On the night of October 27, a sickly sweet smell suddenly descended on New York City, terrifying some and amusing others. It was as if every apartment dweller in Manhattan had been making pancakes and adding lashings of maple syrup. The authorities were stumped. Hundreds of callers to the city's hotlines prompted the police, environmental protection officers, and even the coastguard, to fan out in an attempt to track down the source of the strange odour. They were quick to declare that there was no danger to the public. But, more than a week later - and with the smell long gone - they still haven't got a clue about where it came from or what it was. At least, that is the official story. The Office of Emergency Management said it wrapped up its investigation without reaching a conclusion, while the Department of Environmental Protection declared it might remain a perpetual mystery. And this from a city that has just installed mechanical 'nostril' devices in Grand Central Station in an attempt to smell an imminent biological attack. The odour was just about everywhere. I was with friends downtown when it first hit me, and it lingered as I headed to Times Square in midtown. People in other boroughs, and even in neighbouring New Jersey, reported the weird odor. People who detect signals of a terrorist attack in anything unusual were alarmed. 'I don't like it at all!' said one contributor to the blogging internet site Gothamist. 'Why is the smell in so many different areas around the city? I think this is being taken too lightly.' Conspiracy theories were rife. Some thought terrorists or the government itself were seeing how quickly they could spread a toxic gas around the city. Others said the authorities knew exactly what the smell was but were keeping people in the dark. 'Even if the city found out something serious about the smell, they probably wouldn't even tell us ... they don't want the whole city freaked out, going nuts,' said another blogger. But humour ended up taking the edge off the concerns. Some said the smell drove them to eat ice cream, blamed their own body odor, or thought it was linked to Halloween. Others blamed the IHOP cafe chain (famous for its pancakes), suggesting it had pumped out the maple syrup smell to draw in customers. Some blamed Canada, known for its maple syrup, for trying to drum up tourism. One newspaper even called the Canadian Foreign Ministry for comment - in vain. My favourite story, though, was the person who declared it was 'just an alien invasion from the planet pancake'.