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The blivet is an undecipherable figure, an optical illusion and an impossible object. It appears to have three cylindrical prongs at one end which then mysteriously transform into two rectangular prongs at the other end.
Blivet has numerous other meanings, explained below.
In traditional U.S. Army slang dating back to the Second World War, a blivet was defined as "ten pounds of manure in a five pound bag," (a proverbial description of anything egregiously ugly or unmanageable); it was applied to an unmanageable situation, a crucial but substandard or damaged tool, or a self-important person. In Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses, Rawlins defines a blivet as "10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound sack." During the Vietnam conflict, a heavy rubber bladder in which aircraft fuel or POL (petroleum, oil, and lubricants) was transported was known as a blivet, as was anything which, once unpacked, could not be replaced in its container.
In various United States Air Force communities (eg Strategic Air Command), blivet may have referred to what are euphemistically called "Special Weapons" whose presence are officially neither confirmed nor denied. Usage apparently derived from the original cavalry definition.
In some areas of the U.S., it refers to a juvenile prank, clearly connected with the original military usage: a sack full of excrement is ignited on the victim's porch, while the pranksters ring the doorbell and run. The victim attempts to put the flames out by stamping on the bag. This may also be related to the term's claimed use as military slang for a land-mine, not well-documented.
Among computer programmers, a blivet refers to any embarrassing glitch that pops up during a customer demonstration. Among computer security specialists, it can refer to a denial-of-service attack performed by monopolizing limited resources that have no access controls (for example, shared spool space on a multi-user system). There are other meanings in other technical cultures; among experimental physicists and hardware engineers it may designate any random object of unknown purpose (similar to hackers' use of frob).
The word blivet is sometimes used as a cadigan. In economics, the term may be used (like "widget") for some hypothetical product. Butler Manufacturing Services Ltd, in Longford Ireland, has used the trade name "BMS Blivet" for over 15 years for their compact "all in one" sewage treatment plant.
Paradoxical graphic figure
In yet another usage, illustrated above, the blivet is an undecipherable figure. It appeared on the March 1965 cover of Mad magazine, where it was dubbed the poiuyt (derived from the last 6 letters on the top row of the typewriter keyboard, right to left), and has appeared numerous times since then. An anonymously-contributed version described as a hole location gauge was printed in the June 1964 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, with the comment that "this outrageous piece of draftsmanship evidently escaped from the Finagle & Diddle Engineering Works".
The artist M.C. Escher was famous for utilizing this object in many of his drawings, lithographs, woodcuts and many such other media.
- Ambiguous trident
- Devil's pitchfork
- Devil's tuning fork
- Hole location gauge
- Mark III blivet
- Rectabular excrusion bracket
- Three-legged widget
- Three pronged blivet
- Trichotometric indicator support
- Two-pronged trident
- The Impossible Magnet