McDaid Interview
Led by Dene Grigar. Explores Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse, its inspiration, conceptualization, creation, and legacy.

Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse

Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse

Quick Links

Overview | Background | Cassette Audio Tape


Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (1992) by John McDaid is a hypermedia novel consisting of a Hypercard stack written to floppy disks, letters, a photocopied article, and two audio cassettes, one entitled The Story of Emily and the Time Machine performed by The Reptiles. This boxed collection represents, according to the letters, the literary estate of Arthur "Buddy" Newkirk, who has gone missing. As the heir of Uncle Buddy's estate, the reader (player? interactor?) must unravel the mystery of his disappearance, and decide what to do with the materials in the box.


John McDaid wrote Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse in response to a challenge by mathematician Jim Propp to imagine writing a novel that a 20th century writer could not write.

McDaid felt that hypermedia could create a space within which such a novel could emerge. Hypermedia could be used to embed story elements within situationally appropriate artifacts, like the box of materials provided by the lawyer representing the literary estate of Arthur "Buddy" Newkirk.

Hypercard provided the opportunity to combine text and image, as discursive and presentational. HyperTalk, the programming language behind HyperCard, was used as both a generator of randomness and as an embedded text within the work.

The Hypercard stack comprising the main "text" of Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse includes an issue of a computer poetry magazine; a review of music by The Reptiles (of which Newkirk was a member); a partial screenplay by Newkirk; a rambling email message from Newkirk's friend, Emily Keane; the "Fictionary of the Bezoars," detailing the exploits of a group of Syracuse University drama students, philosophers, and hackers in the late 1980s; a program for SpastiCon '88, a science fiction conference; a game called "Egypt"; an interactive, HyperEarth, a zoomable world map; a story titled "Tree"; "Oracle," a Tarot-like card system with computer art; and a program called "Burrows" (with an icon of a burro and named after William S. Burroughs) that randomized the order of words in a text file.

Working through the materials presents an image of Newkirk as certainly eccentric, but likable, someone with whom you might like to talk. But, he's entirely fictional. Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse is a puzzling world. Participants must decipher its components. It is a text with emergent properties and may, or may not, provide an integrated view.

Cassette Tape Audio

Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse includes two cassette tapes, Retribution by Arthur "Buddy" Newkirk, and The Story of Emily and the Time Machine by The Reptiles of whom Newkirk was allegedly a member. The Story of Emily and the Time Machine includes seventeen tracks.

Track 01: Time Machine #1

Track 02: Cape Fear

Track 03: Emily (What do I say to you)

Track 04: (I Been) Walking Alone—Come Along

Track 05: Cape Fear (reprise)

Track 06: Equals

Track 07: White Subway—Time Machine #2

Track 08: Moving Clox

Track 09: Emily (Lost and Found Dead)

Track 10: Time Machine #3

Track 11: Titanic

Track 12: Slowly Light

Track 13: Genius Gone Insane

Track 14: Slowly Light #2

Track 15: Falling Apart

Track 16: Time Machine #4

Track 17: Emily (Maybe in the Future)