August 21, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Remember back in college when you wore the grooves off that album by that band nobody else ever heard of? PAUL IS DEAD (paulisdead.com), a clever online mystery that launched on July 27, draws inspiration from This Is Spi¨al Tap, Eddie and the Cruisers, and the rise and fall of every guitar-playing hero who ever touched the sky. Miasma are the cult band in this stylish Web fiction, edgy Paul Lomo the rock star facedown in the pool, and conspiracy junkie Elly Clyde the guide through a noir narrative that will unfold over 32 weeks in a series of short Shockwave movies designed with the 28.8-modem newbie in mind. Interlaced within the ongoing story are enough RealAudio soundtracks, liner notes, rumor arcades, deranged fan home pages, real-time message boards, and schmoozeable ‘bots to create the kind of satisfyingly immersive parallel universe that’s been MIA in cyberspace of late. ”One of the fascinations of the Internet is that people like getting lost in it,” says John Sanborn, who, with Michael Kaplan, makes up LaFong, the director-writer interactive team that spent 2 1/2 years crafting Paul. ”We didn’t set out to build a game. We set out to build a world.” Yeah, but can you play it backward for clues?

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