Nobody’s Business But the Turk’s


It’s been a while since I did a post on a game (of the non-video variety, anyway), but I recently thought of something fascinating I read as a kid, namely the story of a chess-playing automaton. Built in 1770 by Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen to impress the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, the machine came to be known as “The Turk” due to the fact that it resembled a Turkish man with turban and pipe. Over the years, Kempelen and other owners took the Turk on tour, and it defeated such notable figures as Napoleon, Catherine the Great, and Benjamin Franklin. It wasn’t until the 1820s that the true secret behind the Turk was revealed, which was that there was a chess master inside. Who would have thought it? Well, quite a few people, really. In fact, many of the imagined scenarios for how the machine worked were much worse than the truth, such as the rumor that the guy inside had had his legs cut off. In reality, it was basically a magic trick, with the master moving around to stay out of sight as the panels were opened to reveal the works. Even when the truth was out, however, there were people who didn’t want to believe it. There might well be conspiracy theorists even today who think a fully functional chess-playing robot was made in the eighteenth century, no doubt by employing some sort of alien technology. Trick or no trick, the Turk was a fascinating device, and you have to admire the skill and artistry of both Kempelen and the various chess masters inside. The machine was eventually destroyed by fire in 1854, when it was being kept at the Chinese Museum in Philadelphia.

This entry was posted in Board Games, Chess, Conspiracy Theories, Games and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nobody’s Business But the Turk’s

  1. halinabq says:

    Occam’s Razor proven correct yet again!

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