CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.
Go Out in a Blaze of Glory

March 16, 2015 (permalink)

February 27, 2015 (permalink)

Here's a comet falling to the earth by way of Buddha's Crystal and Other Fairy Tales, 1908.

February 21, 2015 (permalink)

Hypnotix writes:

Hello good sir, I pose you a question (or 20) I must say, your list of “duties” [as presented here] was quite stimulating and was the first reason I had to follow you. I will just go ahead and jump into question one at the surface. I could see that you are quite concise with your wording so I will address it as such.
When you say duties, It makes me feel as though you were tasked with these goals. If so, where was the inspiration from?
My next question is, Was this written in succession or over time? If so, surely this is an extension of surrealism. Any and all of those thoughts could be linked together (and very well may be) but oddly enough, forging those connections on the fly is also an extension of surrealism which webs out into a whole new network of problems and questions I will not elaborate upon at this time.
My final question is simply why? Perhaps this is even the most important question of them all. I wonder if you would flip number 2 back on me.
I ask this all under the pretense of 5,8, and 10 :P I am not sure why, but this feels important. I have never been so intrigued by a list of anything before.

Thank you for the great message, Hypnotix, and may I first say that your appreciation of my duties as Attendant of the Borgesian Circulating Depository is a mirror of your own fascinating qualities.  As a wise someone once said, it takes one to know one.  So I sincerely applaud your insight into your own multifacetedness.  You asked whether or not I was tasked with these goals, and the simple answer is that one's foremost duties are owed to oneself, so it's all voluntary (or fated, depending upon the nature of the universe).  You asked if my list of duties was written over time, and the truth is that I wrote them all at once.  (But the truth is also that they summarize a life's work.)  I like that you noted how forging connections between the items would constitute an extension of surrealism.  Your final and most important question is "Why?" ... and I find myself disinclined to respond to that one; even though I could express answers in several sentences, I don't wish to define boundaries and thereby set limits.  Plus, the "why" is unfolding (or, um, blossoming might be more accurate).  Meanwhile, just between you and me, my task of the day is to measure the infinitesimal passage of time in every iteration of the Droste effect.  (This task was actually assigned to me by my magic teacher in the Netherlands, George Parker.)  Best regards! —Prof. Oddfellow


Meanwhile, thanks to Archie McPhee for showcasing our photo of lucid dreaming with tiny hand puppets!

February 16, 2015 (permalink)

"Blazes: How to Put Them Out," from American Newspaper Directory, 1891.

February 14, 2015 (permalink)

Corresponding-fiasco writes: "I must ask, all of the documents you post, where do they come from? What do you do? I've never seen anything like it in my life."

To quote Thelma Ritter in the film Boeing-Boeing, "It's not easy, you know?"  We dedicate more hours a day than one might believe going through books digitized by Google, the British Library, and the Internet Archive, and we curate imagery that strikes our fancy, but then we take all said imagery into Photoshop to undo the various damage from the original scanning process: we correct contrast, sharpness, color balance, and trimming, and we try our best to erase digitizing artifacts that don't belong.  And it's all just for the love of it.  Granted we did include a particularly glamorous category of our finds in the book Ghost in the Scanning Machine, but the vast, vast majority of the pieces are just for here and our blog on Tumblr.  Thanks for the appreciation!  We suppose many folks just assume we stumble upon all this material, but in fact it's all hand-picked with painstaking care (with the marvelous side effect of boosting our time travel abilities).

Below, Prof. Oddfellow reveals one of the many tools* he uses to create Abecedarian — a mysterious genie bottle that arrived in the mail one day.

*This "one of the many tools" business is an homage to our lost friend Teresa of "Frog Applause" fame.

February 11, 2015 (permalink)

January 29, 2015 (permalink)

From In the Forbidden Land by Arnold Henry Savage Landor, 1898.

January 21, 2015 (permalink)

"Sarah Terwilligar's attempt to fly to heaven [as] the world [is] to come to an end," from Upper Canada Sketches by Thomas Conant, 1898.

December 23, 2014 (permalink)

"Seven or eight times they passed through the fire," from The Dacoit's Treasure by Henry Charles Moore, 1897.

December 22, 2014 (permalink)

From Poets' Wit and Humour by William Henry Wills, 1882.

There's a macabre old fairy tale about an animated fireplace poker entitled "The Cinder King."  The story's syntax is antiquated, but the plot is simple (if fantastic).  A sobbing woman named Betty watches the fireplace, expecting either purses of money or coffins to fly out.  It seems that Betty had recently been jilted by her lover, a tailor named Bob Scott.  He took another bride to the altar, so Betty has resolved to woo the dark Cinder King for his riches.  The clock is about to chime the hour of one, and the moment is described very evocatively: spent tallow-candle grease is seeping into the floor, a blue-burning lamp has wasted half its oil, a black beetle comes crawling from afar, and the red coals of the fire are sinking beneath their grate.  Betty's life is clearly descending to the Underworld.  When the clock strikes "one," it's not the cuckoo bird who sings but rather a grim raven.  Betty's cat wakes up but keeps its claws retracted.  The jack [which we here interpret as the figure of the man striking the bell on the clock] falls into a bowl as if it's time to dine.  The earth trembles, and as if empowered by the fuel of Hell, the fireplace poker animates in a burst of flame.  It shoots forth an enormous cinder that hisses three times like a serpent.  Where the cinder lands there appears a large coffin containing a "nondescript thing."  The thing croaks for Betty to embrace her true Cinder King, noting that three more kings (his brothers) are also waiting to greet her and will, at four o'clock, eat her.  He explains that he and his "element brothers" have a feast and a wedding every night and that they devour each other's new wives.  Betty begs not to wed, but cinders crunch in her mouth and cascade upon her head.  She sinks into the coffin, strewn with cinders, never to be seen again.

by Anon., c. 1801

Who is it that sits in the kitchen and weeps,
While tick goes the clock, and the tabby-cat sleeps, —
That watches the grate, without ceasing to spy,
Whether purses or coffins will out of it fly?

'Tis Betty; who saw the false tailor, Bob Scott,
Lead a bride to the altar; which bride she was not.
'Tis Betty; determined, love from her to fling,
And woo, for his riches, the dark Cinder-King.

Now spent tallow-candle-grease fattened the soil,
And the blue-burning lamp had half wasted its oil,
And the black-beetle boldly came crawling from far,
And the red coals were sinking beneath the third bar;

When "one!" struck the clock — and instead of the bird
Who used to sing cuckoo whene'er the clock stirred,
Out burst a grim raven, and uttered "caw! caw!"
While Puss, though she woke, durst not put forth a claw.

Then the jack fell a-going as if one should sup,
Then the earth rocked as though it would swallow one up;
With fuel from Hell, a strange coal-scuttle came,
And a self-handled poker made fearful the flame.

A cinder shot from it, of size to amaze,
(With a bounce, such as Betty ne'er heard in her days,)
Thrice, serpent-like, hissed as its heat fled away,
And, lo! something dark in a vast coffin lay!

"Come, Betty," quoth croaking that nondescript thing,
"Come, bless the fond arms of your true Cinder-King!
Three more Kings, my brothers, are waiting to greet ye,
Who — don't take it ill — must at four o'clock eat ye.

"My darling, it must be! do make up your mind;
We element brothers, united, and kind,
Have a feast and a wedding, each night of our lives,
So constantly sup on each other's new wives."

In vain squalled the cook-maid, and prayed not to wed;
Cinder crunched in her mouth, cinder rained on her head.
She sank in the coffin with cinders strewn o'er,
And coffin nor Betty saw man any more.

December 21, 2014 (permalink)

"You see the light spread," from Gilbert Light Experiments for Boys, 1920.

December 20, 2014 (permalink)

A candle from The Baby's Museum by Uncle Charlie, 1882.

November 22, 2014 (permalink)

A self-portrait by Prof. Oddfellow.

November 11, 2014 (permalink)

From Lavengro; The Scholar, the Gypsy, the Priest by George Henry Borrow, 1896.  The caption reads, "There is nothing like flinging the bones!"

October 24, 2014 (permalink)

The text reads:

If this little world to-night
  Suddenly should fall through space
In a hissing, headlong flight,
   Shrivelling from off its face,
As it falls into the sun,
   In an instant every trace
Of the little crawling things—
   Ants, philosophers, and lice,
Cattle, cockroaches, and kings,
   Beggars, millionaires, and mice,
Men and maggots all as one
   As it falls into the sun—
Who can say but at the same
   Instant from some planet far
A child may watch us and exclaim:
   "See the pretty shooting star!"

September 5, 2014 (permalink)

"[At the] centre of the dark vault of heaven this glittered," from It Is Never Too Late to Mend by Charles Reade, 1856.

September 2, 2014 (permalink)

August 7, 2014 (permalink)

Thanks to USA TODAY's 10Best for featuring two of our photographs of La Cañada's Descanso Gardens.  (See larger versions of the shots here and here.)

May 3, 2014 (permalink)

An illustration from an 1844 issue of Punch magazine.

March 15, 2014 (permalink)

It's a Retroactive Lifetime Goal* for us to have captured in a single photograph the look and feel of California environmental quality. Thanks, Los Angeles Conservancy, for featuring our wide-angle view of Los Feliz as your masthead.

*The phrase "Retroactive Lifetime Goal" appears courtesy of Jonathan Caws-Elwitt.

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