Slime mould solves a maze

Watch Slime Mould Solve a Maze to Find Food

Video of a slime mould finding the food in the center of the maze on the first try.

I recently stumbled upon this video of a slime mould solving a maze in one pass, and it’s either amazing or utterly horrifying nightmare fuel. The jury is still out.

According to the video description, this is a Plasmodium of Physarum polycephalum computing a path into the central chamber of the maze where the food is. It was filmed in time lapse at one frame every five minutes, and played back at 25-30 frames per second.

From the study:

Plasmodium of Physarum polycephalum is a large cell, visible by unaided eye, which exhibits sophisticated patterns of foraging behaviour. The plasmodium’s behaviour is well interpreted in terms of computation, where data are spatially extended configurations of nutrients and obstacles, and results of computation are networks of protoplasmic tubes formed by the plasmodium. In laboratory experiments and numerical simulation we show that if plasmodium of Physarum is inoculated in a maze’s peripheral channel and an oat flake (source of attractants) in a the maze’s central chamber then the plasmodium grows toward target oat flake and connects the flake with the site of original inoculation with a pronounced protoplasmic tube. The protoplasmic tube represents a path in the maze. The plasmodium solves maze in one pass because it is assisted by a gradient of chemo-attractants propagating from the target oat flake.

The Unipiper keeps Portland weird

Keep Beer Weird: The Unipiper Teams up with Portland Brewing Co. to Support Local Weird

Portland Brewing and the Unipiper join forces to celebrate Portland’s weird with a collaborative beer, the Unipiper Hazy IPA.
The Unipiper Hazy IPA beer keeps Portland weird
The Unipiper with his Hazy IPA from Portland Brewing Co.

Just about everything I know about Portland I learned from Chuck Palahniuk’s travel guide Fugitives and Refugees. I’ve never been there, but I know when I finally have a chance to visit, I may not be strong enough to leave it behind. The city has a vibrant culture of weird, and now the Portland Brewing Co. has joined forces with one of the city’s most beloved street performers to celebrate it.

Portland is home to the world’s smallest park (just two feet in diameter and dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day, 1976, as “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland,”), the shanghai tunnels, the Pecularium museum of the “freakybuttrue,” a vegan strip club, the internet’s premier “cat rapper” Moshow, and countless other artists, performers, and landmarks.

One of the most well known is the Unipiper, a man who rides around Portland on his unicycle playing flame-throwing bagpipes while dressed as Darth Vader, Bigfoot, and other famous characters.

From the Unipiper’s website:

The origin of The Unipiper is shrouded in mystery, but reportedly stems from an incident with local-resident Brian Kidd involving a bite from a radioactive unicycle incurred while playing the bagpipes, granting him the power to make people smile. Ever since, he has roamed the streets of Portland, protecting its citizens from all that is normal and standing up to those that would seek to silence the weird.

Kidd, the mild-mannered alter ego behind the Unipiper’s many masks, has teamed up with Portland Brewing Co. to create the first in a series of “Keep Portland Weird” collaborative brews intended to highlight each collaborator’s contribution to the city’s weird culture.

The result is the Unipiper Hazy IPA, a “smooth and juicy” 6.2% ABV beer with a tangerine citrus and fruit “pop” that, according to Portland Brewing, is “perfect for a couple pints while light enough to not weigh you down on your unicycle ride to goat-yoga class.”

But there’s more to this beer than drunken unicycling. Proceeds will help launch the Unipiper’s new nonprofit that is dedicated to finding and supporting the weird people and places of Portland.

Weird Portland United

“The Unipiper Hazy IPA is not just another beer though! That would be too normal!” Kidd says. “It also signals the beginning of a new era in Portland’s ever evolving weirdness – the founding of Weird Portland United, a charitable effort that has been a dream of mine for years. Thanks to the seed donation from Portland Brewing, Weird Portland United will help create a weirder tomorrow where everyone is inspired to contribute to the city’s now famous culture of weird.”

Portland Unipiper beer
And this is why the events of last night are a little hazy.

Unipiper Hazy IPA is now available throughout the Portland region in limited edition 22oz bottles silk screened with an illustration by local artist Beth Kerschen as well as 6-packs of 12oz cans.

Find it here.

A blood stain at the scene of the Heaven's Gate suicide

‘Appraiser of Doom’ Helps Sell the Most Famous Crime Scenes

Meet the man who helped sell the Heaven’s Gate mansion, Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building, the Sharon Tate property, and other notorious real estate.

Randall Bell, known as the “Appraiser of Doom” and the “Master of Disaster,” spent years evaluating commercial property in Southern California in the 1980s when the routine started to get dull. That’s when he decided to work on more interesting properties. That decision has lead him to work on some of the most infamous crime scenes in the country, including the mansion where 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide in 1997 to hitch a ride with the alien spacecraft hiding inside the Hale-Bopp comet.

“With Heaven’s Gate, I waited till after they finished taking out the bodies,” Bell recently told Rolling Stone. “But when I went in, I just wanted to barf because it smelled so bad. There had been bodies decomposing for three days, and there was blood all over the place — blood on the carpet and the marble, all throughout the house.”

Over the years Bell and his firm Landmark Research has been called in to appraise a variety of damaged real estate such as Bikini Atoll, where the US tested nuclear weapons in the 1940s and 50s, the World Trade Center, the federal building bombed by Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, Hiroshima, Columbine, Chernobyl, and all manner of natural and man-made disasters.

As far as crime scenes go, Bell has helped determine the value of property carrying the stigma of the country’s most well-known murders. Bell has worked on Sharon Tate’s house where the Manson Family murdered her and her guests in 1969, the JonBenét Ramsey house, the OJ and Nicole Brown Simpson crime scene, the Menendez house, Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building in Milwaukee, and numerous other lower profile cases.

Bell was even among the first people allowed in the Los Feliz murder mansion 50 years after a doctor murdered his wife there. The group he was with conducted a seance while inside the home.

Los Feliz murder mansion
The Loz Feliz murder mansion

Bell says a crime scene generally sells for 10-25% loss of value.

“The Lizzie Borden house in Rhode Island, that property, they monetized that crime, if you will,” Bell says. “They have bed and breakfasts and you can sleep in the room where Lizzie Borden’s mother was murdered with an ax for hundreds of dollars a night. But as a general rule, those kinds of things don’t happen.”

So how does he determine value?

Bell uses a list of over 400 items in 10 classifications known as the Bell Chart. Items which may devalue a property include zoning changes, terrorism, contamination, landslides, and crime.

“The first rule I got is you gotta be realistic,” Bell says. “Trying to make the value go up is tough. With Neverland, that’s never gonna turn into Graceland because it’s simply too remote. You look for any opportunity, but generally speaking, a crime scene is not gonna become a museum or tourist attraction. What I’m trying to do is mitigate the damage. I’m trying to make the best I can out of a bad situation, recognizing that it’s not gonna be normal or have a normal return. You’re just trying to minimize the losses. We divide everything into 3 categories: cost, use and risk. The costs are the cleanup costs of the blood or the bullet holes or what have you. In one case, Satan worshippers were coming into the house and they started a fire inside the garage in a Satanic ritual, so those all have costs. The second element of use means the house isn’t being normally used, so there’s a way to calculate the loss of use. And the word ‘risk’ is synonymous with stigma, which means there’s a resistance on part of the market to pay full value.”

In the case of Dahmer’s apartment building, however, Bell says the property actually sold for a profit.

Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment building
The empty lot where Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment building once stood in Milwaukee

“When he was arrested, at the same time, coincidentally, there was a group called Campus Circle, and they were trying to buy up all the housing in the area that was crime-ridden where Dahmer lived and create more student housing in Marquette University.”

Bell says the Dahmer building was throwing a wrench in Campus Circle’s plans, so they bought the property. “The owner of the apartment complex knew they were highly motivated and he held out for a premium.”

Today, the building is a vacant lot surrounded by a fence. Sharon Tate’s home and the Heaven’s Gate mansion were also razed. But the locations still draw curious visitors.

The house where Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969
Sharon Tate’s home being torn down in 1994

“I worked on the Sharon Tate property. That property was bulldozed, and I’m telling you, tourists still go by that property to this day,” Bell told Rolling Stone. “So bulldozing doesn’t accomplish anything, really. The Heaven’s Gate mansion was bulldozed completely — the fences, the driveway, every tree — and they rebuilt on it, and people point to the property to this day, and say, ‘That was the Heaven’s Gate mansion.'”

While Bell doesn’t believe in ghosts, he says there was something strange at the Heaven’s Gate estate. While conducting tours with the media, people always said they felt unease in one particular room.

“Everyone identified the same room,” Bell says. “I kept that to myself, but the room everyone was referring to was a room where there were four bodies, two bunk beds with four bodies. There was no blood in the room, there was nothing — you gotta understand, there were 39 bodies in the house, so there were bodies in every single room, so there wasn’t anything special about that particular room, but everyone said that who I took through the house.”

Bodies being removed from the Heaven's Gate estate
Bodies being removed from the Heaven’s Gate estate

For more about Randall Bell’s experiences, how to appraise a crime scene, and how to scare off Satan worshippers read the Rolling Stone interview right here.

American Gods at House on the Rock

March 2019 Newsletter: American Gods and the House on the Rock

American Gods season 2 brings the Old Gods to Wisconsin’s phantasmagorical roadside attraction known as the House on the Rock.

“So what is this place?” Shadow asks Wednesday in Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods as they approach the entrance of a building. The unremarkable facade described in the book conceals what is in real life one of the most surreal and often nightmarish places ever conceived. And it’s tucked away deep in the wild weird yonder of Wisconsin.

“This is a roadside attraction,” Wednesday tells Shadow. “One of the finest. Which means it is a place of power.”

“It’s perfectly simple,” Wednesday continues. “In other countries, over the years, people recognized the places of power. Sometimes it would be a natural formation, sometimes it would just be a place that was, somehow, special. They knew something important was happening there, that there was some focusing point, some channel, some window to the Immanent. And so they would build temples or cathedrals, or erect stone circles, or…well, you get the idea.”

Wisconsin is home to many places considered sacred and powerful by the indigenous people, like the mystic Devil’s Lake near Baraboo, or Green Lake, where every member of the Winnebago tribe was said to make a pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime to pay tribute to “the spirit who dwells beneath the water” in the depths of the state’s deepest natural inland lake. But for Gaiman’s Old Gods, including Mr. Wednesday, Easter, Bilquis, Jinn, Mad Sweeney, Czernobog, and others, the place they choose to meet is the bizarre and whimsical attraction known as the House on the Rock.

The House on the Rock is an ode to eccentricity and obsession, a twisting labyrinth of rooms filled with elaborate displays ranging from intricate reproductions of the Crown Jewels to a 200-foot-tall battle between a whale and a giant octopus. It was built upon a large sandstone formation overlooking the lush green valley below by Alex Jordan Jr., a man described by journalist Marv Balousek as “a shadowy figure as reclusive as the late multi-millionaire Howard Hughes.”

“When ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,’ a prime-time network show, did a segment on the House, Jordan ignored multiple interview requests,” Doug Moe writes. “The show’s host ended the segment standing in front of the World’s Largest Carousel, a favorite House exhibit, and saying, ‘Thank you, Alex Jordan, wherever you are.'”

Balousek and Moe both wrote books about Jordan. Balousek’s book, House of Alex, was published in 1990, shortly after Jordan’s death. It was as an expose on the “true story of architecture and art, greed, deception and blackmail.” Soon after its publication, Moe was hired by the attraction’s new owner to produce an authorized biography that would be a bit gentler on Jordan’s legacy.

Moe interviewed many people close to Jordan, including some who worked for him for decades. He says they all described Jordan as “a complicated mix of hubris and shyness, cruelty and kindness.”

“There was a fire burning there,” Tom Kupsh told Moe in 2014. Kupsh worked at the House on and off since Jordan hired him as a sculptor in 1977, and also wrote a book about him called Never Enough. “You could be singed or you could be warmed. There wasn’t a lot of middle ground.”

Mythic and elusive, Alex Jordan himself could have been one of the American Gods.

Neil Gaiman and the American Gods at House on the Rock
Neil Gaiman and the Old Gods at House on the Rock

Even the lore surrounding the creation of the House is legendary.

The story seems to originate from a statement once made by Madison, WI artist Sid Boyum. According to Boyum, he accompanied the Jordans (Jr and Sr) for a meeting with a man they admired greatly – the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright. They supposedly met with Wright at his Spring Green, WI estate called Taliesin (where a brutal mass murder happened in 1914) to show off some blueprints for a building Jordan Sr. had designed in Madison. After looking at the plans, Wright is said to have told Jordan, “I wouldn’t hire you to design a cheese crate or a chicken coop.”

Angered, Jordan decided to spite Wright by building his architectural masterpiece just down the road from Taliesin.

The problem with this story, according to the House on the Rock website, is that Boyum and Jordan Jr. were both less than 9 years old at the time the incident was said to happen (between 1914 and 1923), Wright was in Japan working on the Imperial Hotel from 1916 to 1922, and the building Boyum claims Jordan Sr. showed Wright was actually designed by another architect altogether and built in 1923.

Boyum, it seems, invented the story because he thought Jordan should be “more like PT Barnum.”

Down the Devil's throat in the House on the Rock
Photo: Photo Phiend

Though the story is untrue, the House does have an overtly defiant atmosphere. Every detail of the House, its very existence, seems to be thumbing its nose at the improbable and illogical.

“Though most people outside of the Midwest have never heard of it, the House on the Rock is said to draw more visitors every year than any other spot in Wisconsin,” author Jane Smiley wrote in 1993. “Also in the Wyoming Valley, but on top of a huge monolith, the House on the Rock reveals the spirit of its builder, Alex Jordan Jr., to be as single-minded and eccentric as Wright’s, but in substance almost absurdly opposed.”

Jordan discovered Deer Shelter Rock in the early 1940s and began having picnics upon its 75-foot-tall peak. Eventually he decided to bring a tent and started camping there. But then, one night, his tent blew away and he decided he needed something more permanent. Fortunately, he had some experience working for his father in construction.

House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin
House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin

Jordan began carrying materials up the rock to build the House before he even owned the land. He first built what he described as a shack, which he tore down and rebuilt. He called the next incarnation The Winter Room, which he used as a private studio retreat. He added 12 more rooms in the following years, never with any kind of plan. He followed the natural contours of the rock, exploring new ideas and methods. If something wasn’t working, he would tear it down and try something else.

“In the beginning it was all just a pile of rock up there – rocks and trees,” Jordan said in a rare interview. “We left everything as it was, worked around it, worked with it – that’s part of the beauty of the place.”

Jordan’s work didn’t go unnoticed.

“As curiosity grew surrounding his project, Alex became somewhat irritated,” the website says. “Alex decided he was going to charge people 50 cents to visit, thinking that would drive them away; however, people gladly paid the fee. In 1960, Alex decided to open the House on the Rock to the public. This increased the interest and the crowds grew. All of the money taken in over the years was put directly back into the House on the Rock. Alex had no other source of income.”

Inside the House on the Rock
Photo: Justin Kern

Jordan’s dream for the House evolved to include more than the dim, labyrinthine, Japanese-style structure he first built atop the rock. His eclectic interest drove him to collect art and strange objects from around the world. But when that wasn’t enough, he hired artists to help to create the obsessive collections he desired. That’s when things got really strange.

Today, the House is a twisting complex of bizarre spaces and unique collections. There are entire rooms filled with orchestras of out-of-tune self-playing instruments, and a horse-drawn hearse with a music machine inside where coffins would have resided. There is the Streets of Yesterday, an immersive recreation of an old time main street complete with houses, shops, a sheriff’s office with an outlaw’s head in a jar, and, of course, a massive calliope parked in the street. There is the Infinity Room that juts out 218 feet from the house unsupported, and you can feel it sway at the tip. There are arms and armor, macabre coin-operated dioramas from the 1800s, a massive ship engine in the Organ Room, a steam-powered hearse, miniature circus dioramas, dollhouses, and other curiosities that are either genuine antiques or reproduced by Jordan’s team in excess.

And there is the carousel – the largest indoor carousel in the world. It boasts 269 animals (none of which are horses), 182 chandeliers, 20,000 lights, and is the portal in American Gods to another dimension where the Old Gods meet.

View this post on Instagram

Writing in the woods. Pretty happy.

A post shared by Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself) on

Gaiman, a part time resident of Menomonie, WI since 1992, wrote American Gods at a lakeside cabin about 20 minutes from his home.

“I couldn’t have written it without living in Wisconsin,” he told the Star Tribune. “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details.”

Gaiman kicked off his American Gods 10th anniversary tour with a Gathering of the Gods event that took place at the House on the Rock over Halloween weekend of 2010. Cult contributor J. Nathan Couch was in attendance. Costume contest winners had the truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride the carousel with Gaiman.

“The House on the Rock is a real place about an hour west of Madison Wi, that I write about in American Gods,” he wrote on his website when he announced the event, “and I had to tone down my description of it and leave things out in the book in order to make it believable.”

Coin-operated fortune teller at the House on The Rock
Wednesday tells Shadow they must “consult the Norns,” getting a fortune from the coin-operated fortune teller in the Streets of Yesterday.

American Gods filmed the House on the Rock scenes for season 2 on location in May of 2018.

“The House On The Rock is unlike anything else on the planet. If you are filming at The House On The Rock, you’re actually filming at The House On The Rock,” Gaiman told Vanity Fair. “In order to do some of the sequences in the book that we plan to do on the screen justice, we knew we were going to be taking several episodes to do it, and shooting whatever we get to shoot at the actual House On The Rock was going to make everybody’s life easier.”

“When you read Neil’s description of it in the book, you think it can’t possibly be weirder seeing it in person,” Orlando Jones, who plays the trickster God Mr. Nancy, said. “But it far surpasses his description. That’s insane, because I didn’t think that was possible.”

Ricky Whittle, who plays Shadow Moon, said, “As spectacular as it’s going to look on the screen, I still don’t think we’ve done it justice. It’s incredible.”

Mr. Shadow, Wednesday, and the other Old Gods come to the House on the Rock in American Gods season 2
Wednesday, Shadow, and the rest of the Old Gods come to the House on the Rock in American Gods season 2

Jordan never lived in the House, though he and his lifelong love interest Jennie Olson were known to throw “legendary parties” there. He and Jennie lived in small adjoining apartments in a Madison building owned by his parents.

Jordan died in 1989, a year after he sold the House to a friend. Upon his request, his ashes were spread over the creation he spent his life dreaming and building.

The House on the Rock is indeed a place of power. And madness. And wonder. And it’s hard not to fall in love with it.

American Gods Season 2 Teaser

Watch American Gods on Amazon right here.

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

March Observances

March 20 – National Alien Abduction Day (Are you insured?)
March 31 – Birth of Modern Spiritualism: Katherine Fox claimed to first make contact with the spirit living in her home on this day in 1848

From the Cult of Weird Community

Read more about Odd Fellows skeletons.

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

WTFact

Susuk charm needles

In Southeast Asia, susuk or “charm needles” are permanently inserted into the soft tissues of the body to improve health and beauty. In one study, a patient was found to have 80 needles in the face.

Previous Newsletter: Silence from Beyond the Veil

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