“A Mind-Bogglingly Slow Job”


Released in 1978, The Campaign for North Africa has been called “the most complicated board game ever released.” On each turn a player must:

  • Plan strategic air missions
  • Raid Malta
  • Plan Axis convoys
  • Raid convoys
  • Distribute stores and consume stores
  • Calculate spillage/evaporation of water and adjust all supply dumps
  • Determine initiative
  • Determine weather (hot weather = more evaporation of water)
  • Distribute water
  • Reorganize units
  • Calculate attrition of units short of water and stores
  • Begin building construction
  • Begin training
  • Rearrange supplies
  • Transport cargo between African ports
  • Bring convoys ashore
  • Deploy Commonwealth fleet
  • Ship repair
  • Plan tactical air mission if airplanes are fueled
  • Begin air mission
    • Fight air-to-air combat
    • Fire flak
    • Carry out mission, return to base, airplane maintenance
  • Place land units on reserve
  • Movement:
    • Move units, tracking fuel expenditure and breakdown points vis-a-vis weather
    • Enemy reaction
    • Move more units
  • Combat:
    • Designate each tank and gun as deployed forward or back
    • Plot and fire barrages
    • Retreat before assault
    • Secretly assign all units to anti-armor or close-assault roles
    • Anti-armor fire
    • Adjust ammunition
    • Deploy destroyed tank markers and update unit records to reflect losses
    • Carry out probes and close assaults
  • Release reserves
  • Move rear trucks
  • Begin repair of breakdowns
  • Make patrols
  • Repeat all movement and combat steps a second time
  • Repeat all movement and combat steps a third time

His opponent then completes the same sequence, and that constitutes just one game turn.

Reviewer Luke Winkie estimated that “If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.” Reviewer Nicholas Palmer added, “No doubt the first ten years are the hardest.”


  • Fletcher Christian’s first son was named Thursday October Christian.
  • 16384 = 163 × (8 – 4)
  • Of the 46 U.S. presidents to date, 16 have had no middle name.
  • “It is ill arguing against the use of anything from its abuse.” — Elizabeth I, in Walter Scott’s Kenilworth

Star Trek costume designer William Ware Theiss offered the Theiss Theory of Titillation: “The degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be.”

(Thanks, Michael.)

Two for One


Tod Browning’s iconic 1931 production of Dracula actually resulted in two films. Bela Lugosi shot his scenes during the day, and at night a Spanish-speaking cast performed a separate version, creating a parallel film for the foreign market.

“We shot all night long till next morning because we used exactly the same sets,” actor Lupita Tovar told NPR. “As a matter of fact, we had the same marks the English cast got, we stepped in the same place.”

The Spanish version has a somewhat different plot, with Renfield visiting Castle Dracula at the start. It opened in Havana in March 1931 and in Los Angeles two months later, but its box-office performance was disappointing and it was largely forgotten until a copy was discovered in a New Jersey warehouse in the 1970s. Since then it’s won a new life on DVD.

(Thanks, Abi.)

Hitchcock’s Bomb Theory


There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise,’ and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean. We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchists place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’ In the first case, we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

(Via François Truffaut’s Hitchcock, 1967.)

Long Haul

In Penn & Teller’s 1994 game Desert Bus, you must pilot a bus along an arrow-straight road through 360 miles of featureless desert from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas. There are no passengers, no other vehicles, and no scenery but dead trees and bushes. The bus tends to drift, so you have to work continuously to keep it on the road, but apart from that there is nothing to do. At a top speed of 45 mph, it will take at least 8 hours of continuous attention to reach your destination.

Absolute Entertainment ceased operations before it could release the game, but a press copy came to light in 2000, and since then versions have been released on Android, iOS, and virtual reality. A recurring livestream had raised $6 million for charity by 2019.

(When you reach Vegas, you’re given one point and the option to drive back to Tucson.)


Filmmaker Melton Barker started a novel business in the 1930s: He traveled across the United States, shooting a film in each town using local talent. The residents would gladly pay a fee to see themselves immortalized in a two-reel short, and their support financed the production and Barker’s livelihood until he could reach the next town.

He shot the same film, The Kidnappers Foil, 300 times over 40 years, using the same script and largely the same shots. A young girl named Betty Davis is kidnapped on her birthday, and the town’s children organize a search for her. The finished film, 15 to 20 minutes long, would be screened at local theaters. (The example above was shot in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in February 1937.)

Most of these films have been lost, but the project as a whole was added to the National Film Registry in 2012. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image has a collection of surviving films.

(Thanks, Kevin.)



Composer and bandleader Sun Ra insisted that he wasn’t Herman Blount of Birmingham, Alabama, but an alien from Saturn. In a visionary experience in 1936, he said, he’d learned that “I would speak [through music], and the world would listen. That’s what they told me.”

The story became part of his mystique. Late in life, filling out a hospital admission form, he listed Saturn as his place of birth. When worried nurses summoned help, the psychiatrist said, “This is Sun Ra — of course he’s from Saturn!”

(Ian Simmons, “Mothership Connections,” Fortean Times 244 [January 2009], 30–35, cited in Andrew May, The Science of Sci-Fi Music, 2020.)



J.H. Brown’s 1864 book Spectropia: Or, Surprising Spectral Illusions promises to show “ghosts everywhere, and of any colour.” It accomplishes this by relying on two simple principles: persistence of vision and complementary colors. Readers are directed to stare at any of the figures for 15 seconds and then turn their eyes to a white surface (or the sky); “the spectre will soon begin to make its appearance, increasing in intensity, and then gradually vanishing,” in the color complementary to that of the stimulus.

Try it yourself.

All Together Now


Kurt Vonnegut wrote, “The function of the artist is to make people like life better than before.”

Asked whether he’d ever seen this done, he said, “Yes, the Beatles did it.”

(From Dan Wakefield’s introduction to Vonnegut’s If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?, 2013.)