The Iconic Design of the Doomsday Clock Was Created 75 Years Ago: It Now Says We’re 100 Seconds to Midnight

Image via The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Last year, the fates handed the New York Times‘ Maria Cramer an enviably striking lede: “Humanity is 100 seconds away from total annihilation. Again.” That we all know immediately what she was writing about speaks to the power of graphic design. Specifically, it speaks to the power of graphic design as practiced by Martyl Langsdorf, who happened to be married to ex-Manhattan Project physicist Alexander Langsdorf. This connection got her the gig of creating a cover for the June 1947 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. She came up with a simple image: the upper-left corner of a clock, its hands at seven minutes to midnight.

Asked later why she set the clock to that time in particular, Langsdorf explained that “it looked good to my eye.” That quote appears in a post at the Bulletin addressing frequently asked questions about what’s now known as the Doomsday Clock, “a design that warns the public about how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making. It is a metaphor, a reminder of the perils we must address if we are to survive on the planet.” In the 75 years since its introduction, its minute hand has been moved backward eight times and forward sixteen times; currently it still stands where Cramer reported it as having remained last January, at 100 seconds to midnight. 


To the public of 1947, “midnight” signified above all the prospect of humanity’s self-destruction through the use of nuclear weapons. But as technology itself has advanced and proliferated, the means of auto-annihilation have grown more diverse. This year’s Doomsday Clock statement cites not just nukes but carbon emissions, infectious diseases, and “internet-enabled misinformation and disinformation.” Earlier this month, the Bulletin reminded us that even as 2022 began, “we called out Ukraine as a potential flashpoint in an increasingly tense international security landscape. For many years, we and others have warned that the most likely way nuclear weapons might be used is through an unwanted or unintended escalation from a conventional conflict.”

Now that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought this nightmare scenario to life,” many have found themselves glancing nervously at the Doomsday Clock once again. This also happened after the election of Donald Trump, which prompted the Vox video above on the Clock’s history and purpose. Its iconic status, as celebrated in the new book The Doomsday Clock at 75, has long outlasted the Cold War, but the device itself isn’t without its critics. Bulletin co-founder Eugene Rabinowitch once articulated the latter as meant “to preserve civilization by scaring men into rationality,” a somewhat controversial intention. One could also raise objections to using an inherently linear and unidirectional concept like time to represent a probability resulting from human action. Yet somehow more technically suitable images — “100 centimeters from the edge,” say — don’t have quite the same ring.

Related content:

19th-Century Skeleton Alarm Clock Reminded People Daily of the Shortness of Life: An Introduction to the Memento Mori

J. Robert Oppenheimer Explains How He Recited a Line from Bhagavad Gita — “Now I Am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds” — Upon Witnessing the First Nuclear Explosion

The Night Ed Sullivan Scared a Nation with the Apocalyptic Animated Short, A Short Vision (1956)

53 Years of Nuclear Testing in 14 Minutes: A Time Lapse Film by Japanese Artist Isao Hashimoto

Protect and Survive: 1970s British Instructional Films on How to Live Through a Nuclear Attack

How Clocks Changed Humanity Forever, Making Us Masters and Slaves of Time

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Organized Chaos!: Watch 33 Videos Showing How Saturday Night Live Gets Made Each Week

Who do you think of when you think of Saturday Night Live?

The original cast? 

Creator Lorne Michaels?

Whoever hosted last week’s episode?

What about the guy who makes and holds the cue cards?

Wally Feresten is just one of the backstage heroes to be celebrated in Creating Saturday Night Live, a fascinating look at how the long-running television sketch show comes together every week.

Like many of those interviewed Feresten is more or less of a lifer, having come aboard in 1990 at the age of 25.

He estimates that he and his team of 8 run through some 1000 14” x 22” cards cards per show. Teleprompters would save trees, but the possibility of technical issues during the live broadcast presents too big of a risk.


This means that any last minute changes, including those made mid-broadcast, must be handled in a very hands on way, with corrections written in all caps over carefully applied white painter’s tape or, worst case scenario, on brand new cards.

(After a show wraps, its cards enjoy a second act as dropcloths for the next week’s painted sets.)

Nearly every sketch requires three sets of cue cards, so that the cast, who are rarely off book due to the frequent changes, can steal glances to the left, right and center.

As the department head, Feresten is partnered with each week’s guest host, whose lines are the only ones to be written in black. Betty White, who hosted in 2010 at the age of 88, thanked him in her 2011 autobiography.

Surely that’s worth his work-related arthritic shoulder, and the recurrent nightmares in which he arrives at Studio 8H just five minutes before showtime to find that all 1000 cue cards are blank.

Costumes have always been one of Saturday Night Live’s flashiest pleasures, running the gamut from Coneheads and a rapping Cup o’Soup to an immaculate recreation of the white pantsuit in which Vice President Kamala Harris delivered her victory speech a scant 3 hours before the show aired.

“A costume has a job,” wardrobe supervisor Dale Richards explains:

It has to tell a story before (the actors) open their mouth…as soon as it comes on camera, it should give you so much backstory.

And it has to cleave to some sort of reality and truthfulness, even in a sketch as outlandish as 2017’s Henrietta & the Fugitive, starring host Ryan Gosling as a detective in a film noir style romance. The gag is that the dame is a chicken (cast member Aidy Bryant.)

Richards cites actress Bette Davis as the inspiration for the chicken’s look:


Because you’re not going to believe it if the detective couldn’t actually fall in love with her. She has to be very feminine, so we gave her Bette Davis bangs and long eyelashes and a beautiful bonnet, so the underpinnings were very much like an actress in a movie, although she did have a chicken costume on.

The number of quick costume changes each performer must make during the live broadcast helps determine the sketches’ running order.

Some of the breakneck transformations are handled by Richards’ sister, Donna, who once beat the clock by piggybacking host Jennifer Lopez across the studio floor to the changing area where a well-coordinated crew swished her out of her opening monologue’s skintight dress and skyscraper heels and into her first costume.

That’s one example of the sort of traffic the 4-person crane camera crew must battle as they hurtle across the studio to each new set. Camera operator John Pinto commands from atop the crane’s counterbalanced arm.

Those swooping crane shots of the musical guests, opening monologue and goodnights (see below) are a Saturday Night Live tradition, a part of its iconic look since the beginning.

Get to know other backstage workers and how they contribute to this weekly high wire act in a 33 episode Creating Saturday Night playlist, all on display below:

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Saturday Night Live’s Very First Sketch: Watch John Belushi Launch SNL in October, 1975

Google’s UX Design Professional Certificate: 7 Courses Helps Prepare Students for an Entry-Level Job in 6 Months

During the pandemic, Google launched a series of Career Certificates that will “prepare learners for an entry-level role in under six months.” One such certificate focuses on User Experience Design, or what’s called UX Design, the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful experiences to users.

Offered on the Coursera platform, the User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate features seven courses, including the Foundations of User Experience, Start the UX Design Process, Build Wireframes and Low-Fidelity Prototypes, and Conduct UX Research and Test Early Concepts. In total, this program “includes over 200 hours of instruction and hundreds of practice-based activities and assessments that simulate real-world UX design scenarios and are critical for success in the workplace. The content is highly interactive and developed by Google employees with decades of experience in UX design.” Upon completion, students can directly apply for jobs with Google and over 130 U.S. employers, including Walmart, Best Buy, and Astreya. You can start a 7-day free trial and explore the courses. If you continue beyond that, Google/Coursera will charge $39 USD per month. That translates to about $235 after 6 months.

Explore the User Experience (UX) Design Professional Certificate by watching the video above. Learn more about the overall Google career certificate initiative here. And find other Google professional certificates here.

The new certificates have been added to our collection, 200 Online Certificate & Microcredential Programs from Leading Universities & Companies.

Note: Open Culture has a partnership with Coursera. If readers enroll in certain Coursera courses and programs, it helps support Open Culture.

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Discover Khipu, the Ancient Incan Record & Writing System Made Entirely of Knots

Khipus, the portable information archives created by the Inca, may stir up memories of 1970s macrame with their long strands of intricately knotted, earth-toned fibers, but their function more closely resembled that of a densely plotted computerized spreadsheet.

As Cecilia Pardo-Grau, lead curator of the British Museum’s current exhibition Peru: a journey in time explains in the above Curators Corner episode, khipus were used to keep track of everything from inventories and census to historical narratives, using a system that assigned meaning to the type and position of knot, spaces between knots, cord length, fiber color, etc.


Much of the information preserved within khipus has yet to be deciphered by modern scholars, though the Open Khipu Repository — computational anthropologist Jon Clindaniel‘s open-source database — makes it possible to compare the patterns of hundreds of khipus residing in museum and university collections.

Even in the Incan Empire, few were equipped to make sense of a khipu. This task fell to quipucamayocs, high born administrative officials trained since childhood in the creation and interpretation of these organic spreadsheets.

Fleet messengers known as chaskis transported khipus on foot between administrative centers, creating an information superhighway that predates the Internet by some five centuries. Khipus’ sturdy organic cotton or native camelid fibers were well suited to withstanding both the rigors of time and the road.

A 500-year-old composite khipu that found its way to British Museum organics conservator Nicole Rode prior to the exhibition was intact, but severely tangled, with a brittleness that betrayed its age. Below, she describes falling under the khipu’s spell, during the painstaking process of restoring it to a condition whereby researchers could attempt to glean some of its secrets.

Visit Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino’s website to learn more about khipu in a series of fascinating short articles that accompanied their groundbreaking 2003 exhibit QUIPU: counting with knots in the Inka Empire.

via Aeon.

Related Content: 

How the Inca Used Intricately-Knotted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their Histories, Send Messages & Keep Records

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

When Maurice Sendak Created a Dark Nutcracker Ballet

Children are the perfect audience for The Nutcracker. 

(Well, children and the grandmothers who can’t wait for the toddler to start sitting still long enough to make the holiday-themed ballet an annual tradition…)

Maurice Sendak, the celebrated children’s book author and illustrator, agreed, but found the standard George Balanchine-choreographed version so treacly as to be unworthy of children, dubbing it the “most bland and banal of ballets.”

The 1983 production he collaborated on with Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell did away with the notion that children should be “coddled and sweetened and sugarplummed and kept away from the dark aspects of life when there is no way of doing that.”


Tchaikovsky’s famous score remained in place, but Sendak and Stowell ducked the source material for, well, more source material. As per the New York City Ballet’s website, the Russian Imperial Ballet’s chief ballet master, Marius Petipa, commissioned Tchaikovsky to write music for an adaptation of Alexander Dumas’ child-friendly story The Nutcracker of Nuremberg. But The Nutcracker of Nuremberg was inspired by the much darker E.T.A. Hoffman tale, 1816’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.”

The “weird, dark qualities” of the original were much more in keeping with Sendak’s self proclaimed “obsessive theme”: “Children surviving childhood.”

Sendak wanted the ballet to focus more intently on Clara, the young girl who receives the Nutcracker as a Christmas present in Act I:

It’s about her victory over her fear and her growing feelings for the prince… She is overwhelmed with growing up and has no knowledge of what this means. I think the ballet is all about a strong emotional sense of something happening to her, which is bewildering.

 

Balanchine must have felt differently. He benched Clara in Act II, letting the adult Sugarplum Fairy take centerstage, to guide the children through a passive tour of the Land of Sweets.

As Sendak scoffed to the Dallas Morning News:

It’s all very, very pretty and very, very beautiful… I always hated the Sugarplum Fairy. I always wanted to whack her.

“Like what kids really want is a candy kingdom. That shortchanges children’s feelings about life,” echoes Stowell, who revived the Sendak commission, featuring the illustrator’s sets and costumes every winter for 3 decades.

In lieu of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Sendak and Stowell introduced a dazzling caged peacock — a fan favorite played by the same dancer who plays Clara’s mother in Act I.

The threats, in the form of eccentric uncle Drosselmeier, a ferocious tiger, and a massive rat puppet with an impressive, pulsing tail, have a Freudian edge.

The painted backdrops, growing Christmas tree, and Nutcracker toy look as if they emerged from one of Sendak’s books. (He followed up the ballet by illustrating a new translation of the Hoffman original.)

The Sendak-designed costumes are more understated, thought Pacific Northwest Ballet costumer Mark Zappone, who described working with Sendak as “an incredible joy and pleasure” and recalled the funny ongoing battle with the Act II Moors costumes to Seattle Met:

Maurice’s design had the women in quite billowy pants. So we ripped them out of the box, threw them on the girls upstairs in the studios, and Kent started rehearsing the Moors. And one by one, the girls got their legs stuck in those pants and—boom—hit the floor, all six of them. It was like, “Oh my God, what are we going to do about that one?” They ended up, for years, twisting the legs in their costumes and making a little tuck here and there. It was a rite of passage; if you were going to do the Moors, don’t forget to twist your pants around so you won’t get stuck in them.

Rent a filmed version of Maurice Sendak’s The Nutcracker on Amazon Prime. (Look for a Wild Thing cameo in the boating scene with Clara and her Prince.)

Related Content: 

The Only Drawing from Maurice Sendak’s Short-Lived Attempt to Illustrate The Hobbit

Maurice Sendak Sent Beautifully Illustrated Letters to Fans — So Beautiful a Kid Ate One

Maurice Sendak Illustrates Tolstoy in 1963 (with a Little Help from His Editor)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Origami Samurai Made from a Single Sheet of Rice Paper, Without Any Cutting

Origami artist Juho Könkkölä spent 50 hours folding an origami samurai from a single square sheet of paper, with no cutting or ripping used in the process. He describes his process on Reddit:

Folded from a single square sheet of 95cm x 95cm Wenzhou rice paper without any cutting. The finished size of the work is 28cm x 16cm x 19cm. Only dry and wet folding techniques were used to fold the model. It took 2 months to design and 1 month to fold, although I was working on few other projects during that time too.

It took some effort and experimentation to fold the texture for the armor, while trying to simplify it to be somewhat manageable to fold. I folded 4 rough test attempts in total, and all of them took 3 days to fold each. There are several hundreds of steps to fold it from the square and there are probably thousands of individual folds. The asymmetry in the design allowed me to include sword on only one arm, while being able to make the character look symmetric.

Find the finished product below. Watch the creative process, from start to finish, above.

via Twisted Sifter

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How Well Can You Move in Medieval Armor?: Medievalist Daniel Jaquet Gives It a Try in Real Life

If you’ve ever run a marathon in costume, or for that matter, boarded public transportation with a large musical instrument or a bulky bag of athletic equipment, you know that gear can be a burden best shed.

But what if that gear is your first, nay, best line of defense against a fellow knight fixing to smite you in the name of their liege?

Such gear is non-optional.


Curious about the degree to which 15th-century knights were encumbered by their protective plating, medievalist Daniel Jaquet commissioned a top armor specialist from the Czech Republic to make a suit specific to his own personal measurements. The result is based on a 15th century specimen in Vienna that has been studied by the Wallace Collection’s archaeometallurgist Alan Williams. As Jaquet recalled in Sciences et Avenir:

We had to make compromises in the copying process, of course, because what interested me above all was to be able to do a behavioral study, to see how one moved with this equipment on the back rather than attaching myself to the number of exact rivets…we knew the composition and the hardness of the parts that we could compare to our replica.

The accomplished martial artist tested his mobility in the suit with a variety of highly public, modern activities: reaching for items on the highest supermarket shelves, jogging in the park, scaling a wall at a climbing gym, taking the Metro …

It may look like showboating, but these movements helped him assess how he’d perform in combat, as well as lower stress activities involving sitting down or standing up.

Out of his metal suit, Jaquet has been known to amuse himself by analyzing the verisimilitude of Game of Thrones’ combat scenes. (Conclusion: some liberties were taken, armor-wise, in that gruesome face off between the Mountain and the Viper.)

An invitation to travel to New York City to present at the Metropolitan Museum of Art offered an unexpected testing opportunity, compliments of the airline’s baggage restrictions:

For reasons of weight, space and cost, the solution to wear the armor over me was considered the best.

(The TSA officers at Newark were not amused...)

His armored experience sheds light on those of early 15th-century knight Jean le Maingre, aka Boucicaut, whose impressive career was cut short in 1415, when he was captured by the English at the Battle of Agincourt.

Boucicaut kept himself in tip top physical condition with a regular armored fitness regimen. His chivalric biography details gearing up for exercises that include running, chopping wood, vaulting onto a horse, and working his way up a ladder from the underside, without using his feet.

Jaquet duplicates them all in the above video.

(Reminder to those who would try this at home, make sure you’re capable of performing these exercises in lightweight shorts and t-shirt before attempting to do them in armor.)

Like Boucicault’s, Jaquet’s armor is bespoke. Those who’ve struggled to lift their arms in an off-the-rack jacket will appreciate the trade off. It’s worth spending more to ensure sufficient range of movement.

In Boucicault’s day, ready-made pieces of lesser quality could be procured at markets, trading fairs, and shops in populous areas. You could also try your luck after battle, by stripping the captive and the dead of theirs. Size was always an issue. Too small and your movement would be restricted. Too big, and you’d be hauling around unnecessary weight.

Jaquet describes his load as being on par with the weight 21st-century soldiers are required to carry. Body armor is a lifesaver, according to a 2018 study by the Center for a New American Security, but it also reduces mobility, increases fatigue, and reduces mission performance.

Gizmodo’s Jennifer Ouellette finds that medieval knights faced similar challenges:

The legs alone were carrying an extra 15 to 18 pounds, so the muscles had to work that much harder to overcome inertia to set the legs in motion. There is also evidence that the thin slits in the face mask, and tight chest plate, restricted oxygen flow even further.

Read a detailed, scholarly account of Jaquet’s armor experiment in Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History.

For those looking for a lighter read, here is Jaquet’s account of taking a commercial flight in armor (and some best practice tips for those attempting the same.)

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Meet the Mysterious Genius Who Patented the UFO

American inventors never met a phenomenon — natural, manmade, or otherwise — they couldn’t try to patent. From impossible technologies to possible evidence of aliens visiting planet Earth, everything’s fair game if you can sell the idea. After highly-publicized UFO sightings in Washington State and Roswell, New Mexico, for example, patents for flying saucers began pouring into government offices. “As soon as there was a popular ‘spark,’” writes Ernie Smith at Atlas Obscura, “the saucer was everywhere.” It received its own classification in the U.S. Patent Office, with the indexing code B64C 39/001, for “flying vehicles characterized by sustainment without aerodynamic lift, often flying disks having a UFO-shape.”

Google Patents lists “around 192 items in this specific classification,” with surges in applications between 1953-56, 1965-71, and  an “unusually dramatic surge… between 2001 and 2004.” Make of that what you will. The story of the UFO gets both stranger and more mundane when we learn that Alexander Weygers, the very first person to file a patent for such a flying vehicle, invented it decades before UFO-mania and patented it in 1945. He was not an American inventor but the Indonesian-born son of a Dutch sugar plantation family. He learned blacksmithing on the farm, received an education in Holland in mechanical engineering and naval architecture, and honed his mechanical skills while taking long sea voyages alone.

In 1926, Weygers and his wife Jacoba Hutter moved to Seattle, Ashlee Vance writes at Bloomberg Businessweek, “where he pursued a career as a marine engineer and ship architect and began inking drawings of the Discopter” — the flying-saucer-like vehicle he would patent after working for many years as a painter and sculptor, mourning the death of his wife, who died in childbirth in 1928. By the time Weygers was ready to revive the Discopter, the time was ripe, it seems, for a wave of technological convergent evolution — or a technological theft. Perhaps, as Weygers’ claimed, UFOs really were Army test planes: test pilots flying something based on the inventor’s design — which was not a UFO, but an attempt at a better helicopter.

Sightings of strange objects in the sky did not begin in 1947. “Tales of mysterious flying objects date to medieval times,” Vance writes, “and other inventors and artists had produced images of disk-shaped crafts. Henri Coanda, a Romanian inventor, even built a flying saucer in the 1930s that looked similar to what we now think of as the classic craft from outer space. Historians suspect that the designs of Coanda and Weygers, floating around in the public sphere, combined with the postwar interest in sci-fi technology to create an atmosphere that gave rise to a sudden influx of UFO sightings.” In the 1950s, NASA and the U.S. Navy even began testing vertical takeoff vehicles that looked suspiciously like the patented Discopter.

Weygers was livid and “convinced his designs had been stolen.” The press even picked up the story. In 1950 the San Francisco Chronicle ran an article headlined “Carmel Valley Artist Patented Flying Saucer Five Years Ago: ‘Discopter’ May Be What People Have Seen Lately.” Although Weygers never built a Discopter himself, the article goes on to note that “the invention became the prototype for all disk-shaped vertical take-off aircraft since built by the U.S. armed forces and private industry, both here and abroad.” Just how many such vehicles have been constructed, and have actually been air-worthy, is impossible to say.

Smith surveys many of the patents for flying saucers filed over the past 75 years by both individuals and large companies. In the latter category, we have companies like Airbus and startups created by Google co-founder Larry Page currently working on flying saucer-like designs. The history of such vehicles may not provide sufficient evidence to disprove UFO sightings, but it may one day lead to the technology for flying cars we thought would already have arrived this far into the space age. For that we have to thank, though he may never get the credit, the modern Renaissance artist and inventor Alexander Weygers.

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Carl Jung’s Fascinating 1957 Letter on UFOs

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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