This was SCRAP LA’s first “Escape Park” style game, where you go around the neighborhood finding clues to solve the puzzles on your game kit. It played during Animé Expo at the convention hall and around Little Tokyo. For people without Anime Expo badges, there is a “cheat sheet” postcard with copies of the clues in the hall. It is very similar to SCRAP SF’s “10,000 Treasure Hunters” games, which were coordinated with Japantown’s JPOP Festival. The game is free to play; I think 10,000 Treasure Hunters was a very cheap ticket just for crowd control purposes. And both were of lower difficulty than standard SCRAP games.
The overall puzzle hunt was very short. There were four puzzle clues inside Animé Expo, which I got from the postcard. There are three remaining clues outside. One was posted in the window of SCRAP LA’s storefront, and the final two used signage from businesses in the area. Using educated guesses, I did not need to visit the two businesses, so the only clue from the entire puzzle hunt that I needed to visit in person was the one at SCRAPLA. Even with the obligatory SCRAP twist for the last puzzle, the entire game took me about 15 minutes to complete on my own.
Slightly disappointed, I made my way over to the end location.
Instead of staff checking your physical answer sheet at checkpoints, Zero Escape Puzzle Hunt used a website check-in system. After you solved the final puzzle, it asks you to post your success to social media. The end location staffers just check for your post before giving you a prize. I got lucky number 5 from the prize wheel — a postcard ad for Zero Escape — Zero Time Dilemma and a discount code for a future SCRAP game.
Coming from an escape room standpoint, this was not SCRAP’s best work, but I am sure people who came for Animé Expo and got this as a treat enjoyed it. Especially the ladies, who were unanimous fans of the Junpei cutout.
Continuing my holiday weekend of activities, I went on another Atlas Obscura tour to Flektro Studios. Sandi was the official Field agent, but Erin was there, and our host was Michael Flechtner.
Among Michael’s many accomplishments, he designed the “Celebrate Neon” Forever stamp for the United States Postal Service.
He is also on the board of trustees for the Museum of Neon Art and earned the J. Paul Getty Trust Fund Fellowship for the Visual Arts. He is even one of the first Americans to visit Cuba for the Havana Light project.
Michael is one of the few neon artists who creates three-dimensional pieces. It is a bit hard to see from this angle, but the reddish fish is a hammerhead shark.
He also enjoys incorporating wordplay into his work. This first piece is called “Budapest” and the second one is called “Moolah.”
While we were there, he walked us through the entire process of making a neon light. In honor of Atlas Obscura, Michael made a simple AO. First, he started with one long tube for the A, cut it down to size, and heated up small sections to get the tight bends. Then he got a second tube for the O and heated up about half at a time to get the long curves. The tricky part was closing the gap on the O without having the ends hit each other. The last step of the shaping was to join the two letters together and close the outside ends with electrodes. On one end, he put a small bulb in the glass to trap a tiny bit of mercury.
We learned that neon lights get their color in three ways. The first is the gas used — each of the noble gases can be used, and they each have a different natural color associated. The second is the glass tube — phosphorus coatings on the inside of the tubes can convert the UV portion of the light emitted by the gas to a visible wavelength. And the final method is mercury, which will turn any gas to blue when it is vaporized and suspended in the gas.
After finishing at the bending station, he took it over to the gas station. First he blasts extremely high currents through the tubes while they still have just normal air. In the studio, Michael actually has a transformer normally seen on power lines for this purpose. This burns up all the water vapor and other impurities in the tube, which leads to a longer life for the neon. Michael told us about the neon signs at Clifton’s Cafeteria, which have probably been running 24⁄7 for over 80 years without repair because they were well made. Then he fills it up with the gas of choice and runs “normal” current through, and works the mercury from the trap throughout the tube. That is the stage we are in this photo.
Once the mercury is evenly spread, he gives it a few minutes of steady power to get an idea of what the final color will be. It took him about 45 minutes to go from start to finish. Michael tells us that mass-producers of signs, like for beer companies to put in bars, are much faster than him because the shaping portion is stamped, not freehand.
Here are a couple of videos of pieces I really liked, for obvious reasons.
And my absolute favorite shot from the entire tour, me, holding a neon camera and dropping an F‑bomb.
And as a bonus, here is a piece of Michael’s in the wild.
Called “Yucky!”, it can be found at Sweet! Hollywood.
I went on an Atlas Obscura excursion to MorYork, a warehouse/gallery/studio in Highland Park focusing on 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.