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.
This May Surprise You

August 1, 2015 (permalink)

Snow White was only half the story: here are 14 drawfs, illustrated by Donn P. Crane (whose little-known history is profiled here).

July 25, 2015 (permalink)

Here's a precious secret of immortality: train a peach tree to spell "Davie," and you'll not only live forever but also enjoy luscious peaches.  This we learn in The Peach and Nectarine by David Taylor Fish, 1879.  But note in the text that only immortality is guaranteed, and the peaches are a mere "perhaps."

July 22, 2015 (permalink)

"The Mayans were wrong. When Liv Ullman sings, 'The world is a circle without a beginning,' that's when the world ends." —Eric Henderson's scathing review of Lost Horizon for Slant Magazine

July 14, 2015 (permalink)

We learn here that the exact truth can never be known while one is holding an umbrella.  From An American Girl in London by Sara Jeannette Duncan, 1891.  The caption reads, "Please hold my parasol, Mr. Mafferton, that I may get the exact truth for my penny."

July 10, 2015 (permalink)

Moonlight reflects off the bones of the dead, as we see in From the Earth to the Moon Direct in Ninety-Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes, and a Trip Round It by Jules Verne, 1874.

June 24, 2015 (permalink)

At the end of a story, the characters are collected into a locked trunk.  From The Oxford Thackeray.

"Machines of most types change or disappear; even institutions die; the clock is unchangeable and eternal.  The last man, when he says farewell to the cold, exhausted sun, will consult his watch in order to know the exact time of his death." —Machado de Assis, Epitaph of a Small Winner

June 21, 2015 (permalink)

Here's how any blank piece of paper is actually a magic trick with a false bottom:

Gentlemen, observe this piece of paper.  An ordinary sheet of paper, no watermark, no false bottom.  And now I'd like to ask someone for an ordinary pencil.  Thank you, sir.  In the meantime you can talk, play little games, do what you like, it won't make any difference to me.  And he sits down and begins to write.  Anyone can write.  There is no shortage of words.  And off he goes with them.  Now he shows whether there's anything in him or not, now he gives it all he's got.  And when we read his story, we forget this dreary reality, we discover in our own room a secret door that we had never noticed before, behind which all sorts of strange and unheard-of things go on.  It's not such an ordinary bit of paper after all; there is a false bottom, and there is a watermark which no one can forge. —Ernst Kreuder, The Attic Pretenders

June 18, 2015 (permalink)

"There are a number of ideas present in water." —William Keckler

June 14, 2015 (permalink)

It's rarely mentioned, but one challenge of a wooden leg is that it unwittingly serves as a dowsing rod.  We find our evidence in Wonderful Ching-Ching by Edwin Harcourt Burrage, 1886.  The caption reads, "The wooden leg of Eddard went up into the air with a sudden jerk."

June 6, 2015 (permalink)

You've heard the idiom that "blood is thicker than water," but what does water have to do with anything?  Rather, it's oil, as we see in this diagram from An American Text-Book of Physiology by William Henry Howell, 1897.

May 29, 2015 (permalink)

"The sun is the soul and the light of the world, probably in the same way that the physical letters of the vowels are the soul of the alphabet." —Joseph Dan, The "Unique Cherub Circle": A School of Mystics and Esoterics in Medieval Germany (1999)

May 28, 2015 (permalink)

We can now reveal that giant, elaborate, even architectural clockwork has always been the engine that generates fairy tales, and our modern age of disenchantment is directly attributable to newfangled flat clocks and (horrors!) portable digital timepieces.  In a nutshell, one can't measure "once upon a time" by a microchip.  Begin contemplating where all the giant clocks are, (recalling that Germany's fabled Black Forest contains the vast majority of the world's largest cuckoo clocks), then contemplate the sources of your favorite fairy tales, and a bell will resound in your head.  Contemplate also why California's Disneyland is better than Florida's Magic Kingdom (recalling that the elaborate facade behind Disneyland's It's a Small World ride is an enormous, elaborate clock with animated figures emerging to mark the hours).  Now you'll have guessed the reason for our pilgrimage last year to the 14th-century fortified East Gate of the town of Warwick, still a working clock tower.  Google Earth imagery of the clock tower verifies that the spot violates the laws of space/time.  The top of the clock tower is revealed to be ethereal (see first and second pictures below).  It's an English version of a "Castle in Spain."  At least equally intriguing, an additional warp in space/time is verified: the yellow line that Google overlays to show the route of street traffic bends upward into space as it nears the clock tower.  This anomaly isn't a one-off but rather appears in multiple photos and angles (see pictures three and four below).  In our final picture, taken more recently by Google's spy cameras, note the optical illusion in the clock tower's windows.  We've paired it with an optical illusion by Gary Barwin, to clarify the exact phenomenon (see picture five below).  Windows begin as glass and end as stone, and vice versa.

May 22, 2015 (permalink)

The old-time euthemism "Golly gee whillikers" is of ambiguous etymology, but we've traced it back to this 8-pound fish who went by the name of "G. Whillikens."  From Heston's Hand-Book by Alfred Miller Heston, 1902.

May 21, 2015 (permalink)

We actually traced our ancestry to the second, third, and fourth figures in this illustration from The Popular History of England by Charles Knight, 1854.  The secret?  We followed the techniques in Heirs to the Queen of Hearts: Tracing Magical Genealogy.

May 20, 2015 (permalink)

We've been monitoring this for years and are thrilled to report that a library stamp has leafed and fruited!  It's true, and it's all happening on the last page of Breezes from John o' Groats, 1896.  Rest assured that further developments will appear here first.

May 19, 2015 (permalink)

Ornate borders and frames are formed slowly, carefully "grown" like topiaries.  We find this adolescent frame in Time's Footsteps: A Record of Red Letter Days and Events, 1890.

May 16, 2015 (permalink)

The Private Lives of Some Very Great Thinkers Indeed

(from N. F. Simpson's highly recommended Most of What Follows is a Complete Waste of Time: Monologues, Dialogues, Sketches and Other Writings)

Swedenborg, we are told, saw God as infinite love and infinite wisdom and the end of creation as the approximation of man to God.  But though this was undoubtedly one side of Swedenborg, it was not the only side.  There was another side: the side that liked to put up shelves and to see to the ceiling where the plaster was coming away.  Religion and philosophy were every bit as important in their own way, but, basically, they were there for Swedenborg as something to turn to in the small hours when it wasn't on to go banging about with a hammer, as there were people living upstairs.  So often a theologian is, in essence, a kind of handyman manqué who, but for the neighbors, would have been building a cocktail cabinet with bevelled edges and a veneer finish, but has turned to the study of the eternal verities out of frustration: frustration at being unable to get the wood; frustration because he would no sooner get going than there'd be the usual thumping on the wall leaving him with no option but to down tools and start thinking about God again.  One is reminded here of Schopenhauer, who, living as he did in a terraced house, had neighbors on either side.  It made a quite spectacular difference to his heating bills.  He was paying less than half, and this was why he stayed.  But the opportunities for making things were seriously curtailed, and it is small wonder that he should have put forward the view that God, freewill and the immortality of the soul are illusions.  Rousseau, who spent the better part of his life working up in the attic on that full-scale model of a Spanish galleon, solved the problem of noise by doing it, as we know, in raffia-work.  It is possible there were complaints even so.  But if there were, no record of them has come down to us.  It is worth remarking here, perhaps, that Rousseau's reputation for being hopeless, galleon apart, at anything requiring manual dexterity was largely undeserved.  True, he fell off a roof while trying to put some tiles back on, and in doing so, brought another sixteen down with him, and half the guttering.  But it was a more or less isolated incident and the kind of thing that could happen to anybody.  It has, nevertheless, tended to count against him amongst historians less than sympathetic to Rousseau's pretensions as a handyman.  One thing about which there has never been any dispute is that he could lay lino.  There are those who would say "after a fashion," adding that this does not make him the greatest handyman of all time, even if true.  But he could do more than lay lino.  He could unblock a drain.  No outstanding achievement perhaps, except that he had a way of doing it with a broomhandle that impressed those looking on and excited a certain amount of, sometimes grudging, admiration.  The real yardstick, surely, is whether you would have had Rousseau in if anything needed doing.  Not, if one is being perfectly honest, as a first choice, admittedly, but I would, for my part, have Rousseau every time if it were a choice between him and Freud.  Freud's behavior on a roof is something about which the less said the better.  It was, as apologists for Freud are never tired of pointing out, in the middle of the night.  And he was taken short.  But you don't, in those circumstances, clamber up through the skylight and make water in the first receptacle you see.  One is at liberty to accept his explanation that he thought it had been put there for the purpose, but I am convinced he knew perfectly well what it was put there for.  It was put there to measure rainfall and it is almost superfluous to point out that, once the rainfall figures have been distorted, it can affect the whole climactic picture virtually in perpetuity.  To go off next morning without a word to anyone, knowing this, is, to my mind, inexcusable.  It invalidates his entire corpus.

May 10, 2015 (permalink)

After the privilege of peeking at an early draft of this book in 2008, I've been on pins and needles for its official release.  Few people can boast having Sting as an opening act—the Sting, after he won all those Grammy awards—with photos to prove it.  Steve Spill, of Santa Monica's MAGICOPOLIS fame, has chosen not to be discouraged by the impossible.  He has finally revealed the unbelievable but true story of how he built and has maintained (for 17 years and counting) his own magic theatre when multi-million dollar conglomerates have failed (like Caesar's Magic Empire in Vegas, Wizards at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Copperfield's Magic Underground in New York).  It's ultimately a how-to book for crazy dreamers (with practical tips on securing funding, generating publicity, attracting celebrities, filling theatre seats, operating a business, and staying sane), colored by three decade's worth of funny and rather slanderous anecdotes about the rich and famous around the world.  His exposé is entitled, I Lie for Money, and that's the first clue that Spill is actually coming clean: if a liar says he's lying, then that statement itself is a lie, so he is by definition telling the truth.  

Full disclosure: I've been enchanted by Steve Spill ever since my first visit to Magicopolis, and it's because of his uncanny talent to make one feel like a million bucks.  It's not the sort of charisma that makes you feel like you're the only person in the room, but Steve Spill makes you feel like the only celebrity in the room.  (And I mean that quite literally -- it was during my second visit to Magicopolis that Steve Spill announced to the entire audience that I was in attendance, as if I weren't some fringe curator of unicorn sounds and arcane lexicons.)  Granted, he does lie when he promises that Magicopolis will entertain you for an evening, because in truth the mystification carries with you long after the show is over.  For example, on my most recent visit to his theatre, he called up my 10-year-old niece to the stage to participate in a bit of wonderment.  When she returned to her seat in the audience, she noticed that the "It's my birthday" button she had been wearing all day was suddenly not there.  Now, the birthday button didn't figure into the show, and I'm convinced that Steve Spill never touched her person, nor do I have reason to suspect that he's a kleptomaniac.  But my niece's birthday was transformed by the experience of being called to the stage and made to feel like a real Hollywood star.  And she marveled at how Steve Spill seemingly performed an entire bit of vanishing magic not for the audience but just for her.  This idiosyncratic and presumably accidental occurrence nonetheless illuminates the way that Steve Spill mystifies beyond mere tricks, and there's no doubt that a great many people have experienced albeit different but profoundly mysterious occurrences around this magician.  His remarkable life story is proof that he's not limited by what's possible, and that transfers to his audience in uncanny ways.

May 2, 2015 (permalink)

You've heard of carrying "coals to Newcastle," but here is revealed how they get there: via cherubs.  From Church Review, 1901.  We recall Jonathan Caws-Elwitt's sitcom treatment: "Coles to Newcastle: Posh Londoner Dagobert Coles has hilarious misadventures adjusting to life in the North."

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Original Content Copyright © 2015 by Craig Conley. All rights reserved.