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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May 22, 2016 (permalink)

A Facebook session or a Spiritualist seance?  Can you tell the difference?
One wishes to make contact with a distant friend, lover, or acquaintance who has departed from one's life.  Via means one doesn't fully understand, one seeks a message, albeit oddly spelled or worded, or at least some sort of flickering notification that said entity possesses at least a modicum of sentience in that other place.
a: Spiritualist seance
b: Facebook
c: indistinguishable
[Hint: the answer, like the ocean of consciousness we seek to navigate and commune with, rhymes with the sea.]
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March 19, 2016 (permalink)

A vintage optical illusion — though the man on the right is smaller than a tennis racket, he's actually taller than the man on the left.  Photo by Leslie Jones, date uncertain.

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March 1, 2016 (permalink)

Here's a connect-the-dots game for those who just can't be bothered, from Vegetable Staticks, 1727.

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December 23, 2015 (permalink)

Can you guess the caption of this illustration from St. Nicholas magazine, 1876?  The answer is in black text on a black background; highlight it to view:

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August 20, 2015 (permalink)

Q: Which teacup contains the tempest?  (You might wonder if it's the upside down cup, but then you might wonder whether the upside down cup is too obvious.)

A: (Highlight to reveal.)  

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August 6, 2015 (permalink)

Apparently he only rolls his own.  From Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair by Henry Morley, 1892.

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July 15, 2015 (permalink)

Archaeological excavation is very much like solving an enormous jigsaw puzzle, as we see in Young Folks' History of Mexico by Frederick Albion Ober, 1883.

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July 7, 2015 (permalink)

What do we like about this crossword-like design from The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, translated by R. F. Burton, 1894?  Those squares for one-letter words!

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June 17, 2015 (permalink)

How can you tell that these letters are for a newscaster?  Because they spell out .  (The answer is in black text on a black background.  Highlight to view.)

Our image is from St. Nicholas magazine, 1903.  The answer is our own to a question unknown.

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May 22, 2015 (permalink)

Here are True and False personified.  But how can you tell them apart?

(The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)

Image source: In Palace and Faubourg by Caroline J. Freeland, 1889.

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May 1, 2015 (permalink)

Moon Fish Ocean is our whimsical Zen version of "Rock Paper Scissors."  You can play the game online at the official website.

Here's a fun tip for taking the game on the road:

Use Moon Fish Ocean to navigate the maze of pathways in a formal garden (especially a garden with a koi pond!). You and your companion should throw a hand gesture at each crossroad or forked path. If the person on the left wins, go left. If the person on the right wins, go right. If it's a tie, continue walking straight ahead (or throw another round in the case of only two choices of direction). The game is guaranteed to lead you to all sorts of beautiful areas of the gardens you didn't know about, simply because you would never have gone down certain (less eye-enticing) paths. So Moon Fish Ocean can serve as a form of navigation in which Lady Luck dictates the itinerary.

A visitor asks:

It is not clear to me what makes this conducive to meditation. Is it being so focused on the activity that all else is put aside?

Like "walking meditation," Moon Fish Ocean can be a form of meditation in action, in which the experience of game play is the focus of heightened awareness.

Praise for Moon, Fish, Ocean:

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April 16, 2015 (permalink)

Here's a roll of the dice from Diccionario Enciclopedico Hispano-Americano de Literatura, Siencias y Artes, 1887.  See also our guide to Astragalomancy (finally released from private circulation in the magical underground), which reveals for the first time the secret meanings of 21 discrete dice throws.

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March 22, 2015 (permalink)

Futility Closet published an old riddle (dating back to the late 1700s) that has remained unsolved to this day.  We suggest that the answer might be hiding in plain sight.  Here's the riddle:

In the morn when I rise, / I open my eyes, / Tho’ I ne’er sleep a wink all night;
If I wake e’er so soon, / I still lie till noon, / And pay no regard to the light.

I have loss, I have gain, / I have pleasure, and pain; / And am punished with many a stripe;
To diminish my woe, / I burn friend and foe, / And my evenings I end with a pipe.

I travel abroad. / And ne’er miss my road, / Unless I am met by a stranger;
If you come in my way, / Which you very well may, / You will always be subject to danger.

I am chaste, I am young, / I am lusty, and strong, / And my habits oft change in a day;
To court I ne’er go, / Am no lady nor beau, / Yet as frail and fantastic as they.

I live a short time, / I die in my prime, / Lamented by all who possess me;
If I add any more, / To what’s said before / I’m afraid you will easily guess me.

Here's our answer, in black text on a black background.  Highlight to view:  

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March 8, 2015 (permalink)

"Yes, an entire picture comes forth as you connect the dots." —Daveta Brown, Are You Ready for the Frontline?

Our illustration appears in Domestic Animals by Richard Lamb Allen, 1858.

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February 28, 2015 (permalink)

"Jamie, we are both playing a false game," from The Flower of Gala Water and Other Stories by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr, 1895.

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January 28, 2015 (permalink)

In the game Grand Theft Auto V, members of a Scientology-like cult called Epsilon pray to the god Kifflom. We can offer an internet exclusive in answering "What does Kifflom mean?" The sounds of Kifflom, spoken backwards, intone the word malefic (from the Latin meaning ill-doing).  Note that the "kiff" at the beginning of Kifflom is the "fic" of malefic, backwards.  The "lom" at the end of the Kifflom is the the "mal" at the beginning of malefic.  

There is actually a long history of such word reversals.  Consider, for example, the reversals of:

Tien (heaven in Chinese) into Neit (Egyptian goddess)

Mitra (Persian Venus) into Artim (the Greek Artimis)

Rama (love in Sanscrit) into Amor (love in Latin)

Dipuc (love in Sanscrit) into Cupid (Latin)

Chlom (crown in Coptic) into Moloch (king in Hebrew)

Sar (chief in Persian) into Ras (chief in Arabic and Hebrew)

Additionally, Melos refers to "the fearful sword of fire" that descends from "the gate of light," a coded reference to Christ in Abyssinian liturgical texts.  King Solomon, who figured highly in Ethiopian mythology, is said to have considered Melos to be a magic word.[1]  Note that Melos is a form of the name Solomon.  Solomon spelled backwards is Nomolos, which shortens to Molos and hence Melos.  (Another common variation is Nemlos.[2])

[1] Phillip Tovey, Inculturation of Christian Worship (2004)

[2] Alois Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition (1975)

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January 18, 2015 (permalink)

An unknown game, from The History of Herodotus: A New English Version edited by George Rawlinson, 1862.

Jonathan Caws-Elwitt quips, "Looks like 'scissors cuts paper' to me!  I see that the judge's ruling on that play was overturned."

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November 7, 2014 (permalink)

The longest tournament chess game took 20 hours and 15 minutes, but we know that one game of chess can actually last a lifetime, as we see in A Boyar of the Terrible by Frederick J. Whishaw, 1896.  The caption reads, "He suddenly died while playing at chess."

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October 29, 2014 (permalink)

"It's such a comfort to play an ace, isn't it." —Ermentine Poole Long

Our illustration appears in Uncle Chesterton's Heir by Joséphine Blanche Colomb, 1884.

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September 16, 2014 (permalink)

Gary Barwin reports:

Aaron Tucker has created this amazing site, Chessbard which translates chess games into poetry. You can play classic games, play a game against a chessbot, or modify games. The site then 'translates' the game into poems: both a White poem and a Black poem. Aaron has also written an essay about the project and its development.

I was delighted to be able to contribute to the site. I created some poems (by modifying a classic game) and wrote a discussion about what I did and about chess in general. Read it here.

Really fascinating.

And while you're thinking about chess, definitely check out the very lovely, Calvino-Chess Dictionary by Craig Conley. You can buy the book or read it online. I'd recommend the book!

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