“I’m fascinated with
how primitive the
human mind still is.
It can be misdirected
The Android Clarinetist was the poster child
for a massive 2001 exhibition at the Getty Center
titled Devices of Wonder. Gaughan appreciated the
opportunity to introduce the public to several of his
own wonderful devices, including a re-creation of a
famous robot named The Turk, who played chess
against the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte and Ben
Franklin and was written up by Edgar Allan Poe.
The Turk was built in 1770 by Hungarian inventor
Wolfgang von Kempelen. Then the world’s most
advanced automaton, The Turk drew huge crowds
as it toured Europe and America. To satisfy doubting
Thomases, von Kempelen would open the machine
to reveal a system of gears and levers resembling
a wristwatch’s grand complication. Of course, The
Turk turned out to be a hoax anyway: a human chess
master hid inside the cabinet. In 1854, The Turk
was destroyed in a fire and instantly became the
stuff of legend. A century later, engravings of the
machine reprinted in magic magazines caught
“I kept asking myself how they hid a full-size
person in there with all the gears and levers?”
Gaughan recalls. “So I decided to rebuild it.”
Twenty years, three prototypes, and more than a
few dollars later, Gaughan’s Turk is a near-perfect
re-creation of von Kempelen’s. He even replicated
the original Turk’s chessboard that wasn’t caught
in the blaze. The reborn Turk is a marvel to behold,
but even a close examination begs the question that
captured Gaughan’s imagination: how does a person fit inside the box with all the mechanics? When
asked, Gaughan doesn’t miss a beat.
“You’ve got to keep some of the magic alive,” he
says with a wry smile.
MAKE Editor-at-large David Pescovitz is co-editor of boing
boing.net and a research director at Institute for the Future.
36 Make: Volume 13