So who's a Myst fan?
I watch young Freddie, his face a twitching mass of concentration as he negotiates his way through Star Wars Battlefront II or Tony Hawk's American Wasteland or Runescape on the various systems I've bought him over the years (and which, I'm proud to say, most recently he's saved up enough to buy for himself), and I'm afraid I'm looking at the Jethro Tull of the Aughts -- that precise thing over which my parents and I finally ultimately failed to see eye to eye.
I have made an honest effort to engage in Playstation or similar thumb-intensive pastimes with my son, and I just can't help it: Every time I do it, I come away with one inescapable conclusion: Well, there's two hours I'll never get back. The relentlessness of it just beats you down: There's always another level, another flabberdegastingly nitpicky variation on the exact same goddamned theme. And when you finally do get through all the levels in one game -- all the tricks and secret control combinations and easter-eggs -- the overpaid ginks who design these things have spent the last year coming up with yet another collection of utterly unedifying variations on exactly the same theme you paid thirty bucks for last year. Run, run, run, fight for a bit, run some more, fight. Die. Oops. Start again. Do it again until you get it right. Woah, it's 3AM...
With those wasted and irrecoverable hours, I could have either read a few Sherlock Holmes stories or boffed Wonder Woman, either of which pastimes holds universes' worth more of magic, surprise and delight than any edition of Gran Fucking Turismo you could name.
The only exception to this life lesson that's ever come across my path is Myst. I was aware of the first, HyperCard-based edition when it was new (what, '92?), but didn't really become enamored of the game until I picked up a Playstation edition of the third game in the series (Exile) to aid me through one of the many codeine-soaked surgical recuperations I've undergone since I hit forty -- this one in particular a recalcitrant kidney stone that required a whole mountain of Sister Morphine to keep me out of agony somewhere in 2002 or so.
Myst's slow, meditative, dreamlike gameplay was just perfect for the stoned, oneiric junkie I was in those days. Wandering around in a landscape right off a Roger Dean Yes album cover, finding fabulous machines whose purpose and function weren't immediately obvious and required some exploration and testing to figure out -- this was, unlike any video game I'd ever experienced, truly rewarding and delightful. Plus, nothing was trying to kill you. This helped, believe me.
The craving for similar dreamily mystifying experiences has stayed with me ever since, and I believe I experienced something like the Myst's delight-in-bafflement during my hike over Short Hill, which Jingolytes will remember from a couple of weeks ago. At the summit, I came across a very strange US Government installation the purpose of which puzzled me quite a bit until I worked it out. As I investigated the site, I began to hear those New Age flutes and Indian sackbuts that underscore a good Myst Mystery, and it occurred to me that the adventure should be shared with the Jingosphere.
Let's see if you can work out what it was that I saw....
(Below) The most salient feature of the puzzle is this wretched hut, perched dramatically on handbuilt rock pilings on a cliff facing west. Yes, believe it or not, the United States Government funded and continues to maintain this unprepossessing little hovel, which measures about 10 feet by 7. Signs warn interlopers away with threat of prosecution should they interfere with this site. The mountain it crowns is a 15-mile-long ridge, about 1200 feet above sea level, that runs southwest-northeast in the Virginia Piedmont. Not insignificantly, it is the easternmost mountain of any height in the Allegheny range in Virginia. The hut's shape is worth attention: The windows face northeast, up the valley. There are no windows facing in the opposite direction, southwest.
Note, especially, the three round apertures in the lower wall of the up-valley wall of the hut.
The sharp-eyed observer will probably notice next a pole standing upright about twenty yards distant from the hut. The pole has been carefully wedged in a fault in the cliff-face, and is reinforced with rocks keeping its base in place.
(Below) Now we're standing between the pole and the hut, looking toward the hut. Note the three apertures in the hut wall, mentioned before. In the foreground of the photo there are jigs anchored in place with native rocks, marked with spray paint that extends over not only the jigs but the bedrock on which the jigs stand. If you were to pick up the jigs and, say, store them for the winter, you'd be able to place them in exactly the same place you removed them from earlier because of the paint marks.
The jigs have porcelain or metal devices on them with holes through them that are aligned with the pole and the hut.
Looking now back in the opposite direction, northeast, from the hut toward the pole. There are the jigs, spray paint markings clearly seen.
(Later edit: Kevin's query in Comments about that golden slash across the mountain in the distance (simply a patch of sunlight) reminds me: That patch of sun is about to illuminate Burkittsville, MD, which stood in for the town of Blair in the Blair Witch Project, my favorite horror movie of all time. That mise-en-scene is never far from my mind as I hike around these woods -- What's all this VOODOO SHIT??!?!?!?)
Now inside the hut, a detail showing the three apertures we've been seeing from the outside. More of those porcelain doohickeys. Note how the leftmost device has gone, and a cup-hook eye has been substituted in its place.
Myst is a pretty forgiving game, and the instruction manual for the edition I first played had a series of graduated hints that made sure even the most novice player didn't get terminally stuck and give up. In that spirit, here's the Dummy Clue that will probably blow the gaff for most players of JingoMyst. Photo below taken inside that silly little hut.
So the question remains: What is the US Government up to, on this lonely mountain far from civilization on a north-south valley on the east coast of the American Continent?
Send your answers to me at neddiejingo at aol.com.
Andy Boyle and John Relph, this is probably too easy for you, and you're disqualified.