The Phelps Telegraph Machine (pictured) was at that time in
widespread use throughout North America. Oskar Karolson, an operator in
rural Ontario, a young-to-middling man of Jewish-Polish extraction with
a love of puzzles, who taught the wheat farmers’ children mathematics
and piano, had had a new Phelps delivered to his remote station
sometime early in 1877. The telegraph traffic of dairymen and the odd
dentist was low, however, and Oskar had little to do. In his boredom,
he reached out across the wires.
The quiet telegraph upon which so much depended read as follows:
“I am alne. North-fire. South-water. East-earth. West-Air. Cme, fnd me. Execute.”
Curiously, when the corresponding Phelps Machine’s keys were
depressed, a melancholy little melody emerged. The song echoed through
Baxter Hobshack’s office, and through trial and error, the asthmatic
operator managed to return:
“I am cming. Head East in the evening.”
Thus began the game of Karolson and Hobshack, in which Hobshack was
led through a simple, charming world of Karolson’s imagination.
And, yes, I admit, before I blogged this I googled Karolson and Hobshack — just in case I had actually missed something. Almost as charming is the equally whimsical account of the origin of the Simon game.