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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I Found a Penny Today, So Here’s a Thought

Today — August 25, 2016 (permalink)

The space program has long been accused of faking the moon landing, and artificially enlarging the celestial orb in photographs doesn't help their credibility.  (As any photographer will attest, the moon never looks this big in a photo without special effects.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to doctor a photo.)  Our photo is as scanned by the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.
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August 21, 2016 (permalink)

Secrets of Alchemy for Modern Whizzes

The wizards of old were "freelance intellectuals whose main stock in trade was good advice" (as historian John Michael Greer puts it).  In the 1920s, a master alchemist called Fulcanelli shared priceless advice for novices -- guidance that also applies to anyone seeking to be a whiz at anything.  In his book proving that gothic cathedrals aren't churches but rather elaborate stone books communicating the coded secrets of alchemy (Les Mystère des Cathèdrales), Fulcanelli spells out his formula for learning the greatest mysteries.  Shall I stop or go on?—I hesitate.  Perhaps I'll paraphrase from his final chapter, though I'll preserve the slightly antiquated tone of Fulcanelli's prose.

It is not enough to be studious, active and persevering, if one has no firm principles, no solid basis, if immoderate enthusiasm blinds one to reason, if pride overrules judgment, or if greed expands before the prospect of a golden future.

[There's a mighty oak tree of wisdom contained within that acorn of a sentence.  But Fulcanelli has more.]

The mysterious science [of whatever happens to be one's passion] requires great precision, accuracy and perspicacity in observing the facts, a healthy, logical and reflective mind, a lively but not over-excitable imagination, and a warm and pure heart.  It also demands the greatest simplicity and complete indifference with regard to theories, systems and hypotheses, which are generally accepted without question on the testimony of books or the reputation of their authors.  It requires its candidates to learn to think more with their own brains and less with those of others.  It insists that they should check the truth of any principles, the knowledge of any doctrine and the practice of any operations from Nature, the mother of us all.

Devotees will derive greater benefit from their studies provided they do not despise the works of the old Philosophers and that they study with care and penetration the classical texts, until they have acquired sufficient perception to understand the obscure points of the practice.

No one may aspire to possess the greatest secret, if they do not direct their lives in accordance with the researches they have undertaken.

By constant exercise of the faculties of observation and reasoning and by meditative contemplation, novices will climb steps leading to:


A simple imitation of natural processes, skill combined with ingenuity, and the insight born of long experience will secure for them the:


Having obtained that, they will still have need of patience, constancy and unshakeable will.  Brave and resolute, they will be enabled by the certainty and confidence born of a strong conviction to:


Finally, when success has crowned so many years of labor, when their desires have been accomplished, the Wise Ones, despising the vanities of the world, will draw near to the humble, the disinherited, to all those who work, suffer, struggle and weep here below.  As anonymous and mute disciples of eternal Nature, as advocates of eternal Charity, they will remain faithful to their vow of silence.

In Science, in Goodness, one must evermore


[About the illustration: Alchemy has been called "an infinite regression of mirrored mysteries.  And so, if we are not careful, we end up finding only the face of our own bias.  The secret protects itself, even when it is displayed in plain sight" (Jay Weidner and Vincent Bridges, Monument to the End of Time, 1999).  Our illustration appears in Le Vray et Methodique Cours de la Physique Resolutiue, Vulgairement Dite Chymie by Annibal Barlet, 1653.]

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August 19, 2016 (permalink)

Here are cut-out paper spectacles for seeing more than is readily apparent in any book.  They're from our Machinarium Verbosus: A Curiosity Cabinet of Gadgets To Transform Any Book & Reader, To Be Sure.  But please note that Machinarium Verbosus is a book for the few—the very few.  If it's important to one's psychological well-being that the machinations of the Universe be neat and tidy and wholly comprehensible by the human mind, then absolutely do not proceed with this book's experiments.  Let this constitute a very serious warning: do not take these experiments lightly, as any one of them may induce an existential crisis.

Cut out and don these transformative specs before you read.  (Wear them along with your prescription glasses, if necessary.)  Reading offers "new lenses for seeing [one]self and the world in different ways.  Reading transforms [oneself]" (Jeffrey Wilhelm, Action Strategies For Deepening Comprehension, 2002).

Why symbolic glasses?  Symbols invite us "to see more than is readily apparent, to intuit something other than the obvious" (Krzysztof Kieslowski).

"You can learn to keep the lenses of your symbolic glasses fairly free of the dust of ignorance, the grease spots of prejudice, the grime of hatred and fear.  You can learn to bend and stretch the frames if they don't fit comfortably; but you can never take the glasses off" (Lew Sarett, Basic Principles of Speech, 1958).

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August 13, 2016 (permalink)

From our guide on How to Be Your Own Cathere's the foreword by acclaimed poet and novelist Gary Barwin:


There’s a cat at the center of the universe.


Schrödinger’s cat. And according to this cat, you’re in a box. Of course. The entire universe is a box of darkness and stars and some other stuff. You may be there or not there, alive or dead. You may love this cat or not. The cat is sorry not sorry.

Because the cat’s mind is a ball of yarn. Except that yarn is made of equal parts mouse

and sunlight, excitation and indolence, quantum enthusiasm and prey, silver bells, black matter, catnip and irony.

And you? You are a nanoflea, a human neutrino somewhere on the distant spiral paw of that cosmic yarn which is the mind of a cat. Unless you’re not.

No matter. You exist by the grace of your cat. And by the silken magnanimity which your cat does not possess. But let’s imagine that somewhere inside the obvious and galootish void of your loutish being you have an inner cat. Oh, if such a doltish fleshbag of a human could contain something so subtle and soft, something so evanescent, lithe and glimmering.

But imagine that your inner cat, supple and artful inside you, is both asleep and awake in a box the exact size of itself. Of course, to your cat, any universe is the exact size of your cat.


And this cat, watching and preening inside you, wants its sheen and mindful not-mindfulness to be on the outside. A cat is always a Möbius strip, a bend of light, an ampersand of gravity. A cat is always a parable and a paradox.

But what is the difference between you and a cat? If you have to ask, you’re not a cat.

And so this book—agile and quick, mysterious, surprising and sly as any cat—is not for you. It is for the cat that you are, the cat that you can be.

Of course you want to be your own cat. To be plain as even a blunderous sapiens could grasp: If you were your cat, you’d know that you’d always wanted to be your cat.

But each of the cat’s nine lives is lived in nine dimensions and so this book is an introduction to feline physics, a mouser grimoire, a grimalkin guide, a siamese travelogue, a numinous catalogue of the non-Cartesian, a Manx how-to, a tabby joke book of recipes and kitten lore for the aspiring puss or tom, domestic ocelot, jaguar or lynx.

Yes, perhaps by now it is clear why you want to be your own cat. In this book, the erudite Professor Oddfellow, already always part shimmering and inscrutable cat, explains how. The only question, now, is when?

When you become your own cat, you will learn that when bends as spacetime bends to the immensity of planets, to the will of your own cat. Perhaps even now, you have already begun the journey to being your own cat. Even now your nimble tongue licks a paw as you begin to turn the first page…


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August 11, 2016 (permalink)

Here's a 5-star review of our How to Be Your Own Cat:
Well-thought and whimsically delivered, How to Be Your Own Cat by Professor Oddfellow puts you in touch with your inner feline. Along with carefully chosen, classic illustrations, this guide is reminiscent of an early 18th century manual. Each passage is a contemplation that is a door to Zen practice. While we are reminded of our baser animal selves, we are also reminded of the Zen nature of our being. Our feline friends remind us of our true essence and stillness. A delightful book that reflects on our spiritual core in a playful, catlike way. —David Manley, puppeteer
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Either the typesetter forgot to remove the dots when putting in the row of asterisks, or it was supposed to be this way.  Either way, our eyes see the dust motes, the acacia blossoms, the glimmers of twilight, the successive bits of time while one waits.  From "The Girl With the Fan" by Sterling Heilig, in Pearson's, 1909.
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August 10, 2016 (permalink)

Joel Burget asked "Why hasn't anyone combined ellipsis / question mark to parallel the interrobang?"  Such a mark actually goes a long way back.  Here's an example from Pearson's magazine, 1909.
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August 3, 2016 (permalink)

We're honored that Robert E. Neale, author of This is Not a Book, says our How to Be Your Own Cat goes beyond Martin Buber's "I and Thou" relationship toward more silliness and more honesty:

What fun!  And what confusion!  I have a bias against responding to a cat as a human.  And against responding to a human as a cat.  I guess that I assume that both of these approaches are one-way deals.  But I now suspect that they must always be two-way deals.  Neither creature can go it alone.  Each needs the other in order to become the other.  Who knows my inner cat better than Max?  And who knows Max’s inner human than I?  So the two deals become one deal.  This leads to spiritual silliness beyond the Martin Buber “I and Thou” relationship.  And maybe it is even more honest.  To meet the other is to become the other as well as remaining oneself.  Empathy is not just walking on the shoes of the other, but borrowing the feet as well.  Well, I guess the Buddha is not only that meditative frog on the lotus, but the cat basking in the sun in crazy positions.  Or to rephrase some metaphysical positions as well, the ground of the cat and the ground of the human are one.  This is sunny basking.  Let the sun grant us fun.

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This wonky space for one's two cents recalls the concept of a "sideways opinion."  As agony aunt Victoria Coren Mitchell has noted, "In social situations, if you ask a question, make it one of opinion — but a sideways opinion to which they shouldn't have a pat answer. For example: 'That man over there — would you like him more or less if he were wearing a hat?' or 'Do you think an agony aunt can ever actually solve a problem?'" (GQ, April 22, 1015).  Our image is from D. M. Ferry & Co.'s 1921 seed catalog.  It was scanned sideways by the Internet Archive.  Meanwhile, Collectors Weekly has a fun collection of postage stamps with inverted colors, overprints, and center inverts.
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Ahem, to quote "One Giant Leap to Nowhere," "we must build a bridge to the stars" (Tom Wolfe in The New York Times, July 18, 2009).  Pictured: trying to get a rocket through an underpass at Benson, Arizona would surely be easier than putting a man on the moon.  ???  Little wonder that some folks still doubt the moon landing.  Photo courtesy of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.
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July 24, 2016 (permalink)

Here's a Swiss alternative to the Buddhists' "chop wood, carry water":  "Chop wood, gather edelweiss, look after goats."  From "Wooden Tony: An Anyhow Story" in English Illustrated, 1890.
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July 19, 2016 (permalink)

[Note that our answer might be considered offensive, so please reveal it at your own risk.]
Q: Why have fighter pilots historically paint naked women on the sides of their craft?  (A seafaring vessel is more appropriate for a womanly mascot, as water/the ocean and the containment of a ship are age-old symbols of femininity.  The phallic missiles of a war jet are wholly masculine in nature.)
A: [Highlight to view.] 
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July 3, 2016 (permalink)

What we love about the "Mandela Effect" phenomenon (have you been following it?) is that it's sweeping the masses into wonderment in ways that might approximate the rise of Spiritualism.  The average person is instantly swept into an alternate universe when he or she ponders things such as: "I remember the phrase being 'Mirror, mirror on the wall' and not 'Magic mirror on the wall'" or "Didn't the Statue of Liberty used to be on Ellis Island?"  How very brilliant to frame collective "false" memories as artifacts of parallel universes bleeding into one another.  We took great pleasure in working up a little video about the phenomenon, relating it to Heidegger's perspective on the Uncanny and encouraging folks to use the Mandela Effect for personal empowerment.  We suggest forgetting the old motto, "Be the change you wish to see" -- instead, "Free the strange you wish to flee."  (That's a Googlewhack in this universe.)

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June 30, 2016 (permalink)

Do you detect a coded meaning to this ad from the turn of the century?  Though early for the use of "Mary Jane" as slang for marijuana, the "Maria Jane" reference here is paired with the unusual name "Blifkins" ("bliff" rhyming with "spliff," suggesting a cigarette of cannabis and tobacco), in the psychedelic context of "a change [coming] o'er his dreams."  When we include the hallucinatory portrait in which two figures emerge from the man's face, the ad seems to be suggesting that this particular tobacco combines happily with cannabis.
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June 29, 2016 (permalink)

"Clothes spend most of their time without us.  Poems are the same way."
—William Keckler

Paradise Lost shirt photo courtesy of Todd Mecklem.
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June 25, 2016 (permalink)

What's the difference between Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare and lambs' tails from Shakespeare?
    lambs'   tails     Lamb's   Tales  
"Is he a lamb?" —Henry VI, Part II x x
"I am a lamb." —Titus Andronicus x x
"He's a lamb indeed." —Coriolanus x x
"Esteem him as a lamb." —Macbeth x x
"Poor harmless lambs abide their enmity." —Henry VI, Part III x x
"Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment?" —Henry VI, Part II x x
"In peace was never gentle lamb more mild." —Richard II x x
"In the figure of a lamb." —Much Ado About Nothing x x
"We were as twinn'd lambs." —Winter's Tale x
"Why, lamb! why, lady!" —Romeo and Juliet x  
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June 21, 2016 (permalink)

Lines and Lions: A Bridge that Roars in Four Directions

Vancouver's iconic Lions Gate Bridge sports two colossal lion statues at its entrance.  Or so most folks think.  There are actually six lions, if you know where to look.  That's because, like some sort of Möbius surface, the bridge improbably crosses itself from above.  The other four lions don't sit so tall, though they command a higher vantage as they guard the lesser-known, non-identical twin of the Lions Gate Bridge.  This lesser bridge offers the perfect view of the greater one.  Standing upon either structure and gazing upon the other, one can say with certainty that Vancouver's most famous bridge spans four directions: N.N.E. to S.S.W and E.S.E to W.N.W.

Studying a map of the Lions Gate Bridge[s], things begin to get mysterious.  A leonine determination seems to be at play, and it's not a mere trick of the eye or a figment of one's imagination.  We see lines on the map seemingly declaring their own will, and this is in fact a curious phenomenon studied by scholars of art.  When a line crosses itself, it "becomes more than a means toward an end," as acclaimed art historian David Rosand explains.  "[I]t insists upon its own role as protagonist ... even asserting its own creative independence. ... As Matisse recognized, 'One must always search for the desire of the line, where it wishes to enter or where to die away'" ("Time Lines," Moving Imagination, 2013, p. 210).  And so we're left with the sense that even if the bridge architects had intended upon just two guardian statues, the lions yet dictated their own story -- a story with twists and turns and with six of their species.

The view of the greater bridge from the lesser, courtesy of Sonson.

Prof. Oddfellow's map of Vancouver's two Lions Gate Bridges.

The four smaller guardians on the lesser Lions Gate Bridge.  Photo by Michael Warwick.

One of the smaller guardians on the lesser Lions Gate Bridge.  Photo by Michael Warwick.

One of the smaller guardians on the lesser Lions Gate Bridge.  Photo by Michael Warwick.
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June 11, 2016 (permalink)

"Army, Marriage, the Church, and Banking: the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

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June 7, 2016 (permalink)

"Beyond the text lies the Deus absconditus, the hidden, destructive God who may well be simply a human projection, a dangerous idol." —Hans W. Frei, Theology and Narrative: Selected Essays (1993)
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May 31, 2016 (permalink)

A book that is conscious of its own existence?  Not only is that possible, but there's more than one of them.

Tic Tac Tome: The Autonomous Tic Tac Toe Playing Book not only knows your next move as you play a game with it, but when asked in the introduction if it's aware of its own existence, the book asserts its consciousness and then eerily tells the reader that the real question is whether the reader truly exists or is merely a manifestation of its paper-based imagination.  With every round of the game, the reader feels increasingly certain of the book's sentience.
The Young Wizard's Hexopedia reads the mind of its reader throughout, again and again predicting the reader's very next thought or opinion about the information.  In the first chapter the book divines whether or not the reader has begun reading in lieu of a pressing responsibility.  
Clive Barker's demon-narrated novel Mister B. Gone, which increasingly damns the reader's soul with every word read, begs its reader to close its pages and knows if the reader is still there.  The demon explains that this book will do the reader harm beyond description unless the reader does as asked and simply stops reading.  The book can tell whether the reader has trusted the demon and stopped reading.
More subtly, but of special interest to literary critics, in Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, the omniscient narrator weaves the reader's consciousness into the novel's by craftily using first-person plural pronouns to transform monologues into dialogues, thus uniting author and reader.  As one analyst has noted, "Suddenly the omniscient narrator reads the mind of the reader, moving beyond the limits of the facade of so-called reality and reminding readers that they too are part of the illusion of truth that a story pretends.  The alienation from the text as truth keeps them aware of the illusion.  The reader colludes with the writer/narrator in the success of the fiction" (Tom Robbins: A Critical Companion).  
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Original Content Copyright © 2016 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.