Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Myst-y Mountain Hop

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

Andy Boyle and John Relph, this is probably too easy for you, and you're disqualified.


Anonymous said...

um.... "Plugh!"?
You must battle the mighty ogre to save the kingdom of pdkqzsl

Kevin Wolf said...

Ned, I agree on the video games. Thing is, I'm the same way about puzzles - even one as well written as this. I'm intrigued enough to read it but my mind then moves on to other things. Finding the solution just doesn't interest me. No idea why this is.

For instance, in this case, I was instead more interested in the background to the photos of the pole as seen from the hut: What is that big slash through the distant hilltop?

zqgjzejn - the famous theoretician who solved this puzzle before you even posted it

Uncle Rameau said...

Something to do with birds "after hatch year" and the state of the food crop, n'est pas?

Good to see there is still federal money for this sort of thing.

"rqoxkv" gurgled Mr. Abramaoff, as the noose was slowly tightened...

Neddie said...

Kev: It was a varaibly cloudy day, and that slash is just a patch of sunlight on South Mountain in Maryland.

And not, in fact, that rarest of natural phenomena, the wrzhula

Neddie said...

Sluggo: No cigar!

ubuqul: Pere Ubu's Ass

Anonymous said...

I have absolutely no idea. And it burns my behind that Andy Boyle and John Relph are soooooo smart that they are so quickly disqualified.


My son is coming out of his video game obsession, but unfortunately (for me) he's replaced it with a cute little brace face -- who's jeans are a little too tight and ride just a tad too low on her hips for my taste.

Hmmmm. Extremely violent videogames or cute little brace face? Which would I prefer...

Uncle Rameau said...

blue girl -

"My son is coming out of his video game obsession, but unfortunately (for me) he's replaced it with a cute little brace face -- who's jeans are a little too tight and ride just a tad too low on her hips for my taste.

Hmmmm. Extremely violent videogames or cute little brace face? Which would I prefer..."

depends on if you're a republican or a human being.

The worst of both worlds chez sluggo: almost 15, still addicted to video gaming (damn Tony Hawke!) and distressingly popular with the local brace-face hotties. Result? To cool for school and far too sexy for his shirt. And as foul mouthed as Bobby L.

Anonymous said...

Seems like they're doing crop circles up there.

But a low-budge operation these days, clearly.

Anonymous said...

Oh my. Even to be possibly considered a Republican brings tears.

Hey! I'm allowed to have a little *learning curve-unsettled by the whole dang thing moment* as my son ventures into this territory for the first time.

After all, I have never caught him making out with his x-box in the garage.

ozuords means: What the hell are you doing out here??!! It's time for you to go home!!!

Anonymous said...

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds (RT)are tracked "After Hatch Year" (AHY) and classified by gorget (throat) feathers. Hah! Now gimme my prize

momula said...

JingoMyst - At first I thought: a secret radio station. Then I read Sluggo's comment - birds?! really?? that can't be. Neddie, when do we get to find out?

Other - Don't underestimate the teenage brace face hotties with the tight jeans - I own one of those, and she's so much more than a cutie, on the inside, that once you know her, her looks are really only an aside. Perhaps because I was her 27 years ago (although not as cute or focused), and some things never change, I have little or no problem figuring out what's going on in her head, and proceeding with my intermittent parental manipulation, aka "raising." Don't be intimidated by "teens" - they're just your future friends in inappropriate clothes.

dlzwpufg - what I say when she asks to get her ear pierced again

Anonymous said...

YAAAARRRRGGGHHH! OK, so it wasn't a reference to hummingbirdies. It prolly tracks radio-banded ruby throated migratory birds of some sort, measuring crop size indicating available food resources. But I don't care anymore.

Bobby Lightfoot said...

looks like a glory hole setup to me. for triplets. short triplets.

i saw it on th' web.

etrwa- a new fat substitute that makes your spleen implode. FDA gives it two thumbs up.

XTCfan said...

Ooh! Am I disqualified, too? (Is our initial theory of it correct?)

Aw, screw it. Is it a huqqsq?

Anonymous said...

If you want a PlayStation game that has a bit of a Myst feel, try Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. Both by the same company. Ico's been out for nearly a decade, Shadow of the Colossus is brand new.

Both are excellent.


J. Andrew Boyle said...

Dag Farn it!!!!

Why am I always disqualified!?!

Banded some Barn Owls this past Monday so that makes up for it.


Ronald Brak said...

I wonder if the popularity of x-box is explained by the fact that society is so paranoid people only feel comfortable when something is trying to kill them?