Cosmos Mystery Area – Rapid City, South Dakota - Atlas Obscura

Cosmos Mystery Area

A place where the laws of nature seem to have gone completely berserk... but of course haven't. 


“Have you ever experienced a place where the laws of nature seem to have gone completely berserk? Have you ever stood on the wall or felt an unexplainable force?”

So reads the promotional information on the Cosmos Mystery Spot, where they offer a 30 minute long tour of these “berserk” natural forces. Of course, the secret to the dozens of mystery areas, magnetic hills, and “gravity-vortexes,” around the world lies not in any paranormal force, but in the peculiarities of our own minds. As our brains attempt to orient themselves, we use horizontal and vertical cues around us to establish up and down.

Deprived of a horizon line, and given misleading cues – like a cabin built on a 20 degree tilt – our brains can make some surprising mistakes. Even more curiously, when our bodies are put at an angle, as happens when standing inside the Cosmos Mystery Spot’s slanted identical cabins, the perceptual distortion doubles, increasing these odd illusions even more.

The perceived distortions are due to a forced perspective which makes shapes appear larger or smaller due to a distorted background. A classic example of this is an Ames room in which people appear to grow in size as they walk across it.

To make a mystery spot of your own it is surprisingly simple. Build a small room and lift one side of the house until the room tilts about twenty five degrees. Second, disguise the fact that the house is tilted by giving visitors incorrect cues. Build the house on a slope. Make it difficult to see a horizon line, and place altered objects and furniture to make everything appear normal. Invite people to experience the gravity-vortex for themselves.

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July 12, 2009

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