Disney’s Kenobi: A Case Study In Sizzle Reel Blindness

Although movie and television show reviews are some of the most popular things we do here on Grailrunner, I don’t personally like to write them. The main reason for that is we try and stay positive and encouraging here, optimistic about the future and the importance of good escapism. Any time you put up something focused on opinion, you’re risking alienating half the folks reading it.

And although there’s plenty to like about Kenobi on Disney+, I’ve found a particular disease in it that is unfortunately common in Hollywood productions today, and thought I’d focus there…a short-sighted lapse in logic in key moments of the show driven by the desire to get to specific plot points or hyped scenes.

Let’s call it ‘sizzle reel blindness’. Hear me out – I’ll define my terms and make the point without griping about anything.

Here’s wikipedia’s brief if you’re unclear what show I’m talking about:

Obi-Wan Kenobi is an American television miniseries created for the streaming service Disney+. It is part of the Star Wars franchise and stars Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi, reprising his role from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Set ten years after the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005), the series follows Kenobi as he sets out to rescue the kidnapped Princess Leia (Vivien Lyra Blair) from the Galactic Empire, leading to a confrontation with his former apprentice Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen).

A ‘sizzle reel’ refers to short promotional videos used by marketing folks, usually to promote an upcoming movie or show. Any sort of movie trailer needs to focus on big, eye-popping moments to get people talking and build up anticipation, to get reactions one way or the other, and to break the attention barrier.

When I first heard the announcement for Kenobi, the dialogue and scenario of his situation as laid out in previous films came to mind:

Yoda, speaking of infant Luke: “To Tattooine, to his family send him.” Obi Wan in response: “I will take the child and watch over him.” –Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

“Master Kenobi, in your solitude on Tattoine, training I have for you…an old friend has learned the path to immortality, one who has returned from the netherworld of the Force. Your old master.” -Yoda to Obi Wan in Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith

“General Kenobi, years ago, you served my father in the Clone Wars. Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire.” – Princess Leia in Episode IV: A New Hope

“When I left you I was but the learner. Now I am the master.” -Darth Vader to Obi Wan in Episode IV: A New Hope

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” -Obi Wan to Darth Vader in Episode IV: A New Hope

So based on dialogue like this, I envisioned a mystical setup for the show, where Obi Wan is floating in mid-air meditating and digging deeper into the Force, all the while spying on young Luke and his antics, presumably getting himself into all sorts of trouble. If Kenobi had to intervene at all, it would be from the shadows and behind the scenes, since Luke as a young man only knew vague stories of ‘Ben Kenobi’ as a magician who lived among the dunes. I mean, that’s what was said – I’m not making these things up. To make anything other than this happen will require ‘mind wipes’ or ‘time alterations’ if not flagrant, careless continuity revisions in my opinion.

But this whole show seems designed as a spectacle to get Obi Wan and Vader into a light saber duel, even though that doesn’t make sense given the contexts above. It would just be cool to see, so screw it. Let’s build a show around it. That’s my point, ‘sizzle reel blindness’.

SPOILERS TO FOLLOW….

Leia and Bail: Then out of the gate, Bail Organa drags Obi Wan into a rescue mission to save young Leia. How in the world does that make sense? Why would Organa jeopardize Obi Wan and Luke so callously when so much was at stake that Vader not discover he has children? Later in Episode 5 of the show, why is Organa again jeopardizing everything sending a careless message to Obi Wan, going so far as to mention Tattooine and ‘the boy’? You can say it’s because he’s a worried father, but the guy is a seasoned senator, key figure in The Clone Wars, and fought alongside the bravest, most pivotal characters in the galaxy. It’s weak, man. Weak. I think it’s because Disney wanted a strong female protagonist, despite the fact that didn’t make sense as a concept. Sizzle reel blindness.

Force-squelching flames: There’s a scene, possibly Episode 2 of the show, where Vader drags Obi Wan through flaming ground in a terrible echo of the torture Obi Wan left Anakin to when he abandoned him on Mustafar in Revenge Of The Sith. Clearly, that scene was a sizzle reel moment the producers wanted because of ties to the prequel and it would look cool on the screen. But in that scene, Vader squelches the flames using the Force, a simple flick of his hand. The plot demanded that Obi Wan not be too injured, so the torture had to stop – a little float in the bacta tank needed to get things moving again. The plot demanded that Obi Wan escape, so when Tala reignites the ground with a blaster, Vader stands helplessly watching as his main quarry is rescued. But WHY NOT SQUELCH THE FLAMES AGAIN like he just did moments before? Why not seize Obi Wan’s body with the Force like Vader showed he could do multiple times? Sizzle reel blindness.

The tracking device: I think it’s the end of Episode 3 of the show, where it’s revealed Reva has installed a tracking device in her floating droid, Lola to pursue Obi Wan and young Leia. It would make for a good episode-ending shocker, a quick plot device to show how devious Reva is, and would keep the plot moving. But with a little consideration, this is nonsense. When Reva held that little droid during the previous interrogation scene, they were in one of the most presumably secure and impregnable places in the galaxy with no reason to believe a rescue was underway. She didn’t ‘feel it with the Force’ or ‘intentionally let them escape’. You can say she was just being prepared because Obi Wan is that good, but it’s so weak. Sizzle reel blindness.

The blast door: It’s probably Episode 5 of the show, when Reva and her stormtroopers are blasting the heavy door with everything they have to get inside where Obi Wan is. Cannons and heavy guns, all struggling to significantly damage the door and frustrating Reva. The plot needed to buy time for what was happening inside. She clearly didn’t have any better ideas on how to get through that door. Then a few moments later, simply for shock value and to elevate her character, she pokes her light saber through that same door like it’s made of soft cheese. Seriously, why didn’t she just cut an opening in that thing in the first place then?! Sizzle reel blindness.

Letting Obi Wan go: Same scene, Reva finally gets Obi Wan on his knees and in captivity. Vader’s on his way, after she’s told him she has him. And in front of at least 30 storm troopers, Reva lets Obi Wan go after some secretive whispering. She LET HIM GO, when Vader was coming to take him. And when Vader arrives, not a mention from anyone about the fact that they JUST HAD Obi Wan and SHE let him go? Sizzle reel blindness because they needed Vader pissed off and chasing Obi Wan. Terrible plotting.

I’ll stop because I’m getting too negative here. There are clearly things to like about the show – McGregor as Obi Wan and James Earl Jones as the voice of Vader are killing it. They’re stretching to new ground in use of the Force, showing a powerful Vader. That’s fantastic. Light sabers are always great. It’s really nice to see the same actors from the prequels in their roles, and there’s some solid use of de-aging technology that’s believable. A lot to be proud of here, despite my whining.

But how hard would it really be to stop and think about your script, bounce it against what’s been previously established, and ensure that when the viewer (or by extension since I’m a writer, a reader) makes the honest effort to suspend disbelief, that you don’t betray that trust, that contract between creator and appreciator, that things hold together?

Anyway, I’ll watch whatever they put out with Star Wars in the title. I’m just asking for a little more common sense in the creation.

Thoughts?

A 13th Century Machine For Seeing The Future

“Chance favors the prepared mind.” -Louis Pasteur

That’s a great quote, one of my favorites. And it’s a crucial philosophy for anybody who has to be creative in what they do, which I believe is pretty much everybody. If this isn’t your first time around here, you’ll know Grailrunner’s key driver is inspiration for innovative ideas. Mainly we’re into science fiction and recently, tabletop gaming, but dropping idea-bombs like the one today is gasoline for us.

You never know when you’re going to be able to draw a connection between ideas and make something wonderful happen in what you’re doing, so it’s best to file away all sorts of gems as you come across them and do everything you can to understand what made that idea work, what made it fascinating and useful to whoever dreamed it up.

Which brings us to mysterious brass machine crafted around 1241 AD, marvelously decorated with inlaid silver and gold, emblazoned in gorgeous Arabic script, and stored in the British Museum’s Oriental Antiquities Department:

“I am the possessor of eloquence and the silent speaker,

and through my speech [arise] desires and fears.

The judicious one hides his secret thoughts, but I disclose them,

just as if hearts were created as my parts.

I am the revealer of secrets; in me are marvels

of wisdom and strange and hidden things.

But I have spread out the surface of my face out of humility,

and have prepared it as a substitute for earth.”

-Naskh script inlaid in silver on the Geomantic Tablet

Let’s get this out of the way now, and don’t say it to offend anybody who feels otherwise, but there’s no reason at all to believe that patterns or movements in the stars, random dots in sand, or how birds move around brings any insight into the evolution of future events. There’s no known medium or physical law that would fuel something like the supposed axiom fortune tellers often lean on: “As above, so below”.

That doesn’t make it less fascinating to me though, how people throughout the millennia have given it every effort elaborately and exhaustively. And somehow, whether in hexagrams flipping through The I Ching or the dots in the sand of geomancy or other avenues, we find insights into ourselves and human dynamics in the intricate connections, metaphors, rules, and manipulations of fortune telling machinery.

If you find this sort of thing interesting, download this 2003 study by Emilie Savage-Smith and Marion B. Smith updating their earlier work on the same device. They’ve really done some exhaustive and illuminating work, fleshing out what this amazing machine was built for, how it was used, how it’s constructed, and the Islamic divination background from which it came. This is available for free in a few places on the internet, but I’m including it here so it doesn’t get lost.

What is this machine called? Most references to this device call it the ‘geomantic tablet’.

Who built it? A craftsman named Muhammed ibn Khutlukh al-Mawsili in 1241 – 1242 (he signed and dated it).

What was it for? This device is a unique machine for conducting geomancy divinations without the use of sand or dirt. Someone wishing to know the outcome of a future event could manipulate four sliders and a number of dials and then, following geomantic principles, get detailed insights into what was likely to happen.

But what’s geomancy? Geomancy is a divination technique usually involving poking random numbers of dots in sand or dirt in 16 rows while concentrating on a question for which the seeker wishes to know. Since the mind is supposed to be absorbed in the question and the mood, it’s important for them to be unaware of how many dots they’re making. Geomantic rules outline how the seeker would count the number of dots in each row and form four standard figures (called “the Mothers”). From those, rules explain how to form four more standard figures (called “the Daughters”), then more manipulations to further derive two more generations of figures and ultimately a final resulting figure.

Does geomancy work? The figures have names and a host of connections that flavor the oracle being provided, which is (to me) where the actual magic happens. Our minds find patterns everywhere; it’s literally how they’re built and how they reform themselves. Complicated jiggery like this makes it seem like science, but in my mind these manipulations and connections draw out our ability to see events and circumstances differently by throwing random noise into the problem solving process. We seize onto bits of noise that seem relevant, our rational processes jump out of the rut we’ve found ourselves in trying to resolve the issue, and we focus instead on puzzling out how this other new bit is related. In doing so, we may have found an answer that our paradigm and assumptions were preventing us from seeing before. So an oracle has spoken.

How did this machine work? The authors do a really nice job of piecing that together, actually. Those four curved sliders in the top-right corner each bear all the standard geomantic figures on them in a non-standard sequence. It’s likely the user would concentrate on their question and randomly pull the slider out to some position without looking, then look at the bottom-most figure visible in the window to see which figure was to be placed as the first “Mother”. And so on till the first four figures were found.

The dials also all held all the standard figures (each one being identical), so they’re just basically registers for the user to display the relevant figure as they use the “Mothers” and the geomantic rules to know which one to turn to. Inscriptions around each knob name and explain the figures.

Each figure is housed in ‘houses’ and brings all the requisite connections to flavor the oracle (The House Of Fathers And Mothers, of Offspring And Children, of Illness And Disease, of Women and Sexual Matters, etc). The elaborate starburst knob at the bottom, with its arcing display window, is for gaining deeper understanding into the result by linking that figure to not only its adjacent figure but to states of the moon (setting, rising, etc), and omens (mixed, tending towards good, increasing good fortune, etc).

Interesting, but how does this help me? Well, back to the point I made at the beginning…or at least Louis Pasteur’s point. There’s something to be said here about problem solving and the idea-creating process, about fascinating lore and beliefs from the 13th century, and maybe all manners of stories to tell about mysterious divination machines and the intrigue that could result. In our Salt Mystic line, there is an enigmatic calculus done with the manipulation of figures that is in many ways based on what geomancy purports to be, though the emphasis is on repeating patterns in human behavior along the lines of Asimov’s psychohistory.

What can you you do with all this? Maybe nothing now, but check out the hard work the Smiths put in here, and file it away. You never know when something might be needed.

So prepare your mind.

Till next time.

Salt Mystic Update: Groundbreaking Developments Coming In Volume Two!

Salt Mystic is our signature property here at Grailrunner, a science fiction setting with a western flair that aspires to break your mind with its innovation and immersion. No modern politics or agenda, just intrigue, action, dialogue that pops, and crazy-cool technology, and at heart inspired by Frank Herbert’s Dune, Asimov’s Foundation series, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower books. Click the title banner below if you’re new to this and want to learn more:

First, a little history. You see there was this book…

The kickoff novel introducing the Salt Mystic universe is called Tearing Down The Statues, and was published in 2015.

This one goes for blood, diving straight into the heart of the rise of this generation’s guardian. Maybe. Hard to say. Anyway, it’s the core story around which much of the rest of all this is orbiting. I tell the tale of where this came from here if you’re interested.

…which led to a game…

We published a terrain-based trading card wargame in 2021 set in the Salt Mystic universe, both advancing the story and providing incredibly immersive ways of exploring it.

The Sourcebook And Core Rules is a one-stop shop with everything needed to play a basic game. Two complete battle decks (Karak: Hammer Of The Red Witch and Segmond: The Loreblade) were also made available, sold individually but collectively referred to as Volume One.

…then the merch.
We found people liked the iconic Skull & Carbines logo and slapped it on a laptop decal and coffee mug. The gunslinger logo is a new one, just added to a white t-shirt. A Canadian artist named David Paul concocted the basis for that image. We’re looking into custom gaming mats with narrative-based terrain printed on them. But anyway, that all started with the publication of the game.

Bringing it all to life!

And we’ve just gone live this past month with a place we call The Story Arcade, where you can download (for free) unique one-page pdf’s with original art and short fiction set in the Salt Mystic universe.

This is where you can dip into elements of the grand narrative, and get previews of locations and characters that will appear in upcoming novels and game elements.

And all that took an incredible amount of work. Exciting, life-changing, adrenalin-fueled work requiring new skills and unholy amounts of frustration, but we can handle it!

So what’s coming in Volume Two?

Ahhh, glad you asked. One question that comes up a lot is why aren’t there airplanes or spaceships in Salt Mystic. To be honest, keeping the action on the ground was a design decision back when I wrote the first novel, to keep the action tight and different.

But it’s time.

In the Story Arcade (lore card 008), you’ll meet a fellow named Lamberghast Mazewater.

Mazewater is the subject of an upcoming novel (I’m only three chapters in, give me a break!). He hails from a place called The Jagganatheum (lore card 006) and is known as ‘master of airships’. He’s a War Marshal, expert sniper, and telepathically commands a golem glider that circles overhead till he needs to take flight.

His card mechanics will entail airships only he or his designates can fly, as well as incredible speed and unpredictable movements. Mazewater is why we will have aerial dogfights in Salt Mystic games.

We also get asked about the Salt Mystic’s mysterious calculus of history, the weird runes and manipulation she used to predict events and harness the forces that drive people.

Shiloh Taprobane will appear in the upcoming Mazewater novel, but she’ll have her own Lore Card in the next couple of months. Shiloh has mastered the Salt Mystic’s calculus and the mystifying ways of the extinct order of The Malthus who could tear down nations with ideas.

Her card mechanics will involve secret pacts and corruptions of her opponent’s forces, driving unpredictability and madness on the battlefield. She’s why we will learn just how those rune manipulations work and what they can do.

Maybe the fan-favorite and most unique element in Salt Mystic is the system of oriel gateways to pockets of artificial space, built in the old Republic and so many abandoned. Behind those gates could be treasure or doom.

Born Ash Madra (see Lore Card 012), our final new War Marshal calls himself FireSermon. He’s the son of the devious and mysterious engineer that managed to pull of the most amazing stunt of his time and created the nation-state called The Seven Oriels. Many of those secrets went to the grave with him, but Ash knows a few tricks of his own with oriel gates.

His card mechanics will center around innovative use of Inflation Engines, Dirt Wraiths, and Wraithbusters.

And finally, a seemingly very popular request is to have characters that can play on multiple factions. So far in Volume One, there have been special faction icons on the character cards allowing their use only with their assigned War Marshal. But…

Auroch:

That’s Auroch in Lore Card 017, a wandering gunslinger and treasure hunter. He’ll appear in a game scenario for Volume One later this year. I particularly like him because he’s got an on-and-off romance going with one of my faves, a lady called The Wake who works for Karak on the Mountains faction. And because he talks to his rifle, and it talks back.

Madessa:

Madessa has appeared in a lot of our art, and in Lore Cards 001 and 013. She introduces herself as ‘surveyor and cartographer for the Reignition Society: sisters and brothers for the free and open mapping of the oriel webway’, right before stealing somebody’s maps or some coins to pay her way. She’s awesome because I love the idea of exploring all those oriel worlds where people have forgotten they live in an artificial world.

Grebel:

Grebel is a key character in Tearing Down The Statues and played a major role in events after The War Of The Rupture. He’s also a genius with guided tornadoes and ephemeral torpedoes, able to do things on the battlefield he shouldn’t be able to do. Honestly, when I wrote him, I had Morgan Freeman’s face and voice in mind, but we can’t afford him so the imagery we went with will have to do.

And that’s the roundup!

This preview article has to be just a teaser because of how much work is left to do. If you’re a freelance artist and interested in commissions, reply here with a link to your work. Not a lot of the guys we’re contacting are responding, so we’re doing a lot of the art in-house, which is slow.

I hope you enjoyed the peeks and appreciate the direction we’re going in. It’s super exciting to help build this world out and tell incredible stories both in art and print, and to immerse into them on a gaming table.

Let us know what you think. Till next time.

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.

Guys, Exciting Announcement….The Salt Mystic Lore Cards Are Here!!

This is huge for us, so I hope you’re feeling it after reading this. Give me just a couple of minutes here, and then let us know what you think.

What’s this announcement about?

Our signature IP here at Grailrunner Publishing is a science fiction universe called Salt Mystic, comprised of books, games, and branded merchandise. The spin we’re offering here is to innovate, to do something new not tied to or ripping off the big franchises like Star Wars or Warhammer 40K. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point of Grailrunner (check out who we are), blazing new trails…

Well what’s Salt Mystic about?

Imagine roving gunslingers adventuring in artificial pockets of space, remnants of a world-spanning civilization now shattered and warring with fantastic weaponry and vehicles, and legends of a fable cunningly engineered to possess the right person at the right time…

Anyway, go here and read more about that.

So what’s the announcement?

The first novel came out in 2015, the wargame in 2021. Along that journey, we’ve been looking for an engaging way to share the blend of art and storytelling we envision with Salt Mystic. It’s the 21st century, with busy people and tons of things competing for attention. We need escapism, free of politics and agendas, free of controversy and messages, and something that’s just inspiring.

Social media has done a lot for us, and we started sharing short fiction a few years ago, tied to original art pieces that illustrate parts of the Salt Mystic lore or characters. It’s been incredible, how an art piece that started with fiddling around in Photoshop blossoms into a realized piece of fiction, or how the flash of a story idea manifests into an original work of art. And it’s amazing, the way people respond to really short fiction and images like they have! It seems there’s an appetite for something different that’s easy to engage with and doesn’t require familiarity with decades of backstory.

I sometimes check in with Stephen Gibson, creator of Grimslingers and art director for Arcane Games, and he said once that if he didn’t do art, his imagined world wouldn’t exist. That comment has stuck with me, and in a lot of ways informs what’s happening here.

So we’ve created a place to go, free of charge and available to anyone who clicks to do so, for touring the unique fusion of art and short fiction that makes up the Salt Mystic universe. It’s called The Story Arcade, and it’s where you’ll find the ever-developing gallery of Salt Mystic Lore Cards. Click the image to take a look.

What is a Lore Card?

It’s just a pdf one-pager, containing an original work of art and a related short piece of fiction set in the Salt Mystic universe. The idea is you can read this and appreciate the point of it and the imagery in less than five minutes.

A Salt Mystic Lore Card contains the sequence number and title of the story/image at the top, an original art piece (usually at the top or top-left of the card), and a short fiction piece illustrating the image never extending beyond the one page.

No familiarity is needed in the backstory, nor is it necessary to read more than the one Lore Card to understand what’s happening. They’re all stand-alone, by design.

Why are you giving these away for free?

For now, it’s more interesting to provide a way to help grow this original setting and its bleeding-edge technology & concepts for a wider audience than push more products on you. Go buy the Sourcebook or a shirt or a book if you’d care to support us.

I’m an artist or a writer myself, can I submit for consideration on a Lore Card?

Sounds awesome, thanks for asking. Submission guidelines are here.

You know, it does sound exciting. What do I do now?

We’re asking you to support original content like this. I’m personally frustrated with the state of the major franchises like Star Wars and Doctor Who, Star Trek and Warhammer 40K, how they’re safe and stale…recycling ideas and echoing Twitter talking points. Let’s break new ground, right?! Let’s do something different.

Take a walk through the Story Arcade, and let us know your favorites or what got you thinking. If you want to submit something, do it. If you just want to chat about one, that’s cool too.

This is a bit of a milestone for Grailrunner, at least, an acknowledgement and maybe validation of what we’re trying to do when storytelling in modern times is such a lonely, frustrating effort sometimes.

Anyway, thanks for taking a few moments with us today. We hope you enjoy The Story Arcade.

Till next time,

Dreams are engines. Be fuel.

Athanasius Kircher And Machines Of Inspiration

I get it, man. You can’t get excited about Athanasius Kircher and talk to anybody about him because of the reaction.

“Who?”

Right. Well, he was awesome. If I described him as a Jesuit scholar who lived in the 1600’s, your eyes might roll back into your head before I really got started. But if you imagined him as he was, it might change your life. Here was an insanely curious and wild mind, delighting in machines and ideas and excitedly walking people through his museum of curiosities (talking statues, moving figurines, a room that rained, that sort of thing) delighting people and scaring the bejeesus out of them. He particularly reveled in shocking his visitors with devices and marvels till they accused him of consorting with demons, then opening the compartments and hidden panels to patiently explain the mechanics of it all.

“See, no witchcraft. Just machines. Cool, right?”

Let me back up, explain what I’m on about with this guy, then land on turning on one of his marvels for ourselves. My point here, as always with this site and anything we do at Grailrunner, is inspiration. And this guy had it in bucketloads.

Years ago, I became enamored of the old time philosophers like John Wilkins and Gottfried Leibniz inventing entirely artificial languages to construct perfect ones, with crystalline precision and not linked to particular cultures. (I included one called ‘Mast’ for Recorders in Tearing Down The Statues in remembrance of that particular bunny trail). Somehow in all that, I came across Athanasius Kircher’s work, Polygraphia Nova. This little gem was intended to solve the problem many emperors had of the various languages their subjects spoke, though that isn’t exactly my point today. I remember thinking this Jesuit monk or whatever just seemed outlandishly intelligent and curious about everything, but I dropped his trail for years.

Ahh, but recently, I came across this nugget here (which you need to order now and read for yourself).

If you are at all attracted to the old-time book illustrations where maps and Egyptian symbology and impossible contraptions come alive in fascinating engravings, this one’s for you. That was one of Kircher’s master strokes – as Jesuit priests from all around the world sent him writings and curiosities, like he was a Grand Central Station hub for the information of the day, he captured so much of that with a team of incredibly talented illustrators and a willing publisher. And man, oh man, did he experiment and play with those ideas to draw them to their extremes.

One invention that particularly caught my attention here was the Arca Musarithmica, which was billed as a mechanical composing tool to be used by anyone without musical talent but who needed a piece of music suited for textual phrases in any language. Say, for example, a priest in South America speaking some Quiche Mayan who needed a hymn but couldn’t write music. Here was a mechanical means of doing so.

Now how in the world, I thought to myself, would a machine do that?! Don’t bother with Google here, because I lost hours chasing terrible explanations written by people who can’t water down their music theory enough for laymen to make any sense. Seriously, it was frustrating reading one article after another showing the same images but explaining things differently, and nowhere was anyone reproducing the actual device symbology clearly enough for me to puzzle it out for myself.

Then I found this genius piece, written by Phil Legard.

I saved it as a pdf in fear that the Internet gods would one day allow this masterpiece article to vanish from history. Clear, lucid, well-illustrated, with examples and comprehensive reproductions of the components. Dude should get some credit for this particular public service, so follow the link versus the download if you can. It’s a bit old now, but worth your time.

Here’s what the ‘device’ looked like:

Courtesy of Magdalene College

In reality, it’s a box with a bunch of wooden slats inside that you pull out based on the syllable count of your text and the mood of the music you’re looking for. Phil walks the reader through a clear example, but I’ll do it here too to give you a flavor of the process:

  1. Choose your meter based on the syllable count and rhythm you want (remember meter from school – like iambic pentameter and whatnot?) Let’s use the Grailrunner tagline: “Dreams are engines. Be fuel.” That’s six syllables, so it easily corresponds to Euripedean meter with its six syllables per line across four lines. You’ve got three other choices of meter here, which the box explains.
  2. Pull those Euripedean slats out of the box though:

3. First line’s the one on the left, so it’s showing several choices of melodies for me to pick from. Each block of four rows of numbers corresponding to note sequences (which I’ll explain that conversion shortly) from four different voices (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). That’s why there are four per block. You pick one. I’ll go with the bottom one:

Here are four note sequences for four different instruments.

4. Just knowing the notes isn’t enough – you have to know how long to hold them. Loads of options at the bottom of that same first slat. Phil and I choose this one: 1/4, 1/8, 1/4, 1/4, 1/2, 1/2 because Kircher’s pupil chose it when he gave his example back in the 1600’s. Whatever. I don’t know enough about music to say if it’s a good choice, and that’s Kircher’s point anyway.

5. Notice at the top of that slat it shows which ‘tonus’ you can pick from. That’s the mood of the piece you’re composing, about which any knucklehead should be able to form an opinion. We can pick from 1, 2, 3, or 4 from the table below:

Mood selections Kircher provided, called ‘toni’

Phil and I chose the second one, ‘happy, strolling, dancing’, though ‘warlike, rousing, glorious’ would be pretty awesome as well. So we pick out the corresponding slat for that tonus (bottom of the slat where it says ‘Tonus II’). That’s our map to convert those numbers to actual musical notes.

I’m totally stealing Phil’s example because I don’t have the patience to figure out medieval musical notation on flats and naturals:

There are options to get more complicated with counterpoint and different rhythms for the voices, but let’s stay simple. We actually have all we need:

Wow. I’ve found an app called ‘Playscore 2’ that can read musical notation and play it in Midi voices. I may give that a shot so you can hear my new masterpiece here.

Anyway, that’s enough of that. My point was to introduce you to Kircher, let you get to know how his mind worked, and get you inspired. His expansion of these combinatorial methods into a more ambitious device, one to plan cities and do mathematics and whatnot got me thinking about using Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and the Salt Mystic Sourcebook to generate some interesting backbones for some thrilling tales of wonder. I might give that a go later and come back to you with it.

So that’s it for the day, guys. Hope it was interesting. Let me know what you think. Have a great week!

Maps In Books And Other Things We Need

Tolkien’s Middle Earth

Boy, was I wrong!

I need your opinion on something, so bear with me. I saw a post the other day that really got me thinking about supplemental materials in immersive storytelling, and now I’m happily hip-deep in Lord Of The Rings lore and can’t get enough. So I’ll want to ask you for your take, but let’s take a look at the post from The Bookish Elf:

I’ve spent a lot of time looking into what makes stories work, what great writers and myth-tellers did with their structure, their connections, how they introduce them, and immersive techniques. And I’m not sure how I missed this, or how I got the opinion that character lists at the front of a novel are for kids or Shakespeare but not for today’s ‘serious writers’. But I did.

I always had this nagging sense that as much as I hated books with too many characters that introduced them poorly, or with poor distinctiveness between them, that I still shouldn’t include character lists up front because no one does that. I’ve quoted George Lucas before with his intentional introductions of the cast in Episode 4: A New Hope because I think it’s genius:

I could not get out of my mind that poetically speaking I really wanted to have this clean line of the robots taking you to Luke, Luke taking you to Ben, Ben taking you to Han, Han taking you to Princess Leia. I wanted each character to take you to the next person.”Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplays

Outlandishly successful pulp author, Lester Dent relied on what he called ‘tags’ for character distinctiveness:

It means the character is equipped with something that the reader can readily recognize each time the actor appears on the scene. A simple example of an external tag for purposes of illustration might be the one-legged old rascal in Treasure Island. The wooden leg is the thing that is remembered…” -Lester Dent in 1940 essay, Wave Those Tags

Dent described tags as peculiarities of appearance, manner, voice, clothing, hobby, and so on. I thought about this when I read (or re-read) Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, where the gentlemen all have their own distinctive quirks. I saw it in the Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazkov as each brother was brought onto the stage. My point here is this sort of wordcraft of character introductions and distinctiveness was where my head’s been at forever on this point of supplemental materials.

Then I started reading Games Workshop’s Black Library and experienced The Horus Heresy (or at least seven books in the series, it’s a lot to get through!). I used those character lists constantly, flipping back and forth to see who someone was. I’m not saying their characters aren’t distinctive or introduced properly at all, just that life’s busy and there is a lot competing for my attention. If people read books straight through without interruptions, maybe I’d feel differently about the difficulty of keeping fictional paper-people separate in my head.

But I found those character lists up front to be tremendously helpful, like a guilty pleasure that I appreciated but maybe shouldn’t.

Then I stumbled across a few Lord Of The Rings nerds on Youtube who were spelling out all the connections and backstories in Tolkien’s towering intellectual achievement. Honestly, I’d always viewed those adventures the same way I might a random Dungeons & Dragons adventure – just beasties those hapless folks come across without patterns or histories and a winding, questy adventure tale. I’m into Tolkien’s, The Silmarillion now, and can now say definitively that nothing is random, that everything is connected flawlessly, and everything…absolutely everything…has a backstory.

And a map.

I wrote Tearing Down The Statues and the Salt Mystic Sourcebook and Core Rules without a defining map. I mean, I knew generally where these places were located, and major landmarks and visuals as I told the tales. But the definitive layout, the connections, who and what exactly were located adjacently and through what sort of lands….nada. Hadn’t seen the point of defining it that clearly. I liked the openness of it.

But the deeper I went into Tolkien and his miraculous achievements, laying the template for all worldbuilding to follow, it struck me how important all those connections are. When I sat down to stitch together all the histories and geographical references in the published tales and the game cards, in the character backstories on the art, it opened entirely new tales based on the geographies. Seriously, it feels like a Renaissance with huge new possibilities, just because I’ve defined the map itself. Amazing. That’s as a writer, I can imagine the utility for the reader even more so.

And that’s the question for you for today – what say you on the inclusion of maps, character lists, maybe even pronunciation guides for character or place names in books you’re reading?

I’m generally curious, and it would help set my direction. Just reply here or on the Facebook Page. You can email me directly if you like, as some of you do (brian at grailrunner.com).

Let me know what you think. Till next time…

Building A Cinematic Experience On The Tabletop

A few years ago, I staged a narrative wargame called The Black Ruins Massacre on the tabletop down in my basement as an experiment in storytelling. The idea was not only to stretch my skillset by building out the models and terrain, painting everything, and generally going as cinematic as possible (I even set up a tabletop fog machine at one point), but to apply the ruleset as a storytelling engine.

I wrote that all that up here (people seem to like these writeups):

When the COVID-19 quarantine started, I worked up a beast of a follow-up I called The Battle Of Four Armies. I’d done a labyrinth on the table, and a temple, and was thinking this time I’d go all-out and add in another element to push myself: a compatible sister game with its own set of rules. (I knew Warmachine, but I had to pick up a Hordes starter set and learn its rules as well to even make all this work.) Both these fantastic games are from the good folks at Privateer Press. Make sure you support them by the way, they’ve got something special going on with those clean, popping rulesets.

I had an idea of more narrative immersion, maybe adding some solo roleplay or something, but it never happened. So this became more of an intellectual challenge – like a game of chess that goes on for months. And wow! It was an experience…over two years long getting me through COVID and teaching me a lot about escapism and challenging myself in wargaming.

And it was a blast!

The Battle Of Four Armies:

  • A different army was deployed at each of the cardinal directions: north, south, east, and west
  • The lightning-charged knights of Cygnar (led by Major Beth Maddox) to the north opposite wicked, spooky Cryx (led by Bane Witch Agathia) – both from Warmachine
  • The brute beasts of the Trollbloods (led by Ragnor Skysplitter) on the west opposite the cruel pain servants of The Skorne Empire (led by Lord Tyrant Zaadesh) – both from Hordes

The battle was staged inside the black walls of an open temple, with stone stairs at each cardinal direction to allow the combatants to get up and down from the wall rim. A black stone ziggurat adorned with eerie statues lay in the center. Deep below that ziggurat, a terrible and forbidden machine from an earlier, forgotten age had been buried with its last engineer. These armies wanted that machine, whatever it did.

Watch a short video tour of the tabletop here:

So what happened?

Man, the craziest, most unexpected things! I struggled mightily on keeping the two different rulesets in mind, so the narrative suffered a bit. Plenty of real-world distractions kept me away from it all too much as well. Still, the craziest things!

Zaadesh and Major Beth basically bashed their infantries into each other on the ground like a slaughterhouse while an epic clash happened up on the wall:

Skorne’s Zaadesh (closest to camera, in red on the wall) sent a charging rhino-beast up on the wall smack into Maddox’s gun-toting warjack, Firefly (in blue at top-right corner). Whoever won this smash-up had a chance to come around behind their enemy’s leader. Major Beth is in blue on the ground at the base of the stairs.

That particular clash was a fun one. Zaadesh had the idea that his rhino-beast (Titan Gladiator) would bash his guy out of the way, then jump off the wall (because he’s terribly slow) and charge into Major Beth from behind. It seemed more and more necessary to do something desperate as Maddox’s blue infantry wiped Skorne’s red army off the table. The damage the Titan would take in the fall though, and that he took in this fight, caused Zaadesh a bit of worry about the plan. He held off for months on that one, as COVID wore on…

So after giving Firefly a beating, the red Titan picked him up and threw him off the wall, then jumped down onto him anyway. It was glorious. Zaadesh figured the jig was up anyway, as he lost more and more men. It was a gamble that didn’t really work, but felt amazing. (I tweaked the rules a bit on this, because I really, really wanted to throw someone off that wall!)

But things were far too over for Skorne elsewhere on the battlefield. Just beside where the Titan had fallen, his fellows were taking a true beating and never really picked up any momentum.

Meanwhile to the south and west, Cryx and the Trollbloods charged each other on the ground in a bloody, bloody skirmish (three images above). I was surprised how tough the Bane Witch’s armored undead warriors were in the face of some mighty blows from the leather-clad blue trolls.

The Bane Witch herself (on the ground just to the left of the stairs in the lower part of the image below) snuck behind a set of ruins to take potshots at any enemies on the wall. That’s her two beastly warjacks, Slayer and Ripper in the lower left of the image on the wall, charging towards Ragnor Skysplitter, also on the wall and at the top of his own set of stairs. Her idea was for those two to get to Ragnor and hurt him, then sneak into range from the ground and cast her malicious spells for the kill. Typical for a bane witch.

But time was running out for her because Major Beth had taken out Zaadesh far more quickly than anticipated and was redirecting her infantry into this part of the field. A couple of Trollbloods got some shots in at the Bane Witch, but she made short work of them from her hidey hole behind the ruins.

Ragnor sent his own leather-clad warbeasts along the wall to protect himself and stay in a strategic position to cast spells at Major Beth’s troops should they get that far before he did away with the Bane Witch.

From her hiding place, Agathia took one unsuccessful shot after another with her eldritch spells, but nothing seemed to land. It was a fortunate day for Ragnor Skysplitter, as his trolls seemed invincible.

And as one after another of the Bane Witch’s undead warriors fell to the Trolls, Ragnor turned some of his ground troops around to prepare for Major Beth’s assault. It was going to be tight, and he needed to take out that filthy witch fast if he was to avoid an assault on two fronts.

And a well-directed spear was the final blow for the evermore desperate Bane Witch, as she died with a curse on her lips while her undead soldiers drifted away in wicked green smoke.

It was the final clash: trolls and lightning-charged knights racing towards one another on a December evening.

Major Beth stayed safely out of range while her hammer-wielder, Ironclad faced two trolls alone. Her two other warjacks ganged up on the spearthrower troll, Impaler.

The trolls had very much met their betters, and each of them fell in violent slugfests that were almost brutal to watch. Ragnor tried to help from the wall with his spellcasting, but his attempts amounted to nothing. Much like with the Bane Witch’s feeble spells there at the end, magic wasn’t going to carry the day here.

Only steel, apparently.

And eventually, it came down to Ragnor alone, staring down much of Major Beth’s mighty army:

Ragnor may have been desperate, but he wasn’t planning to surrender. Not after all this time. His powerful Shockwave spell was going to buy him time to move away from his attackers and…just perhaps..to keep moving back and do enough damage to thin them.

Each time he landed the spell, an area impact knocked down everyone close enough. And they were crowded together naturally as they tried to funnel up the stairs to where he was standing.

But inch by inch, Major Beth’s knights closed in. If Ragnor was going to have any chance at all for a showdown with her, he’d have to pick off some of his attackers more successfully than this. Ultimately, three got to the wall and engage with him in hand to hand combat. Major Beth and Firefly were firing from the ground. It was terrible to see, and Ragnor stood bravely in the hail of incoming fire. In the end, he could barely see through the blood and sweat in his eyes.

This is how he’d want you to remember him…going down fighting. Ironclad and Firefly made their way up the stairs and behind him. Major Beth kept up her hail of fire from the ground. And the two remaining Cygnar knights pounded Ragnor mercilessly. Until he fell.

Major Beth’s Cygnar was victorious. And she’d see to the dismantling and destruction of whatever was buried beneath that mysterious ziggurat. Till next time, though.

Because she’s made enemies here on this field.

So that’s how it all ended. A long one, and an exciting one with twists and turns. Hope you enjoyed the recap. It really served the purpose: a challenge and a stretch, and something to get me through the quarantines. Truly, a great game!

Next up is The Battle Of Monument Falls: a frozen landscape with iced falls and snow, the terraced hillsides of a long-abandoned mine, and a strange bridge adorned with two eerie statues that has an enigmatic story attached to it. Lord Exhumator Scaverous will lead Cryx’s expanded army against Skorne and Lord Tyrant Zaadesh (who seeks vindication as well as advantage) and will bring a new unit of Immortals to fight alongside him.

We will see…

Till next time…

Hacking Salt Mystic’s Tomb Trappers: Let’s Get Crazy!

If you’ve never played Salt Mystic before, take a quick diversion here and see what the fuss is all about. You can pick up the free basic rules there or take the deep dive with the Sourcebook And Core Rules. Simply said, it’s a terrain-based wargame played on a tabletop with cards, dice, and some basic elements representing terrain. It’s a little more “beer and pizza” than most wargames out there, and is quick to pick up and just start bashing each other for a Friday night’s delight.

One type of card (and a core piece of the lore) is called the “Tomb Trapper”. Take a look at the respective entry from the Sourcebook below.

So in summary, this is a type of character you can have on your tabletop in the game who uses the goodies in that satchel to build amazing traps that lock down your opponent’s characters and give you an edge. That little dial apparatus in the sourcebook entry’s image is a key tool – set the proper code and programmable matter oozes out and builds the desired trap mechanics.

I wish I could pick one of those up somewhere, would love to see it work (and have a few people in mind for it)!

Anyway, one comment we’ve gotten from folks is they want more options in traps and flexibility in using Tomb Trappers on the tabletop. The cards come with default traps designed to be tough without being impossible and easy to set up & execute using only a small number of dice. This is simulating a situation where the trapped character card is locked down in place and struggling to free themselves. With some skill and/or luck, they just might do that!

Here’s Fargo, Tomb Trapper for the Mountains faction:

Once deployed, and once per turn, Fargo can sacrifice movement and lay a trap on the battlefield.

Trap: stack 5 dice in a tower. Any Character coming within a 9 inch radius of trap has no movement or combat actions until they free themselves.

Clearing trap: Remove any die from tower except top die without toppling tower. Two attempts per turn.

And here’s wily Cypress, from the Salt Flats:

Once deployed, and once per turn, Cypress can sacrifice movement and lay a trap on the battlefield.


Trap: Place 4 dice in square with corners touching to form die-sized hole. Any Character coming within a 9 inch radius of trap has no movement or combat
actions until they free themselves.


Clearing trap: Bounce fifth die off table and into hole. Two attempts per turn.

But hey, let’s hack this! Let’s break out of the default traps and deployment mechanic to bring a new level of play to the table.

Pre-staged and hidden traps

The whole point of the Salt Mystic game is to tell an engaging story. There’s always a narrative framing the battle, and the challenges and dynamics of interaction between the terrain and the people IS the engine driving everything. So let’s make the terrain more interesting using the Tomb Trappers.

Imagine a grid on the tabletop running 1 – 12 horizontally and 1 – 12 vertically:

We’ll read rows, then columns when referencing these, and we’re picking 12 so that two 6-sided dice can reference them in a solo game. In this example, a player has chosen three locations for hidden traps during setup, prior to gameplay. The locations are written down and concealed so no one can change their minds later.

The key difference between this deployment mechanic and the default one obviously is that the opposing player can’t know where the traps are and thereby avoid them. Anybody moving is in jeopardy of getting trapped. Just call out the trap when you’ve lured your opponent into the right spot and grin deviously as they struggle to free themselves!

Considerations:

-Agree up front on how many traps are allowed, and whether sacrificing a card from the starting battle deck is necessary for each trap.

-The Wolfpack Mode for solo Salt Mystic game play requires a roll of two 6-sided dice each turn for the phantom player anyway. To simulate the phantom player having pre-staged traps, check for a trap each time that initial roll contains a “1”. Roll against the grid to determine the location and compare it to where your characters are located.

Example:

The phantom player’s Wolfpack turn roll was 1 and 5. That roll was required anyway, since that’s how the phantom player’s deployments and moves are determined in the Wolfpack rule set. Since there was a 1 on at least one of the dice however, additional rolls are needed to check for traps. First roll: 4 + 7 = 12, Second roll: 3 + 6 = 9. We reference rows, then columns, so there is a trap at row 12, column 9. Any friendly characters in that grid square are trapped. Trap locations change each turn (how devious!).

Alternate traps

You can really let your imagination run wild on this one! Basically, anything your wicked little mind can conjure here is fair game. Consider the spirit of the traps though:

  • Traps should be difficult, but not impossible
  • Easy to set up & execute using only a small number of dice or other readily available supplies
  • Should require a little luck, a little skill

Design a trap by answering three questions:

  1. What triggers your trap? Example: approach within 9 inches, etc
  2. How should the trap be set up on the tabletop?
  3. How does the opposing player clear the trap?

Feel free to enhance the narrative a bit by outlining a little more detail to the hideous nature of your invention: (programmable matter collapses into quicksand, massive pincers the size of a horse spring from the ground, the ground tilts into a spiked pit, and on it goes…)

Let’s try it. Here’s what happens should the opposing player enter the respective grid cell per hack number one above – and up springs a cloud of geometrically poisonous vapor contained in a thin film that pops if he moves.

Considerations:

-Agree up front on the deployment mechanic as described either in the default card text or in hack number one above

-In the case where you’ve designed multiple custom traps, agree up front on how to select which trap has been sprung

So let us know what you think. Loads of potential here with the Tomb Trappers.

While I was writing this, we talked about maybe hacking the core rules a bit and staging an unbalanced scenario where one character (any card with an Expertise stat) goes up against an opponent at slightly reduced strength (10 less cards in the starting battle deck) – trying to escape a building entirely loaded with traps (at least 6). Objective would be to get to a specific spot on the table without dying. Seems like it would be a hoot if the opposing player is required to deploy all their Vehicles and Vehicle Attachments out in the open so the lone wolf can try and take them.

Here’s the art and flash fiction that inspired that:

A carbine gunslinger on the run. A Dirt Wraith rises, ghost-like through the very walls. Its quantum foam bubbles sizzle as loud as a waterfall. They knew he was here all along. She lied. And that will cost her. They’ll have traps all in the building, every corridor. Watchmen are patrolling the streets below. If there’s a Dirt Wraith, then maybe they’ll have something deadly down there he can seize and turn against them. Time is short, and they are many. He’ll have to be fast and unpredictable.

What would you do?

Till next time, guys. We’re always looking for feedback and ideas. Shoot them our way. And Merry Christmas!

The first ‘generation ship’ science fiction story

A “generation ship” is one of those mind-bending ideas you see in good science fiction, the kind that maybe wear thin when they’ve been around a while but were white-hot paradigm busting inspirations when they first came about. In the hands of a good writer, they can still be amazing. The idea is a starship traveling to an inhabitable planet thousands of years from Earth, so generations live and die throughout the journey. Awesome.

And I get it. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky probably invented the idea. Which isn’t really cool to dwell on because he invented everything (like space elevators and airlocks, multi-stage booster rockets and closed-loop biological systems to feed passengers). So let’s leave that for now. I’m talking about the very first generation ship story in science fiction, where the concept was front and center and entirely the point of the story. Who wrote that? Was it good?

Welcome back to the Pulp Gem series.

Follow this link to download the entire Oct 1940 issue of Amazing Stories for free, the issue where you’ll find this tiny masterpiece. And a mighty thank-you to the folks at Comic Book Plus for providing these public domain works of art at no cost. Go do something nice for those guys and donate or something. At least comment somewhere.

Or just download a pdf of the story we’re talking about here:

It’s called Journey That Lasted 600 Years, written by Don Wilcox. The first generation ship science fiction story. And it’s fantastic.

Let’s keep in mind when this was written, the innocent and wide-eyed optimism of 1940 America…the exploding interest in space and technology, and the down-home focus on heart and warmth in storytelling. These things are timeless to me, and incredibly inspiring. But if they feel old or naïve to you, then this one might not be for you.

The idea is a guy named Grimstone has volunteered to go into hibernation for 100 years at a time to shepherd a handful of couples who will repopulate the species on a faraway planet 600 years hence upon their destination. Generations will come and go throughout the journey on the Starship Flashaway, but Grimstone will awake for short bursts to keep the flame of civilization alive. That bit reminded me just a hair of Asimov’s conceit in the Foundation series wherein a group of people sustain the wisdom and culture like smoking kindling while everything else falls to crap in deteriorating barbarism. In this case, he’s just supposed to remind them of what was good about America, what was right and true, and help ensure they stayed on course both literally and figuratively.

And things go wonky. Almost immediately. Like before they even leave Earth.

And if you ever read (or watched) H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, you remember how the time traveler would push his little lever and blast into the future in bursts, step out and take a look around a bit, then blast ahead again. Right? That’s generally the flow of Wilcox’s story, and it keeps things moving and fresh, driving your curiosity to see how things that seem pretty dire are going to clean up or deteriorate when he steps back into the hibernation chamber. It’s a wonderful narrative structure to tell this fast-moving and fun tale. I read it on a plane in less than a half hour, and I mused over its genius looking out over the clouds.

He missed out on true love back on Earth…one reason why he left, in fact. But it’s a heartwarming twist how Wilcox resolves that little problem for Grimstone. Just smile and go with it, man.

As for the generations, they’re a mess. Increasingly, a mess. But the fire of civilization will hopefully live on as one crisis after another befalls the hapless Flashaway. Hopefully, they make it. Surely you’d like to know.

Well go read it then! And let me know what you think.

Till next time.

Oak Island, The Mary Celeste, Jack The Ripper, And How They Built The Pyramids

Man, I love a good ancient mystery! I’m talking about historical documentaries or really well researched books where somebody that’s done their homework has put in the time to nail down every facet of an explanation for really plaguing mysteries. I adore that kind of thing.

So I thought I’d recommend a few books for you, if that’s one of your things too. These are worth the time. No tinfoil hat conspiracies or aliens. Nothing weird or forcing you to make a fuzzy stretch, or even those incredibly irritating explanations that seem to answer the main points of a mystery but gloss over something pivotal. I wouldn’t recommend these to you if I didn’t feel these honestly put some of the biggest mysteries entirely to bed! I think they largely do.

First up: Oak Island

There’s an island off the Nova Scotia coast that bears a long-told story of buried treasure (or at least something precious) in a booby trapped money pit. They say that anyone over the couple of hundred years that’s dug for this treasure has dealt with flooded tunnels, mystery upon mystery, and even several deaths. There’s a History Channel show, The Curse Of Oak Island that is like mind-expanding crack to me. I pester my wife during its seasons every Tuesday, “Liiiiiisa….it’s Tuesday niiiiight…..you know what THAT means!” Seriously. Crack. It’s maddening how the clues they did up there point one way, then the other, and nothing ever resolves. But something fascinating happened on that island.

When I found Oak Island And Its Lost Treasure by Graham Harris and Les MacPhie, I was practically sold on their explanation. And I’ve read about this money pit since I was maybe twelve. I won’t spoil any of mysteries, by the way. But here’s a couple of folks that have done solid research, and step by step explain what has been found on the island, dispel the noise of the legends, and present a beefy case for where that treasure could have come from, who brought it, why they buried it, and why and how it was booby trapped, and why it may have stayed there. The show is in season 9 as I write this, and I worry that there seems to be evidence of a longer usage for the wharves and roads than this theory suggests, but I still feel it’s the best explanation I’ve seen to date.

Next up: The Mary Celeste

From the Amazon book description for Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew (by Brian Hicks):

On December 4th, 1872, a 100-foot brigantine was discovered drifting through the North Atlantic without a soul on board. Not a sign of struggle, not a shred of damage, no ransacked cargo—and not a trace of the captain, his wife and daughter, or the crew. What happened on board the ghost ship Mary Celeste has baffled and tantalized the world for 130 years. In his stunning new book, award-winning journalist Brian Hicks plumbs the depths of this fabled nautical mystery and finally uncovers the truth.

I’d say that’s about right. And honestly, though like Oak Island I’ve read about the Mary Celeste since I was a little guy, it’s a bit annoying looking back at how some of the Mary Celeste story is typically presented. If what Hicks suggests in this book was actually what happened, then a perfectly believable and mundane thing occurred that got swallowed up in people’s agendas and aspirations, ultimately packing on legends till it was unrecognizable. It’s embarrassing how quickly we get to talking about UFO’s and black holes and magnetic or gravitational anomalies when people need to sell books or get you to click on something. Yet when someone like Hicks puts in the time and lays out the case, it’s very much like finding out how the magician did their trick. I can’t really see any flaws in what this book lays out, and I consider this mystery solved.

Next up: Who Was Jack The Ripper?

I’m useless at solving murder mysteries. I’ve been to several dinner theater dealie-o’s, where the murderer is among you and a play happens over the course of the evening, of which you’re a part. Not once have I gotten the murderer correct. And one time he was even sitting at our table! But Jack The Ripper – that’s one of the big mysteries. That’s one almost everyone has heard of. And I’ve read countless attempts to crack this one, watched dozens of documentaries, even took the Jack The Ripper tour in London. My take is that Christer Holmgren and Nicolas Krizan are bloodhounds of the first degree and have soundly tracked down the killer. The book is called Cutting Point.

They lay out an entirely believable case, even going as far as explaining why the victims were killed where they were. They name him, and even better than that. I’m talking about details like several murderers happening along his regular walking route to work at the times when he would be doing so, and the occupation he held so any blood would be ignored. And a murder that happened off that route, but at a day when he’d likely be visiting family who lived near the scene of that crime. They explain why he’d be doing this sort of thing. Then to drive this all home more than maybe anything else…and this one is worth the price of the book to me…they find him in the newspaper. Their guy got dragged into an inquest and testified. We have his words. He was seen beside one of the bodies by a police officer.

Guys, I was blown away by the research and the coherent theory here. If you’re into Jack The Ripper lore and haven’t tried this one yet, you’re missing out in a big way. Agree or disagree, I suppose, but I’m sold.

Last up: How Did They Build The Pyramids?

The Great Pyramid is gorgeous. They all are, I suppose. They’re the ultimate mysteries, silently keeping their wondrous secrets in the desert for 4,600 years. Those people were farmers! There weren’t any stone buildings. There never had been. Yet somehow, they organized an entire supply chain for copper tools and varied building materials, highly skilled architects capable of planning two decades out, organizational and logistics structures to staff, feed, and direct incredible manpower, and made it all work. And like maybe thousands of people before me, I’ve got to ask…how did they build the pyramids?

I read The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man’s Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt’s Greatest Mystery by Bob Brier and Jean-Pierre Houdin and was left feeling like this question has been put to rest.

I know. I know. How many people have said that! But I promised you a set of books with solid research, no handwaving, no wild speculation. Houdin was the driver, and he spent a decade chasing an idea his dad provided that turned the ramp idea on its head and landed on entirely coherent explanations with technology available and even illustrated in hieroglyphics as in use at the time. This book lays out in detail where the tools and different types of stone came from and why they say that. It explains where the tools came from, and flavors what it would have been like to be part of the teams responsible for getting the requisite copper. It not only names the architect of the Great Pyramid (Khufu’s brother), but gets inside his head throughout the likely 20 years it took to get this masterpiece built…why he made certain decisions, how far in advance he’d have to have done the math, what he’d be worried about, and why he built three burial chambers for his brother.

I especially enjoyed the early bits where they lay out how they even arrived at the idea of a pyramid-shaped burial chamber with the bodies entombed in the pyramids themselves and not underground. Entirely logical progression, presented in clear and believable style.

You can watch a quick documentary here that covers the same info as the book (and see in motion some of their fantastic graphics to better illustrate how this all may have been done) here.

So there you go, guys! Four great reads. Four mysteries that may have been solved. Let me know if you come across any others that you feel fit the mold of actually putting a true and great mystery to rest. That kind of thing is gold to me.

Till next time.