Hidden Repository of Curious Craft

I went on an Atlas Obscu­ra excur­sion to MorY­ork, a warehouse/gallery/studio in High­land Park focus­ing on recy­cled art.

MorYork - Studio of Recycled Art

Sandi was the offi­cial Field agent, but Erin was there, and our host was Clare Gra­ham. Once upon a time, Clare was the head of the Enter­tain­ment Art Depart­ment at Dis­ney­land. Now he is “retired” and can focus on his pas­sion, recy­cled art. He reli­gious­ly scours all the flea mar­kets, swap meets, and garage sales in SoCal to get mate­ri­als such as but­tons, bot­tle­caps, and Scrab­ble tiles to build sculp­tures and fur­ni­ture.

He told us about how it all start­ed. He was the youngest of many, and had lit­tle to call his own. His most prized child­hood pos­ses­sion was a roller desk where he could safe­ly keep any odd­i­ties that he found and tin­ker with them. Skip for­ward a few years, and Clare spent “too long” in school, get­ting every art degree known to man. He said that a big part of the rea­son he was in school for so long was access — to ideas, but also mate­ri­als and work­spaces. While work­ing at Dis­ney, he would still tin­ker with found art, but only in the very lit­tle free time he had.

Now that he is retired, he enjoys being able to do only what he wants, at any time he wants. (Which is why he does not do com­mis­sioned work.) He has much more time to go find odd­i­ties, and now his roller desk is a whole build­ing. The space is very inter­est­ing, it was a gro­cery store and a roller rink pre­vi­ous­ly. It has wood floors and a nice high ceil­ing giv­ing Clare lots of space to store his mate­ri­als, com­plet­ed pieces, and dis­play cas­es of items he found and kept as-is.

I must have tak­en a pic­ture of every sur­face in the build­ing. I walked three laps of the place and found some­thing new and inter­est­ing in every cor­ner each time. Sandi told me she would like to hold a scav­enger hunt event here because there is so much to look at. Here are some of the recy­cled art pieces that stood out to me:

MorYork - Pop-tab couch

One of the first things you notice when you walk in, this is a couch made from pop-tabs from alu­minum cans. Clare also made a side table and a chair in the same style. The basic frame is made with rebar, then he laid chick­en wire over it. The final look is accom­plished by string­ing the pop-tabs on wire and wrap­ping the wire around the chick­en wire until it is packed solid.

MorYork - Mirror

This is a 60″ con­cave mir­ror made by Bausch & Lomb for the US Army dur­ing the Viet­nam War. There was a set of three made, and they were mount­ed on vehi­cles dri­ven out into the jun­gle and point­ed into the sky. Record­ing the light in the night sky off the mir­rors allowed the Army to tri­an­gu­late the flight paths of North Viet­name­se bombers back to their hid­den airstrips. When Clare got it, he cus­tom designed the mount you see in the pic­ture so it can be cranked along two axes into any ori­en­ta­tion. It is hard to see from this angle, but there is an arm extend from the base to the front cen­ter of the mir­ror where a crys­tal ball is mount­ed.

MorYork - Bear tower

The­se two sculp­tures in the fore­ground con­sist of orbs made of stuffed ani­mals tight­ly wrapped by plas­tic wrap and then held togeth­er by twine net­ting.

MorYork - Teeth cabinet

MorYork - Teeth cabinet inside

Per­haps the odd­est of all, this is a cab­i­net lined with human teeth. Inside are var­i­ous arti­facts of health and fer­til­i­ty. Clare’s sto­ry about get­ting the teeth was very weird. In Amer­i­ca, extract­ed teeth are con­sid­ered human waste and dis­pos­al by den­tists is mon­i­tored. Amer­i­can cre­ma­to­ries burn too hot and bones and teeth are destroyed, but even if they were not, they would still be human remains and mon­i­tored. In India, cre­ma­to­ries do not burn as hot and the teeth remain. How­ev­er, import­ing human remains is again tight­ly con­trolled. So there are busi­ness­es that take human bones and teeth and make “art” with them. The art pieces can be import­ed freely. When you receive your art, there is a small instruc­tion card telling you to break up the piece and boil it in water, which melts the oth­er art sup­plies away from the bones and teeth.

Good to know, in case I want to fake my own death or some­thing!

If you get a chance, you should take a look at this place. I have bare­ly scratched the sur­face of all the weird and won­der­ful recy­cled art Clare has on dis­play. Walk-ins are wel­come when­ev­er the front door is open, and they have reg­u­lar neigh­bor­hood events such as live music.

Real Zero Escape — Trust on Trial

SCRAP announced “Real Zero Escape — Trust on Tri­al” even before I moved down to LA.

Trust on Trial

I imme­di­ate­ly tried to orga­nize some of my usu­al escape game group to make a road trip with me to play it. How­ev­er, this game requires a team of nine play­ers, and I moved down here and it fell apart. When we played “Escape from the Jail”, the staff said they could only guar­an­tee it would be around until the end of June, but might be avail­able longer if there was sus­tained demand. About halfway through June, when I real­ized that I was not going to be able to get a group down in time to play, I signed up to play on my own. It was the first time I played with­out know­ing any of my team­mates.

The week­end I signed up, July 1-July 4, was when Ani­mé Expo was in town, so there was much more activ­i­ty than usu­al in Lit­tle Tokyo. In fact, SCRAP was run­ning an out­door event over the con­ven­tion week­end called “Zero Escape Puz­zle Hunt”. My team were all out-of-town­ers here for the con­ven­tion, and while they were very famil­iar with Zero Escape, the video game the­me this par­tic­u­lar room was based on, (some of them were cos­play­ing as char­ac­ters from the game) they did not have much escape room expe­ri­ence. I, on the oth­er hand, knew noth­ing about Zero Escape going into this game.

WARNING: SEMI-SPOILERS AHEAD!

(I describe the process but not out­right answers.)

The game itself was like refined iter­a­tion of “Escape from the Jail”. The intro brief­ing is by video from a char­ac­ter from the game. The team is split into three small­er teams and placed into three sep­a­rate rooms. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is much more dif­fi­cult between the small­er teams than it was in “Escape from the Jail”, and you are more depen­dent on the oth­er teams to solve the puz­zles in your own room. This game had the biggest use of tech­nol­o­gy in the puz­zles that I have seen from SCRAP.

In true SCRAP fash­ion, when your small­er team solves the indi­vid­u­al room puz­zles and gets back into the main room, all the pieces of pre­vi­ous puz­zles are mixed up and reused for the next por­tion. One minor com­plaint I had about this stage is that the final lock in each small­er room has the same com­bi­na­tion, so we could have just given the answer to any oth­er team that was lag­ging behind on get­ting back to the main room. The final puz­zle is a very cool syn­chro­nized event that is very nerve-rack­ing as you try to pull it off.

The title of the game, “Trust on Tri­al”, and the intro brief­ing implied that trust is key to solv­ing the game. I thought that meant there would be a trai­tor in our mid­st, but I was not sure how that would work since the team could nine strangers or nine best friends. Would peo­ple set aside their real rela­tion­ships to play a trai­tor in the game? SCRAP could not count on that, so it had to be some­thing bet­ter. There is one point in the game where we get access to our char­ac­ters’ jour­nals and need to cross-ref­er­ence the state­ments like a zebra puz­zle in order to solve the next puz­zle. I thought that may­be one char­ac­ter would be a liar and we had to ignore or invert their state­ments to solve the puz­zle.

The answer is a bit sim­pler than that. The nine of us are in deed work­ing as a sin­gle team. We just have to “trust” that our team­mates in the oth­er rooms are good enough to solve their puz­zles and help us solve our own puz­zles.

END SPOILERS

All in all, a very slick SCRAP game. Mechan­ics-wise, pos­si­bly the best SCRAP game I have played. Puz­zle-wise, fair­ly stan­dard SCRAP dif­fi­cul­ty, but the com­mu­ni­ca­tion lim­i­ta­tion makes it more chal­leng­ing. I def­i­nite­ly rec­om­mend the game, but only if your team is fair­ly expe­ri­enced in escape rooms.

The­me
Puz­zles
Phys­i­cal Chal­lenges
Staff
Fun
Aver­age

My team, of course, failed on the final puz­zle.

Trust on Trial team

Oh, and I saw Suta and Kazu there. I believe Yuki was work­ing the con­ven­tion, but I did not run into her. Also got to meet the very friend­ly SCRAP LA staff, who I am sure will soon be sick of me. Suta is a big Zero Escape fan and helped devel­op this game, so while we were doing the debrief, she also point­ed out all the East­er eggs she had hid­den for fans.

Enter the Funhouse

After the Work­ing Wildlife tour, I hus­tled back to town for a sec­ond Atlas Obscu­ra event! Erin and Sandi were there also, but Siegfried was the offi­cial Field Agent for “Enter the Fun­house”. It was his first event in an offi­cial capac­i­ty for Atlas Obscu­ra!

The Fun­house is actu­al­ly the apart­ment of Alexa and Chris, our fan­tas­tic hosts.

Alexa and Chris, Funhouse hosts

Its begin­nings were quite hum­ble. Alexa had just moved to Los Ange­les and moved into the space, which was very plan. White walls, bare wood floors, etc. Chris was head-over-heels for her and would come hang out under the guise of doing some home repairs. After a while, they ran out of actu­al things that need­ed fix­ing and start­ing mak­ing up things to do. First, they added “the periscope” — a sys­tem of mir­rors on hinges — so that from the bed­room, Alexa could see out of every win­dow at the same time. This also meant they can always have eye con­tact while talk­ing from dif­fer­ent parts of the house.

Periscope

They also max­i­mized the space by rip­ping out all stor­age. As Chris put it, “Why store more things when you can store more peo­ple?” Every nook and cran­ny in the apart­ment holds at least one sur­prise for vis­i­tors. The pantry was con­vert­ed into a break­fast nook that dou­ble as the world’s tini­est dis­co!

Breakfast nook

Tiniest disco

My own pho­to from inside the dis­co is very lim­it­ed, but it’s an amaz­ing space. You can close the cur­tains and there’s light-reac­tive posters, a laser show, even a fog machine.

One of their clos­ets is the “Nel­son Man­de­la Memo­ri­al,” a trip­py black light “jel­ly­fish room” viewed through lentic­u­lar glass­es.

Nelson Mandela Memorial

Jellyfish room

The effect is much bet­ter in stere­o­scope, by the way.

Anoth­er clos­et, still in pro­gress, is a rock­et ship karaōke lounge.

Space lounge

They even turned the bath­room med­i­cine cab­i­net into a tiny gift shop!

Gift shop

Gift shop (adult section)

And on top of all that, there are rain­bows every­where, both paint­ed and pris­mat­ic. Here’s the entrance from inside and out.

Rainbow stairs

Top of stairs

I think Siegfried first described the Fun­house to us as a “mag­i­cal place of rain­bows and whim­sy”, but that does not say enough. Alexa and Chris are clear­ly two of the fun, ener­get­ic, pos­i­tive peo­ple I have ever met. You can­not be around them and talk to them and not smile. Beyond their amaz­ing vibe, though, I real­ly have to admire their com­mit­ment to the Fun­house. How many of us are will­ing to emp­ty out our clos­ets to make extra par­ty rooms?

If you ever get a chance to see the Fun­house either on a tour or at one of their Shab­bat din­ners, you have to do it!