Thursday, 19 December 2013

Mckay's Magazine Review Ship Of Theseus

A short while ago Doug Dorst tweeted these pages from McKay's Magazine.

They contain pages from a review of Ship of Theseus and are from February 1950.

A brief scan of the review shows that the reviewer is not exactly a fan of the book - "a vulgar ouroboros of a novel, filled to bursting with apathy, anomie, and omphaloskepsis." (Yes I did look that last one up !)

The second page has some adverts and other articles and I am going to work my way through them to see if there are any further clues in them. This post will be updated if any new information comes to light, please let us know in the comments, via twitter or email if you think there is anything new in the article or other material.

This is great news for fans of S. as it means to me that there are other things to come, whether this is a gentle push to get us to look further or just part of a planned activity I don't know, but interesting never the less.

Update 1 - I just realized Edsel B Grimshaw, and this review, is referenced on the Eotvos Wheel Website, on the candidates page

@ObFuSc8 also reminded me that this is mentioned in the book - "Chap7 IIRC along with the obituary). Magazine owned by Bouchard/ARP."

Lady Lobster also points out that it is mentioned on page 106 in Eric's margin note.

Update 2 - The WhoIsStraka Wordpress blog has a transcription of the review.

Update 3 - There was a lot of discussion yesterday about the contents of the review and the adverts, I have collated most of it in a Storify list

I think the main points are -

From one of the adverts an address could be the New York Public Library and a search reveals it has books by Václav Straka - (Link from @CFish6) Does anyone live near the library that could call in and take a look at the books to see if anything is hidden within ?

@ObFuSc8 has posted a list of references used for the adverts in the comments below.

@MyTheseus mentioned the "magic burgoo" mentioned in the review and wondered if this points to anything within the book, a search for links and references was started.

@MyTheseus also said "Review mentions 450 pages in SOT, but there are 456. Six pages missing…" - So does than mean the original version of SoT has been extended for our benefit ?


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, I have put a link in the post above.

  2. This is the best I could get from the small-print ads. Can anyone fill in the missing bits? The numbers especially are really blurry.

    Literary Agent, established 35 years. Manuscripts
    criticized, revised, typed, marketed. Special attention to
    book(?) manuscripts. ???? Catalogue on request.
    Dept. B? Franklin, O.

    Highly recommended for publicaiton of fiction and non-
    fiction. Editorially(?) recognized advice, recommenda-
    tions, edited for revision, sales, publication. Un-
    established writers assisted. Write for information before
    sending manuscripts.
    3(?) West 42nd St., New York City

    We sell ??? stories, articles, books, radio scripts,
    plays. ??? also considered. Constructive criticism for
    new writers. Personal representation for established
    authors. Editing, revision. For information and references,
    ? Madison Ave at ? St, New York, NY

    All subjects, out-of-print, rate, etc. Special items for
    collections? ?acquired?. ??? books at publishers' prices postpaid.
    13? Hopedale St, Allston 14?, Boston, Mass.

    Unusual, hard-to-find, out-of-print books at reason-
    able prices. Send your wants. Institutional lists ac-
    cepted. Fast ??? service. No obligation.
    Box 1480-IL?? Los Angeles, California

    13-page catalogue free ??? Co.,
    ? Park Row, New York, NY
    No. ? - unusual literary items

    --print and distribute your manuscript in pamphlet or book
    form. Send for free folder.

    books supplied; also
    geneaolgies; incomplete sets completed; magazine
    back numbers supplied, etc. All subjects, all lan-
    guages. Send your list of book-wants - no obliga-
    tion. We report quickly. Lowest prices.
    17 West 4?th Street, Dept H, New York, N.Y.
    P.S. We also BUY old books and old magazines.

    1. Do you think we need to try and find one of these book finders ? I would love to think there is a copy of some of Straka's other work out there waiting for us to find.

  3. This review is also referenced on p.106 in Eric's margin note: "Edsel Grimshaw particularly hated this scene. Said it was 'contemptuous of readerly desire' to digress from the present action here."

  4. By the way a couple of people have pointed this out, but the review was posted on the 19th of December :-)

  5. Interesting, I did google map search of the Library Service address using streets numbered 40 to 49. 17th W 49th St NY, and it gets you next to Rockefeller Square. 17 West 40th Street NY gets you beside the New York Public Library. I think they might be having some fun with us.

  6. Sometime around the time of the book's release, Mulholland Books had made a comment about how most books are "talked about" around the time of their release and a short while afterward, but that they intended for S. to be "talked about" for a year. (Sadly, I can't recall exactly where I saw that statement anymore. o_O )

    That stuck with me though, especially after was found and after comments by Abrams & Dorst (and the way Dorst answered a question @TK10815 had asked him in NYC). There's obviously more of S. "out-there", so to speak, but I've suspected for awhile now that a bunch of it isn't "out-there" yet -- that is that they are going to release it a bit at a time. Doug Dorst tweeting pics of the Edsel B. Grimshaw review in McKay's Magazine lambasting SoT fits with this approach to releasing ancillary S. information. I'm expecting monthly releases of new tidbits of information, possibly o the 19th of every month. It's interesting to that they chose to have Dorst tweet the review instead of releasing it on the Ilsa Dirks' tumblr or at The chances that this review was already out there and that we failed to find it are minimal. I ran searches (pic match searches, article segment and archive searches) for it and have found nothing.

    The review itself is interesting, though it's haranguing nature isn't surprising since it's been mentioned both in S. and on I'd guess that Dorst wrote it and Melcher Media put the actual pages together with ads, etc. They could have posted/tweeted a clear pic or scan of the review, so I think the blurriness (especially of the ads) is intentional.

    When I first saw the review, just after it was tweeted, I wondered if we were to perhaps locate, or write to, one of the book-finding services listed. Writing to a book-finder the "old-fashioned" way fits with the "love letter to print" nature of S. Since then though, I've had time to search for reference ads the ads in the review could be based on and have found them for most of the classified style ads on the left side of page 2. There have been changes, particularly to the addresses, but I don't know it that is significant or not.

    I'll post some of the examples here, that way everyone can take a look and see if this is something we should pursue or not. There's also the possibility that there's a puzzle of some sort hidden within the 2 pages (either in the ads or the review itself).

  7. Possible reference ads from vintage magazines:

    I'll start from the top and work down and label each ad with it's all-cap heading. You'll notice that some of them recur on many of the reference pages, especially the Laurence Roberts ad.

    The American Mercury, January 1947 p127
    The American Mercury ??? Issue/page
    You'll see already that the Laurence Roberts ad and the Atheist Books ad are pretty ubiquitous.

    The American Mercury, January 1947 p127 (repeated from above)
    The American Mercury, November 1947 p386 (or x in magazine)
    The Saturday Review, April 24, 1948, p43
    The Saturday Review, June 11, 1949, p41
    I haven't found one where the wording & format are exactly the same but the 3rd & 4th ones are the closest (in wording). The ad in our review may be an amalgam. You'll see that the number of his street address moves around slightly over time, but that he was always on 42nd Street. This may have been because his office moved slightly or because of re-numbering of street addresses on 42nd Street. his ad appears in almost every one of the other reference pages I've linked too.

    The American Mercury ??? Issue/page
    The Saturday Review, April 24, 1948, p43
    The Saturday Review, June 11, 1949, p41
    Again, none of them is exact. I found examples with 29 years, but by then she had dropped the "verse is also considered" and just added "verse" after "...adios, plays,..." Melcher Media probably used a composite here as well.

    The Saturday Review, November 10, 1956, p56
    The heading is the same and the address is similar. You'll find the "Allston" added in an ad for "Genealogies" for the same company (Paramount Book Service) further down the page in the same column (just above FRENCH BOOKS). I may be able to find something closer if I keep looking though I doubt it's worth it.

    BOOKFINDERS: I skipped this one. Thee's nothing exact in what I saw so far, but I didn't search specifically for this.

    There's an example in nearly every one of the links I've posted above.

    The Saturday Review, June 11, 1949, p41
    The Saturday Review, March 10, 1956, p41

    The Saturday Review, April 18, 1942, p. 23
    The Saturday Review, August 6, 1949, p165
    The 2nd one is nearly identical.


    1. You can see that at times, simple changes have been made by just omitting some of the words or a the leading numbers in an address. It's not immediately apparent whether this was just part of the vintage reproduction/imitation process, or was done purposely to hide/add information. My guess is that the changes are just cosmetic and that there's probably nothing more here, but who knows. Tiny address changes wouldn't really make a difference on coordinates used for the Eotvos Wheel. And I'm not really seeing anything in the stuff that's omitted/photoshopped out.

  8. "WHO ARE THE MASTERS OF POWER" can be found in this book: The Weatherbeaten Man: A Tale of American Patriotism -- (Cochrane Publishing Company, 1911 - United States - 229 pages)
    Link to quote within book

    I haven't had time to look through it or see if it might be related somehow.

    1. That is interesting. Here is the quote and a few lines after.

      "I sometimes think there are only two classes of thoughtful men - those who are the masters of power and those who are utterly without power. The great middle class is unthinking."

      "How do you believe the centralization of power is accomplished in the favored classes?" the General asked.

      There's that theme - central power - again.

  9. The only book available for loan would be Meet Czechoslavakia. The other two require the person to go to the 42nd Street Library. I'm originally from NYC (I live in NY but I'm about 2 1/2 hours by train now) and used to do research there. When the book is for in library use only, you have to sit in an open area and read it. When you hand it back, they do examine the book when you return it. I never tried to slip a piece of paper in or scribble anything. I'm guessing they (whoever runs the ARG) wouldn't deface a book at the 42nd Street library for an ARG but slipping something in could be possible but highly unlikely. When you hand it back, the "librarian" (or whoever that person is, checks it out. Pretty thoroughly.

    1. If JJ asked-perhaps the library would join in on the game?

  10. Here is a detailed word study on the usage and placement of omphaloskepsis in the review.

    1. The paper has a crease going right through the middle of the ship and up and down. Wonder if we should navel gaze at the letters it goes through in the text?

  11. Reminds me of the Super 8 ARG, in which two old newspapers were overlapped to reveal a cut-out message. Still can't find anything. Also, I'm new to the game. Thought I'd wait to participate after I'd finished the book.

  12. FYI - thought I would pass on another Straka book that I came across. My guess is that it isn't anything of significance, but in looking at the full entry for Meet Czechoslovakia @ the NY public library, I noticed that the translator was Leonora Leff -- Leonora Leff led me to, where I found another book by Václav Straka published in 1964 (offered for sale):

    Die Tschechoslowakei heute. (i.e., Czechoslovakia Today)
    Straka, Vaclav:
    Bookseller: Antiq. Bookfarm/ Sebastian Seckfort
    (Leipzig, S, Germany)

    1. There are multiple editions of Vaclav Straka's books/pamphlets in different languages. Found some in Italian and French also. I guess to spread the propaganda of the time. Good sleuthing though poking around at Leonora Leff :)

  13. On p94 (second page) of the review, the title of above the classified ads is CITY POSTS. That strikes me as interesting. I don't think that is how similar sections were titled in 1950 - or ever. Maybe I'm wrong? But combine that with the book titles on the page (THE LIGHT and MOONLIGHT), and it reminds me of light posts in the city. In Chapter 1, there are boys throwing rocks at the street lights that hide when S walks by. And later, if I remember correctly, Eric refers to the Miracle at Braxenholm being a celebration of the first streetlights in the city?

  14. "The Light" -- Two Shoes Publishing -- might be a reference to "Goody Two Shoes" -- a book that could be used for "Lenten reading" -- and this seems significant:

    “The question of the authorship of the book is still an unsettled one.” (p.9)

    (Anonymous. “Goody Two-Shoes / A Facsimile Reproduction of the Edition of 1766.” Available in multiple formats here ).

    1. Bird references aplenty. Mrs. Ducklington and Sir William Dove appear in Part I, but in Part II, Chapter I, Mrs. Margery Two Shoes (now a principal/teacher) teaches a raven (Ralph) "how to speak, spell, and read" and a pidgeon (Tom) "how to spell and read, though not to talk, and he performed all those extraordinary Things which are recorded of the famous Bird, “that was some Time since advertised in the Haymarket, and visited by most of the great People in the Kingdom." The raven, pidgeon, and a skylark (Tippy), along with a lamb (Will), dog (Jumper) are her ushers/assistants...

  15. The weirdest thing for me is the title, "The Cipher's Progress"

    The ciphers in SOT were all (apparently) written by FXC. Jen and Eric are apparently the first people in the academic world to solve them.

    As far as I know no other Straka works contained hidden ciphers (J+E mention that Corliolis had "puzzles" that were solved by the Eotvos wheel, but whether these were secret messages to the reader OR puzzles the character solved in the book is unclear)

    So where did this reviewer come up with such a title?

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Hello. I've said I live about 2 1/2 to 3 hours by train from NYC. I'm over in Orange County, NY these days. I have a 14 month old so I pretty much thought I can't get over to the 42nd Street Library to go check out that Straka book(s). As it turns out, my hubby is willing to babysit for the entire day (round trip it's a day trip for me). So I called the library and asked what I needed to do to get the books. As it turns out, two of the books are not at the 42nd Street Library. It is stored in an offsite facility and requests must be made 2 days in advance so they can retrieve the books and have it at the 42nd Street Library on the appointed day. This surprised me. So okay, I put in the request for 2 of the books and the 3rd must be requested in person and is available onsite. I'll be going on Friday. I am allowed to make photocopies, scan or take pictures of the pages (without flash). I'll let you know how it goes.

    1. Good luck! I think its a terrific long shot, but it should be a great excuse for an adventure to NYC regardless of what you find. Given that the books are definitely real-- they show up in a search from the library of congress-- I take it you're anticipating that maybe something has been stashed between the pages?

    2. Thanks! Well, there was some hope that perhaps there is a clue. Honestly, I didn't think so but Doug Dorst re-tweeted a tweet from the Cincinnati Library that says "The answers you seek may be found at the library." SFiles22 was hoping someone could go over there. It's worth a shot. It would be amazing to find something but if not, at least that can finally be ruled out. If I see an S symbol in the book, I think a chill will go down my spine.

    3. Thanks very much for going, will love to hear the results :-)

  18. Oh- yes-exciting! That is a little bit of a negative that 2 books are offsite. Seems like cluemakers wouldn't be expecting people to call ahead. Maybe that just means the one onsite is the jackpot. Have a good trip!

  19. Thanks everybody for your best wishes! I have returned. The trip was not wasted. My 1st blog on the trip and some initial findings.

    1. Did anyone make copies of what she found? >__> her blog no longer exists...

  20. Back to the McKay's pages.... I was reading some comments on Mystimus' blog and he had a commenter that made reference to Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows (ciphers, Shakespeare, hidden plays). Turns out there is a clue to Michael Gruber in the ad for Moonlight. Which means there could be a lot more going on with the pages. I think The Light ad might be an anagram (no clue where to start).


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