It’s my own damn fault. By using the chorus of AC/DC’s “We’ve Got Big Balls” to introduce the mystery of the giant stone sphere outside the Costa Rican Embassy, I practically begged for testicle jokes. The best came from two Pentagon peons, Paul Williams and John Walewski.
“Clearly, it serves as a subtle warning to those headed to the Costa Rican Embassy in pursuit of visas. It depicts the fate of a former tourist enraptured by the tree-ripened bananas and coffee [that,] when ingested together in large quantities by American male tourists, bring on a peculiar condition known as Colossal Uni-Testicular Elephantitis, or CUTE. The artist depicts the sole disproportionate testicle, the sheer weight of which forces the remaining body below the ground surface, and cautions male visitors to Costa Rica on the ramifications of becoming CUTE.”
And that, in a nutshell, is why the Pentagon is known for $300 hammers and not, say, diplomacy.
Other phallocentric theories abounded. Even a reader who likened the sphere to an ovum did not reference the thousands of gametes ensconced in every woman, but rather an egg shed by a man. “I know what it is,” e-mails Gitte Herman. “It’s Mork’s egg. You know, Mork from Ork.”
(Actually, Mork had three eggs, Gitte. The ship he arrived in, the chicken egg he doomed with the words “Fly, be free!,” and the egg from which his and Mindy’s progeny, Mearth [Jonathan Winters], was hatched. Nanu, nanu.)
Still, Gitte is not alone in her predilection for extraterrestrials with eggs. In the ’70s, self-entitled “Sunday archaeologist” Erich von Däniken sold millions of books that claimed early civilizations were founded by aliens who arrived in orb-shaped spaceships, and that these arrivals are commemorated by spherical and circular archaeological remains all over the world. Von Däniken devoted considerable ink to the stone orbs of Costa Rica in his 1968 work Gods From Outer Space. In 1940, he recounts, archaeologist Doris Z. Stone unearthed a large collection of spheres in the Diquis River delta. Unable to determine how or why they were made, Stone wrote that “the balls of Costa Rica must be numbered among the unsolved megalithic puzzles of the world.”
Von Däniken decided to see the spheres himself. Between treacherous trips to sphere sites, he talked to 24-7-365 archaeologists who theorized that the orbs were used for astronomical, religious, or monetary purposes. Those spheres found deep in the jungle or on the top of a mountain had simply been transported from quarries using rafts or sleighs.
But von Däniken would have none of that. “I needled away patiently because these explanations did not satisfy me, but finally had to realize that the mystery of the balls was taboo to them. [So] I tried asking some of the Indians. Trained by my acquaintance with natives in many countries, I soon sensed that they were afraid of something as soon as the conversation came round to balls. Nevertheless, it is extremely surprising that these poor creatures, who haggle over every centimo, would not guide me to an 1,800-foot-high cliff with three balls on the top, no matter how much I offered.”
“There is a mystery about the stone balls,” von Däniken finally concluded. “I could not solve it, but my suspicion increased that the prehistoric balls and all the pictures of them in reliefs and on cave walls are directly linked with the visits of unknown intelligences who landed on our planet in a ball. They already knew and had proved that the sphere is the most suitable shape for interstellar space flights.”
With logic like that, von Däniken should work at the Pentagon.
Although von Däniken solved the puzzle of the spheres to his own satisfaction, their use to pre-Columbian natives remains a mystery to more reputable scientists. Having been ravaged by gold-seekers and grave-robbers for centuries, the Diquis region offers an extremely patchy archaeological record. Thought to have been carved sometime between 1000 B.C. and A.D. 500, spheres have been found alone, in rectangular and circular groupings, in rows, near burial sites, and on beds of cobblestone.
Although the spheres’ purpose has been lost to the ages, archaeologists no longer find their construction as humanly impossible as did von Däniken. According to Between Continents, Between Seas: The Precolumbian Art of Costa Rica, “sedimentary, as well as igneous, rock was used in their manufacture, obviating the hypothesis that they may have been natural volcanic ejects. They range in size from a few inches in diameter to over two meters, the best large examples varying only a few centimeters from the perfectly spherical. They were shaped by pecking and grinding, employing techniques well within the capacity of the prehistoric stonemason. A perfectly hemispherical wooden template (like the support frame around a globe) could be obtained by using a string compass. This would then be applied to, and rotated around, a boulder of the desired size that was nearest to round. Projecting areas would be pecked down.”
Though many readers detailed these theories, Russell Hess went them all one better. Not only did he include a bibliography, he offered his own novel theory—that the spheres had a much more mundane use than astronomy—perhaps crushing or grinding. To make his point, Russell quotes Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark: “ “What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators,/Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?’/So the Bellman would cry; and the crew would reply,/”They are all merely conventional signs.’ ” Russell then adds: “Besides, why so many copies of this tool—chronic Astronomania?”
Finally, I must overlook the other perpetrators of testicle humor in favor of Doug Payne, whose submission recalls the biggest dick of them all. I speak, of course, of Tricky Dick.
“The sphere is a repository for the canceled checks of Bob Vesco to Nixon’s CREEP [Committee to Re-elect the President] in 1971-72. Vesco fled indictment in the U.S. and landed in Costa Rica. Vesco, before leaving for the Caribbean and eventual residence on a Cuban beach courtesy of Fidel Castro, presented the Costa Rican government with the sphere, which, unbeknownst to it, contained the canceled CREEP checks. When Vesco heard Costa Rica had put the sphere in Washington, he celebrated by taking Castro shark fishing. They both got drunk and Vesco told Castro what was in the sphere. Castro told Ted Turner who told James Carville who told Web Hubbell who tried to sell it for immunity to special prosecutor Starr who told it to Al D’Amato who can be seen on moonless nights peering through the wrought-iron railing around the Costa Rican Embassy grounds dreaming of linking the Clintons to Vesco.”
Watch out Al. What goes around, comes around.
Next Week’s Mystery: Fort Reno Radar