Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria

Right: Fooling around with trebuchets is all
very well
until a plummeting mutant injures
an innocent T'ao T'ieh. Here at Riddled we
condemn irresponsible stunts no matter how
often you call the result a "Freak Accident".

Posting about trebuchets, B4 links to an account of the trebuchet constructed by Cortez and his cohorts during the siege of Tenochtitlan:
However, the Spanish forces failed to aim the unit correctly, and it launched a boulder straight up. When the rock fell back to earth, it demolished the trebuchet.
There is something strangely appealing about machines whose function is only to destroy themselves.

"My theory," said Another Kiwi, signalling to the bar for another spirulina daiquari, "and it is mine, is that Jean Tinguely borrowed the Riddled time machine to travel back to 1521, where he posed as a veteran and talked the conquistadors into providing him with the materials to construct one of his self-dismantling art installations disguised as siege machinery.* Also he may have traded with the Aztecs for chocolate, which is why there is now a faint dusting of cocoa all over the keyboard in the cabin, which totally wasn't me."
"The interesting thing," I said, "is that in The Conquest of New Spain -- the only first-hand description of the siege -- there is none of this:
So they placed a suitable stone in the sling, but all it did was to rise to the height of the catapult and fall back to its original place.
Cortez [...] at once ordered the catapult to be taken to pieces..."
Naturally I started wondering when the 'self-demolition' aspect attached itself to Cortez' story. It appears, for instance, in a 2006 paper in the Estonian Journal of Archaeology, which focuses mainly about Estonians' familiarity with having things thrown at them; but in passing it does refers us to a 1995 paper in Scientific American in which the self-demolition embellishment is firmly in place:
The machine took several days to build, and at the first launch the stone went straight up, only to return and smash it.
I can't be arsed looking for any earlier examples so let's say that Scientific American** is Patient 0 in this particular example of the human ability to reshape history into pleasing narratives.

Bonus self-destructing mechanism from Yves Tinguely.

Chavedden et al. go on to describe 1521 as "The last instance of trebuchet use", but Someone is Wrong on the Internet:
The last known case of trebuchet use for military purposes was in 1779, when the British used it to bomb Spaniards who were on a position at the bottom of a gorge inaccessible to cannons.
In other news, Danish archaeologists get all the fun.

"You are still loonies," said Evangaline Van Holsteren, head barmaid. "How about you take a break from the hard stuff and have a nice chili-and-jellyfish hot chocolate instead?"
-----------------------------------------
* Speaking of time machines, who gave the builder of a 1185 trebuchet the idea of calling it "Their Mother"?

** Back when it was still funny.

16 comments:

Substance McGravitas said...

After the trebuchet incident came the plan of strapping explosives to bunnies in the hope they'd run in the direction of the Aztecs. But guess where they ran?

Another Kiwi said...

Similarly the trebucheting into the city of pamphlets saying "While we are here fighting you, your wives and girlfriends are sleeping with you at night" proved less than successful.

merc said...

Killing in the name of...their Mother.

mikey said...

I have read that during desert storm, a great deal of the damage to Baghdad was caused by Iraqi AA munitions falling back to earth.

There are indeed cases where the cure is worse than the disease.

But in this case, as one who watched in rapt fascination things such as "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and even "Lost in Space" I happen to know that ALL dangerous weapons, not to mention their conveyances, all are manufactured to include a self-destruct mechanism, often one that is easily engaged. It is in the reference specification, I believe.

In the curious case of cortez' loss of One (1) Trebuchet, Mark 1, Mod 0, I suspect that one of the crew accidently selected the self-destruct mechanism, and in the din of battle it was impossible to hear the bland female voice saying "Self destruct system initiated - trebuchet unit will self - destruct in sixty seconds - all personnel evacuate the area immediately - trebuchet unit will self destruct in forty five seconds..."

Smut Clyde said...

Self destruct system initiated
Otherwise known as "Windows successfully installed".

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Self destruct system initiated
Otherwise known as "Windows successfully installed".


I LOLed, truly I did.

mikey said...

I think at that point most trebuchet OSs utilized a CLI...

Another Kiwi said...

However, the Spanish forces failed to aim the unit
Ain't it always the way the one page you need is missing from the instruction manual

merc said...

Yeah yeah always with the blaming The Manual thing.

Smut Clyde said...

I tire of always being told to "read the F-ing manual". If it's so good, why can't it read itself?

merc said...

Who tells Smut these tiresome things?

scure, sort of secure.

Another Kiwi said...

I don't blame Manuel he was a orphan until we recruited him for the Riddled Travelling Circus and Flying Children exhibition.

merc said...

Ah The Amazing Flying Manual!

tigris said...

I tire of always being told to "read the F-ing manual". If it's so good, why can't it read itself?

It's BUSY. Didn't you see the necktie on the cover?

fish said...

Yves

Is that French for Jean?

Smut Clyde said...

At last someone has spotted the deliberate misteak.