Thursday, September 17, 2015

Postcards from the desert & the Blunderwood Portable

The revolution in the mailbox keeps hopping. Komrad Van Cleave recently sent me a typewritten card featuring the unearthly landscape of Bryce Canyon.


And this bicycle assemblage was postmarked Black Rock City, Nevada ...

A Blickensderfer at Burning Man! Hats off to Alex Volkov—and thanks for the card.

The Burning Man festival is discussed in my book, where I describe some typewriter installations that have been set up there. I write:  

Burning Man creates a bubble of weirdness within 'the default world' of rational utility. It’s not just a neo-Woodstockian free-for-all, but an experiment in creating a special place and time that operates under a different economy—an economy of the gift, where the ethos is to be generous and pay it forward. Burners devote themselves to the gloriously useless. Not unlike makers, they like to play and tinker for the sheer pleasure of seeing what will happen. What better place for typewriters?

I just wish that the Blunderwood Portable—the ultimate Burning Man typewriter—had appeared in time to make it into my book. (Second edition, maybe?) The Blunderwood was a giant typewriter in the tradition of the gigantic working Underwood that was exhibited at fairs in the first half of this century, and was updated along with the Underwood line ...

The Blunderwood is also in the tradition of the 1937 musical "Ready, Willing, and Able" ...

... and "Typewriter Tip Tip Tip" from "Bombay Talkie" (1970) ...

... and then there are the giant typewriters that repeatedly appear in superhero comics ...

... but let's get to the Blunderwood!

Photo above by Amie Barsky 

Constructed by the Cat and the Cockroach Collective in Boston, the Blunderwood was envisioned as a tribute to Don Marquis' archy & mehitabel, where cockroach archy types e. e. cummings-like poems on a typewriter by jumping on the keys. 

Wouldn't it be fun to write like archy? And thus the Blunderwood was born, with some crowdfunding help. Unlike the old giant Underwood, it was not really a working mechanical typewriter, but some "typed" sheets bearing poems by archy and other texts were displayed on it during the day, and people could climb and dance on the keys. It could also go into typing mode (I presume at night) and display the characters that you stepped on. According to cynthiatravels on Instagram:

It made clicking sounds when you stepped on the keys, projected it onto the screen (you could even see the back), and it ka-ching'ed when it went to the next line!!

Cynthia's photo:

At the end of Burning Man, the Blunderwood was consigned to the flames.

Quite a few wonderful photos of the Blunderwood are available online. Here are some of my favorites. I give credit to the photographer wherever I have a name or an Instagram username. (And if any photographer objects to the presence of a photo here, let me know and I'll remove it.) I don't know who took the photo below.

This one is by Julia Protasova:

by b0uj:

by Danny Hoz:

by deifgiri:

Two by Cory Doctorow, who in the past has promoted typewriter-related news on BoingBoing:

by Steven Smethurst:

by Kirk Anderson:

by Michael & Sandy:

by Michael Holden:

by Dave Rimington:

by Neil Girling:

And a set by Zachary Reiss-Davis ...

... who unfurled a very special sheet of typing ...

... and got a Yes!

Congratulations to Zachary, Kristen, and the Cat and the Cockroach Collective!


  1. Those pictures from Burning Man look like fun, but for some reason none of them show the hotel. Does anyone know if it has a pool? How's the room service? (Thinking of going.)

  2. you bring your own water to the Playa. :D

    Amazing! The Revolution marches on and on!

  3. Yea, you bring many, many gallons of your own water to BurningMan along with your tent or camper or just a van. Good to see the Blunderwood made it. I was following the project and then got busy with other things. I did not keep up with its progress.

  4. I've got some great memories from Bryce Canyon. Jumping up and down on that big ol typewriter will get you in shape real quick!