The Art of Darkness

Escape Rooms

August 6th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Escape Room“We were ushered into the main part of the cavern, which was about the size of a two-car garage. It looked like Indiana Jones had set up a field lab, and then abandoned it. It contained a large table with broken shards of pottery, strange artifacts with symbols carved into them, guidebooks, hand written notes, cabinets of mineral specimens, a gram scale, a telescope, test equipment of various kinds, and many other odds and ends. These clues had been left there by an ancient civilization, and it was our job to decipher them.”

Escape Rooms are a type of real-life adventure game in which you are “trapped” in a room with other participants and have to use elements in the room to escape within a set time limit. They’re based on the “escape the room” video games in which the player is locked in a room and must explore their surroundings to escape. You have to be observant in order to find clues and use critical thinking skills to solve various puzzles which help you figure out how to escape.

Commercial venues for these games have been around for about 10 years–the earliest was probably “Origin,” based on Agatha Christie mysteries–but they’ve become hugely popular worldwide in the past few years. In the US there are locations in Washington DC, Los Angeles, and other cities nationwide (that last company also has locations in Madrid and London). Escape Room International lists locations in Australia, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and Real Escape Game seems to have a rotating series of temporary locations. There’s also a large list of Escape Rooms worldwide at the Escape Room Directory.

Over on BoingBoing, Mark Frauenfelder describes a game he and his daughter participated in. It sounds like it’d be an unusual group activity for a birthday party, family outing, or even the dreaded corporate team-building exercise.

If hurrying to solve puzzles and decipher clues before you run out of air, the Elder Gods come through the portal, or some other horrible fate sounds like fun to you, find an Escape Room nearby and give it a try.

(Bonus link: Gamasutra has some tips for designing your own escape game.)

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July 23rd, 2015 by Cobwebs

Shudder LogoOh, I think I’m about to make a few readers very happy: There’s a brand-new movie streaming service devoted entirely to horror.

Shudder is an all-horror service backed by AMC. It’s currently in browser-only beta, but will soon be available as iPhone and Android apps and also as a Roku channel. Right now you can sign up for a 14-day free trial and stream as many horror movies as you want. After that, the service is $4.99 per month or $49.99 for a year.

Of particular interest is the curated collections, which lets you pick your favorite poison: Categories include things like “Haunted Habitations,” “Romantic Bloodsuckers,” “The Unraveling Mind,” “Comedy of Terrors,” and dozens more.

If you don’t feel like browsing the catalog, the service also has a feature which streams movies from its library 24/7 and you can just tune in and watch whatever they’re playing. It’s the modern equivalent of flipping through channels on a lazy Sunday afternoon and stumbling on a random horror movie.

At the moment Shudder is available only for US users, but their FAQ says that they plan to go global in the near future. (If you can’t wait, it may be possible to get around the country restrictions with anonymizing software.)

Most reviews seem quite positive, noting that the library has more depth than services like Netflix and should continue to build. If you can’t get enough horror, this is definitely worth looking into.

(via Burgeoning Lads of Science)

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Steampunk Inspiration

June 16th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Map RoomJen of EPBOT is renovating one of the rooms in her house into an amazing steampunk rumpus room, and has a fantastic series of posts on her build progress. It’s a trove of great DIY tutorials, with build notes on DIY window cornices, stereo speakers, and TV cabinets.

One of her recent entries was a Bioshock-inspired picture frame, in which she mentioned in passing that she’d found some design ideas from this Flickr set of an area in Tokyo DisneySea. A little sleuthing suggests that it’s specifically the Mysterious Island portion of the park, which is all themed around the works of Jules Verne.

Having worked for the Mouse for several years I never thought I’d want to set foot in a Disney property ever again, but suddenly I really want to go to Tokyo.

Having worked for the Mouse for several years I can also say that the Imagineers who design the look-and-feel of the Disney properties don’t miss a trick. There are all kinds of fantastic ideas for decorating in the High Steampunk style. (The photos aren’t labeled as to exactly where in the park they were taken, but from the nautical details I’m going to guess that it’s probably the queue area of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction.)

There’s a Tokyo Disney fan site with some more good photos of the Mysterious Island area of the park, and Dejiki has several others.

If you’ve been thinking about adding some steampunk elements to your decor, EPBOT’s design series and the Mysterious Island theming would be an excellent jumping-off point.

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Problem Glyphs

June 9th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Problem GlyphA sigil is a symbolic illustration used in magic, representing a desired outcome. Artist Eliza Gauger has a project called Problem Glyphs in which she draws sigils which represent the solution to problems sent in by her audience.

A lament of, “i do not belong anywhere” results in a pair of badass snails and the motto, “Build your home and carry it.” An astronomer who “chose science over faith” and was rejected by their religious fundamentalist family is comforted with “You are welcome amongst the stars.”

Most “traditional” sigils tend to be a spare set of lines, but Gauger’s drawings are bursting with movement and detail. She takes requests (although her request form notes that there are about 600 of ’em in the queue right now so it might be a while before she gets to yours) and doesn’t ask for payment, although she accepts donations through PayPal or Patreon. She also sells stickers of some of her glyphs in her Etsy shop.

Other artists have been inspired by her work to try their own glyphs, and she frequently features them on the site as well. If you’re facing a tough problem, have a look through her archives for something suitable.

(Hat tip to Bruno)

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Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches as Pets

June 4th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Hissing CockroachWe here at Shadow Manor are a pet-friendly group, and in the past I’ve mentioned critters like bearded dragons and rats as being excellent pets which are relatively low-maintenance, don’t require a lot of space, and are rather gothy to boot. We’ve recently, rather by accident, expanded into the invertebrate category, and I am here to tell you about the awesomeness that is Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.

You may have encountered these guys before; they’re hardy and very easy to care for, making them popular insect exhibits at zoos, museums, and the little invertebrate sideshows that a lot of pesticide companies seem to sponsor. They’re also often raised as food for insect-eating pets such as lizards and birds, which is what I originally bought mine for: I was mail-ordering mealworms for my lizard and noticed that the same company sold roaches, so I ordered a few for him to try. When they arrived I decided that they were: a) Probably a bit too big for the lizard to eat, and b) Really fricking cool, so I decided to keep them as pets instead.*

They have a lot to recommend them: Unlike common household roaches, these guys are clean, gentle forest dwellers. They don’t bite or sting, and they’re wingless. They don’t stink up their enclosure the way some insects (like crickets) do, and they’re ridiculously low-maintenance. They’re quiet and require very little space. They’re an attractive bug, with a carapace that resembles polished mahogany (when they molt, they’re briefly a lovely, creamy ivory with shockingly-noticeable black eyespots). They’re also really big, which makes them fun to watch and is also handy for education: I plan to use mine to help some local Boy Scouts earn their “insect” merit badge. Also, since they live peaceably in a large colony, you can easily breed them for lizard food.

Their hissing, incidentally, is very cool. When the adults are disturbed they hiss like a teakettle, and it’s a little startling until you get used to it. One of mine likes to hang on the roof of the cage, and any nearby movement will make him give a warning hiss. I rather like the experience of walking past an aquarium and having something hiss at me from the shadows. Makes me feel like Morticia Addams.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Start a Gothic Book Club

June 3rd, 2015 by Cobwebs

The Graveyard BookOoh, here’s a lovely idea to help while away the time until Halloween: Start a book club oriented around gothic books.

A club can consist of local people who periodically meet to discuss a book, an online forum where members can post discussion and comments, or some combination of the two. A local group has the advantage of real-time conversation (which, for a small number of people, could also be done online with Skype), more incentive to actually read the latest book, a convivial atmosphere (with snacks!), and an excuse to get out of the house occasionally. An online club is great for geographically-diverse groups or for people with busy schedules who may not be able to carve out time to meet on a regular basis.

Real Simple and LitLovers have some useful tips for organizing a book club in meatspace, and many of the suggestions (such as choosing a theme) are applicable for virtual clubs as well. For an online club, you’ll need a discussion tool: A blog (free at hosts like WordPress), a forum (like ProBoards), or a group (such as Yahoo Groups, Google Hangouts, or Facebook). Goodreads has a group feature that’s oriented toward book discussion, and there’s a site called BooksterClub which seems to specialize in online book clubs.

Once you’ve organized the club, it’s time to select books. You can either focus on a specific subgenre–for instance, Goth Shopaholic has 12 months’ worth of suggestions for “Goth, Horror and Dark” biographies–or consider a theme like “Gothic” (vintage or modern), Classic Horror, or the works of a particular author.

If you’ve regretted not setting aside more time for reading, joining a book club is great motivation. If it’s a gothic book club, well, so much the better.

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Nerd Wars

May 19th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Nerd WarsHere’s a pretty brilliant idea for fiber artists with unfinished projects languishing in a corner: Compete in a Tournament of Nerdery with like-minded geeks.

Nerd Wars is an ongoing competition amongst Ravelry members which features monthly challenges “focused in the areas of intellectual, scientific, technical, philanthropy, nerd culture and geek pride.”

Teams (each team unified by their geekery. For example, a person might be on the DC Comics, Dr. Who, or SCA team) “compete” by completing knitting/crochet/whatever projects that answer a set challenge (there will be a few challenges each round to choose from).

Each project you complete earns your team points. At the end of three rounds (each round being about a month long each), the team with the most points wins.

What do they win? Bragging rights, a sweet badge for their profile or a Ravatar. And, prizes!

The tournament is hopefully going to be a way to motivate people to finish projects on a (ultimately arbitrary by real life standard, but totally helpful and fun here) deadline, and also meet other Ravelers with similar geeky interests and form friendships with folks.

You can choose to join teams with names like “Brass Octopus,” “Hellmouth,” “Hogwarts Express,” “Iron Throne,” “Macabre,” and many others (Team Hellmouth and Team Browncoats recently joined up in a “Children of Joss” event to make projects inspired by Whedon’s characters). You can also join in the “Ninja Warrior” category, in which your points don’t count against other teams; ninja warriors only challenge themselves.

If you need an excuse to start a crafty project (I, myself, have a Doctor Who Fair Isle pattern that glares at me balefully from the closet) or just want to meet like-minded crafters, this sounds like a lot of fun. (This does require a Ravelry account, but registration is free.)

(via Jan)

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Stilt Spirit DIY

May 14th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Stilt SpiritIn 2010 artist Melissa Irwin and her husband built some amazing Halloween costumes inspired by the landstriders from Dark Crystal. The arms are extra-long medical crutches and the legs were stilts from The Spinsterz; the bodies are mainly upholstery foam and fabric. She notes:

We tried different faces and masks, but nothing seemed to creep out people more than the blank and expressionless human face. On Halloween we stand in yards to pretend like we are decorations then follow families down the street. FREAKS THEM OUT!!! We also walk in our town on random days in the year just to surprise people.

Here’s a time-lapse video of a couple of their build “test runs,” plus some footage of them walking around and creeping people out:

Response to the costumes has been so overwhelming that she is now offering a downloadable set of instructions for $10US on Etsy.

I love how weird and organic these things look, as though they’ve emerged from a forest that exists only in your nightmares. The build is a little ambitious in terms of price–forearm crutches are around $75 and stilts are over $200–but if you view it as a long-term investment in giving people the heebie-jeebies for years to come it’s worth it.

(via Geyser of Awesome)

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Light-Up Skirt Tutorial

May 7th, 2015 by Cobwebs

Fairy SkirtCostumer Angela Clayton, with whom you may already be familiar from when her Elsa the Snow Queen costume went viral, made a gorgeous “Christmas Angel” costume which featured a light-up skirt. You can see more photos of the costume here and read her build notes here and here. (While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of her costumes, particularly the adorable Halloween-themed flower dress near the bottom of this page.)

Here’s a short video of the light-up effects:

Clothing with battery-powered lights has been around for ages–I fondly recall a 50’s-vintage skirt belonging to my aunt which featured a felt Christmas tree with working lights on the branches–but modern wiring, lights, and battery requirements are vastly improved and easy to use. Today, if you want to add dramatic lighting to the folds of your wizard’s cloak or wear an appliqued bat with glowing eyes, there are tons of supplies and resources which make it easy.

In addition to Clayton’s tutorial, there’s a good easy-to-follow tutorial at Gizmodo, and some some general tips at CreativeBug. If you’re feeling more ambitious, MIT professor Leah Buechley has some pretty awesome instructions for creating a tank top with a microcontroller that can be programmed to spell messages or run a Life session.

Wired has a good overview of materials for sewable circuitry, and you can buy supplies at SparkFun or Evil Mad Scientist.

A simple circuit with a couple of LEDs is an easy project that’ll give you confidence to try more elaborate effects. It’s also a good intro to the world of programmable circuitry; after you’re comfortable adding circuitry to clothing, you can move on to elaborate Jack-o’lantern light displays.

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Dark Fruitcake

April 22nd, 2015 by Cobwebs

I had to write down this recipe for a friend recently and decided that fruitcake is sufficiently Victorian that it could be shared here as well. I could lie and say that I’m posting it in April as a treat for my Antipodean friends heading into fall, but to be honest I just don’t want it knocking around in my Drafts folder until October.

Frankly, if you make the alcoholic version it’ll keep until next Christmas anyway.

Unlike the sad technicolor bricks that get called “fruitcake” by people pretending it isn’t a last-minute gift that they bought on the way to your house, this cake is rich, dense, moist, and bursting with flavor. It’s also a perfect way to use up dried fruit left over from other baking projects. I toss the dried cherries left over from these cookies, the dried figs that were part of a chocolate fondue, the dates from sticky toffee pudding, and all of the half-packages of raisins that seem to accumulate out of nowhere into the freezer until holiday baking time rolls around. Grocery stores also sell chopped candied citrus peel and/or “fruitcake mix” with radioactive cherries around Christmas; I frequently wait until after the holidays and buy it on clearance, then freeze it too; it’ll last practically forever. Then I gather up all of my dried fruit and divide it between these cookies and the fruitcake below. (As a bonus, knowing that you’ve got an eventual use for leftover dried fruit means that you’re more likely to try interesting-sounding recipes that use it.)

This makes one large fruitcake, serving 8-16 (it’s pretty rich, so closer to 16)

1/2 C butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs
1/2 C molasses
2 C + 2 T all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp mace
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 C milk
4 C mixed dried fruit (I like to go heavy on the raisins and currants and include at least a little candied citrus peel)
1 C chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts are nice)

Preheat oven to 325F. Butter and flour a 10″ springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.

In a small bowl combine 2 C flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.

Cream the butter in a mixer on medium speed until light, then add the brown sugar and cream again until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then stir in molasses. Add flour mixture and stir until almost combined, then add the milk and stir until combined.

Toss the fruit and nuts with the remaining 2 T of flour until coated, and fold into the batter until well mixed. Pour batter into springform pan and bake 60 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack, then run a knife around the edges of the pan and pop the sides. When completely cool, peel the parchment paper off the bottom and store airtight for up to a week.

Optionally, you can “feed” the fruitcake with liquor: Once cool, wrap it in a couple of layers of cheesecloth. Sprinkle about 2 T of rum or brandy over the top of the fruitcake, then wrap tightly in foil and store in a cool place. Every few days, unwrap the foil, sprinkle another couple of T of alcohol on the other side of the cake (so if you sprinkled the top last time, turn it over and sprinkle the bottom) and then re-wrap. Repeat for at least a week, or until the cake is sitting in a corner, hiccupping and talking emotionally to the toaster. When doing the liquored-up version, I like to make the cake at least a month in advance; once well-soaked it’ll last practically forever.

Also optionally, although it makes for a tasty and festive presentation: Get a 7-oz tube of marzipan and a 24-oz package of fondant (both in the baking aisle of grocery stores or available at Amazon). Roll out the marzipan into a circle large enough to fit the top of the cake and place on top, then roll out the fondant into a circle large enough to cover the cake; tuck any ragged edges underneath.

For bonus points, you can make your own marzipan and/or fondant (either the “real” way or the marshmallow version).

A little slice of this eaten with coffee is a revelation.

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