You open one of the 999 boxes on this floor and find...
You open one of the 999 boxes on this floor and find...
Yesterday evening I was, for reasons, talking to someone and coming up with strange and unsettling things you could do with surplus rooms in a house. Here are some of my entries:
- One room has all the walls mirrored but one of the mirrors is secretly a screen and doesn't flip the image.
- One room is perfectly normal but for some reason the ceiling is a map of England. There is a "You are here" label on it. The label is, confusingly, pointing at a completely different city.
- There is a pool room. We couldn't decide whether this was the sort with water or the sort where you hit a ball with a stick, so it's both.
- A room with a microphone and speakers that generate an artificial echo that is on very slightly too long a delay to be comfortable, and also sometimes you'd swear there's another voice in the background.
- An entire room which is just a giant playground for cats.
- A room whose walls are an ant farm.
I could keep going pretty much indefinitely.
- One room has many cupboards, but all the cupboards doors look identical to doors to other rooms.
- A room with a window in it that on closer inspection looks out on the wrong side of the house.
- A perfectly normal living room in which all the furniture is for some reason clad in brightly coloured padded foam.
- A room with central heating that automatically adjusts to a temperature the current occupants will find uncomfortable.
- A room where all the walls are lined with drawers.
- A room that generates a slightly unpleasant noise every time someone talks, gradually training people into silence.
- A room that is perfectly normal but all the wall sockets are that of a different country.
Each of these took me no more than a couple of seconds to come up with, and I feel like I could do this for longer, though I expect I'd start to get a little repetitive at the 100 mark.
- A room whose walls are all different colours. When the room is occupied and nobody is looking at a particular wall, its colour changes very slightly.
- A room whose walls "wrap around" visually so that looking at a wall you see the view from the opposite wall, stretching out into infinity.
There's only so much you can do with walls.
- A reading room with several comfy chairs. Next to each is a small table with a pile of books on it. When you take a book off the pile, another one emerges from underneath to replenish the pile. Putting a book back on the pile does not cause any books to disappear.
- Two identical rooms in separate parts of the house that are "sound linked". A cunning arrangement of microphones and directed speakers means that not only do you hear everything happening in the other room, you also hear it as if it were coming from the corresponding place in this room.
I'm using screens and speakers a lot, but that's because they're so versatile. I'm sure I could do without.
- A room whose walls and floors are a giant jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are lightly magnetic so they stick to the wall easily. The puzzle is of the view you would see from the outside of the house looking in that direction.
- A room where all the furniture is metal and is very gently electrified so you get a light tingle when you touch it.
- A room filled with tiny ballerina dolls. As long as the lights are off, they will dance.
The reason I'm able to do this is that this sort of idea generation is something I just practiced a lot as a child. It's easy to the point of being slightly surprising that other people can't do this so easily. "How do you come up with all of these things?" "IDK I just think about the subject matter and reach for the place where ideas come from".
This sort of example is particularly easy because "normal" is so tightly constrained. Everyone does most things in broadly the same way - there's variation, but even the variation is within pretty tightly defined bounds. As a result it's easy to generate interesting ideas by moving at right angles. It's easy to make weird things - you just do something that makes people go "Sure, you could do that, but why would you?"
A lot of where I learned a taste for this sort of thing and developed this skill is, I think, in the Warehouse 23 basement. Someone on Twitter described the Warehouse 23 basement as a kind of proto SCP and that's not wrong but I think misses something important about it: The things in the Warehouse 23 basement are really quite low effort, and that's part of their virtue. It's seconds or minutes of work, not hours, and so you can iterate on the skill of generating them quite easily.
This sort of idea generation is what Edward de Bono calls "lateral thinking". As with all Edward de Bono books, his book of the same is quite annoying, but it is genuinely useful. I'm particularly a big fan of his suggestion of making lists of a fixed size. Committing to generating, say, 100 ideas, forces you to come up with things that you wouldn't otherwise.
Lateral thinking is foundational to a lot of creative processes, because often the way to come up with a good idea is to generate many bad ones and see what resonates, then improve on some of the best or most interesting parts of it, and practicing the ability to do it in a generalised sense is useful.
Often when I think about developing useful general skills I think in terms of very sensible reasonable exercises that develop the skill. The warehouse 23 basement is a nice reminder that you can also just develop skills by having fun.
- There is an elevator room. It doesn't contain an elevator, it's just got lots of pictures of interesting elevators. A low voice is playing in the background, telling you endless interesting facts about elevators.
- There is a room in which every time you say something a small child's voice plays, asking you "But why?"
- There is a room in which anything is possible.