I Sure Could Use a Mashed Potato Mystery

Are you suffering from news fatigue? Me too.

I wrote this humorous blog post about Jackson, Mississippi before they had their horrific water crisis, which isn’t going away anytime soon. They need our help. If you are able to do so, please read this article for some ways to support them. Thank you. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/how-to-help-people-in-jackson-mississippi-right-now/ar-AA11kcDP

Are you suffering from news fatigue? Me too. Worrying about the death of our planet, the death of democracy, the death of kindness, and the death of civility takes energy. Unfortunately, my reserves of energy are at an all-time low these days. Nothin’ left in the tank.

Worry, in moderation, can be useful. It promotes action. It thrusts you into problem solving mode. And that’s fantastic when that action produces positive results.

The problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that we have so much more access to information these days that it’s easy to feel that there are just too many problems, and whatever effort you put into a problem doesn’t budge the solution needle one iota. As a result, the type of worry you find yourself embroiled in is not the action kind. It’s the helpless, staring-into-the-abyss kind. And indulging in such worry is pointless.

I do believe we all need to remain vigilant regarding current events, lest the bad guys win more than they already have. I understand the importance of staying informed, but it’s been a long decade. We’re tired.

I think we could all use a distraction. Not in the form of an “opiate of the masses”, mind you. That seems too eternal. And not in the form of a person shouting, “Look! Squirrel!” and then stealing your credit card. That would be unsatisfying, to say the least. We just need something to briefly and harmlessly take our minds off the Sturm und Drang of our current reality. We need the information equivalent of an amuse-bouche.

We need a feel-good piece with just enough meat on the bone to be satisfying. We need a non-threatening whodunnit to try to solve. We need an opportunity laugh at the quirkiness of humanity. We need, in short, a mashed potato mystery.

Back in April, 2019, in Jackson, Mississippi, someone was leaving random bowls of mashed potatoes in people’s mailboxes, on their cars, on their porches. This confusing, intriguing, and mildly creepy story took the internet by storm for, oh, about 6 days. Newscasters were joking about doing the mashed potato, and then the cameras would switch to the weatherman, who was getting quite a chuckle from the whole situation.

My search engine found at least 20 articles on the subject, but this one seems to be the source document. These articles were all saying practically the same thing, and quoting the exact same quotes, so I’d say this is a story written by one reporter and then shared or stolen by various news outlets throughout the country.

Everyone wanted to know who this mysterious purveyor of mashed potatoes was, and what their motivation might be. Fortunately, no one seems to have eaten these mystery spuds, because lord knows what might have been in them. For the most part, people found it gross, yet funny. They didn’t involve the authorities.

And that, unfortunately, was where it all ended. I’m sure if anyone had found the culprit, that would have hit the news, too. The perpetrator did not leave a manifesto, so we have no clue as to his, her, or their motivation. And that bugs me.

But it also gives me license to come up with my own theory about the message that was sent to Jackson, Mississippi on that fateful day. And here’s what I came up with:

O, ye people of Jackson! Gaze upon these vessels of pulped spuds and take heart! For I shall give sustenance to all those who are hungry and imprudent, if they but follow me! But take heed, for this nourishment comes with a helping of insight, to wit: distractions are plentiful for those who wish to shun the vexing realities of their irksome routines. Yet distractions of a carb-ish nature, if indulged in frequently, can lead to obesity of the mind, body and spirit. Mayhap ‘twould better serve you to sup on a balanced diet of both reality and fantasy, fact and fiction, for optimum mental health. Blessed be.


A Gallo-Roman Mystery

What are they? It’s driving me nuts.

The first Roman dodecahedron was unearthed in the English countryside in 1739. Since then, about 100 more have been found all over the northern bits of the Roman Empire, in places like present day Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Hungary.

These objects are all dating anywhere from the 2nd to the 4th century, and they are all different, and yet have a lot in common. They’re all made of 12 equal sides (hence the name). They’re hollow, and each side has a different sized hole in it. Where the corners meet, there’s always a little ball. They’re made of brass. Some are as small as an egg, others are bigger than a baseball. None have been found (yet) in the southern reaches of the Roman Empire.

And that, in a nutshell, is everything we know about these dodecahedrons. No one knows what they were used for. Nothing in the writing of that era mentions them in any way. There is no imagery of them, either. None of these objects have numbers on them, and each is different in size, so they probably have nothing to do with measurements.

What are they, then? Weapons? Religious artefacts? A child’s toy? Does it have something to do with knitting? Astronomy? Is it a candle holder? Are they meant for the top of a staff? They’re often found with coins. Does it have something to do with banking? Again, they’re different sizes. Clearly these things were considered valuable if they were stored with the money. And they wouldn’t have been easy to make.

But what are they? What? What? It’s driving me nuts.

If you want to read up on the various theories in extreme mathematical detail, check out the website romandodecahedron.com. For a lighter read, check out this article, and/or the Wikipedia page.

The bottom line is that we’ll probably never know for sure what these things are without any historical documentation to prove our theories. Basically, the Roman dodecahedron is the epitome of the unanswered question, and that, dear reader, drives me up a freakin’ wall.

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The Toynbee Tiles

Mystery solved.

I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon the mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. I’m fairly certain I’ve never seen one myself. I had never heard of them until the day before this writing.

These tiles can be found embedded in the asphalt of cities from Boston to Kanas City, but the majority of them are clustered in Philadelphia. There’s one right outside the White House. One is in Times Square. And then, oddly enough, you can also find them in Rio de Janiero, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. The main message on all of the tiles is the same. “Toynbee Idea. In Kubrick’s 2001. Resurrect Dead. On Planet Jupiter.

Many of the tiles have side texts that vary widely. Some attack American media. Some say the media and the Soviet Union are out to get the tiler. Some are long, paranoid rants that clearly come from someone who is very scared. Some make mention of “Hellion Jews”. One very disturbing one says, “Murder every journalist. I beg you.”

People have been fascinated with this mystery for decades. There was even an award winning documentary made about it in 2011 entitled, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles, which I watched on Youtube. It was very well done, and unlike most documentaries about mysteries, it actually solves it to my satisfaction. Check it out. You’ll be amazed.

And then, too, you can check out the website, www.toynbeeidea.com and learn about all things Toynbee tile, including how to make them yourself. It’s brilliantly simple. And there’s a map that shows you where all the tiles can be found. It’s really rather fascinating.

I thought this mystery might become one of my many obsessions, but after watching the documentary, I view it in a much different light. I think this is a very artistic, mentally disturbed, reclusive individual who really believes that the dead can be resurrected on Jupiter. He desperately wants to let people know this, but he also desperately wants to be left alone.

Out of respect for him, I won’t even mention his name in this blog post, although it is mentioned in the documentary. I hope he’ll be allowed to tile in peace. At the very least, I find the tiles beautiful in a public art kind of way, and they certainly make you think.

Tile on, man. Tile on.

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The First Detective Novel

This book is mysterious on many levels.

I was sitting on a couch in the Library of my Unitarian Universalist Church a while back, chatting with a couple of friends (waving at Caly and Mor), when one of us, I can’t remember who, asked when the first detective novel came out. (We often discuss books.)

Back before the internet, we’d have probably said, “Good question”, and then went on to other topics. Before the internet, you’d have had to have done some serious digging at your public library, and let’s face it, most of the time you’d have not gotten around to it. Yes, there was once a time when humans were much more capable of tolerating unanswered questions.

But this is not that time. A quick Google search came up with the answer, in the form of an NPR interview entitled, “Who Wrote The First Detective Novel?” Pretty straightforward.

The short answer to that is: Charles Felix. The book was “The Notting Hill Mystery”. It first came out in a weekly magazine, in 8 installments, in 1863. It was later published as a book in 1865, right as the Civil War was ending in America. Pure coincidence, but interesting.

The book caused quite a stir, because the genre didn’t exist at the time. People didn’t know what to make of it. It was described as a kind of literary puzzle that you had to solve.

The book includes elements that we now consider standard tropes for detective novels. Someone dies under mysterious circumstances. It comes to light that someone else has taken out a life insurance policy on that person. The insurance company wants to get to the bottom of it. The perfect crime is revealed before your reading eyes.

But here’s what’s really mysterious about the book. The author. Charles Felix was a pseudonym. And the NPR interviewee has finally figured out who the guy is after about a century and a half.

After discovering that there is absolutely no correspondence between the author and the publishing company, he finds a one sentence reveal in an obscure literary gossip column. The reason there’s no correspondence is that the author IS the publishing company. Charles Felix is Charles Warren Adams, the only person who works at Saunders, Otley and Company, the publisher of the book.

So, and I’m just speculating here, but maybe this is also one of the first self-published books. Wouldn’t that be cool? You can still get copies of The Notting Hill Mystery on Amazon. If you read it, tell me what you think in the comments below!

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The Mystery That Is Kaspar Hauser

People just love an unanswered question.

During a random surf of YouTube, I came across an intriguing video entitled The Most Mysterious Boy In History. I love a good mystery, so naturally I had to watch. That’s how I first learned of Kaspar Hauser.

Here’s what we know for sure about him. On May 26, 1828, a young teen showed up in Nuremberg, Germany. He walked like a toddler, and could barely speak. He carried with him two notes, supposedly from two different people, but in the same handwriting.

The first note was allegedly from some man who said he’d been raising Kaspar since he was a baby, and never let him leave his house, but that the boy now wanted to be a cavalryman like his father had been. The second note was supposedly from his mother, backing up the story about the kid’s father.

At first the fine folks of Nuremberg threw Kaspar in jail for 2 months for being a vagabond. Then he was adopted by the city, and they paid for his care and upkeep. He then began to be passed from house to house. He had a pattern of being both tantrum-prone and a liar, so he quite often wore out his welcome.

He also had a pattern of getting strange wounds, most likely self-inflicted, when he wanted attention. He always claimed he was attacked by some mystery man, which he was sure was the same guy who supposedly had kept him locked away for his entire childhood.

Once, his caretaker heard a gunshot, and found Kaspar in his bedroom with a head wound. Kaspar claimed he had been standing on a chair to get some books, and he fell, knocking a pistol from the wall and accidentally shooting himself.

Who leaves a loaded pistol on a wall? That’s my first question, with many more to follow.

It was a more trusting time, so people kept taking him in. Most famously, he lived for a time with Lord Stanhope, a British nobleman. But after spending a great deal of time and money trying to figure out who Kaspar was, he soon tired of the boy and his unbelievable stories as well.

At age 21, while staying with a schoolmaster who was also growing impatient with the boy’s lies, Kaspar came home with a stab wound in his chest that would prove to be fatal. He, of course, claimed to be attacked, and there was another note involved, this time, for some odd reason, in mirror writing. But the note included Kaspar’s common spelling and grammatical errors, and was folded in a way that was unique to Kaspar.

I think the reason people kept giving this guy so many second chances was that there was a rumor that he was actually a prince. But historians find this hard to believe. Conspiracy theories are not new.

I think Kaspar Hauser was just a very effective liar and con artist. It’s impressive how he managed to mooch off so many people even though he was clearly quite unpleasant to live with. That’s a psychopathic skill that very few people possess.

His manipulative charisma lives on to this day. Movies have been made about him. Poems have been written. His character pops up in at least a dozen books. A statue of him has been erected in Ansbach, Germany.

We may not know who he was, but he hasn’t been forgotten. I think he’d be thrilled to know that. People just love an unanswered question, and Kaspar Hauser is the epitome of that.


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Quagmire Lays an Egg

Okay everybody, someone is really trying to mess with my head. Not since the movie “Gaslight” has anyone been as manipulated into questioning his or her sanity as I have been lately.

To bring you up to speed, 10 months ago I wrote The Great Banana Mystery, in which I described the antics of my dog Quagmire, who brought me intact bananas on two consecutive days. Bananas from, seemingly, nowhere.

Then, two months later, I wrote The Plot Thickens, about Quagmire bringing me a slice of watermelon, when I had no watermelon in the house.

Three months after that, I wrote Things Get Fruitier, when Quagmire brought me a peach. Again, no peaches on my grocery list.

Now, five months after the peach, I am at the end of my rope. I went outside for two short minutes to put my trash can at the curb for pick up, and when I came back inside, I found an egg, still in its shell, sitting in the middle of my living room floor. I swear I’m not making this up. I can’t even imagine making something like this up.

After a quick inventory of the eggs in my fridge, I discovered that they were all accounted for. So… what the hell????? What… how… I can’t even form an appropriate question.

I actually hesitated to dispose of it for a minute there. For all I knew, it was set to detonate. Or worse, it might disappear in my hand. I’ve watched too many episodes of The Twilight Zone in my lifetime.

Quagmire also brought me half an apple recently. Fortunately, I soon realized that the little monster had stolen the apple from my backpack and must have taken it outside to munch on before showing it off. And that damned apple had cost me $1.99 a pound.

So this dog has a history of food theft, to say the least. Thank heavens his little legs are too short to get him up on the counter, or lord knows what I’d come home to every day.

But… an egg? I mean… No words…

Yeah, Quagmire looks all innocent…

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Things Get Fruitier

If you read my blog regularly, you know that about 4 months ago my dog Quagmire brought two bananas in from the fenced back yard. I wrote about it in The Great Banana Mystery. I still have no idea where those bananas came from. I try not to lose any sleep over it.

And then about 10 weeks later, he brought me a slice of watermelon. The Plot Thickens. Now I was really perplexed. Where is this stuff coming from?

So, the other night he brought me a peach. Well, technically it was a half-eaten peach. Apparently he really enjoys peaches. And he’s probably beginning to figure out that all fruit shall be confiscated, so before proudly showing me his acquisition, he had his fill. This is really starting to freak me out, because he could have choked on the peach pit.

So far these unexpected doggy treats haven’t been dangerous per se. But since I don’t know who the culprit is, I can’t be sure said culprit knows what’s good for dogs and what isn’t. What if he decides to feed Quagmire a slice of chocolate cake or a chicken bone next time? Granted, he’d die with a smile on his face, but it would still break my heart.

It’s not the first time someone has fed something to my dogs without my permission. This always annoys me. I’d never do that to someone else’s pet or child. You don’t know what their dietary requirements and/or restrictions are, and it’s arrogant to assume you have carte blanche to put something in someone else’s body without asking the guardian first.

So if you are reading this, oh mysterious purveyor of fruit, kindly keep your largesse to yourself. Quagmire won’t thank you for that, but I will.


The Plot Thickens

I have always adored that phrase. The plot thickens, like a delicious stew, all warm and meaty and ready to eat. The plot thickens, so it will require a lot more complex straining to get to the bottom of it. The plot thickens, which means there must be a lot more ingredients involved than identified at first glance. I just love a good, thick plot.

Well, most of the time. Frankly, this one is starting to freak me out a little bit. Back in April, I wrote a blog entry called The Great Banana Mystery, about the bananas that were inexplicably showing up in my back yard, only to be proudly delivered to me by my dachshund, Quagmire.

Well, last night at 2 a.m. I was sitting in bed, surfing the internet, when I heard a crunching sound coming from the living room. This was especially alarming because I thought both my dogs were in bed with me, burrowed under the blankets. Fortunately (or unfortunately as the case may be) I discovered that Quagmire was absent.

Okay, so at least now I knew the source of the crunching. Some strange beast hadn’t gained access to my house. That was a relief.

But now I had to worry about what he’d gotten into, because it was way, way, WAY past dinnertime, so whatever late night snack he’d rustled up was not authorized by me. And the possibilities were endless. The crunching continued.

Upon closer inspection, it turned out that Quagmire was munching out on a slice of watermelon. And he seemed to prefer the rind to the actual juicy center. He was not pleased when I confiscated his prize. In fact he was extremely pissed off.

But his level of “pissed-offedness” didn’t even come close to my level of confusion. Up to this moment, there had been no watermelon in the house since last summer. And lest we forget, it was 2 a.m. Even if I were craving watermelon myself, I wouldn’t have a clue where to get one at that hour.

So where is all this fruit coming from? I can’t even begin to imagine. And I find it quite interesting that my dog Devo has yet to be involved in this little caper. He’s always been one to have an unbridled curiosity. He’s my intrepid explorer.

I worry that the next little gift could be something that is toxic to dogs. I don’t like the concept that I have a lot less control over their diet than I should. And I really don’t like the idea that someone or something else is introducing strange things into my environment.

My home is supposed to be my castle. But the figurative alligators in my moat appear to be slacking off. Somewhere there’s a security breech. And I suspect that I’ll never know quite where. I find this rather troubling.



The Great Banana Mystery

The other day I got home from work and let the dogs out into the back yard to play. My new little dachshund came running back in almost immediately, looking quite pleased with himself and carrying a ripe, unpeeled banana.

Just let that sink in for a minute.

Now, here are some facts. I do not own a banana tree. I haven’t purchased bananas in about a year, as I’ve found that the store-bought bananas taste horrible in this state. (They’re probably picked dark green for transport, and are flavorless as a result.) So I was definitely not the source of this fruity invader.

Could a neighbor have tossed one over the fence for some reason? I haven’t seen a human inhabiting the house behind me in many, many months. I asked the neighbors to my left if they knew anything about it, and they were stumped. They love my dogs, and sometimes will give them the occasional treats, but I’m quite certain it wouldn’t occur to them to give my boys a banana, peeled or otherwise. I do have neighbors to my right, but our yards are separated by dense, bramble-filled, thick vegetation.

So that leaves, pretty much, dropping from the sky or alien invasion. I don’t see a peregrine falcon or a bald eagle being interested in a banana, and their talons would have made mincemeat of it. I doubt a banana would remain intact if it dropped from an airplane (or a spaceship, for that matter). This banana, in fact, was a fine specimen. I’d have been tempted to eat it myself if it weren’t for the dog tooth punctures and the questionable origins.

So I’m just going to have to accept the fact that this is just another one of life’s great mysteries, and move on. That would be a lot easier to do if the exact same thing hadn’t happened the very next day. This time, though, the banana was heading toward overripe. Quality control spirals ever downward, it seems.

I waited with great anticipation on day three, but… nothing. I hate cliffhangers. Especially when it’s pretty obvious I’ll be left dangling.

Probably the same fool who tossed a banana into my back yard. [Image credit: disclose.tv]

Silly Thoughts

Quite often I have too much time on my hands and my mind wanders. I never quite know where it will go. You might say I suffer from a preponderance of ponderings.

After a while I’ll wind up with so many unanswered questions rattling around in my brain that they cause me to lose sleep. What follows are three of my typical trains of thought that seem to have recently jumped the tracks.

  • Who was the first person who thought it would be a good idea to put a tiny little umbrella in a cocktail? Why? Did they want to keep the ice cubes cool? Why did they think this would be more attractive than, say, a flower? There must be companies out there that do nothing but make little tiny umbrellas all day. Do they have a special holiday for the inventor of this frivolity? Is his or her picture on their factory wall? How many acres of rain forest have been destroyed so we can have tiny little umbrellas?
  • On several occasions I’ve read mystery novels or seen movies in which the detectives notice that there’s a knife absent from the victim’s knife block, so surely that must be the missing murder weapon. If that’s the case, if a detective ever visits me, he’s going to think there’s been a massacre. My knife block has several empty slots, which I’ve filled with knives from other incomplete sets. Am I the only one who has a knife block deficit? What do other people do, throw out the whole set when one knife goes missing? Wouldn’t that provide the general populous with even more murder weapons?
  • The other day I was packing my suitcase and it occurred to me that suitcases must have originally been cases for suits. I can only think of one occasion in which I’ve packed a suit in a suitcase. I suppose people must still do so when they are going on business trips, but thank God the concept of formal wear in office environments seems to be slowly going the way of the dodo bird. As I stuff my sweat pants and jeans and t-shirts into my suitcase, I get a little thrill that I’m misusing this handy device, and I’m thanking my lucky stars that I don’t need hat boxes, and will never have to worry about gloves, high heels, panty hose, and corsets.

Now, get out of my head. It’s already crowded enough. Here. Have a cocktail.

[Image credit: myrtlebeachholidayinn.com]
[Image credit: myrtlebeachholidayinn.com]