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-   -   Fictional artifacts with unassuming but remarkable properties (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=889924)

Dr. Strangelove 02-12-2020 02:54 AM

Fictional artifacts with unassuming but remarkable properties
 
That is a tad oxymoronic, so let me explain. Many fictional artifacts have rather exciting properties. The Ark of the Covenant shoots out weird spirits and melts faces. Gandalf's fireworks form a full-size flying dragon. The DeLorean in Back to the Future travels through time. These are exciting and spectacular artifacts.

Some artifacts are less exciting, and yet no less remarkable in their own way. Examples:

- In Thud! (Discworld), there is a device called an Axle. It consists of two 6-inch cubes joined at one face, and is light enough to be carried by a person. One cube rotates relative to the other every 6.9 seconds. The torque appears to be infinite. With the right gearing, it can power a city. And it appears to have an indefinite lifetime; millions of years, perhaps.

- In Roadside Picnic, a moderately common artifact in the Zone is the Empty. It consists of two metallic discs, about a foot in diameter and 18" apart. Despite having no obvious connection, they maintain their relative position no matter how they are manipulated. No ordinary force can push or pull them apart.

- In D&D, there is an object called an Immovable Rod. It is an iron rod approximately 6" long, with a button on one end. If you press the button, it locks in place (apparently relative to the local terrain), supporting a force of approximately four tons. Pressing the button again unlocks the rod.

What other artifacts with unostentatious properties can you name?

DPRK 02-12-2020 05:36 AM

In Numenera the DM is supposed to come up with a long list of stuff like that, e.g., "A glass plate that shows an aerial view of a city that no one’s ever seen. A egg-shaped metallic bauble that occasionally spins and speaks in a language no one knows. An aerosol can that sprays sparkling paint that hangs in the air. A device that emits a projection of a human face that changes expression depending on what direction it is facing." (List from the video game.)

Senegoid 02-12-2020 06:43 AM

Rods carried by various people (Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh's priests) turn into snakes and back into rods (Exodus 4 and 7).

A new crystal form of H2O, when dropped into the ocean, merely destroys the world.

ETA: And don't forget, Dr. Strangelove's prosthetic arm seems to have a mind of its own. (And the One Ring of Power does too.)

Robot Arm 02-12-2020 07:01 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Senegoid (Post 22134341)
ETA: And don't forget, Dr. Strangelove's prosthetic arm seems to have a mind of its own.

I always figured him as a former Nazi whose right hand was still fighting World War II.

Joey P 02-12-2020 07:19 AM

The Noisy Cricket, Will Smith's gun in Men In Black.

Andy L 02-12-2020 08:50 AM

Iain Banks had the Lazy Gun

" There were two controls, one on each hand grip; a zoom wheel and a trigger.

You looked through the sight, zoomed in until the target you had selected just filled your vision, then you pressed the trigger. The Lazy Gun did the rest instantaneously.

But you had no idea whatsoever exactly what was going to happen next.

If you had aimed at a person, a spear might suddenly materialize and pierce them through the chest, or some snake's spit fang might graze their neck, or a ship's anchor might appear falling above them, crushing them, or two enormous switch-electrodes would leap briefly into being on either side of the hapless target and vaporize him or her.

If you had aimed the gun at something larger, like a tank or a house, then it might implode, explode, collapse in a pile of dust, be struck by a section of a tidal wave or a lava flow, be turned inside out or just disappear entirely, with or without a bang. "

"that the fact a Lazy Gun was light but massy, and weighed exactly three times as much turned upside down as it did the right way up, was almost trivial by comparison. "

enipla 02-12-2020 09:07 AM

The 'Orb' In Woody Alans movie Sleeper.

Sort of a permanent orgasm for any that holds it, as long as you hold it. (as far as I can tell)

RealityChuck 02-12-2020 09:29 AM

The grails in Phillip Jose Farmer's Riverworld novels.

They are something like a lunchbox, but which provide everything their owner needs -- food, clothing, drugs, etc.

Treppenwitz 02-12-2020 10:12 AM

Zaphod Beeblebrox's sunglasses:

Quote:

Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses have been specially designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. At the first hint of trouble, they turn totally black and thus prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.
j

Meatros 02-12-2020 10:23 AM

The Lost Room is full of fictional objects with strange properties. It's like a Roadside picnic in that sort of sense. The whole premise is weird objects.

The Key: It's a hotel room key. You open any door and on the other side is an old hotel room. Go into the hotel room, close the door, think of anywhere with a door and open it and you're there.

The Comb: Run this item through your hair and you stop time for 11 seconds.

The Quarter: Swallow the quarter and a thought becomes real (it's been a while, so I'm hazy on this). That thought goes away when you...uh...eliminate the quarter.

There's tons of other objects in the miniseries.

mbh 02-12-2020 10:27 AM

Robert Sheckley's "Something for Nothing" has the "utilizer". You push a button, and wish for something, and it appears. BUT . . . it keeps a tab of what these things cost, and eventually, you WILL have to pay the bill.

Larry Niven's World Out of Time has a sophisticated teleportation system. On the ostentatious end, there is a medical device that can remove toxins from inside your cells, without damaging the cells. On the mundane end, there is a waterless toilet with a self-cleaning backside-wiper.

Larry Niven's Ringworld had the "tasp". This handheld device shoots an invisible ray that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Shoot someone with it, and they become immobilized with pleasure. It causes no physical harm, but is potentially addictive. One of the characters in the book was an aggressive macho warrior. He feared the tasp far more than he feared any lethal weapon.

Colibri 02-12-2020 10:28 AM

Another Discworld artifact that is superficially unassuming but which has remarkable properties is The Luggage.

To all appearances a simple wooden chest (except when walking), it one of the most deadly and irresistible objects on Discworld.

RealityChuck 02-12-2020 10:56 AM

The marble in Men in Black, which contains an entire galaxy.

ZonexandScout 02-12-2020 11:04 AM

The Lost Room (TV mini-series) had about 100 such objects, though a few actually seemed to have some reasonably useful purpose. For example, the cufflinks lower your blood pressure. The eyeglasses inhibit nearby combustion.

gnoitall 02-12-2020 11:14 AM

Most of the SCP Foundation's SAFE class anomalies. They're inexplicable but harmless. As opposed, say, to KETER class SCPs, which are exceedingly difficult to contain; the importance of maintaining containment is roughly related to the degree of hazard the object represents, although there are a few apparently-harmless KETER objects.

Dropo 02-12-2020 02:03 PM

The Great Whatsit from Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is just a box. "Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt. Whoever opens this box will be turned into brimstone and ashes."


The Talisman from The Keep (1983) sounds exotic and rather ostentatious, but in execution it looks like a flashlight.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRHXI0Rj14w

Yodalicious 02-12-2020 03:32 PM

A Green Lantern Ring
Mjolnir
Captain America's shield
Most, if not all, of Black Panther's super hero gear.
Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth
Doctor Fate's Helm of Nabu
Doctor Strange's Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto

Der Trihs 02-12-2020 04:29 PM

Futurama has a cardboard box that contains the universe. Sit on it like Fry did, and everything the the universe is squashed and distorted.

ricksummon 02-12-2020 05:16 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by gnoitall (Post 22134821)
Most of the SCP Foundation's SAFE class anomalies. They're inexplicable but harmless.

My favorite Safe SCP is SCP-624, an MP3 player that creates tracks of its user's favorite type of music as performed by a more musically skilled version of the user. If I used it, for example, it would create "DJ Rick Summon's Greatest EDM Hits".

However, one security officer who didn't like any kind of music tried it. Track 72 was...

SPOILER:
...the sound of his future death and then being tortured in Hell.

Darren Garrison 02-12-2020 05:20 PM

"The spire" from Pornucopia. A small device that can create anything, unlimitedly. When the protagonist recovers it, someone had abandoned it set on "ice cream", and he had to climb a literal mountain of ice cream to reach the artifact.

silenus 02-12-2020 05:23 PM

Also D&D - A Bag of Holding. Not unlike a TARDIS, it is much larger inside than outside. Holds approx. 64 cubic feet of stuff but always weighs 15 lbs.

Loach 02-12-2020 06:38 PM

In Paladin of the Lost Hour an unassuming pocket watch is all that keeps the world from ending.

WildaBeast 02-12-2020 07:13 PM

If you haven't seen it, this is pretty much the entire premise of the Syfy show Warehouse 13 -- a giant warehouse where the government stores artifacts with remarkable properties. I have to imagine if must have been inspired by that giant warehouse shown at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's been a while since I watched the show so I don't recall any artifacts (and I only ever saw it on Netflix, which only seems to have ever had the first two seasons), but I'll crib from Wikipedia:

Quote:

Originally, artifacts are items connected to some historical or mythological figure or event. Each artifact has been imbued with something from its creator, user, or a major event in history. Some are well known: Studio 54's Disco ball; Lewis Carroll's looking glass, which contains an evil entity called "Alice" that can possess other people's bodies (Myka in Season 1 episode "Duped"), leaving their minds trapped in the mirror; and Edgar Allan Poe's pen and a volume of his writing, which can make whatever the user writes a reality. Some are not: Lizzie Borden had a mirrored compact that today compels users to kill their loved ones with an axe; Marilyn Monroe owned a brush that now turns its user's hair platinum blonde, which Myka once used on herself while under the influence of W. C. Fields' juggling balls that induce drunkenness and blackouts. Others may have humorous effects, such as Ivan Pavlov's bell, which will call any dog to you but causes excessive drooling for 24 hours, and a magic kettle that grants wishes but produces a ferret if the wish is impossible.

blondebear 02-12-2020 07:38 PM

The Pick Of Destiny (from the movie of the same name) bestows superhuman abilities on stringed instruments to anyone who wields it. According to Ben Stiller, the pick was fashioned from a tooth from Satan.

Dr. Strangelove 02-12-2020 07:45 PM

All suggestions are welcome of course (and there are some good ones here), but what I had in mind were artifacts that were unassuming both in basic presentation and operation. A Bag of Holding is an excellent example: it's pretty much an ordinary bag, just a lot more useful. An unaware bystander watching someone use a Bag of Holding might take quite some time before going wait a second (say, after an anvil is inserted). On the other hand, The Luggage isn't as good an example since no one could fail to be surprised after it sprouts a dozen or so legs and eats a bad guy.

Numenera is probably what planted the seed of this thread, as I played through Tides of Numenera recently. I recall an ordinary-looking cup that would heat the contents of (nearly) any liquid poured into it, but without any obvious means of power or otherwise.

WildaBeast 02-12-2020 08:01 PM

Mary Poppins's carpet bag appears to be pretty much the same as the Bag of Holding, and it predates D&D.

And Mary Poppins's umbrella allows its user to, if not exactly fly, at least float through the air propelled by the wind.

Andy L 02-12-2020 08:15 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Dr. Strangelove (Post 22135746)
All suggestions are welcome of course (and there are some good ones here), but what I had in mind were artifacts that were unassuming both in basic presentation and operation. A Bag of Holding is an excellent example: it's pretty much an ordinary bag, just a lot more useful. An unaware bystander watching someone use a Bag of Holding might take quite some time before going wait a second (say, after an anvil is inserted). On the other hand, The Luggage isn't as good an example since no one could fail to be surprised after it sprouts a dozen or so legs and eats a bad guy.

Numenera is probably what planted the seed of this thread, as I played through Tides of Numenera recently. I recall an ordinary-looking cup that would heat the contents of (nearly) any liquid poured into it, but without any obvious means of power or otherwise.

In R. A. Lafferty's "Bright Coins in Never-Ending Stream" a man has a small coin purse which is never empty. Unfortunately, while once it gave out gold eagles ($10 coins) it has decreased the value of the coins it now gives out - and it's small, so you can only fish out one coin at a time.

asterion 02-12-2020 09:35 PM

I love the Immovable Rod. Get two of them and you can literally climb up air.

gdave 02-12-2020 10:10 PM

GURPS Warehouse 23 was a supplement for the classic 3rd Edition of the Generic Universal Roleplaying System. It was very explicitly inspired by the ending scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark (what else was in all of those other crates?!). The book has information on the Warehouse, the staff, security measures, and so forth, and a number of the artifacts stored there. It's got most of the big, obvious ones - Ark of the Covenant, Spear of Destiny, and so forth. It's got some big, custom-made ones. But it's also got quite a few along the lines of what OP appears to be looking for. Some of my favorites:

The Spear of Destiny: There are a number of suggestions of what it is and what it does. One suggestion is that it's a perfectly ordinary-appearing Roman legionnaire's spear, remarkable only for how well-preserved it is. As for its power - one suggestion is that it inspires the holder to Greatness. Great Good or Great Evil - the spear is indifferent. It just helps you become the Greatest, most extreme version of yourself. It's an ordinary-looking object with a very subtle but powerful effect.

The Memories of Michael Perry: An ordinary, slightly shabby wool cap. It contains all of the memories of an young man, named Michael Perry, who had a very hard life. Wearing it gives you his memories, as if you had lived them. It literally gives you a different perspective, and forces you to walk not just a mile in another man's shoes, but walk his entire life.

Astro Globs!: An early 80s cartridge for a popular home video game system. The game itself is a sort of cross between a digital lava lamp and Tetris. It's oddly relaxing, and just difficult enough to be a challenge for you (yes, you, specifically you, whoever you are) to master, without quite being difficult enough to be frustrating. And it's utterly addictive. You can easily spend hours playing it non-stop - or days. Without sleeping. Or eating. Or drinking. If you're not forced to stop by outside intervention, you'll eventually die of dehydration. And if you are forced to stop, you'll go back to play, because it's just a really fun game. Just one more level.... It's got a ridiculously advanced adaptive AI. Effectively, if you play it long enough (and you will...), it creates a comprehensive, perfect, deep neurological profile of you. Who is it being transmitted to? And why?

Marvin the Martian 02-12-2020 10:19 PM

There’s the tents in the Harry Potter series. Look like an ordinary, average sized tent from the outside but generally a multi-room furnished suite inside.

Senegoid 02-12-2020 10:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by WildaBeast (Post 22135775)
And Mary Poppins's umbrella allows its user to, if not exactly fly, at least float through the air propelled by the wind.

And her bottle of cough syrup from which she poured three teaspoons full, each a different color.

RealityChuck 02-13-2020 05:55 AM

The TARDIS, at least at the beginning of the show, when police boxes were common.

kanicbird 02-13-2020 06:12 AM

Jesus found some mud that restores sight.

vislor 02-13-2020 07:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by asterion (Post 22135890)
I love the Immovable Rod. Get two of them and you can literally climb up air.

I loved when I first saw that as it opened up a world of possibilities with that. The other one I like is if you stay at an Inn and the door opens inward, you put the rod on the inside and activate it and that door won't open without so much force, it will wake you up. Same for the window, or through it's loops if it opens out. If you have enough, you could make a platform float in air to hold a tent as a safe place to stay. It really opened up a lot of ideas for me!

Another show that had mundane items but they do things is Friday the 13th the TV series. The items were cursed in some ways, like a surgeon's scalpel that would make sure you succeed in saving someone's live, providing you took a life with it. Or boxing gloves that would let you win while your shadow beat someone to death. I had to look those up. The one I do remember was the garden mulcher that when you put someone into it, they turned into money, approximating what they were worth. If it's used for mulching, though, it works and doesn't reveal what horrific thing it can do.

Thanks for the interesting conversation!

Gray Ghost 02-13-2020 09:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mbh (Post 22134731)
...Larry Niven's Ringworld had the "tasp". This handheld device shoots an invisible ray that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain. Shoot someone with it, and they become immobilized with pleasure. It causes no physical harm, but is potentially addictive. One of the characters in the book was an aggressive macho warrior. He feared the tasp far more than he feared any lethal weapon.

Two more from Ringworld. The Variable-Sword, which was just a simple extendable wire with a handle. Held in a stasis field, which made it absolutely inflexible, and therefore able to cut through anything. Except the second item.

The General Products Hull. Completely invisible, and unaffected by any amount of impact or energy except antimatter. Among other things it was unaffected by was impacting the Ringworld surface at 770 miles per second. Though everything inside the hull had better have some means of protecting itself...

The Ringworld structural material was not quite invulnerable, though had a tensile strength on the order of the binding energy of a nucleus.

BeagleJesus 02-13-2020 11:32 AM

Since we're allowed to stretch the definition a little bit - and since no one else has said it - Sonic Screwdriver

BeagleJesus 02-13-2020 11:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by vislor (Post 22136307)
I loved when I first saw that as it opened up a world of possibilities with that. The other one I like is if you stay at an Inn and the door opens inward, you put the rod on the inside and activate it and that door won't open without so much force, it will wake you up. Same for the window, or through it's loops if it opens out. If you have enough, you could make a platform float in air to hold a tent as a safe place to stay. It really opened up a lot of ideas for me!

Thanks for the interesting conversation!

I was reading a story with a similar immovable object...guy was running away from a big areal predator and he dropped the rod behind him just as it came swooping in to snatch him up. It goes without saying that big bird didn't have a good day.

Der Trihs 02-13-2020 04:03 PM

The Known Space short story Flatlander has a wine glass with a tiny teleportation receiver in the base, hidden by distortions in the glass. The result is a never-emptying glass of wine.

Senegoid 02-13-2020 04:39 PM

that goofy guy with the ordinary-looking shoe with a secret telephone in the heel.

Gatopescado 02-14-2020 08:58 PM

Two Phone Booths

One in The Blues Brothers, could fly and save you from destruction.

One in Bill and Ted. Time travel. Enough said.

Civil Guy 02-14-2020 09:11 PM

The wardrobe made famous by C.S. Lewis.

jayjay 02-14-2020 09:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by asterion (Post 22135890)
I love the Immovable Rod. Get two of them and you can literally climb up air.

Just don't get confused as to which one's button you're pushing.

hanna the curious 02-14-2020 11:22 PM

Clifford Simak's Way Station, (1963) had a talisman that looked like a knapsack, but in the hands of a custodian (sensitive) encouraged harmony and a sense of well-being throughout the Universe.


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