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 OneLetterWords.com.
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A Turkish Delight of musings on languages, deflations of metaphysics, vauntings of arcana, and great visual humor.
December 31, 2010

Rhetorical Questions, Answered! (permalink)
Q: Why do I have to ask the questions?
A: Do you think that is the question to ask?
Geof Huth, personal correspondence
> read more from Rhetorical Questions, Answered! . . .


Your Ship Will Come In (permalink)


“Your ship will come upon islands of injustices and inequities, manifested by the subconscious reactions that steered you there.” —Robin Clark

 
* Our printed collection of vintage nautical postcards is entitled Your Ship Will Come In and is available from Amazon.com.
> read more from Your Ship Will Come In . . .

December 30, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
"Literature is a false representation of life that nevertheless helps us to understand life better, to orient ourselves in the labyrinth where we are born, pass by, and die. It compensates for the reverses and frustrations real life inflicts on us, and because of it we can decipher, at least partially, the hieroglyphic that existence tends to be for the great majority of human beings, principally those of us who generate more doubts than certainties and confess our perplexity before subjects like transcendence, individual and collective destiny, the soul, the sense or senselessness of history, the to and fro of rational knowledge." —Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel lecture, "In Praise of Reading and Fiction," Dec. 7, 2010
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .


Two Sides / Same Coin (permalink)
* Inspired by Jeff Hawkins.
> read more from Two Sides / Same Coin . . .

December 29, 2010

Images Moving Through Time (permalink)
We delighted that the Vangobot robot has created a painting in our honor.  The piece is entitled "4 Prof. Oddfellow."  It's like looking in a mirror!


> read more from Images Moving Through Time . . .


The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from Memoir of the Rev. John James Weitbrecht.

“I couldn’t look into his face; I knew instinctively that one doesn’t look in the face of a Spirit.” —W. Jackson Rushing

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .

December 28, 2010

Book of Whispers (permalink)

Imagine a game of "What's My Line," in which either a cherub or an imp whispers into a blindfolded panelist's ear.

Are the whispered words pictured on the right of an angelic or a diabolical nature?


Answer: Angelic. "Her Angel whispered to her, 'The Master has need of thee.'" —"Flowers for a Child’s Grave," The Irish Monthly, Eighth Yearly Volume, 1880, p. 552. (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)
> read more from Book of Whispers . . .


Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out (permalink)
Is it true, as Momus suggests, that there are "few tales which would not be improved by the addition of the phrase 'suddenly, a shot rang out'"?  Decide for yourself as we alter the opening lines of . . .

BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS by Anne Tyler

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. Suddenly, a shot rang out.
> read more from Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out . . .

December 27, 2010

It's Really Happening (permalink)
"It's really happening.  It was out there now.  There was no turning back."
Raymond Khoury, The Sign (2010)


The foreground photo of this collage is from the wrongfully-canceled comedy series Arrested Development.
> read more from It's Really Happening . . .


I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
"'Science is systematized and formulated knowledge.'  Then anybody who has systematized and formulated knowledge enough to appear, on time, at the breakfast table, is, to that degree, a scientist.  There are scientific dogs.  Most of them have a great deal of systematized and formulated knowledge.  Cats and rabbits and all those irritating South American rodents that were discovered by cross-word puzzle-makers are scientists.  A magnet scientifically picks out and classifies iron filings from a mass of various materials.  Science does not exist, as a distinguishable entity."
—Charles Fort, Wild Talents
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .

December 26, 2010

Presumptive Conundrums (permalink)
INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the puzzle image below to reveal one possible solution.

You Do the Math - Presumptive Conundrums
* Learn more about Presumptive Conundrums at Amazon.com.
> read more from Presumptive Conundrums . . .

December 25, 2010

The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from The Autobiography of William Jerdan.

In this haunting, the ghost of “the deeply lamented” L.E.L. appears no fewer than eight times.

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .

December 24, 2010

The Right Word (permalink)
"Peace is just a word" —Eurythmics


Photo by Luc De Leeuw.
> read more from The Right Word . . .


Your Ship Will Come In (permalink)

 
* Our printed collection of vintage nautical postcards is entitled Your Ship Will Come In and is available from Amazon.com.
> read more from Your Ship Will Come In . . .

December 23, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
A fate worse than death:

"It wasn't the dying.  He had seen men die all his life, and death was the luck of the chance, the price you eventually paid.  What was worse was the stupidity.  The appalling sick stupidity that was so bad you thought sometimes you would go suddenly, violently, completely insane just having to watch it."
Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .


It's Really Happening (permalink)
"'It's really happening,' I said, excitement creeping into my voice.  'In spades.'"
Terry Fallis, The High Road (2010)


The foreground photo of this collage is from the wrongfully-canceled comedy series Arrested Development.  The neon spade is by Jeremy Brooks.
> read more from It's Really Happening . . .


Two Sides / Same Coin (permalink)
* Inspired by Jeff Hawkins.
> read more from Two Sides / Same Coin . . .

December 22, 2010

The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from Beethoven’s Letters.

“It is certainly in keeping with the spirit of Beethoven—a universal spirit, beyond time.” —Esteban Buch, Beethoven’s Ninth

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .


Colorful Allusions (permalink)


> read more from Colorful Allusions . . .

December 21, 2010

Book of Whispers (permalink)

Imagine a game of "What's My Line," in which either a cherub or an imp whispers into a blindfolded panelist's ear.

Are the whispered words pictured on the right of an angelic or a diabolical nature?


Answer: Angelic. "Some good angel whispered to me, 'Go, and look in the glass.'" —Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1874, p. 335. (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)
> read more from Book of Whispers . . .


Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out (permalink)
Is it true, as Momus suggests, that there are "few tales which would not be improved by the addition of the phrase 'suddenly, a shot rang out'"?  Decide for yourself as we alter the opening lines of . . .

THE END OF THE AFFAIR by Graham Greene

A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. Suddenly, a shot rang out.
> read more from Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out . . .

December 20, 2010

Semicolon Moons (permalink)
"The Sickle of Leo, from which come the Leonids, gleams like a great question-mark in the sky.  The answer— But God knows what the answer to anything is.  Perhaps it is that the stars are very close indeed."
—Charles Fort, New Lands


> read more from Semicolon Moons . . .


I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
"Of course, in our acceptance, the Irish are the Chosen People.  It's because they are characteristically best in accord with the underlying essence of quasi-existence."
—Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (1919)
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .

December 19, 2010

The Right Word (permalink)
From our Magic Words outpost:

We're honored to have our insights into "hocus pocus" referenced in Software Studies: A Lexicon, edited by Matthew Fuller.  The chapter in question is Marco Deseriis' "Text Virus."


> read more from The Right Word . . .


Presumptive Conundrums (permalink)
INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the puzzle image below to reveal one possible solution.

You Do the Math - Presumptive Conundrums
* Learn more about Presumptive Conundrums at Amazon.com.
> read more from Presumptive Conundrums . . .

December 18, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
"The only reason to save something is to use it."
Geof Huth
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .


The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Frontispiece from William Douglas O’Connor’s The Ghost.

The implication seems to be this: spirit is a shadow in the material realm, and material is a shadow in the spirit realm.

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .

December 17, 2010

Ampersands (permalink)
While decorative type ornaments are predominantly botanical in nature, punctuation marks betray bestial origins.  The ampersand, for example, descends from a snakelike fish.


Art by Marc Palm.
> read more from Ampersands . . .


Your Ship Will Come In (permalink)


“Yes, your boat awaits you.” —Edna Lyall

 
* Our printed collection of vintage nautical postcards is entitled Your Ship Will Come In and is available from Amazon.com.
> read more from Your Ship Will Come In . . .

December 16, 2010

Staring at the Sun (permalink)
"She stared at the sun, narrowing her eyes until it was just a speck.  The speck grew larger and larger, white obliterating dark.  Past destroying present." —Sarah McCarty, Tracker's Sin (2010)
> read more from Staring at the Sun . . .


Two Sides / Same Coin (permalink)
* Inspired by Jeff Hawkins.
> read more from Two Sides / Same Coin . . .

December 15, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
"I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past." —Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .


The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from Memoir of the Rev. Thomas Allin.

“Upon our darkened eyes / A light more pure than noontide rays shall shine.” —Catherine Grant Furley, “Incompleteness”

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .

December 14, 2010

Book of Whispers (permalink)

Imagine a game of "What's My Line," in which either a cherub or an imp whispers into a blindfolded panelist's ear.

Are the whispered words pictured on the right of an angelic or a diabolical nature?


Answer: Diabolical. "This demon whispered now in her ear: 'Listen, and you may learn things that you long to know!' —Robert Smythe Hichens, Flames, 1897, p. 292. (The answer is in black text on the black background. Highlight it to view.)
> read more from Book of Whispers . . .


Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out (permalink)
Is it true, as Momus suggests, that there are "few tales which would not be improved by the addition of the phrase 'suddenly, a shot rang out'"?  Decide for yourself as we alter the opening lines of . . .

CHROMOS by Felipe Alfau

The moment one learns English, complications set in. Suddenly, a shot rings out.

---

Jeff writes:

This could be the two-sentence life story of so many tortured writers.  Of course, simply reversing the order of the sentences avoids those pesky English complications altogether, but then who would be left to torture?  It's a bit of a paradox.
> read more from Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out . . .

December 13, 2010

Forgotten Wisdom (permalink)
From Prof. Oddfellow's sketchbook:


For Cassandra.
> read more from Forgotten Wisdom . . .


Someone Should Write a Book on ... (permalink)
"I have records of 31 extraordinary events in 1883.  Someone should write a book upon the phenomena of this one year—that is, if books should be written."
—Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (1919)
> read more from Someone Should Write a Book on ... . . .

December 12, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
"We are more viably memories than we are humans ... we are more persistently records we leave behind than we are bodies that move through space." —Geof Huth
> read more from I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought . . .


Presumptive Conundrums (permalink)
INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the puzzle image below to reveal one possible solution.

You Do the Math - Presumptive Conundrums
* Learn more about Presumptive Conundrums at Amazon.com.
> read more from Presumptive Conundrums . . .

December 11, 2010

Presumptive Conundrums (permalink)
Our favorite Finnish electronic band, Déclassé, offers a "you do the math" moment:

One phone call
thirteen numbers
still a million miles away.

We love the sentiment that working through a lot of digits to make an international call somehow ought to subtract from the distance.  The paradox arises from considering space and "long distance minutes" as separate entities.  Ultimately, as with Zeno's puzzles, solving the mathematical issues does not solve every issue the paradox raises.
* Learn more about Presumptive Conundrums at Amazon.com.
> read more from Presumptive Conundrums . . .


The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

From William Douglas O’Connor’s The Ghost.

The left image depicts the ghost as it appears in the material realm, while the right image depicts the ghost as it appears in the immaterial realm. And so we learn that ghosts are even more nebulous in the netherworld.

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .

December 10, 2010

Unicorns (permalink)
[We have rescued this article from limbo.  It was set to appear in a Norwegian art and literary magazine back in 2009.  The magazine, like so many unicorns before it, seemed to dematerialize as quickly as it appeared.  Fans of our Field Guide to Identifying Unicorns by Sound will hear some familiar echoes of our research.  Continued whispered thanks to Jonathan Caws-Elwitt for his refinement(s).]

Hoofbeats in a Snowball:

Field Notes from a Cryptozoologist
 
by Craig Conley

Freshly fallen snow can actually store the sounds of unsubstantiated wildlife as well as project them with clarity.  A carefully gathered snowball is like a library of sounds stored on crystalline shelves.  When held to the ear like a seashell, it may whisper the mythic secrets it has absorbed.  Ergo, composer and music theorist John Rahn describes "a little snowball of sounds” (Perspectives on Musical Aesthetics, 1995).  Snow expert Nancy Armstrong explains that "When snow is newly fallen, sound waves are absorbed into its soft surface.  Later, when the surface has hardened, sounds may travel further and sound clearer, because the snow reflects sound waves, sending them more quickly through the air” (Snowman in a Box, 2002).  Barbara Blair concurs: "snow is a wonderful substance to enhance awareness” (Communing with the Infinite, 2006).

Here’s a secret: cryptozoologists can "see” more disputed wildlife, per capita, with their eyelids shut than the average person can see with eyes wide open.  That’s because they have an intimate friendship with the sounds unsubstantiated creatures make.  As you concentrate with eyes closed and mind focused, you may detect the telltale song of the unicorn, for example, announcing the presence of the venerable creature and beckoning you to begin your quest.  When you open your eyes, the unicorn may not be immediately visible, but you’ll know where to start looking.

Hearing disputed wildlife requires time, patience, and "deep listening” skill on the part of the human, and vocal projection on the part of the animal.  Because we live in a highly visual world, we rarely exercise the full range of our hearing.  Yet our ears can detect things that our eyes automatically neglect.  By listening as opposed to looking, we can avoid overlooking.  Practice can be richly rewarding, whether one is listening for unicorns in particular or neglected delights in general.

Wintry days are excellent for listening practice.  Wisps of glittering snowflakes gently falling to earth—that faint sound is subtle but by no means imperceptible.  The key is to distinguish it from total silence.  Barbara Wright explains: "the lovely sound of snowfall” is "no sound at all, really, but neither [is] it silence” (Plain Language, 2003).  Sandra Meek agrees, but adds an intriguing qualifier: "No sound for snow, no definition of ice.  The unsaid among shuttered wings” (Nomadic Foundations, 2002).  Without question, unsaid utterances can resound in the silence between two beings.  Perhaps they are unspeakable.  Perhaps they are ineffable.  In any case, they spiral, grow, and ring in our ears.  As Mary Summer Rain has noted, deep silence intensifies the sound of falling snow (Soul Sounds, 1992).

The delicately complex sound of snowflakes can connote anything from serenity to ominousness, depending upon the unsubstantiated wildlife’s intentions.  Donna Andrews records "the eerie, muffled sound” of snow (You’ve Got Murder, 2002), while Judith Hendricks offers a more endearing description of "the soft, purring sound of snowfall, like a big cat.”  She adds, in parentheses, "Yes, there is a sound, but you can only hear it in absolute silence” (The Baker’s Apprentice, 2005).  Indeed, according to professional sound designers Deena Kaye and James LeBrecht (Sound and Music for Theatre, 1999), the sound of snow has a broad range:
  • calm
  • menacing
  • comforting
  • threatening
  • inviting
  • foreboding
  • soothing
It should come as no surprise that unicorns make a sound like falling snow, for snowflake crystals and unicorns share many characteristics:
  • no two alike
  • sparkly white in color (having absorbed all of the surrounding sunlight or moonlight)
  • difficult to predict
  • beautiful
  • symbols of purity
  • natural materializations
  • symbols of innocence
  • can be dangerous at times
  • symbols of serenity
  • excellent insulators
  • ephemeral
  • blend into the landscape
The suggestive sound of snow can also be:
  • divinely musical
  • like a whimpering specter
  • like sieved flour
  • astonishing
  • dreamy
  • enlightening
  • peaceful
  • glassy
  • like spilling sugar
  • persistent
  • hollow
  • pattering
  • slithering
  • tickling
  • drumlike
  • hissing
  • swooshing
  • wailing
  • forlorn
  • scraping
  • feathery
  • gently caressing
  • scratching
  • faintly ticking
  • isolating
  • bright
  • monotonous
  • rustling
  • fierce
  • softly sputtering
  • eloquent
  • enveloping
  • whispering
  • miraculous
  • cleansing
If not distorted by foliage, a gust of wind might carry fragrances from afar, winged seeds, the moans of trees, echoes of laughter and distant whistles, the howls of storms, sudden chills, the invocations printed on prayer flags, and the sounds of a gamboling unicorn.  It is common knowledge that unicorn sound waves can be better detected downwind of the beast than upwind.  But why is that, considering the fact that wind velocities are a mere fraction of the speed of sound (750 miles per hour)?  The phenomenon may derive from wind shears deflecting sound waves either downward (more toward the listener) or upward (away from earshot).  Naturally, if a unicorn sound is carried by the wind, the source of that sound will be upwind (opposite the direction of the gust).  In the case of whirlwinds, anything goes.

Beautiful to the human ear, rustling sounds are typically caused by stealthy movements and rubbing.  Rustling sounds are various in tone:
  • brushing, like a broom sweeping away cobwebs
  • hissing, like a fierce whisper
  • soft and muffled, like a blanket or thick rug
  • crackling, like leaves or dry grass, or kindling catching fire
  • fluttering, like the wings of frightened birds
  • crumpling, like a scattering of parchment on a composer’s cluttered piano, or someone stepping on a paper doll
  • brief and slight, like toffee wrappers
  • scraping, like razors on skin
  • popping, like static electricity
  • prolonged whooshing, like blowing air into a balloon
  • sputtering, like steam from a leaky boiler
  • sighing, like sand slipping through one’s fingers
  • heavy, like the pages of the Sunday newspaper
  • waxen, like the unwrapping of a sandwich
The ruffling sounds of a unicorn are reminiscent of:
  • the feathers of a settling peacock
  • a pillow being fluffed
  • riffling through the pages of an enormous dictionary
  • the rippling of a boat’s sail
  • the gentle shoveling of fresh popcorn into a bucket
  • a breeze whispering through leafy treetops or a field of grass on a mild summer’s day
  • a pigeon fidgeting on a windowsill
  • a bedsheet being shaken
  • a curtain being pulled back
  • unfurling scrolls of small waves
The ethereal, magical voice of a unicorn tends to unfold like a flower captured by time-lapse photography, its sweet melody swirling around the listener like a beautiful fragrance.  It can also sound like:
  • crumpled silk
  • an expression of gratitude
  • a soft, primitive incantation
  • humming high-tension wires
  • an otherworldly harp
  • a menu item that is unavailable this evening
  • a stone dropping into a quiet pool
  • dream-like remembrances
  • an entire forest of songbirds
  • the ringing of a crystal bowl
  • a pinwheel
  • a stereo that has been powered up but on which nothing is being played
Bear in mind that the signature "distant” sound may not indicate physical remoteness.  The ethereal, unworldly nature of the unicorn gives its voice a decidedly far-off quality.  Think of it as a "special effect.”  The exotic reverberations evoke bygone eras, distant memories, faraway lands, remote connections, out-of-print books, and reserved feelings.  Our ears pick up on that detachment and our brains try to account for it, "interpreting” it as coming from far away.  Be aware that a seemingly distant chiming could indicate a unicorn right around the corner or even close enough to touch.

To sensitize your brain to notice unicorn sounds, take special notice of silence, which is available locally in many areas.  Focus on the spaces between sounds.  Here are some things to practice listening for, as suggested by New Zealand naturalist Pete McGregor in "Sounds and Silence” (2006):
  • a fumbling and buzzing bumble bee settling onto a blue clothes peg
  • a lone swallow swooping past without a sound
  • the soft rattle of cabbage tree leaves ceasing when the wind dies down
  • a far-off airplane flying behind the clouds
  • the soft rustle of long grass dislodging the weight of old rain, then resuming quiet contentment
  • a bird singing silence (some notes and phrases are beyond our range of hearing)

Be aware that listening to silence can be a profound experience.  Silence takes us beyond the ordinary.  In "The Sound of Silence” (2003), Thomas Váczy Hightower recalls his first encounter with silence: "Standing by the inland ice, I heard for the first time the sound of silence.  It nearly struck me to the ground, so strong was the pressure.”

Natural unicorn quietude is a wondrous thing.  But an unnatural hush has come over unicorn populations around the world.  A "culture of silence” disseminates the misinformation that unicorns don’t exist, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle.  Something natural goes into hiding, essentially becoming invisible.  Unicorns’ needs are hidden and go unrecognized, thus perpetuating poor public policy and fueling the culture of silence.
> read more from Unicorns . . .


Your Ship Will Come In (permalink)

 
* Our printed collection of vintage nautical postcards is entitled Your Ship Will Come In and is available from Amazon.com.
> read more from Your Ship Will Come In . . .

December 9, 2010

Colorful Allusions (permalink)
Gordon spotted our Minimalist Coloring Book at Chicago's Quimby's Bookstore, sitting next to The Famous Hairdos of Popular Music, volume three.  The pairing is apropos, for "a minimalist hairdo attracts attention and is very chic today" (Mark H. Ford, Self Improvement of Relationship Skills Through Body Language).


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Two Sides / Same Coin (permalink)
* Inspired by Jeff Hawkins.
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December 8, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
Fiction "is an absolute necessity so that civilization continues to exist, renewing and preserving in us the best of what is human" (Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel lecture, "In Praise of Reading and Fiction," Dec. 7, 2010).
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Puzzles and Games (permalink)
Going through some old files, we rediscovered our rough notes for a card game we devised several years ago.  Suggestions for improvements are welcome.

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Elements is a card game for 2 players that involves sketching a map throughout.  The object of the game is to win all the cards.  At the end, both players will have created their own map of a new world they have created out of combined elements.

Required materials: deck of element cards, two pieces of blank paper, pencils (or crayons, markers, and so on).

The cards are divided into 7 suits (earth, air, space, fire, water, metal, wood), according to the sacred elements recognized in ancient belief systems from around the world.  Each element card is numbered from 1 to 10.  Higher numbers indicate stronger forces (i.e. influences, powers) associated with that element, and lower numbers indicate weaker forces. 

Shuffle the deck.  Deal out all the cards, so that each player has half of the deck.  Players do not look at their cards, but keep them in a stack face down. 

Players simultaneously turn their top cards face up and put them on the table.  Whoever turns the higher card takes both cards, determines the cards' outcome according to the key below, adds the cards to his own discard pile, and quickly sketches the outcome to his map.  Then both players turn up their next card and so on.

If the turned up cards are equal, there is a stalemate and each player adds his own card to his own stalemate pile.

The game continues until one player has the majority of cards in his discard pile and wins.  However, both players will end up with a map of a new world.

Regarding the map, it is recommended that each player begin by dividing the blank page into three equal sections with three horizontal lines.  The upper section will represent the Upper World or sky, the middle section will represent the Middle World or land, and the lower section will represent the Underworld or underground. 

Key:

earth / earth    (stalemate)
earth / air        mountaintop
earth / space    cavern
earth / fire        crystal formations
earth / water    mudslide
earth / metal    buried treasure
earth / wood     planted seed

air / earth        dust cloud
air / air            (stalemate)
air / space        gusting wind
air / fire           hot air balloon
air / water        cloud
air / metal        windmill
air / wood         fallen tree

space / earth    moon
space / air        tornado
space / space    (stalemate)
space / fire       shooting star
space / water    rainbow
space / metal    asteroid
space / wood    hollow tree

fire / earth     volcano
fire / air         fireball
fire / space    aurora
fire / fire       (stalemate)
fire / water     steam plume
fire / metal     forge
fire / wood     smoldering ashes

water / earth    ocean
water / air        rainstorm
water / space    underwater grotto
water / fire        geyser
water / water     (stalemate)
water / metal    wishing well
water / wood     shipwreck

metal / earth    bridge
metal / air        airplane
metal / space    meteor
metal / fire       torch
metal / water    chalice
metal / metal    (stalemate)
metal / wood    axe

wood / earth    forest
wood / air        tall tree
wood / space    crate
wood / fire        sacrificial pyre
wood / water    reeds
wood / metal    vine-covered statue
wood / wood     (stalemate)
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The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Complete Works.

“The Other is a presence (a ‘face,’ as we will see), but it is a presence that is always infinitely distant: an absence.” —John Neary, Something and Nothingness

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
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December 7, 2010

I Found a Penny Today, So Here's a Thought (permalink)
From our Collected Lost Meanings of Christmas:

CLEAR AND COHERENT ABSURDITY:  "I think I agree with Joyce's lapsed Catholic hero in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:  'What kind of liberation would that be to forsake an absurdity which is logical and coherent and to embrace one which is illogical and incoherent?'  The religious celebration of Christmas is at least a clear and coherent absurdity.  The commercial celebration is not even that." —Umberto Eco, "God Isn’t Big Enough for Some People"
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Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out (permalink)
Is it true, as Momus suggests, that there are "few tales which would not be improved by the addition of the phrase 'suddenly, a shot rang out'"?  Decide for yourself as we alter the opening lines of . . .

NEUROMANCER by William Gibson

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Suddenly, a shot rang out.
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December 6, 2010

Something, Defined (permalink)
"What something means remains open ended, future oriented, and changeable." —Jeffrey Thomas Nealon & Susan Searls Giroux

"In telling what something means, you express an opinion, much as you do in telling what you like or dislike." —Philip Edward Burnham

"If you know what something means, that 'something' will be part of your life. If you can't conceive of what something means, it will have no part in your life." —Susan Felicity Minsos

"We aren't talking about what something means to you anymore, we're talking about what something means to itself and that's a very different thing." —Matthew Watkinson
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Semicolon Moons (permalink)
"In cosmic punctuation there are no periods: illusion of periods is incomplete view of colons and semi-colons."
—Charles Fort, The Book of the Damned (1919)
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December 5, 2010

Rhetorical Questions, Answered! (permalink)
Jeff asks today's question:

Q: What is it about rhetorical questions?

A: Yeah, I know, right?
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Presumptive Conundrums (permalink)
INSTRUCTIONS: Click on the puzzle image below to reveal one possible solution.

You Do the Math - Presumptive Conundrums

Pitchinwoot writes: "This sentence is False," according to this compelling proof:

Truth is the shattered mirror strown
In myriad bits; while each believes
 his little bit the whole to own.
The Kasidah of Haji Abdu El-Yezdi, Richard F. Burton, translation

* Learn more about Presumptive Conundrums at Amazon.com.
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December 4, 2010

Semicolon's Dream Journal (permalink)
I dreamed I had two left feet.

[In Anton Chekhov's "The Exclamation Mark," visions of punctuation dance before a civil servant's eyes.  Which punctuation leads the dance and which follows?  This much is certain: the semicolon is left-footed.  Gautam Malkani confirms: "Punctuation came with a kick, but with his left foot this time so it was more like a semicolon" (Londonstani, 2006, p. 3).]
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The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from Life of John, Lord Campbell.

“We slash at that curtain with the sword of our sarcasm, of our bitterness. Yet you need have no fear. For our sword is but a ghostly sword.” —Anonymous, The North American Review

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .

December 3, 2010

The Right Word (permalink)
We took the liberty of footnoting the multi-faceted, fractal-like puns in a whimsy of our friend Jeff.

When in Greecei

by Jeff Hawkins

Among the more provocative questions debated aboveii the water cooler this week, "self-reincarnationiii, huhiv?" generated more than its fair share of interest by adherents and passersby alike. While the answer to the question may seem, at first, to require an ex partev knowledge of the botanical sciencesvi, a more direct solution can be obtained by first asking how many livesvii might be crammed into the average catviii, then dividing the result by a half dozenix of the udderx. This gives mu, which we immediately recognize as the plaintivexi feline utterance used to summon the butler, Yeatsxii, so that he might refill the vacant cream dishes left on the floor by the careless hand.

Even if those dishes had been bluexiii, the very idea of replicating lives on the flyxiv begs yet another questionxv, then one more: Why cats? Why cats?xvi While the rest of us muddle along, dodging sparksxvii thrown from the axle of the cosmic wheel as it spins, half greasedxviii, toward the window where billions are servedxix, the cat has only to wish itself a new itinerary, and providencexx responds.

Merexxi coincidence? Perhaps. I do not claim to understand Greekxxii.



i Initially a play on "When in Rome," the "Greece" in question will play on fast-food "grease" by the end of the piece.

ii The water in the cooler has evaporated into a "word cloud."

iii This is a play on "self-recursion," a form of infinite nesting (not to be confused with "infinite empty nesting," referring to revitalized marriages when the kids leave home).

iv It's no coincidence that "huh" is a palindrome; palindromes are common in peptide sequences, meaning that human lives loop in the very strands of the DNA.

v i.e., judicious partying.

vi This is the "pot" calling the Grecian Urn black.

vii The rhetorical answer is, of course, nine.

viii The average cat crams 56 prey animals into its mouth each year (24 rodents, 15 birds, and 17 lizards).

ix Why divide nine lives by six? Mathematically speaking, six is nine upside down.

x Hawkins will milk some rich wit with this "udder." The bovine allusion will yield "mu," the famous Zen answer to whether or not a dog has Buddha-nature, even as it echoes "the cat's meow" (synonymous to "the cat's pajamas"). "Udder" also sets up a pig-Latin conjugation: udder/utterance/butler.

xi "Plaintive" echoes the mournful "plaintiff" alluded to the judge's ex parte order.

xii It's little known that William Butler, Yeats earned the comma before his surname while sailing to Byzantium.

xiii "No substitutions" is the common policy on a "blue-plate special."

xiv This is the fly attracted to the leftovers on the blue plate.

xv "Begging the question" is a form of circular reasoning, though don't say that within hearing distance of Aristotle's premises.

xvi Indeed, the word "caterwaul" is of imitative origin.

xvii "Dodging sparks" is an echo of "dogs in parks," chasing their tails in pursuit of Buddha-nature.

xviii The original aphorism was: "The squeaky cosmic wheel gets the oil."

xix This seeming reference to a McDonald's drive-thru is actually an ancient metaphor for the vaginal canal. However, any allusion to sexual lubrication is product of the reader's corrupted mind.

xx Providence, as in Providence, Rhode Island, a clever allusion to the Greek island of Rhodes.

xxi This echo of the cat's meow is nearly the omega word.

xxii The joke, of course, is that "coincidence" is of medieval Latin origin, not Greek.

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Jeff writes:

I'm *still* laughing about this one.  Masterful!
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Your Ship Will Come In (permalink)

 
* Our printed collection of vintage nautical postcards is entitled Your Ship Will Come In and is available from Amazon.com.
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December 2, 2010

It's Really Happening (permalink)
"I think people are finally getting the idea it's really happening, and they better hurry up." —Phillip Van Embden
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Two Sides / Same Coin (permalink)
* Inspired by Jeff Hawkins.
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December 1, 2010

The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine (permalink)

~ Classic Sightings ~

Portrait from A Memoir of Rev. Bennet Tyler.

“The smoky features swirled a moment, then coalesced back into the face.” —Piers Anthony, Cube Route

* The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine promises real ghosts, actual hauntings, and necromancy by proxy.
> read more from The Ghost in the [Scanning] Machine . . .


Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out (permalink)
Is it true, as Momus suggests, that there are "few tales which would not be improved by the addition of the phrase 'suddenly, a shot rang out'"?  Decide for yourself as we alter the opening lines of . . .

CITY OF GLASS by Paul Auster

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.  Suddenly, a shot rang out.
> read more from Suddenly, A Shot Rang Out . . .



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