Bigfoot Family Rescue! A New Atari 2600 Game?!

How many times can you say there is a new Atari 2600 game waiting for you to play? That involves a Bigfoot Family Rescue? I’m pretty certain that there are not a lot of you that can claim this. I will have to admit I would be in the exact same boat until last evening. When my best friend, Shea Mathis, plopped down the Bigfoot Family Rescue he purchased for the arcade!
Bigfoot Family Rescue

Or is it Bigfoot Family Search? No, the manual in fact clearly states the name of the game is Bigfoot Family Rescue. Perhaps this Atari 2600 homebrew cart was inspired by the legendary In Search Of… TV series? Case in point the episode of In Search Of…Bigfoot that Tom Berges shared a couple of years ago!

My silliness notwithstanding, Bigfoot Family Rescue was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2016. Programmed by Jason Santuci of Gemintronic based on an concept by Bobby Alexander. The Kickstarter was only attempting to raise $800 but ended up securing $2,398 in pledges.

What is the story for Bigfoot Family Rescue?

Well, Bigfoot and his Family are under threat from the Witch of the South. It seems the love of these particular forest inhabitants angers her to no end. So she abducts Bigfoot’s Family while he is sleeping. Our poor Bigfoot must now go forth and search the forest – smashing question mark shaped rocks to find useful items and his kin.

Those symbols you see that I’ve collected – from the left to the right are two extra health, Bigfoot’s Daughter and Wife, as well as a pile of rocks. Which can in fact be thrown at the enemies that come charging at you.

In addition to the attacks from the Witch of the South which include harnessing the Northern Lights to assault Bigfoot, she can warp you to parts of the forest that are frozen. Costing you precious time, the red bar in the bottom right corner of the screen.

After breaking open the correct rocks, Bigfoot will find his Family and must quickly attempt to bring them to the safety of their cave in the North. This is done by literally touching symbols found throughout the forest – represented by the letter N. Having said that however you still must keep moving through the forest to find those markers that will take you to safety.

At the arcade we really had to read the manual a couple of times to put everything together. While the symbols were easily explained in the opening page of the manual. The instructions for playing the game are hidden in the story itself!


For this reason I am pretty certain that Shea is going to keep this new Atari 2600 cartridge in the office. Instead of having it out in the 2600 cart circulation on the arcade floor. Which is okay by me – it just means I can play it after we close.

Now that we have seen what Bigfoot Family Rescue is all about. How about you take a moment and watch this Halo Atari 2600 homebrew video?

In Search of ‘In Search Of …’: Episode 4: The Bermuda Triangle Conundrum

The series dives into an indisputably popular topic, but its producers reach for so much material that it ends up leaving a lot unsaid … and so, substance itself gets lost in the infamous territory that ‘In Search Of’ seeks to cover.

This is an ongoing series about In Search Of, the television show that ran from 1977–1982. Think of this as a viewer’s companion to the program. I’m reviewing every episode, digging into the assertions and sources depicted. For more background on this project, have a look at the first installment at Retroist.

‘The Bermuda Triangle’*

Air Date: April 27, 1977
Alan Landsburg Productions

Written: Alan Landsburg
Produced: Alan Landsburg
Directed: H.G. Stark
Photography: Tony Mitchell
Music: Laurin Rinder and Mike Lewis
Researchers: Herb Rabinowitz, Jeanne Russo
Acknowledgments: United States Coast Guard (7th District, Miami, Florida) ; (11th District, Marina Del Ray, California) ; The United States Navy Department of Information

 

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The production company brings out the big guns for what is the first episode of the series to approach an indisputably high-profile topic — The Bermuda Triangle (the name of the region derives from Vincent H. Gaddis’ article in Argosy, back in 1964). This was absolutely one of my favorites as a kid in the 1970s and 1980s, watching these as reruns. But there’s a problem with it, when it comes to my adult perspective. Such are the perils of revisiting youth! Readers, beware.

Now, on to the details of episode four.

A director is given for the first time since episode one, and it’s H.G. Stark returning. Alan Landsburg, series producer, takes on both script and production duties.

Two other changes of note: Tony Mitchell, cinematographer, replaces Paul Desatoff. Mitchell’s work is fine, but he’s no Desatoff. If you look at the first three episodes’ non-stock camerawork, you’ll see what I mean — the way the lens crawls along a wall or a length of wiring; Desatoff brings even the B-roll material to a kind of life. And so, with him goes — at least temporarily — a significant atmospheric touch. Second note, Mike Lewis, one half of the musical team on In Search Of, is again credited with shortened form of his name; it was W. Michael Lewis in the previous two instances.

Episode Summary

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The Bermuda Triangle

We start in a small-airplane cockpit, as Leonard Nimoy, our narrator, tells us that a mysterious phenomenon preys on those who enter the coastal area of southern Florida.

“More than 1,000 lives have been lost under circumstances that cause veteran sailors to become uneasy traversing these waters,” Nimoy says. The camera dips under the waves. An ocean bed sways, fish and flora in the currents. Nimoy continues: “No one has found a satisfactory answer, but somewhere in this region, between the sea and the sky, lurks the solution to the mystery of The Bermuda Triangle.”

After the credits, post-credits mini-teaser, and disclaimer, we arrive at a marina. What appear to be Coast Guard officials are responding to a call. Most such calls are routine, says Nimoy, inexperienced weekend navigators getting themselves into trouble. But then there are the ones that end in more disturbing ways, events that are not so easily explained.

Back in the studio, Nimoy tells us recent media coverage of The Bermuda Triangle has included suggestions that science needn’t concern itself with vanishing vessels in the region. It is an assertion, Nimoy says, that leaves out the personal experiences of the people who’ve encountered strange phenomenon.

Cut to a ship at night. A foghorn drones.

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Frank Flynn

Frank Flynn, once a lieutenant on a cutter in the Coast Guard, describes an uncanny encounter in the Triangle. Close to one-thirty, one morning, he and his crew observed a solid green line across their instrument scope. Shortly thereafter, he says, a gray vaporous wall appeared before them on the ocean — a misty mass extending upwards as far as the eye could see under the otherwise clear-and-starry skies. As the vessel crossed the boundary of the wall, the ship’s lights disappeared in the gloom and the engine room reported pressure problems. The crew’s throats grew irritated; men had difficulty breathing. And then they were through it, back in the clear. No explanation ever emerged, regarding what they’d encountered.

We cut to a single-engine plane at takeoff. Bob Spielman, flyer and renter of planes in the region, talks about a tragedy claiming five of his customers. On a day of perfect flying weather, Miami suddenly lost contact with the loaner craft. The flight was lost. The wreckage was later found and showed signs of some “terrific force” that apparently wrenched one wing from the fuselage.

And we visit with Ray Smithers, an amateur Triangle researcher who, as a radio disc jockey on WFtL, in Fort Lauderdale, got a strange call on his late-night show when it addressed the subject. After numerous cut-off lines, on the next circuit that worked Smithers’ caller said, “Every living thing on this planet has an aura. The area that you are discussing now is the aura of this planet. It is a communicative channel through which the Millionth Council governs this planet. Anyone going into this area when the communicative channel is open does not disappear, but they are in the timeless void. They are all perfectly alive and well. It is the only area through which the Council can communicate with this planet.” Smithers says that listeners later complained to the station of physical and emotional distress following the broadcast.

The narrative skims some additional historical incidents: disappearances of British naval vessels in the Eighteenth Century; the loss of the Marine Sulphur Queen in the Twentieth Century, then also the disappearance of the ore-hauling Proteus in 1941. The Scorpion, a United States Navy submarine, vanished in 1968. An Air Force C-119 disappeared from the skies over the Triangle in 1965.

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Finally, in this episode, there is the well-known vanishing of Flight 19 in 1945. Carlton Hamilton was staffing a Miami air-traffic control tower the day it happened. They just disappeared, he says. Hamilton goes on to describe a day when his Beechcraft plane for a time lost all lights and navigational instruments in the skies off Miami Beach. He says he believes something is at work within “that Devil’s Triangle,” but only at low altitudes — below, say, 10,000 feet — a force possibly coming from underwater.

“Somewhere beneath the Atlantic may lie the solution to The Bermuda Triangle mystery,” Nimoy says. If we are to find it, however, we must keep searching. The unknown force, he concludes, “is begging for investigation.”

Developments? Debunked? Debate?

A very recent theory surrounding missing vessels on the waters of The Bermuda Triangle has to do with methane. Based on phenomenon observed along the seabeds off Norway, massive underwater methane explosions in the Bermuda Triangle region could cause a ship to sink with devastating speed. Likewise, National Geographic notes, massive bursts of the gas into the air could create the kind of turbulence that disrupts aircraft (and perhaps irritate throats like Frank Flynn recounts when it came to his crew).

That being said, the 1977 episode is packed with details and there’s a lot to cover. And so, as always, the deeper info I was able to turn up about the sources and incidents cited follows.

  • Frank Flynn: Flynn served aboard the Coast Guard cutter Yamacraw in 1956, the time he says his experience happened. Flynn passed away in 2006. While I think the methane theory is worth considering, some writers have attached the description of encounters with instrument-disrupting vapors and mists to high-voltage phenomena. Accounts of a gray mist resulting from such tests emerge from the assertions of one John Hutchison, a self-styled scientist (and, more recently, a 9/11 conspiracist).
  • Bob Spielman: I haven’t identified any one individual who is definitely the Bob Spielman in this episode. I’ve reached out to one potential match — and if turns out to be the same person, readers are in for an ironic postscript to the story presented back in 1977.
  • Ray Smithers: This episode was not the last time Smithers worked with Alan Landsburg Productions. He’d appear again, helping to reenact the WFtL call, in Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle, directed by Donald Brittain and In Search Of’s own Laurin Render (the movie was also steered by Howard Lipstone, the series’ executive in charge of production). Alan Landsburg published a book with the same title, the same year, part of a run of volumes that John Scoleri looks at in this helpful article.
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Ray Smithers

  • The WFtL Caller: There has been, of course, speculation surrounding the identity of the caller to Ray Smithers’ show. Gian Quasar, author of Into the Bermuda Triangle, recently notes the recording of the man’s voice sounds to him like it is the voice of Peter Tompkins, a journalist who turned his attention to matters of the unknown, including plant sentience (the subject of In Search Of’s first episode). Tompkins would narrate the Landsburg company’s subsequent Bermuda Triangle documentary, Secrets of the Bermuda Triangle.
  • Millionth Council: Whatever the caller means to tell us about The Millionth Council, it seems to be confined to the transcript of the radio show. Predictably, contemporary online forums and blogs take up the reference, here and there, but I’ve found little in the way of any other substantial definition.
  • SS Marine Sulphur Queen: Vanished in February 1963, and then debris bearing its markings turned up during searches in the weeks that followed. In the course of proceedings, court officials found that the ship was overfilled with molten sulphur and, facing heavy seas the day it disappeared, possibly suffered a “sudden and massive structural collapse.”
  • USS Proteus: The third of three Navy vessels of the Proteus class to disappear in the region. The first two were the USS Cyclops and the USS Nereus, lost in November 1941 and December 1942. “Research by Rear Admiral George van Deurs, USN,” writes Robert C. Fisher, “suggests … these aging and poorly constructed colliers broke up in heavy seas following a storm … In other colliers of this type the acidic coal had seriously eroded the longitudinal support beams making them extremely vulnerable.” Other theories involve the contents of the ships’ holds liquefying in heavy rains, making them unstable.
  • USS Scorpion: Lost during a May 1968 mission to surveil Soviet maneuvers, the wreck of the US nuclear submarine Scorpion was discovered in October of the same year. According to the US Naval Institute, investigations concluded either one of the Scorpion’s own torpedoes detonated inside the hull or its battery cells exploded.
  • C-119 Flight: The US Air Force C-119G Flying Boxcar, bound for the island of Grand Turk, went missing after takeoff close to eight o’clock, the evening of June 5, 1965. By some reports, debris did turn up. Those details were not, one journalist notes, included in the Air Force’s redacted documents, when released.
  • Carlton Hamilton: The air-traffic-control expert in this episode is cited in mid-1970s FAA reports as the chief at Opa Locka Tower, just north of Miami International Airport.
  • Flight 19: Larry Kusche, writing at the Skeptical Inquirer, dives deep into what could have gone wrong aboard the planes of Flight 19. The upshot of his lengthy analysis is that compass failure on the leader’s plane, compounded by a precedent of pilot confusion when newly encountering the region’s topography, led to the disastrous loss of all five aircraft. When it comes to wreckage, “a group called Project 19 salvaged a TBM Avenger — the same model of plane flown by Flight 19 — from 400 feet deep in the ocean off Cape Canaveral,” writes Vicki McCash, at the Sun Sentinel, in 1991. “The group thinks the plane is the one flown by Capt. William Stivers, one of the student pilots of the Lost Patrol.” The find was complicated, however, by the fact that key pieces of the plane — ones said to hold crucial identifying markings — were lost during the salvage.

The Takeaway: ‘The Bermuda Triangle’

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Leonard Nimoy, our narrator.

The main problem with In Search Of’s episode about The Bermuda Triangle is that it bites off so much more than it can chew. Focusing on Flight 19 alone would have been a full half-hour, and one trimmed for length at that. Or, a look at the Scorpion. You get the picture. It’s fun to speculate on multiple mysteries, but the show promises to help us examine possible answers. There’s a fine line, then, between too much and not quite enough. There ought to be some substance to such a popular topic, when the series takes it on. Defaulting to a wide-spectrum approach works well for some In Search Of episodes, but when it comes to The Bermuda Triangle it leaves us underserved.

Long story short, the show feints when it should’ve jabbed, and its argument is ultimately that there should be a deeper investigation of The Bermuda Triangle. One thinks that’s the point of the series itself, though, right? Possible answers to the mysteries presented, in this case, are nowhere to be found.

Next Up: It’s into the woods to look for Sasquatch, as In Search Of takes on another favorite topic. Join us next time for a look at “Bigfoot” … and let’s hope the producers introduce some additional focus for our viewing pleasure.

*Episode Credits/Air Date Sources: in-video credits and IMBD.com

In Search of ‘In Search Of…’: Episode 3: Lines on the Ground, Visitors from Space

The series goes full-tilt on ancient flying machines and the origin of geoglyphs such as the Nazca Lines

In this ongoing feature for the Retroist, I’m reviewing every episode of In Search Of. For the background on this project, have a look at the first installment.

‘Ancient Aviators’*
Air Date: April 24, 1977
Alan Landsburg Productions

Written Narration: Robert Long, Deborah Blum
Produced: Deborah Blum
Directed: not identified
Photography: Paul Desatoff, Joe Mignone
Music: Laurin Rinder and W. Michael Lewis
Researchers: Herb Rabinowitz, Jeanne Russo
Acknowledgments: Will Wings, Torrey Pines ; Jorge Milberg, Lima, Peru ; Braniff International
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The third episode of the first season is the second installment in the series to not carry a director’s name during the credits. The writing duties, in this case, are handled by the series’ producer and its associate producer.

Note the initial air date; it’s the same as episode two. This detail, along with other instances of air dates overlapping – or being consecutive or close together – suggests that different broadcast markets aired different episodes of the show in their own chosen sequence. I’ll continue to look for an explanation as to why the initial air dates aren’t always seven-days apart. (Readers: if you know about broadcast practices in the 1970s and can answer the question about air dates, please write to me at james [at] jamesobrien [dot] cc)

Episode Summary
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The shadow of a small plane rippling across the landscape of the Nazca Plain in Peru appears often in this episode. Leonard Nimoy, our narrator, describes the question at hand.

“Huge drawings are etched in the ground,” he says, as aerial shots of humanoid depictions and geometric shapes can be seen from the vantage of the aircraft. “They make sense only when viewed from a great height. Miles of what look like modern runways score the desert… What manner of craft landed here? Who where the pilots?”

After the opening credits, we are introduced to specific shapes – a spider-like creature, giant bird-like animals… Though the word is not mentioned in the episode, these ground-drawings are often referred to as geoglyphs and/or petroglyphs. From the studio, Nimoy suggests that long-ago man might have made these images to illustrate a relationship with flight as yet unrealized by contemporary historians. And they might have had help in achieving it.
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A hang-glider lifts off and swoops over ocean waves. Nimoy recounts the myth of Daedalus and Icarus – the latter flying too close to the sun on his wax wings. We see shots of Knossos, on Crete, and then hear more stories and examples of man’s historical and ancestral interest in flight.

  • We touch upon Leonardo da Vinci’s flying-machine designs, made in Florence at the turn of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries. We also look to Eighteenth Century observatory structures – and what Nimoy suggests are flight-related stories – found in what is now New Delhi, India, at the Jantar Mantar site.
  • Egyptian hieroglyphs show winged gods. Even the pyramids, Nimoy’s narration suggests, are aligned as landmarks for incoming aviators.
  • In the thick jungles of South America, Mayan structures include calendars and astronomical connections. Nimoy notes that no roads connected these settlements; perhaps their builders were familiar with other methods of getting around.
  • In the Mojave Desert, in California, a massive man-shaped geoglyph stares upwards. A team of balloonists lifts off to show that a floating platform could have been used to direct such a constructions from overhead. One Dr. William Clulow (spelling pending; see next section), chief archaeologist at the University of California Los Angeles, talks about Native American shamans and the concept of taking flight in astral form.
  • Back in Peru, at Toro Muerto, the surface of the land is carved with orb-like shapes ringed with spiny projections.
  • Incan roads linked villages, but, Nimoy notes, the Incan people did not have the wheel. Meanwhile, their calendar suggested knowledge of space and time, the kind that might have fueled the power of flight.
  • In Lima, Peru, at the Museo Aeronautico, carved stones show what seem to be mechanical birds and perhaps, we are told, a shuttle-like craft. The Peruvian government, Nimoy says, is reluctant to discuss these artifacts.

Noted also is the work of Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who worked for decades on the Nazca lines. Over images of Reiche in the desert, we are told she has not come up with answers for why they exist. One funded investigation, Nimoy notes, that National Geographic helped fund in 1968, concluded that some elements of the lines coincide with astronomical patterns, but not necessarily more than would occur by chance.
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And yet, Nimoy reads, at episode’s end, it is “hard to shake the notion that here, on the plains of Nazca, there once flew ancient aviators.””

Over lonely shots of NASA’s abandoned Cape Kennedy launch site, we are left to wonder if the places we’ve visited throughout this installment of the show are similarly abandoned liftoff points. Back in the studio, Nimoy posits that our dream of flight might be rooted in things mankind witnessed in the remote past. A reunion with those aviators, he ventures, could come when man reaches the stars and becomes a traveler in extraterrestrial realms.

Developments? Debunked? Debate?
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A little digging turns up the following information about the sites and people and claims featured in this episode.

  • Nazca Lines: The lines have been studied with some seriousness since the mid-1920s. Theories have historically focused on the applications of the geoglyphs to astronomical tracking and measurements. More recently, researchers with National Geographic have taken a multidisciplinary approach, linking the lines to rituals around crops and water – spiders linked to rain, birds associated with fertility, and so on.
  • Jantar Mantar: The narration introduces a mistake, here, telling us that Jantar Mantar predates Da Vinci when it was, in fact, one of five dating to the early 1700s, constructed in 1724 by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur. According to one study, the Maharaja traveled around on holy days in a chariot that resembled Vimana, an air vehicle sometimes associated with the Indian deva Indra – a divine being of the air, in as much as Indra is a deva of rain and storms.
  • Balloons and Geoglyphs: Experiments have been conducted in Peru. One team, led in part by Jim Woodman of the International Explorers Society, used what it believed to be ancient fire pits at Nazca to inflate a balloon built of materials that would have been available to ancient peoples. It flew several times for about a quarter hour, Archaeology Online reports.
  • Egyptian Pyramids: Enthusiasts still assign astronomical significance to the arrangement of pyramids in places such as Giza. As Discover magazine points out, however, it’s a difficult task to make such claims conform to how terrestrial geography and the stars tend to really match up.
  • Mojave Geoglyph: The Californian examples are also known as The Blythe Geoglyphs (or Blythe Intaglios). Their discovery, in modern times, is attributed to airplane pilots of the 1930s. Amy J. Gilreath has written about the geoglyphs in relation to their roles in Native American religious storytelling – i.e. they are probably representations of tribal deities. Throughout the Mojave, there are also geoglyph sites in Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.
  • Dr. William Clulow [spelling pending]: Google doesn’t seem to have anything on the man; I couldn’t turn up a reference and neither could Jeff Kelley, podcasting about this episode at Coffee with Jeff. I’ve written to the media office at UCLA Los Angeles, looking for some confirmation of the doctor’s post as chief archaeologist in the 1970s. I’ll update this entry when the office responds.
    ISO_3_Image 6_Dr William Clulow [sp_]

Toro Muerto: There are more than 4,000 carved blocks across dozens of hectares at the site, Science Daily notes. The subjects of the drawings are believed to be primarily those of hunting, fertility, and deities.

Museo Aeronautico del Peru: With roots stretching back to 1959, the museum became a formally recognized national institution in 1992. As for official Peruvian reluctance to comment on carvings, Peru has had a history of less-than-honest entrepreneurs selling faked carvings to tourists. These have, at times, made their way into the country’s museums. One could draw conclusions from this circumstance.

Maria Reiche: Known as the Lady of the Lines, Reiche passed away in 1998. Among theories she did entertain about the Nazca site was that the geoglyphs represented constellations and/or were part of a calendar system.

Cape Kennedy, now known as Cape Canaveral, is one other site paid some attention in the episode. It is indeed a place that evokes reactions among those whose minds are on the heavens. I highly recommend The Last Man on the Moon, a documentary about Eugene Cernan, the last Apollo-program astronaut to walk on the Earth’s moon. In it, Cernan visits Cape Kennedy/Canaveral and shares his thoughts and feelings about what we’ve left behind at the location.

The Takeaway: ‘Ancient Aviators’

A speculative installment of In Search Of, to say the least.

However, for the most part, “Ancient Aviators” does demonstrate what I suggested would be one of the series’ two get-out-of-jail-free cards when it comes to credibility: keep asking questions and don’t worry overmuch about answers. The other card, of course, is its perennial disclaimer.

Unfortunately, the narration strays from that first tactic, especially at the episode’s end. There’s no need to have Nimoy lean on the aviation/extraterrestrial notion so directly, is there? The wiser move would have been to title this one “Ancient Carvings” or “Mysterious Geoglyphs” and only mention the aviation approach as one option. But then, Chariots of the Gods – the book by Erich von Daniken that posits ancient astronauts delivered technology to peoples such as the Peruvians – was just a decade old at the time. It probably seemed like something of a zeitgeist when it came to the topic.

One more thing, Nimoy seems to give a nod to Spock at the episode’s conclusion. When he suggests a future interstellar reunion of humans and extraterrestrials to be “not so wild a dream,” his eyebrow lifts in a decidedly Vulcan fashion. He could’ve delivered the line in his old blue shirt.
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Next Up: The series charts a course into the heart of ‘The Bermuda Triangle’.

*Episode Credits/Air Date Sources: in-video credits and IMDB.com

in search of

In Search of ‘In Search Of…’ – Episode 1: Do Plants Talk and Feel?

From the very outset of the 1977-82 series, Leonard Nimoy sews up a screwy premise with pitch-perfect narration
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As a kid in the 1970s and 1980s, I had a love-hate relationship with In Search Of, the Alan Landsburg Productions television show hosted by Leonard Nimoy. I’d wait a whole afternoon, ensconced in a pillow fort in my family home’s sun room, waiting for reruns of the program to appear on the modest black-and-white set we kept out there. And then, when it did come on, I’d get mad that the episode wasn’t about a big-name monster, a well-known legend, or at least something to do with UFOs. There was a lot of other stuff that In Search Of covered. You had to be patient.

Nonetheless, I loved the opening music so very much. The synth-y, groovy theme that Laurin Rinder and Mike Lewis composed for the program spoke to something central in the young me, something about what it felt like to love the mysterious and the weird. Still does. It gets me every time.

[Via] A Lurking Grue

In this new series of articles for Retroist, I’m reviewing every episode of In Search Of. I’m doing this for three reasons.

  • I believe the program has merit – and especially so in an age when TV and cable series about the mysterious and the unexplained have devolved into carbon-copy iterations of shaky-cam night-vision “ghost-hunting”. In Search Of is so much smarter and cooler than that.
  • I think it’ll be interesting to see what’s happened since, regarding the show’s topics. And so, every article in this series will look at the state of the episode’s subject, and at the experts depicted. Debunked? Debated? I’ll update you on what’s developed.
  • Also, the music. Now I have good reason to listen to it 144 more times.

So, here goes – a complete look at the series, 1977-82, as it appeared following a handful of specials that preceded its premier. We start with ‘Other Voices’. (One might note, as a kid, I would’ve been pretty mad about this one. But, in the first test of my new approach to the show, the adult me found this episode a bit silly but acceptably substantial and interesting.)

(Also, a note to readers, and especially the editors among you: throughout these articles, I’ve elected to cite the show as In Search Of rather than In Search Of… . Dropping the title’s ellipsis in the flow of text solves all kinds of punctuation hiccups – see the previous sentence ending, for example – and the change also eliminates the potential prompt to pause or suspect missing information in the line.)

‘Other Voices’*
Air Date: April 17, 1977
Alan Landsburg Productions

Written and Produced: Roz Karson
Directed: H.G. Stark
Photography: Paul Desatoff
Music: Laurin Rinder and Mike Lewis
Researchers: Herb Rabinowitz, Jeanne Russo
Acknowledgments: Backster Research; Mother Earth; Dr. Franklin Loehr
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As with most episodes of In Search Of, ‘Other Voices’ opens with an atmospheric narrated teaser, which then cuts to opening credits. Based on the editing, here, one presumes viewers then caught a commercial break. The show next presents a second, very short, teaser. Its perennial disclaimer follows:

This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.

A brief segment of the theme music plays, and then we’re into the body of the episode.

Episode Summary
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The teaser takes us inside a giant greenhouse. Strange electrical and electronic sounds drift through the soundtrack, and Nimoy suggests these to be the sound of plants talking, as picked up by machines that can trace “fluctuations of energy.” Some key questions are posed: can plants talk to us, and, if so, what are they saying? Can we communicate with them, in response?

The first subject is Marcel Vogel, shown sitting with children, holding his hand over a plant, and telling the kids that plants can perceive people, and that they have “heart beats” like humans. Nimoy suggests that green thumbs may, in fact, be humans who can communicate better with plants than so-called brown thumbs.

In Denver, Dorothy Retallack conducts an experiment: controlling for a number of variables, she plays “semi-classical” music for some plants and “hard rock” for others. The plants listening to the softer music are shown to lean toward the stereo speaker. In a time-lapse segment, the plants subject to hard rock appear to wither and die.

Nimoy then asks, if plants hear then how do they hear? We spend time with Kendall Johnson, who talks about plants as they relate to Kirlian photography – essentially, aura photography – how the colors and light that surround and permeate objects in his examples of Kirlian pictures respond pronouncedly to the hands of “green-thumb” people, when held close to leaves, and how the light on the film fades when “brown thumbs” do the same.

In the last segment of the episode, Cleve Backster demonstrates four experiments, using what he describes to be a pin motor – a needle and pen, like that of a polygraph machine – that is connected to a “biological amplifier” and other equipment.

The first test involves a plant wired to the machine setup. Backster slightly cuts his own hand with a scalpel. The line the pin motor draws does not change significantly. In the second test, In Search Of staff member Kay Hoffman lets Backster make a tiny cut on her hand with the scalpel. The pin-motor pen jumps noticeably just before she is cut. Backster suggests the wired-up plant feels her apprehension.

Backster’s third test involves yogurt. He puts a metal sensor into a test tube of yogurt, then adds antibiotics to a separate beaker of yogurt. No significant change occurs in the pin-motor scroll. When he next adds milk to a separate beaker of yogurt, the pin motor registers significant activity in the test tube. Backster suggests the test-tube yogurt perceives that the beaker yogurt is being fed…and that the test-tube yogurt wants to eat as well!

Nimoy closes the episode by suggesting that instances of humans reporting to know of far-away events before they are told about them might be messages carried to them by plants. However, if plants are speaking to us, he suggests, it is still a one-way conversation, aside from what machines (such as Backster’s) seem to detect.

Developments? Debunked? Debate?
ISO_1_Kirlian Plant Photo
I don’t know what the average viewer would have known about Vogel, Retallack, Johnson, and Backster, in 1977. They come across as a bit kooky in the episode, but, as plant-communication experts go, they are even now fairly well-known. The following bullets highlight what’s happened to them and to their work.

  • Marcel Vogel died in the early 1990s. He’s still acknowledged as the father of some longstanding inventions for IBM in the field of magnetic storage, as a pioneer of black-light technology, and a creator of phosphorescent paint, chalk, and crayons. The mysterious and the unusual continued to be a focus of his later life.
  • Dorothy Retallack’s work with plants and music is still cited in recent articles about the subject. It’s also been subject to some botanical scrutiny, in recent years. She passed away in 1994.
  • Kendall Johnson died in 2011. His 1976 book on Kirlian photography is still noted by epistemologists here and there.
  • In 2006, an episode of MythBusters attempted to replicate Cleve Backster’s plant experiment, along with other examples of his tests, but failed to generate positive results. Backster maintained his theories, however, appearing on radio shows to espouse them as recently as 2007. He passed away in 2013.

Plant communications, overall, is still alive as a subject. From NPR to the BBC and The Guardian, stories continue about the effort to understand what could be lines of conversation and feeling among our leafy neighbors.

The Takeaway: ‘Other Voices’
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Do plants talk to us? And what about their feelings?

Well, it’s not exactly UFOs, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness Monster.

No matter, Nimoy’s presence turns what should be a ludicrous episode into something fun and interesting to watch. Even when the episode veers into potentially loony territory – hungry yogurt! – Nimoy’s voice keeps the proceedings in check; it’s always respectful and the tone elevates the subjects, protecting them from ridicule.

‘Other Voices’ also illustrates a strategic approach that will potentially save the show whenever it gets into hot water: if staying with one subject too long strains an audience’s patience and credulity, keep moving along to new speakers!

In a sense, ‘Other Voices’ is a perfect first episode for this series. That is, if the producers have made something coherent out of the weird crossroads of plant-to-human communications, Kirlian photography, empathetic leaves and jealous bacteria, viewers can count on the crew to tackle almost any subject with a steady hand in upcoming installments.

Next Up: ‘Strange Visitors’ takes us to a mysterious rock chamber in the hills of New Hampshire.

*Episode Credits/Air Date Sources: in-video credits and IMDB.Com