The source turned out to be a durian drink. Durian is a spiky tropical fruit that is popular in Southeast Asia, but which is known for its noxious smell. As a prank, one guy brought in a very authentic durian drink for his colleague; his colleague thought it was nasty, and put the drink in his desk wastebasket; from there, the smell wafted around our region of the office. When he heard chatter about the smell, he put the drink in a plastic bag. It didn't help.
Eventually, he took the plastic bag containing the drink to a dumpster outdoors, and advised his neighbors that the situation was about to improve. We then called off the hunt for the 'gas leak.'
This experience explains the motivation behind this story: NPR : Ooh that Smell: Designing a Stinkless Durian (npr.org, 5/12/2007). Despite its stink, durian is beloved by many just as it is, though I clearly understand the motivation to make the fruit something that can be enjoyed in public.
As an aside, the durian event now tops another recent notorious scent event in the office in fame and impact: another colleague brought in an imported instant noodle lunch dish, the scent of which was commented on by about 10 passersby, described alternately as "something burning," "cat pee," and "burning rubber."
posted by Arlene (Beth)9:59 PM