a few cases I have seen “bicycle” lanes marked in the local language “Not Motor Powered Vehicle”

Wulf December 5, 2022 3:00 PM

XKCD also once had a nice captcha regarding identifying Frankenstein

Most people would identify the monster (which would likely be the answer that would get accepted), but the correct answer would be the professor.

So the question becomes: Should I answer correctly and be denied access or should I answer incorrectly and get access?
It is another question about how to “play” the automated system.

Clive Robinson December 5, 2022 5:28 PM

@ Wulf,

Re : Mary Shelly wrote “The Modern Prometheus” in 1818

“the correct answer would be the professor.”

Err no…

In Mary Shelley’s novel also called “Frankenstein” she tells the story of “Doctor” Victor Frankenstein. As in medical doctor (PhDs did not happen in England untill about a century later if memory serves correctly).

The title Professor from the German for “teacher” did not come to England untill some years later. In fact as I mentioned a couple of days back the term “Scientist” did not come about for another decade and a half.

Those who taught in universities back then were usually ordained Ministers, and called Master or Doctor as an honerific not by award. Medical Doctors or lawyers who had often taken religious orders as well would have a degree in medicine, canon law or civil law and very occasionally a Masters Degree usually only if they were ordained already (one of those wgo broke that mold was Charlse Dodgeson who you might know by his pen name “Lewis Carol” of “Alice in Wonderland”).

Those who later were called scientists had started as Gentlemen of “independent means” who were “Natural Philosophers” which is also what a teaching chair at a University would be named.

The PhD in the modern sense arived in England about a year before the end of Great War (~1917). Via the USA, where it had arived in the 1860’s from Germany and to a certain extent France.

In England although a Doctorate in Philosophy was popular with foreign students, many English scientists remained content with their Masters degrees up untill the end of WWII. If you look up Fred Hoyle he had quite a bit to say on the subject[1].

(If you want to know more you’ll have to look it up in various places the Bodleian Library in Oxford University from memory holds some interesting documents as do some of the other University libraries).

[1] Fred Hoyle though charming enough in his own way, could be very blunt and cantankerous at times and held some matter of fact “social views” that made him quite unpopular “in the community”. Many have indicated that it was his views on women in science that stopped him getting a Nobel Prize. His then strong views would be seen as quite moderate these days in that he was pro-women in science and got quite upset over the LGM issue and the attempt to write a mere woman, Jocelyn Bell Burnell the actual discoverer out of it’s history… As for thr man that took credit from her… Well few remember his name.

Ted December 5, 2022 6:03 PM

Ah, a blog picture! How lovely and unexpected!

It’s fun to hear your train of thought. Whatever path you took, it has decided you’re human. Phew!

And maybe now you have another data point to navigate the CAPTCHAs. They may be novel and unexpected, but perhaps they’re not overly tricky. Who knows, eh? 🙂

Does it make you wonder, though, what about the CAPTCHA could flag a bot? 🤔

SpaceLifeForm December 5, 2022 6:59 PM

This reminds me of a joke (?) CAPTCHA that appeared earlier this year soon after Russia invaded Ukraine.

It was a pic of snow laden forest in Finland. Ground and trees.

The challenge was to select all squares that had a sniper.

The answer was all 16 squares.

Clive Robinson December 5, 2022 7:16 PM

@ SpaceLifeForm,

“The challenge was to select all squares that had a sniper.”

The real question though should have been,

“Which are loaded,for bear?”


&ers December 5, 2022 9:09 PM


Sorry, but you scared me here. My screen resolution
is not big so i thought for accessing and reading this
blog i need from now on to resolve CAPTCHA.

What a relief. No need.

Clive Robinson December 6, 2022 5:12 AM

@ Tariq, ALL,

Re : New Darwinism

“All of that high-stakes nonsense, for what?”

“Evolution baby”

If you can not do it you are “not fit” to be part of the “gene pool”.

But rather than just “cancel your stamp” quickly and painlessly, your stress levrls are incrrased, such that your health is compromised, and that means more money for insurers, who you can not afford now.

Then they “send in the crows” to pick over your fiscal corpse to strip out assets and force debt upon your children so they too can be stripped…

You are not one of the 1% of the 1% so you are unworthy to be anything other than worked to an early death for them… After all you will not be alowed to retire, and if you have children, their education will also asset strip you…

You can not win this way… So,

“Vote for a lizard, in case the wrong lizard gets in…”

cmeier December 6, 2022 8:05 AM

Captcha: Select all squares containing a stop light.

Does this suggest that self-driving cars can’t?

Petre Peter December 6, 2022 8:12 AM

I heard of places where people get paid pennies to “break” captcha. I wonder if this increases the cost since now there is training that might be required.

Wulf December 6, 2022 6:15 PM

@ Clive
Thanks for the detailed correction and history lesson. I did not check the correct naming of the doctor.

Clive Robinson December 6, 2022 7:47 PM

@ Wulf,

With a little luck, some of that info will help you win a large glass of good beer in a “bar general knowledge quiz” or simillar.

If it does then a little “hat tip” to your friends about where you heard it so they can also come and say Hi 😉

IMissClippy December 7, 2022 5:25 PM

@Anonymous Driver

Exactly so. Our CAPTCHA responses are high stakes. Oops


The answer is diversity

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