Thursday, July 16, 2020

"This Woman Inspired One of the First Hit Video Games by Mapping the World’s Longest Cave"

From a long article by Claire Evans about the creation of the game Adventure:
The longest cave in the world is in central Kentucky.


The earliest people to map Mammoth were enslaved, installed underground by landowners to lead tours. The first of these guides, Stephen Bishop, named its features — the River Styx, the Snowball Room, Little Bat Avenue — and discovered the eyeless white fish that swim in its deepest waters. When Bishop was sold, along with the caves, to a Louisville doctor, he was ordered to draw a map from memory. As cave maps do, his drawing looked like “a bowl of spaghetti dumped on the floor,” but it detailed the nearly 10 miles of passages that Bishop had discovered and remained the most thorough map of Mammoth’s reaches for more than 50 years. One nameless noodle, a passage forking off the subterranean Echo River, became important a century after Bishop was buried near the cave’s main entrance, his grave marked by only a cedar tree.

In Bishop’s lifetime, every landowner in Central Kentucky claimed a cave entrance; if not a natural sinkhole, then a crevice blown open with dynamite. Bishop believed that all these fragments were linked into one larger system, and his instinct was shared by generations of Kentucky cavers.


Until the late 1960s, anyone entering Mammoth would have passed the glass-topped coffin of Floyd Collins, a country caver who died pinned by a boulder.


By 1972, the Cave Research Foundation had surveyed nearly every Flint Ridge lead to its endpoint, sometimes with 10-hour belly crawls through womb-like tunnels. The “final connection,” as they called it, was imminent.

The cavers believed that Flint Ridge met Mammoth past a choke of sandstone boulders at survey point Q-87, a remote spur miles from the surface, but moving the boulders with lengths of metal pipe was back-breaking work. One expedition tried an alternate route, through a vertical crevice called “the Tight Spot.” Caving humor has a nihilistic streak: the Tight Spot is a dark slit so small that only one person in the party dared enter. She was a reedy computer programmer, all of 115 pounds, named Patricia Crowther.