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the life and times of an 18th century hoax
September 21, 2005 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I just finished up reading The Turk by Tom Standage (briefly mentioned in passing here) a biography of the chess-playing automaton that toured Europe and later the Americas during the pivotal transition from the 18th to the 19th century. The Automaton was invented as an exercise in national pride by Wolfgang von Kempelen, who considered it a trifle compared to his experiments with mechanical speech synthesis. As a celebrity, the automaton had historic encounters with Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon, Beethoven, Philidor and Charles Babbage, and fictional encounters with the monarchs Catherine the Great, George III and Frederick II. Standage credits it with influencing the development of the Difference Engine, the power loom, Poe's mystery stories, and Barnum's manipulation of the press. The myths surrounding have even caught James Randi, who seems to have been unaware of a colleague's reconstruction based on notes from the last owner.
posted by KirkJobSluder (7 comments total)

 
Awesome. I had no idea about this, and I'm interested in the Poe angle. Is there evidence presented about this, or is it just noted that Poe worked on articles about the Turk? I mean, it seems to make sense, I'm just wondering.

Also, this duck "[b]ut during the eighteenth century automata of extraordinary ingenuity were being constructed and exhibited across Europe, including Jacques de Vaucanson’s mechanical duck" can be found as a character in Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon, which is a great and funny book. The duck is a kind of Pepe Le Peu character.
posted by OmieWise at 10:11 AM on September 21, 2005


According to the sources I've read on this, early in his career, Poe wrote an explanation of the chess automaton, probably after seeing it in action. Parts of his reasoning are drawn from earlier published attempts to explain the illusion. However, the structure of the explanation in "Maelzel's Chess-Player" would be used again by Poe in "Murders in the Rue Morgue" which would be the foundation for most of the mystery formula popularized by Doyle.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:18 AM on September 21, 2005


Did anyone read Mason and Dixon?
posted by cell divide at 11:08 AM on September 21, 2005


I thought it was great, a return to form after Vineland (which I found unreadable).
posted by OmieWise at 11:49 AM on September 21, 2005


im confused.... according to this wikipedia article the turk was a hoax
posted by sourbrew at 2:09 PM on September 21, 2005


and then i read the title...... shazbot
posted by sourbrew at 2:17 PM on September 21, 2005


After von Kempelen died, the Turk was put on tour by Johann Maelzel, the man who recieved the first patent for the metronome. Maelzel also invented a musical device called the Panharmonicon, but the last known Panharmonicon was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid on Stuttgart.
posted by jonp72 at 5:28 PM on September 21, 2005


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