Literary Technology: Phone Phreaking in Hell

cross posted from Coffeefied, Operafied, Fluffified, Beglittered

In Lord Dunsany’s “Three Infernal Jokes”, published in 1917, a dictionary salesman makes a deal with the devil.  That is not important.  The important thing is that to do so, his intermediary has to hack the phones and splice into some bizarre telephone exchange.

without more ado he began with a pair of pincers to cut the wire of the telephone and the receiver….Along a passage they went and away to the back of the club and there the stranger leaned out of a window and fastened the severed wires to the lightning conductor. My friend has no doubt of that, a broad ribbon of copper, half an inch wide, perhaps wider, running down from the roof to the earth. “Hell,” said the stranger with his mouth to the telephone; then silence for a while with his ear to the receiver, leaning out of the window.

I am confused and have questions.  First of all, that the stranger is specifying his desired destination implies that there is an operator on a switchboard somewhere, so who else is on that exchange?  And how do you get the job of switchboard operator to supernatural phone lines?  How well does it pay, are there penalties for the operators getting caught listening in on phone conversations to supernatural places, and are there pay phones that connect to hell?

Second, I guess splicing a phone wire to a lightning conductor would work?  They are both copper but beyond that I don’t know enough about electronics to speak about it. Umm, according to the internet lightning conductor wires usually connect to underground wire grids, which could probably also be used as an underground phone exchange.  I wouldn’t vouch for a clear connection, but I guess it would work. Since Hell is clearly already on a phone exchange I don’t know why they wouldn’t just be connectable through more above ground exchanges that require less wire cutting, but maybe the intermediary just didn’t want to pay for long distance.

Now, of course, we have cell phones so the point would be moot except for the fun of trying to get a signal underground, so this might still be necessary.

Featured image: Cesar Bojorquez via Flickr

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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