Teeny Haunts: Polybius

The myth of the cursed arcade game called Pollybius is legendary, but its history is a convoluted one. As a kid who grew up during the heyday of video arcades, I can attest to their allure. I recalled getting $20 from my mom to amuse myself for the afternoon. I ended up blowing it all on Space Ace. My mother wasn’t too thrilled to see me back at the office a hour later asking for more money.

Tempest was one of my favorites, and a contemporary game to the mythical Polybius machine. I admit, I had never heard of this legend until stumbling upon it at the Encyclopedia of the Impossible (run by the wonderfully creepy Lucia Peters). I do know, that if I had discovered such a machine in my local arcade haunt (Yellow Brick Road), I would have put a quarter on the screen to mark my place in line.

The story for Polubius involved some shadowy government agency setting up video games to experiment with mind-altering techniques on us poor arcade kids. This not too far fetched as the CIA ran a program called MK-Ultra to research mind control and to develop psychic powers. An excellent example of this is the movie Dreamscape with Dennis Quaid, where the government creates dream assassins.

Dreamscape, 1984

Another example is the much underrated The Fury by Brian DePalma involving the power of telekinesis.

The Fury with Amy Irving, 1978

From there, it’s just a hop skip and a jump to Stranger Things and the experimentation on Eleven.

Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in Stranger Things, 2016

Of course the Polybius experiment never seemed that successful. Players would say they heard a woman crying or see twisted faces in the corner of their vision. Nightmares, blackouts and insomnia also plagued those who dropped a quarter in the slot.

The name Polybius refers to a Greek philosopher (circa 208 BC) known for his affinity with puzzles and cryptography. His name means “many lives” possibly a reference to the three lives you get on a typical arcade game. The company that developed the machine was Sinneslöschen, broken German for “sense-deleting”. After four weeks, the game would vanish, the experiment over.

The legend of the cursed Polybius game really took off in the 2000s with listings on internet chat boards like Reddit. You can read the whole sordid history over at the Encyclopedia of the Impossible. Suffice it to say, there is ample evidence that this legend might have been manufactured after the fact. No testimony from the 1980s has emerged about the mind-altering machine.

However, if Polybius really did twist your thoughts, maybe those who experienced the game are not allowed to remember. Could the arcade unit resurface one day, in a swap meet or antique show? Who knows? But i you discover it, be warned. When you slide that quarter into the slot, it just might be the last thing you remember.

Stay creepy,

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: The Crows

I have always been attracted to birds, crows especially. Many of them flock around my house and in the mornings, I can see the crows “commenting” on the kids trudging to school. It’s like they are a bunch of gossiping people.

I am always polite to crows. I read about a study where scientists donned face masks (the plastic Halloween type) and one scientist was mean to the birds while the other was neutral. Well the crows didn’t the like mean one much, dive-bombing him constantly.

Here’s the catch. The scientists came back every year or so with the masks. Thirty years later, the crows still didn’t like the “mean-naked” figure. Despite the fact that the original crows who experienced this were long gone. So the crows have taught their children to recognize and attack people they don’t like.

Message: be nice to crows.

Happy haunting.

Tim Kane

Let the Teeny Haunts Creep Up on You

As a kid, I was sucked in by the lure of comics. I had my mail order subscription to Fantastic Four and each month I poured over the pages. Now, five hundred issues later, I want to dip my own fingers into the ink of comics. Yet my drive has always traveled down a creepier path than the suited heroes. 

The strange and abnormal have always fascinated me. Those strange superstitions we do, like avoiding sidewalk cracks to preserve our mother’s spines. There’s a hideous sort of logic there that compels us to comply even though sensible logic proves otherwise. 

The bizarre urban legend or myth that persists in our memory despite having no concrete proof. Hauntings and ghost stories get my mind buzzing and often this comes out in the form of stories and novels. 

Yet my brain seeks other ways. Thus the Teeny Haunts was born. Here I will give you short creepy tales pulled from some form of half-truth — be it local legend or haunted superstition. These are the tales that haunt my brain and I’d like to have a little company in the viewing.

Look to this site on Wednesdays at 4:44 am for the bi-weekly drop.

Creepily yours,

Tim Kane

The Joy and Sorrow of Mistletoe

I’m a huge fan of folklore and the history behind traditions. Here’s what I dug up on Mistletoe, everyone’s favorite kissing plant.

It turns out that Avengers fans will recognize their favorite villain in the mistletoe story. Yes, Loki is responsible for more mischief. But, we’re ahead of ourselves. First let’s go the the number two power in the Norse universe (and one that seems to be absent in the Marvel films): Frigga. Like Odin, she could also see the future, but was less doom and gloom about it.

800px-FriggSpinning

“Frigga Spinning the Clouds” by John Charles Dollman

She gave birth to her son, Balder, on the winter solstice. He, being the god of light and truth, fits the season well as the days slowly grow longer leading up to the summer solstice. However, she also received a dream that her son would die. She asked all manner of things in the world to swear an oath to never hurt Balder. This was easy because he was the popular type, with a sunny disposition. (Yes I know, you can hate me now.)

balder

The Marvel version of Balder

The one she passed up was mistletoe. Accounts vary. Some say that mistletoe was too young and immature. Another version says that is was too small and inconsequential. Needless to say, this turned into Balder’s Achilles Heel.

The gods, being the ones to push things to the limit, decided to test Balder’s invulnerability. They hurled all sorts of weapons at him, including Thor’s axes. None harmed him. Loki sidled up to Hod, the blind god of darkness. Loki had fashioned a dart (some versions say an arrow, but mistletoe is tiny, so I buy the dart version). He helped Hod aim and shot it toward Balder, striking the god right in heart.

balder_died

Balder being Killed by Hod and Loki

At this point the story splits into a happy ending and a sad one. Let’s do the sad one first.

Balder died and went to Niflheim. The goddess Hel promised to return Balder to life if every living thing shed a tear for him. Loki again twisted the knife by assuming the form of the giantess Thok. In this form, he refused to cry, dooming Balder to remain in Niflheim forever.

The gods saw through Loki’s deception. The trickster transformed to a salmon to escape. And he almost slipped away. Except his brother, Thor, nabbed him. Loki was then bound in a cave with venom dripping on his chest until Ragnarok.

Now the happy ending.

After being struck by the mistletoe dart, Frigga cried over her fallen son. She cried so much, that mistletoe took pity and formed milky white berries to represent her tears. Her crying also restored Balder to life. Frigga made the plant a symbol for love and she promised to bestow a kiss on any who passed under it.

You pick the ending. Either way, there’s a lot more to this tiny plant than a seasonal amusement.

Tim Kane