top of page


by E.C. Messer

Sometime in the small hours of Friday morning, the imposing figure of Roberto T. was assaulted in the alley behind F&B’s Printing Works. He had gone to deliver for publication some unknown offering, following a silence of several years. His last printed work, a practical guide to the rolling of dice, was distributed by this same printer. It is generally assumed that the assault proved fatal.


A manifold creator, Roberto T. is best known for The Stratagem, an as yet unplayable game whose board and book are written in an invented language. For three decades, scholars and studious amateurs have pursued the game’s meaning—with pitiful results. Universities have established departments dedicated to its study, a phenomenon that the game-maker discouraged. Certain rich and powerful enthusiasts have offered astounding sums in exchange for a solution.

Roberto T. himself provided almost nothing by way of explanation. The only element about which the inventor would give explicit assurance was The Stratagem’s caesural nature: lapses from a few hours to several dozen years should be expected throughout the course of a single game. It is conceivable that a player might successfully complete only one within his or her lifetime, removing the dusty game-box every decade or so from the back of a cupboard to resume play. In spite of—or perhaps because of—its inscrutability, The Stratagem is widely considered among the most obsession-making achievements of the human mind.


Motive for the assault is unknown. However, the scandal of his personal life suggests a plausible motive. He did not hide the fact that he considered his sexual acts a part of his work. The many women and occasional man left in the wake of the great game-maker must necessarily include one or two capable of such an act. Although the popular imagination attributed to Roberto T. a fetish for pregnancy, in actuality he possessed a desire for youth so all-consuming that it drove him to seek pleasure as close to the fetal state as possible. It is my belief that this desire also contributed to the invention of The Stratagem itself. Each game begins in childhood, and a player has only to start a new game to regain this condition. Nonetheless, there are many who cannot forgive a philosopher the carnal realization of his philosophy.


F&B’s has issued a broadsheet assuring the public that the assault, while unarguably disruptive to the culture at large, will not affect the several renowned periodicals issued by their venerable house. John Bossett himself was present to pay his respects at the memorial service; Gilbert Fogg’s recent ill-health unfortunately prevented his attendance.


All Roberto T.’s addresses of record are now being searched for any trace of a cipher or key to The Stratagem. What he had intended to deliver to the printer—be it an enraged polemic seeking its pamphlet stitch or a nuptial announcement in need of letter-pressing, an ambitious opinion editorial or an underwhelming personal ad—we will never know.

E.C. Messer lives at the top of a hill in San Francisco with her husband and four cats. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter ​@ecmesser. She would like very much to know you.

bottom of page