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November 15, 2017

Student creates ‘Stranger Things’ Ouija board

Courtesy of Caleb Kussmaul

One of the most iconic scenes from the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” involves Joyce Byers, played by Winona Ryder, discovering she can communicate with her missing son Will Byers, played by Noah Schnapp, via colored Christmas lights.

Joyce Byers goes on to paint the alphabet on the wallpaper in the living room, hanging strands of lights, one light above each letter. Will Byers is then able to send her messages one letter at a time, like a Ouija board.

With excitement building for the second season of “Stranger Things,” one fan will not have to wait much longer. University of Massachusetts student Caleb Kussmaul, a computer science junior, recreated this Ouija board. After receiving a great deal of attention on Reddit, he was invited to the premiere for the second season in Los Angeles.

Kussmaul initially had the idea to create the board when watching the show and thought it would make a cool room decoration.

About a month ago, he built this board using a Raspberry Pi, a small computer that runs Linux, and LED lights. He described it as a “pretty simple Raspberry Pi project.”

It took Kussmaul a few hours to make, but kept breaking and falling apart. So it took more time fixing it than building it.

Kussmaul connected his Raspberry Pi and a set of programmable LED lights. To get messages from the internet, he created a static web page where people can submit a form that gets sent to his home IP address in Boston. At his home, he has a server running on a computer with a broken screen and set up a Flask server that holds onto the messages. His Pi pings that server for messages every two seconds or so.

Courtesy of Caleb Kussmaul

The Raspberry Pi is banned from the school’s network so he uses his phone as a hotspot for his system.

People can send messages through his website and any messages that are sent get displayed on the board. Messages have been sent from Reddit users, readers of the recent CNET article and various other places.

Kussmaul explained how the board is always plugged in and running, but must have internet access to work.

“Usually when I walk in and turn on my hotspot I get 10 or 20 minutes of messages coming in,” he said.

Kussmaul doesn’t have a favorite message that has come through, but loves all the random personal messages and memes. He said somebody even tried to send the whole text of the novel “War and Peace,” but it was cut off after the first 50 characters.

“I really appreciate the diversity of messages more than any individual one,” Kussmaul said.

He often livestreams the board so people can send messages and see their messages displayed. His father suggested he livestream the board, but he discarded the idea. Then, Reddit users requested a stream, so he finally did it.

When it comes to “Stranger Things,” his favorite scene is when the messages initially started coming through and lighting up on the wall, “for obvious reasons” he joked. He also loves all the kids on the show, especially Will Byers.

When asked what he is most excited for in season two, he replied that he gets to view the show in Los Angeles with the creators of the show and those who worked on it.

He got a message on Reddit from Netflix asking for his email and from there he received an email from someone on Netflix’s social media team offering to fly him and one guest out to the premiere on Thursday.

“It’s going to be an unbelievable experience,” Kussmaul said.

Abigail Charpentier can be reached at acharpentier@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @abigailcharp.

 

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