My Mysterious, Inspiring J.J. Abrams Mystery Box

Geek Culture

abramsboxabramsboxA couple of months ago, I happened to catch the TED Talk given by Star Trek director J. J. Abrams concerning his love of mystery. The centerpiece of the talk was a simple cardboard box secured with packing tape and decorated with a giant question mark on one side. This box contains an assortment of magic tricks Abrams purchased from the Lou Tannen Magic Store as a kid, but for some reason, he’s never opened it. For Abrams, the love of the mysterious unknown exceeds any value the magic tricks could provide.

“It represents infinite possibility,” Abrams said in his talk. “It represents hope; it represents potential… mystery is the catalyst for imagination… maybe there are times where mystery is more important than knowledge.”

Abrams’ box was so huge an idea it got Boinged, made the cover of Wired, and generally got people worked up into a tizzy. Needless to say I immediately wanted my own mystery box.

Lo and behold, l33t Maker and friend of the blog John Park offered to make me one with his new Epilog laser cutter. What would it contain? More relevantly, what unknown possibilities would inspire me? I love coming up with new ideas. Most of them suck, but that’s not the point. The act of imagining, for me, serves as both inspiration and entertainment. Needless to say, I gratefully accepted John’s offer.

This morning I picked up my new mystery box from the post office.

John lasercut it out of quarter-inch plywood, and engraved the surface with geeky symbolism. On the top of the box is a question mark and the bottom is the Greek letter Phi. The box even had a theme: One of the faces carries a picture of 16th-Century German mathematician Michael Maestlin, who was the first scientist to write about the Golden Ratio. Another face sports a golden spiral, which is another way of expressing that constant, yet another shows an image from Leonardo DaVinci’s Divine Proportion applying the Golden Ratio to the human form. The panels of the box even conform to the ratio, being 3 inches wide by 4.85 inches high. Crazy nerdy.

More esoterically, moving the box caused an intriguing rattle to sound from inside. Perfect.

So what’s next? I’m just going leave the box on my desk and admire its mysteriousness. John says he’ll probably upload the vectors of the box (maybe to Thingiverse?) so other people can create their own. But as Abrams proved, you don’t need a fancy box, cardboard will do — you simply must have the fortitude to never, ever open it.

Thanks again, John.

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