The world's most fascinating tunnel networks

Via Jason Kottke. My favorite? The subterranean realm of long-dead Smithsonian Institution moth expert Harrison Gray Dyar, who dug "almost a quarter mile of tunnels" beneath his home in Washington:



The text, from a 1932 issue of Modern Mechanics and Invention, reads:

ONE of the oddest hobbies in the world is that of Dr. H. G. Dyar, international authority on moths and butterflies of the Smithsonian Institution, who has found health and recreation in digging an amazing series of tunnels beneath his Washington home.

Almost a quarter of a mile of tunnels has been completed, lined with concrete. The deepest passage, illustrated in the accompanying diagram, extends 32 feet down.
Every bit of earth was removed unaided by Dr. Dyar, being carried out in pails. He found the tunnel-digging an appealing form of exercise to relieve the intense strain of his work day, which involved much close work with high-power microscopes.

The catacombs are constructed in three levels, with steps and iron pipe ladders leading between different tiers. The idea first came to Dr. Dyar when he sought to make an underground entrance to his furnace cellar.

Anyone know if the tunnels are still around? According to Pamela M. Henson, they got Dyar in a bit of trouble:

During the 1920s Dyar's most peculiar hobby came to light. When a truck fell into a labyrinth of tunnels near Dyar's old home in 1924, newspaper speculation attributed these to World War I spy nests, Civil War trysts, and mad scientists. Eventually Dyar accepted responsibility for the tunnels and similar works behind his new home, saying he found relaxation in digging underground. The brick-walled tunnels extended for hundreds of feet and measured six by six feet.

View the whole collection here.


The cinema returns to Riyadh

Yesterday, I wrote about how the excitement around Saudi Arabia's highest ranking female minister might be premature. In the cinema, though, liberalization might be proceeding, if only one city at a time:

Saudis in the capital city of Riyadh did something at the weekend that they've not been able to do for more than 30 years – they went to the movies.

Since Friday, near-capacity crowds of 300 have been turning up at the King Fahd cultural centre to watch a local production called Menahi, a comedy about a naive bedouin who moves to the big city.

Several religious hardliners attempted to disrupt performances and turn away wannabe cinemagoers, but the screenings have generally taken place peacefully. Women were not allowed to attend, although girls aged 10 and under were exempted from the ban.

 It should be noted that the ban on going to the movies is as much about the "going" as the movies, as hardliners object to the inevitable gender mixing. Saudis can still rent movies or watch them on TV (although only in censored form). The art scene, though, is also improving:

But the weekend's screenings are part of a trend of opening up the arts since the accession of King Abdullah in 2005. There has been an upsurge in Saudi-produced movies and the kingdom held its first film festival last year, in the city of Dammam. Menahi producer Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of King Abdullah and the world's 13th-richest person according to Forbes magazine, said in February that he believed cinemas would eventually be reopened in the country.

Omar Salem/AFP/Getty Images