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This Week on Mystery Theatre:
Flipping, Turning, and Rotating Clues

May 26th, 2022

The person in the picture is not standing by a lake. In fact, he isn’t standing at all—a realization that becomes obvious once the photo is rotated 90 degrees to the left, at which point we see that the boy is lying with his back to a fallen tree and a foot propped against its upended roots.

The photo achieved meme status a few years back, making the rounds on social media and landing in an article in The Sun, where it appeared with 21 other mind-bending photographs under the headline “Look Again: These Optical Illusions Made Us Look Twice.”

And you will need to look twice … or in some cases three or four times because, as August LaFleur states in the current episode of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre, “The mind sees what it thinks it sees.”

Another Sun article considers the photo at right, which shows either a man running away or a dog running toward the viewer. Titled “Fur Real,” the article proposes that what we see may reflect our psychological state. “If you are currently anxious, you are much more likely to see the man escaping,” says psychologist Lee Chambers, who is quoted in the article. By contrast, Chambers asserts, “If you are an optimistic individual, you are more likely to see something coming into your life and see the dog.”

Such is the case with other bistable figures, like the woman discussed in my two previous posts (which you can read here and here). That woman, who features prominently in our current episode of Mystery Theatre, provides an important clue to one of the story’s central puzzles.

Perspective reversals like those featured in our latest mystery have a long history that stretches back at least as far as the bistable staircase published by Heinrich G. F. Schröder in 1858, which may have been the inspiration for M. C. Escher’s 1955 lithograph “Convex and Concave” (pictured below).

One interesting quality shared by all of these images is the way they seem completely fixed at first glance. To viewers who see a person in the picture above, it initially seems inconceivable that the photograph is actually of a dog.

And yet, after staring at the picture for 7.5-21.5 seconds, most viewers will perceive an involuntary shift that may be attributed “either to neuronal fatigue or to conscious selection,” suggesting that how we perceive things is in some ways beyond our control.

All of this brings us to Act 4 of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre’s “A Most Deadly Poison,” where the physical or perceptual act of flipping, turning, and rotating leads to a revelation about the story’s central mystery.

You can hear that episode by clicking the player below … or by going to the Prime Stage website (or your favorite podcast app) where you’ll find a complete list of all Mystery Theatre stories. And once you’ve checked those out, if you know of any other confounding photos or drawings like the ones featured in the podcast, please pass them along.

And now … on with the show: