Blivets

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It’s a short step from Escher’s perceptual games to optical illusions in general. Blivets are one of those curious cultural artefacts that appear everywhere but whose origin is a mystery. Even the name blivet isn’t settled (or, for that matter, the meaning of the word) since the impossible figure is also known as The Devil’s Tuning Fork (or Pitchfork), The Ambiguous Trident, the Mad magazine Poiuyt, and more. It was the Mad usage that prompted me to draw these things endlessly on schoolbooks. A friend had a collection of the paperback reprints of the magazine which I eagerly borrowed; Poiuyts are a running joke in issues of the 1960s, appearing on maps or diagrams, or simply sitting in the margin of a page.

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Undecidable Monument (1968) by Roger Hayward.

Wikipedia’s article on the blivet mentions the figure appearing in a 1964 issue of  Analog Science Fiction and Fact but I suspect it goes back much further. This is one of those simple jokes that could have been invented during an idle moment in a factory or office then spread meme-like among workers. Blivets are easy to remember, and can be quickly drawn anywhere which explains their staying power today. Glenn Jones’ T-shirt design is only one of many recent examples. There’s more to be seen at Mighty Optical Illusions.

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Escher’s Dogs by Glenn Jones.

Previously on { feuilleton }
False perspective
Trompe l’oeil

5 thoughts on “Blivets”

  1. I imagine you have Bruno Ernst’s “The Eye Beguiled”? He mentions Oscar Reutersvard as producing variations on blivets back in 1958 or earlier.

  2. Modzilla: Yes, I’ve seen that site before, many of the book covers are very familiar, as are the magazine covers of the early 70s.

    herr doktor bimler: I’m sure I must have seen that one around since Taschen books used to be everywhere but it’s not one I own. Ernst is very good in the Escher book so I ought to order a copy, they’re very cheap on Abe.com.

  3. I was fortunate to have a friend with such a great collection since the mag was never very popular over here. The satire didn’t always translate–especially the political stuff–but I loved all the visual humour.

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