Monday, August 29, 2016

Does this Mystery Artifact Raise a Red Flag?

Good afternoon! 

Are you ready for a new mystery artifact? Here’s this week’s challenge!

It’s a metal artifact. It has two sections, the first being a wide base that has been painted red. 

 One side of this base part has a small handle attached. There's also a twist-on cap on this part, opposite the handle.  

There's also a sticker label that should be on the front here, where the red is a lighter shade.

The second part is the narrower top section, also made of metal, but without a paint job. 

This section has a removable cover, and under the cover, it looks like this:

Lastly, towards the bottom of the upper section of the artifact, a wire is connected on either side, which extends to a hook at the end. 

What is your purpose, little hook?

Just so you know the scale we’re talking about, here’s the measurements:  It is about 8 inches tall, the diameter of the red base part is about inches and the diameter of the top part is 3 1/4 inches. The wire is 8 inches from its connection to the artifact to the end of the hook. 

Do you have a guess as to what this mystery could be? We always like to hear to your guesses, so don't be shy!  You can comment here, on our Facebook pagetweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always take a look in person and see all the great stuff happening at the museum!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Did This Mystery Artifact Catch Your Eye? Time to Reveal It!


Perhaps you guessed this one correctly, or perhaps you had no idea, but today we will be talking about this mystery artifact:

It’s a mousetrap! We got one guess of "animal trap" which was essentially correct! Hooray!

To be a little more specific, this kind of mousetrap is called a “delusion trap" and was invented in 1879. That name seems a little mean to me, but let’s look at exactly why they call it that. 

To start, we have to look at how exactly this trap works. The bait, usually cheese of course, is inserted  on the little ledge at the back of the left side of the trap. Then how are the mice trapped? The metal floor on the the left side is basically a see-saw. It is tilted towards the front normally, but as the critter walks toward its bait, the metal floor tilts toward the back of the trap, blocking the way back out. 

From there, they’d try to get out of the trap through a little hole to the side of the entrance, which can be seen in the photo below: 

They are then stuck in the left side of the trap for however long it takes for someone to notice they’re in there. Because the trap is set up like that, it’s possible for many mice to get stuck in the same trap. 

Or, here’s a much simpler description of what happens in this trap:

"The mouse goes in to get the bait,
And shuts the door by his own weight,
And then he jumps right through a hole,
And thinks he's out; but bless his soul,
He's in a cage somehow or other,
And sets the trap to catch another."

There is little information about what is done with the mice after they are stuck in the “holding area” in this trap. It seems there’s two ways the mice could be dealt with after being caught alive like this. One, the more humane way, is to let them go in the wild very far away from one’s home, so they can’t find their way back. However, there’s also the more permanent way of getting rid of these mice, by killing them. For the delusion traps, that was usually done by putting them in water so that the mice would die of drowning. 

Or something a little more unfortunate could cause the mouse's demise. As in the case of one particular catch-alive trap in a museum in England, it could get stuck in a mousetrap and be found a while later. How sad! This is a very strange story, you should check it out!

Thanks for reading about this Mystery Artifact! We'll be back soon with a new one. We'd love it if you came to visit to check out many of our previous mysteries in person, or just to have a look around the museum. The Smithsonian Traveling Exhibit Water/Ways won't be around at our museum much longer so check it out while you still can! We are open 10 am - 5 pm Monday through Saturday, and 1 pm-5pm on Sundays. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Guess What! It's a Mystery Artifact!

 I often say how obvious these are but I really do feel that way about this one! Still, it's an interesting little artifact so let's take a look at it! 

Here’s the next mystery artifact for you to puzzle over (or not):

It’s a small box (4 inches by 5 1/4 to be exact). The front, the base and the mechanisms inside are made of metal. The top, sides, and back are all made of wood. 

On the front is a large hole leading to a flat metal surface that goes all the way back to the back of the object. To the left of that, there’s a series of smaller holes cut into the metal front. 

Finally, there’s a panel on the top that can be removed to look into the inside. I could go on and on about the inside of this artifact, but I think that’s best saved for the reveal. 

What is it? Let us know what you think (or what you know!). You can comment here, on our Facebook pagetweet the answer at us, or comment on Instagram! Of course, you can always come see us and take a look in person!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Mystery Solved is Music to My Ears.

Hello again!

Today I get to tell you a little bit more about this strange little mystery artifact. 

It’s a phonograph cylinder! Thanks to John for your guess on the blog!

But why is it a cylinder? Didn’t phonographs use old-fashioned records? The big flat discs? 

Well, yes. But before the invention of that kind of record, there were these things. They were small cylindrical records, that worked pretty much the same way. The lines around the outside of the cylinder are actually grooves, much like the grooves on a record. The phonograph was invented by Thomas Edison in 1877, while he was working on a way to transcribe telegraphs in order to play one on repeat. He first experimented with recording sound by embossing onto wax paper, then moved on to doing the same on cylinders covered in tin foil. The tin foil, however, only lasted for a few plays of the recording. The novelty of the invention wore off, and Edison instead started working on the incandescent lightbulb. 

However, eventually, new cylinders were developed for phonographs, made of three different types of wax mixed together. Most early wax phonograph cylinders were generally brown, and looked like this:

Our mystery artifact, though, is an example of the next step in these cylinders. Called “Blue Amberol Records,” they are made of celluloid, a type of hard plastic. The strength of these cylinders is that they were “indestructible,” or at least they were much less likely to break down or degrade in quality after numerous plays through. These are actually even more durable than the disc records that came after them!

These kinds of cylinders were played on machines that look somewhat like what you expect when you hear the word "phonograph." This particular one in our collection is called an Amberola (like the Amberol records!) and was made by the Edison company:

As you can tell, the cylinder would have been put on the apparatus in the center. Then, that would spin, and the needle would move down the cylinder to play the record.

Now, why exactly don't we use these kinds of records anymore? Rather, why did the big flat records win out over these? Much of the reason was because the record-players and records were easier and cheaper to mass produce. Also, flat discs were way easier to store.  In addition, as recording technology developed and the double-sided record was created, the simple fact of the longer duration gave disc records a clear advantage. Cylinders could only hold about 4 minutes worth of music (or whatever was recorded on them).  By around 1912, it was clear that cylinders were on their way out, and discs were here to stay (well, for a while anyway). 

Oh, and if you were wondering what was on this particular cylinder, see for yourself!

Thanks for reading! We will be back soon with a new mystery artifact so stay tuned! And as always, please come and see us, these interesting mystery artifacts featured here on the blog, the new Water/Ways exhibit, and much much more!