St. Louis Room Escape Taps Overseas Demand for Brain-Bending Puzzle Designs

Categories: News

Danny Wicentowski
Enigma Productions' Nir Chezrony displays an unfinished (and giant) cryptex.
There's a lot of work that goes into trapping ten people in a room for an hour.

Much of that work happens in a suburban garage, where Nir Chezrony, the brains behind Enigma Productions, hefts a four-foot-long pole that's been threaded through ten wooden dials -- once complete, these will serve as tumblers for a supersized cryptex.

"We are building, essentially, a giant combination lock," Chezrony says, describing what he calls the "master piece" of Trapped: A St. Louis Room Escape Volume 4, which will run May 27 to June 7.

For more than a year, Chezrony, an engineer, and his partners -- two fellow engineers and a high school English teacher -- have enjoyed notoriety as St. Louis' only room escape operation. To date, more than 600 people have tried tackling Chezrony's devious mind traps, aiming to escape a locked room before the time limit expires. That number is set to grow significantly with Enigma Productions' latest venture: selling custom escape room designs at thousands of dollars a pop.

"I've had people contact me from around the world," Chezrony says. "Australia, British Columbia, England, Spain, Egypt, Greece. What we're finding is no else has these kinds elements that we're doing."

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Pine Lawn Trainwreck Continues, Mayor Pleads Guilty on Extortion Charges and Resigns

Categories: News

Sylvester Caldwell used this obviously Photoshopped portrait of himself sitting in the Oval Office as his official picture on the Pine Lawn city website.
Oh, Sylvester.

The saga of Pine Lawn and its mayor, Sylvester Caldwell, reads like cautionary tale of corruption and petty tyranny in St. Louis' north county. Though the municipality is tiny -- just six-tenths of a square mile -- Pine Lawn's track record of official misconduct has given it a toxic reputation among many residents and neighboring towns. It's a reputation Caldwell has nurtured during his nearly ten-year run as mayor.

On Monday, Caldwell interrupted his own trial in federal court to plead guilty on separate counts of extortion and attempted extortion. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Caldwell's guilty plea came days after a jury saw a recording of him shaking down Eduard Shapshovich, owner of Eddie's Towing in Wellston, by demanding a series of payouts via coded messages about "green Mountain Dew in a cup."

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How Rumors of Jewishness Clouded Jay Kanzler's 2002 Campaign

Categories: News

Best of the STL via YouTube
Jay Kanzler.
Jay Kanzler was on the campaign trail when he first heard the rumors.

It was the summer of 2002, and Kanzler, a St. Louis lawyer and aspiring filmmaker, had driven the 180-plus miles from St. Louis to the town of Willow Springs, deep in the southern of part of the state. He was chasing the GOP nomination for state auditor, and he liked his chances: He had the full backing of the Missouri Republican Party, and eventually he would attract more than $100,000 to his campaign coffers. Kanzler's only opponent in the primary was a joke, an ornery septuagenarian with a criminal record.

Still, the budding politician needed advice, so Kanzler made the pilgrimage to the home of Wendell Bailey, a fixture of Missouri Republican politics since the '70s who served four terms as state representative and two terms as treasurer. Kanzler remembers how they sat on the front porch of Bailey's home, drinking iced tea and talking shop.

"It was the perfect portrait of politics," Kanzler says. "We were just talking, and I was telling him about myself. At the time, I was pursuing becoming an Episcopal priest, and he said, 'That's funny, I've heard people around here think you're Jewish.'"

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New Black Panther Members Indicted in Bomb Plot, Arrests "Saved Some Lives"

Categories: News

Danny Wicentowski
Olajuwon Davis, left, helped direct traffic during a celebratory protest in Ferguson in August.
It was the early morning of November 21 when Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis, two members of the St. Louis chapter of the New Black Panther Party, allegedly bought what they believed were three pipe bombs.

Unbeknownst to the Baldwin and Davis, both 22-years-old, the contact who arranged the sale was an undercover agent. The two men were arrested later that same day on weapons charges stemming from a different plot -- buying three pistols from a Cabela's store in Hazelwood and giving them to an unnamed felon.

Yet, citing anonymous sources, local and national media still trumpeted headlines about the attempted pipe bomb purchases. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Baldwin and Davis planned to blow up the Arch and to assassinate St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and then-Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. At the time, law enforcement officials refused to confirm or comment on the alleged bomb or assassination plans.

We now know that the multiple federal and local law enforcement agencies did in fact engineer a sting operation on Baldwin and Davis. A federal indictment filed April 1 formally accused the men of trying to buy the explosives and use them to "damage and destroy, by means of explosives, a building, vehicle and other property."

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Schweich Spokesman Spence Jackson Dead From Apparent Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound [UPDATE]

Categories: News

Spence Jackson.

Update 3/31/15: Jefferson City police have released the contents of Jackson's alleged suicide note at the request of his family. Full updates at the bottom of this post.

Spence Jackson, a long-serving media spokesman who had most recently worked for late Missouri auditor Tom Schweich, was found dead Sunday evening of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, say police. Jackson was 44.

Jackson's death comes as a shocking new chapter in the aftermath of Schweich's apparent suicide last month. Though it's unclear how, or if, the two deaths are related, Jackson had been a vocal critic of Republican Party chairman John Hancock over his alleged role in spreading an anti-Semitic "whisper campaign" against Schweich, who was a front-runner for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Hancock has repeatedly denied the accusations, and the controversy has led to a rift among top Missouri Republicans.

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MO History Museum Contacted Jewish Group Before Nixing Ferguson-Palestine Event

Categories: Ferguson, News

Ray Downs
Activists organized last summer to protest the war in Gaza. The same activists are now mad at the Missouri History Museum.
Two days before a panel discussion on Ferguson, Palestine and the Ayotzinapa student massacre was set to kick off, the event's host, the Missouri History Museum, handed the panel's organizers an abrupt ultimatum: Remove Palestine from the agenda, or find a new location for the event.

Organizers refused to budge, the event was canceled and about 100 people protested outside the museum last week to accuse the St. Louis institution of "silencing" Palestinian voices. The event was later rescheduled at a different location.

Though the museum disputes accusations that it engaged in censorship, emails obtained by Daily RFT show that on the same day officials canceled the event, the museum's president, Frances Levine, was fielding concerned emails from the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Further email correspondence reveal the that the museum specifically pressured an organizer to eliminate Palestine from the discussion panel.

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"Broad Fucking City" Shirt Gets College Student Ejected From St. Louis Flight

Categories: News

Fox 2
Don't bring F-bombs on planes, folks.
There are certain things that Southwest Airlines just won't tolerate. We already know the list includes saggy pants, making out with your girlfriend, and Kevin Smith, but as 22-year-old Daniel Podolsky learned Monday, another item is the word "fuck."

Podolsky wore a T-shirt which displayed the words "Broad Fucking City" on his flight, and it was apparently too vulgar for Southwest's friendly skies.

It all started when bad weather in Chicago caused Podolsky's flight from Dallas to make a stop in St. Louis, and he says he took advantage of the delay to walk around the Lambert terminal and use the bathroom. He had been wearing a jacket over the T-shirt during the flight, but he removed it to cool off as he left the plane.

That's when a Southwest agent at the gate spotted the shirt. Podolsky says the agent approached him, poked him in the chest and said, "'You can't be wearing that."

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Missouri History Museum Cancels Ferguson Event Over Inclusion of Palestine

Categories: Ferguson, News

Ray Downs
Supporters of Palestine held a vigil last year during the most recent war in Gaza.
Anyone who has sat through a rain-delayed baseball game can attest that there are times when, as the saying goes, the best laid plans go awry. But, as a group of student organizers and local activists learned Tuesday, plans can also go awry when the Missouri History Museum decides the issue of Palestine is too controversial to be handled at a public event.

The event in question, titled "Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action," was scheduled to run Thursday night and had been advertised as such for weeks on the museum's website. So organizers were surprised when museum officials abruptly changed their minds, demanding Palestine be removed from the event's program. The organizers refused.

"They gave us an ultimatum, either that we don't include Palestine or that we don't do the event. So at that point we said that we weren't going to do the event," Bradley Schlesinger, one of the event's organizers, told Washington University's Student Life.

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Happy Sunshine Week! Here are Missouri's Top 6 Most Secretive Organizations

Categories: News

Chad Garrison
Ferguson police chief Tom Jackson resigned after revelations about the city's policing tactics.
Open records can do amazing things. Just this week, Associated Press reporters used a combination of campaign records, vehicle records and Instagram to root out the shady expenses being billed by (now-resigned) Illinois congressman Aaron Schock. Here at Riverfront Times, we recently used Missouri's Sunshine Law to uncover troubling patterns in drug-offender sentencing. On the more mundane side of things, we benefit from the Sunshine Law every time we report from open government meetings.

Whether national or local, the various Sunshine laws represent versatile tools for opening governmental process to the masses, and so it makes sense that ten years ago the American Society of News Editors founded Sunshine Week, which kicked off on Monday.

However, Missouri's Sunshine Law regularly frustrates local advocacy groups and journalists. Not because of flaws in the law itself, per se, but because certain government agencies, legislative bodies and courts view compliance with the Sunshine Law as a mere suggestion.

So in celebration of Sunshine Week, we've compiled a list of Missouri's top six most transparency-averse governments, people and agencies.

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Online Donors Cover Funeral Costs for Slain 6-Year-Old Marcus Johnson

Categories: News

Twitter via Chuck_modi
The family of Marcus Johnson held a candlelight vigil Sunday night to remember the slain six-year-old.
An inexplicable shooting took the life of six-year-old Marcus Johnson on Wednesday last week. Now, the kindness of strangers will allow the grieving family to lay their son to rest for the last time.

St. Louis alderman Antonio French ably summed up the city's stunned reaction to the boy's death, tweeting on Saturday that "6-year-olds shouldn't die like Marcus Johnson did" before asking the public to help with funeral expenses. French set up a GoFundMe campaign, and 24 hours later it surpassed its $5,000 goal.

"It's touched so many people, for a young innocent child to die like that in our city," French tells Daily RFT. "We have a problem with violence in our city, and people are sick of it."

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