What (the heck) is it?


We came across this puzzling object at Weirdstuff, and we haven’t figured out what it is and/or was part of.

The piece is made of stiff black plastic– like that used to make dominoes– and is approximately 3/8″ thick. The surface of the piece is filled with a rectangular array of uniformly spaced holes that are visually labeled with a white checkerboard pattern. Each square on the checkerboard covers four holes and is roughly 1 cm square (we did not take a ruler to it). The rows and columns of holes– not checkers– are labeled. The rows are numbered from 0 to 33, increasing from top to bottom. The columns are numbered from 24 through 47, going right to left. The row labels appear on both the left and right sides, and the column labels are also repeated on both sides. That, combined with the coarser size of the checker pattern would seem to indicate that its usage requires either (1) rapidly identifying the numeric coordinates of a given hole or (2) rapidly finding a given hole from given numeric coordinates.

So what is it? (This time we really don’t know, so your best guesses, hints, and spoilers are welcome!)

Update 9/24/07:

Still no definitive answer. A few more details noted upon a closer look: The holes are clear through the plastic, with no electrical parts, connectors, or contacts inside– it’s just a sheet of holey plastic. The checkerboard pattern and numbering are repeated on the back side of the panel.

45 thoughts on “What (the heck) is it?

    1. I think you are right, the holes act to difuse the heat of a dish and protect your table. Very ModArt

  1. Duplo Lego blocks would be too big…. and I doubt that this would be any good for regular legos as they would be upside-down (since it is holes and not raised pips).

  2. I would venture a guess that it is a layout board for a display of some sort. The stumper is the numbering. It is not contiguous, and it looks like the board underneath is reversed, which would imply that the thing that it is used to lay-out is 2 sided.

    1. That’s a very interesting idea– it certainly could be a jig to hold LEDs or other components in place during assembly. It would have to be for some application where it were important to know put particular components in particular places, though.

      Windell H. Oskay

  3. Hmmm… Chess board from the space program perhaps…. All the chess pieces would be lugged to fit into the holes so they don’t just float away!

    1. What you are thinking of is called an optical table, or sometimes an optical breadboard, and has a much larger scale. Optical tables have 1/4-20 tapped holes in a 1" square grid, and are usually made of steel, but in rare cases of aluminum or granite. The piece that we’re trying to decipher has plain holes on a grid of approximately 5 mm, which are not tapped, and are in a piece of plastic– far too flexible for use with optics, where rigidity is everything.

      Windell H. Oskay

  4. A map of the known universe showing the political boundaries – as depicted by the Black and White Guardians. All missing numbers are in the TARDIS.

  5. that is a genetalia girth and length measuring device… i believe they also used them as torture devices for said anatomy during the spanish inquisition…

    1. Interesting device– I hadn’t seen one before.

      *So far as I can tell*, we can rule that out because of scale– Check out the price tag on the picture up of our object– the holes are tiny and close together. Also, there’s nothing electrical in the holes– it’s just a piece of plastic. If there are other variations on that theme that might be closer, I’d like to see them.

      Windell H. Oskay

  6. The best I can come up with is some sort of a plug board for an old mainframe computer. All the plug boards I’m familiar with, though, come in a heavy aluminum frame, with two boards per frame, and more descriptive silkscreening — no checkerboards. The thickness sounds about right and the spacing of the holes sounds about right. I have a couple of unmounted plug boards that I can get a picture of and measurements from, if you have a way for me to send or upload a picture.

    1. I’d like to see it. By far the easiest way is for you to upload your pictures to flickr (basic accounts are free), and post a link to your picture(s) here.

      We use flickr quite extensively, and the majority of the pictures on our site are hosted through flickr.

      Windell H. Oskay

  7. No no no. It’s a very special edition of chess. The hardly to get "12-person-strip-chess". greets b.hartmann

  8. Greetings

    I believe you will (eventually) find that it is 1/2 of a game board. The "other" one will have columns numbered 1-23

    The checkerboard layout allows for easier visual following of piece placement. Think of a massive "battleship" game board for instance.

    I have been collecting games for over 30 years and don’t recognize this one in particular, but wouldn’t be surprised that you will find this to be the eventual answer

    Play on!

    Phred the Elder

  9. I’ll go for the idea that it is a plugboard from a circuit board tester. You put wires with special end contacts into the holes to connect the pin electronics to the fixture. The whole mess plugs into what amounts to a jumbo ZIF socket.

    1. Ahh my id is active now. … yea, they called them ‘accounting machines’. Actually they were used to program card sorters and collators too. Earlier the accounting machines were programmed with them. I think they still had some from IBM at the university I attended in the 70-74 time frame.

  10. It’s a wiring harness lacing guide. You stick pegs in the appropriate places and use the pegs to route your cables. After the cables are routed you lace them up and remove your custom harness. I’ve seen these (in different sizes, colors, etc.) used in the TWA mechanic shop at KCI airport (when TWA was still in business and my dad was an aircraft mechanic there).


  11. Is it a Go board? I am just guessing here, because I have only heard of the game but never seen the board or played it.

    1. No, it’s certainly some sort of electronics template for aligning wires, sockets, pins, or lights. Not certain which.

      If it were any game, it would be Advanced, Super-Extra-Difficult Battleship! (And, go looks like this.)

      Windell H. Oskay

  12. I may be only a simple college student with special needs but i am very knoledgable about science

    however i dont think science is an awnser for this one

    it is obviosly some kind of games board probbibly for either checkers or dominos

    how do we know what was desigend to be inserted in those holes anyway
    it could be anything
    but i have a feeling its just a simple games board

  13. It is possibly a "Back Board" for Florescent Lighting the holes make it possible to angle the flourescnt tubes in any direction to make a NEON SIGN.

  14. This is used in the analysis/surveying of certain soils….

    The 0 thru 33 represents the mollic epipedon (the zone that runs from 0 to 33 inches)

    The 24 thru 47 represent the thickness of the epipedon (ie between 24 and 47 inches)


  15. Oh yeah, Weird Stuff. I wandered into there about 25 years ago. Great place.

    I think I know what the checkerboard thingie is, but I’ll ask a friend of mine who will definitely know.

    You guys have way too much free time. ;-)

  16. Ummmm, some sort of werd chess or checkers game? I don’t know but it sure LOOKS cool!!!

  17. I believe this is the patch panel from an old analog computer – company I work for used to make them, and we have several styles of similar things still around the place – mostly mounted and framed now as keepsakes or mementos. If anyone is interested, let me know and I can send pictures!

    In use, the grid would hold jumper wires (like banana plugs) that formed the "program" for the computer – connecting the various circuit elements to form the electronic model of what was being simulated. The simulations were, by today’s standards, fairly simple, but this got the simulatiion industry going.

    The reason for the row and column numbering? To allow documentation of the connections. I suspect originally two panels (one with the missing numbers) were used.

    Haven’t seen this exact model before, but it can’t be anything else!


  18. I don’t know what it is, which probably explains our continued interest. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone built this…
    …because they were working on some sort of project that they did not finish, or…
    …because they thought that it would start an interesting conversation on what it is. BECAUSE THEY BUILT IT, AND THEY DON’T KNOW. Actually, I would think you would have noticed a label saying who made it or asked whoever you got it from by now.

  19. I suppose that is a board used for testing vision systems. I’ve got similar in my Robotics lab.

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