Yup. All my pigeons are now spoons. I knew my court alchemist was a sore loser, but I still think it's inappropriate to do that for a chess game. He vanished and I no longer have any means to communicate.

Horses can also send messages, and are useful for long ones, but I still want a way to send short messages quickly.

How could I send short/quick messages without my pigeons?

P.S.: I now have plenty of spoons, so bonus points if you use them to send messages.

Update: on the message note he left, this bloody alchemist said that all pigeons of my kingdom are spoons, not only my castle. My kingdom is quite large (something between your England and France), so I need a long term solution. The sooner the better, but at least my horses aren't forks so I can wait something like one month, but no more.

Messages I sent with pigeons were Short Message Swearing, AKA SMS, to send short classical orders ("besiege this castle", "gather your army there", "betray my brother"...), usually when it would take more than a day with a horse.

closed as primarily opinion-based by RonJohn, kingledion, Gryphon, Monty Wild Aug 15 at 17:56

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Is "Fasten a message to the spoon and send it off" a valid answer? – Hosch250 Aug 9 at 13:26
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    @hosch250 i try to make them fly, pigeons were better at it. Even with the trebuchet, the distance is to short be useful ( unless i create a network of trebuchet all around my kingdom) – NotATyrant Aug 9 at 13:33
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    How many is "plenty of spoons"? Could they be linked together to form a sort of wire over which an electrical signal could be passed? – Ian MacDonald Aug 9 at 19:24
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    I see that you've already accepted an answer. Just a tip for the future: it's recommended to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer as we have users all around the globe,who will not have seen this. Some of them might be discouraged from interacting with your question if they see that you have already found a solution that works for you, and that may mean that you lose potentially better! answers. It's still completely up to you whether to accept an answer, and when. – FoxElemental Aug 10 at 0:30
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    The “spooner” the better? – JoshRagem Aug 11 at 14:18

21 Answers 21

up vote 105 down vote accepted

Inspired by Hosch250's comment

1- Carrier pigeons don't actually go to a any given location, they really just return to their nest.

2- Spoons have an annoying tendency to fall into soup bowls.

Take advantage of these two facts. Your pigeons are spoons on the outside but they're still pigeons on the inside, only very confused. Get another alchemist (surely you don't only have one) and have them transmute pigeon nests into soup bowls. Their instinct will catch up to their new body and they'll develop a strong desire to fall into their own bowl. Then dispatch messages by horse explaining what you did and ask for the bowls to be filled with soup. Your carrier-spoons will now gladly "fall" back in their bowl. People might need some time getting used to this though...

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    Your note for point 1 is not entirely true. While it's true they are usually trained to fly back (after being transported somewhere) because that's easiest, they can also be trained to fly back and forth (they get food at one location, and their nest and mate is at the other). en.wikisource.org/wiki/Popular_Science_Monthly/Volume_50/… – hatchet Aug 9 at 16:41
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    @hatchet Fair enough, my point was mostly about them returning to something and not just arbitraily go somewhere. Feel free to edit in more info. – 0xFF Aug 9 at 16:55
  • I'm sorry, I don't get this answer. I get everything up to the spoons falling into their own bowls. But why would many spoons fall into one bowl? Pigeons surely didn't share nests with more than their mates? – EveryBitHelps Aug 10 at 19:52
  • @EveryBitHelps Every spoon falls into one bowl; you just have a bunch of bowls in one place. – Nic Hartley Aug 13 at 20:06
  • @NicHartley, oh. I was imaging a rider on horseback riding around with a single bowl asking for it to be filled with lots of spoons. Thanks for pointing out where I went off track. – EveryBitHelps Aug 14 at 12:10

Polish them to a mirror shine. Put one spoon with one operator on a tower within visible distance from another one. Invent coding that uses "long shines"-"short ones".

Important messages would still be sent by horse (because it's harder to stop a messenger on a fast horse) and frivolities can be sexted with Morse code.

EDIT The use of a horse is to secure delivery of important message. First you avoid the message to be stuck down on the road due to "some" conditions. Second - you avoid many people learning about the message (the Shiners should know the code, not just repeat shines to avoid a game of Telephone where messages mutate over time). Third - using towers means your messages go through well known route. Messenger can go off the beaten track or disguise himself to protect the information.

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    First you have to flatten them. A bowl shape is useless for any sort of range. The light intercepted is reflected in all directions, rather than toward the receiving tower. – WhatRoughBeast Aug 11 at 1:57
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    At the risk of being supremely pedantic, sending messages via horse & rider is known as the Byzantine Generals' Problem, and it's anything but secure unless carefully designed. Also makes for a fun plot twist or two :) – tonysdg Aug 11 at 21:44
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    At my local medieval center we ate with wooden spoons. They are hard to polish to a mirror. – Ole Tange Aug 12 at 8:25
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    @OleTange .. Local medieval center? There's a level of normalisation about your comment that I'm actually struggling to process :P I'm picturing something like the YMCA, but with tights and siege weaponry. – Ruadhan Aug 13 at 8:06
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    I'd rather send the combat dispatches by spoon than horse. It'll move 10 miles to the minute. – Joshua Aug 13 at 17:51

Crows.

If you don't have pigeons anymore, your other simple option is to use crows. They are very intelligent, great memory, longer life span, stronger etc ...

Some would argue to use ravens because they are stronger, but they are less sociable and less comfortable around humans. But you can train them anyway.

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    I think a herd of cows is a little bit more difficult to take on a journey than a couple boxes of pigeons. Remember, carrier pigeons were only every useful for sending messages back to the castle. That said, maybe cows are an innovation: if they're smart enough, maybe they could handle two-way messages! – realityChemist Aug 9 at 13:33
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    @realityChemist did you mean to say "cows" and not "crows"? – Ajnatorix Zersolar Aug 9 at 13:37
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    Oh my goodness I completely misread this answer. o.o ... this changes everything – realityChemist Aug 9 at 13:41
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    Also, crows like shiny object, just like... polished spoons. – Sip Aug 9 at 15:01
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    +1 for cows. Just imagine a Guernsey cow thundering down the road, raising a cloud of dust behind it, a tiny scroll delicately attached to one leg. – Sneftel Aug 10 at 16:10

Get another alchemist, convince him to use Sympathetic Magic to bind pairs of spoons together so that what happens to one happens to the other. They're already identical and infused with magic from the transmutation, so this should be technically easy to accomplish.

Now construct a pair of Ouija style code-boards covered in words and letters and place the bound spoons on them.

When you move one spoon, the one on the other board will move to match. So you can use this to send instantaneous messages at any distance.

Send one of the paired board/spoons to another castle and assign someone to keep a close eye on the board at each end for messages.

Repeat the process and you'll have a network of instantaneous text-communication devices across your whole kingdom.

A great improvement over the carrier pigeons!

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    Or use spoons as the first telegraph... or use them to write in sand – bendl Aug 9 at 18:50
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    Downside: you'd need a lot of force to overcome the sympathetic magic whilst moving the spoons to their new homes. – wizzwizz4 Aug 10 at 10:17
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    Good Point, it might be more practical to bind in the boards too so that their movements relative to the boards are what matter, then you just carry the board. Fun bit is when the cart with one end of the system goes over a pothole the spoon in the castle will jump or suddenly slide around. – Ruadhan Aug 10 at 10:49
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    Medieval quantum entanglement, sure, why not. – Mast Aug 10 at 11:05
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    compared to transforming every member of a specific species into an entirely different (compositionally, topologically and structurally) inanimate object across a radius of possibly hundreds of miles.. a little entanglement spell should be trivial :P – Ruadhan Aug 10 at 11:29

Being in the medieval period I assume your mines are mostly producing copper, tin and some low quality iron.

What your alchemist did was turn your pigeons into high quality stainless steel, or possibly even sterling silver spoons.

Sell you spoons for a hefty profit and buy some more pigeons. Spend the rest of the money finding that alchemist!

Edit: collect all the other spoons as property of the crown. You are RICH!!!

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    OP didn't specify what materials the spoons are made of. If the court alchemist did this as a result of losing a chess game, I doubt he would provide the kingdom with such precious metals as a result. I'm betting wooden spoons (or rock, imagine those pigeons in flight becoming a missile) – CubeJockey Aug 9 at 13:59
  • @CubeJockey If the alchemist was in a really shitty mood he could have made them into guano spoons...that would also be a source of revenue! – EveryBitHelps Aug 9 at 14:13
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    @CubeJockey or the most gruesome of all, they are still made of pigeon – J.Doe Aug 9 at 14:34
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    @J.Doe ewwww! or should I say "stewwww". – EveryBitHelps Aug 9 at 14:40
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    ...introduce a "pigeon-free tax" to be collected from users of marketplaces and pedestrian areas, sell spoons for scrap metal, buy a breeding pair of pigeons in the neighbour kingdom, then sell the offspring... SO many ways of getting rich! – jvb Aug 9 at 19:21

One solution could be semaphores.

This require no special technology, and was used before the telegraph was invented.

Chappe's semaphore towers is one historical example, used in France. Just separate towers by 10km each (or use already existing castles, churches...), and write a code.

bonus point: You can use some spoons to make semaphore arms more shiny

  • Well suited for sending short messages, but probably very expensive to build the initial infrastructure. – Trilarion Aug 10 at 7:14
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    @Trilarion it was done in real life (but not the same period), so it is affordable. Also, as stated in the answer, we can use already existing structures: Mont saint-michel for example was used as a Chappe Tower. Castles were really common in middle ages (only few survive until today), and where ideally build on high ground, perfect location for semaphore. If you use already existing towers, the only initial infrastructure cost is adding arms to the towers – Kepotx Aug 10 at 7:20
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    The Klacks system from the Discworld Novels is probably the most fleshed-out, taken-to-its-logical-extreme iteration of this system. Lamps and filters for night transmission, mechanical (lever-based) controls, full-on encoding protocols (right the way up to encoding pictures for transmission) and intrigue. – Wenlocke Aug 10 at 10:17

Hire another fickle Court Alchemist.

Provoke them after mentioning how the work of their predecessor was amazing - he turned all your pigeons into spoons.

Finish another victorious chess game with 'I guess that's it! Just like those spoons, it's not like you can turn them back. But, hey, I suppose it's good to admire the work of your betters, right?'

Profit!
(I hope.)

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    Two outcomes: Either you get your pigeons back, or you become a pigeon. Odds are a pretty even split! – Ruadhan Aug 10 at 7:54
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    @Ruadhan2300 In one case you have your pigeons back, and in the other you wouldn't care about spoons anymore. ;)) – OnoSendai Aug 10 at 18:11

I don't see the problem.

Surely, you can find someone to enchant wings into your spoons? And engraved flying spoons are a clear improvement over pigeons.

Make sure to keep the fancy golden spoons for important messages or favored minions - standard dinnerware is good enough for your average flunkie.

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    Pretty nice first post for Worldbuilding – Redwolf Programs Aug 12 at 17:27
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    The flying spoons are the medieval screen saver - predated the flying toasters (which required Edison to invent a few things first). – manassehkatz Aug 14 at 2:45

You could use the spoons to make a sort of medieval LRAD. Bind the spoons together to make a very large parabolic satellite dish. Turn the chamber towards the place where you want the sound to focus, stand in front of the parabola, and shout loudly into it.

The shape of the parabola will determine the distance between itself and the focal point, which is where the sound will be most audible. So, I suggest that you construct this parabola by attaching each spoon to a geared tuning mechanism for adjusting the parabola. You have your engineer turn a crank which moves hundreds of small spines along fixed paths, with the goal of effectively driving the focal point farther and farther away.

Now, if it gets too far away, then even though you shout very loudly, the sound might just not make it there. So, to complete this design, you need to hire a large chorus to loudly sing all your secret messages into the parabola. If the chorus is good and large, and the parabola is shaped precisely, then you should be able to send these messages remarkably far, and they would be most audible at their focal destination.

Granted this only works with line of sight, but if you have enough spoons, I see no reason why you can't have acoustic spoon-satellites with large choruses in several locations around the empire.

  • Because sound travels better when there's air to travel through, and satellites orbit better when there isn't air to drag them into a decaying orb-- *SMASH*. – wizzwizz4 Aug 10 at 9:58
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    Oh... you meant satellite dishes. – wizzwizz4 Aug 10 at 10:41
  • Lol my mistake. I'll fix it – boxcartenant Aug 10 at 13:58
  • Oh wait... I get it---- dishes! rofl – boxcartenant Aug 10 at 14:01
  • You need to stand in the focal point to send the message parallel, or to receive a parallel incoming message. So you don't want a focal point too far away. – Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 10 at 20:11

Pneumatic tubes

It not only allows to send messages, but smaller items without interruption with speeds up to 40-90 km/h. The system is from a mechanical viewpoint absolutely doable in mediaeval times, it is just that nobody had the idea to actually do it.

My current hometown Hamburg had several long pneumatic lines to avoid transporting letters with cars. The diameter was 45 cm, the length of a transport pipe was 1.6 m, so approximately 1000 letters could be transported with ease. It was quite a modern system, it was constructed from 1962 on. What needed half an hour with a postal car was now done in few minutes. Unfortunately the vibrations of the roads caused misalignments and damages, so it ran only until 1976. Many of the old systems are still buried under the ground. All in all the lines had a length of approximately 50 km.

enter image description here

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain, Prof. Dr. Nemo Klein, 2006-09-20

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    Interesting, it was designed to combat vehicle traffic but the cars fought back! – Kelly Thomas Aug 10 at 0:42
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    "The system is from a mechanical viewpoint absolutely doable in mediaeval times..." There is probably doable and doable. It would still require quite high quality and maintenance to make this happen reliably for a large kingdom where you literally have to connect thousands of km of length. And what air pressure do you actually need to produce? – Trilarion Aug 10 at 7:18
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    @Trilarion Not much pressure is needed. The typical corc jumping out of the champagne bottle with 2.5 bar has a speed of 40 km/h. For e.g. 3 bar you only need a air pressure reservoir A, a connected reservoir B for refilling with size 2:1 which is initially empty, connection with A on the top and a water tower C filling the connected reservoir on the bottom with a height of 30m. The water could be get by rain (or brought upward by an Archimeadan spiral). The use of siphons is already known by Heron of Alexandria "Peri Automatopoietikes". – Thorsten S. Aug 10 at 23:40

Use your horses to go to someone else's kingdom and import pigeons back to your kingdom.

You specified that you have a big kingdom and not that you have the only kingdom in existence ;-)

Spoon catapults! Place the spoon over a branch (or similar), put your message around a small stone, place the stone in the scoop, take aim, and whack the handle!

You'll have to whack quite hard to get the range of a pidgeon, but that's what sledgehammers are for...

  • Every one knows that if you want to throw things around is best to use a trebuchet, they can trow 90kg stones over 300m! – draconk Aug 13 at 10:04
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    @draconk a 90kg spoon seems excessive for any pigeon conversion.... what sort of message are you sending, the bible? – UKMonkey Aug 13 at 13:10
  • @ukmonkey Pretty hefty, even for a bible... – Bex Aug 13 at 13:53
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    90kg collection of bibles launched into enemy castles by trebuchet. Religious wars done right. – Adrian773 Aug 13 at 23:31

You will want to play those spoons.

playing spoons

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhggIC0D--4
I think of the fantasies in which there are a series of towers on which bonfires were set to be lit in time of need. The next tower along to line would see the fire and light their own, and so the signal propagates.

So too with your spoons. The spoon player would sit in front of a large parabolic dish many meters across, and play the message. Atop the next tower the next spoon player listens in front of his own dish pointing to the first tower, which captures and amplifies the distant clicks and clack. He then walks around the tower to the transmitting dish and sends the message on.

  • I suggest for practicality, playing a drum in front of the parabolic dish might be more effective, and has some precedent in native-american signal-drumming. – Ruadhan Aug 10 at 12:13

Two methods I can think of off the top of my head:

  • Semaphore. Using a pair of flags in various positions, they are best used with relay towers and can send messages for miles. Reusable.
  • Fire signals. Using the smokes of bonfires and blankets to produce a crude form of morse code. Needs fuel to be used though.
  • Possibly burning wooden spoons to create the fire? – Mawg Aug 13 at 13:50
  • If you have thousands of wooden spoons to burn, I don't see why not! – Joe P Aug 14 at 16:54

Use Kites

Kites can be used to send messages. They are cheap, can be easily flown with little expertise, you don't need to build expensive towers, they even work at night by flying lanterns along the string.

The combination of size/shape/pattern/color of the kite can convey the message. A network of kite flyers throughout the country can convey messages over long distances.

Rotate the phrase-book every few weeks to stop the enemy from decoding your intentions.

Cons: You're out of luck if it's raining or very very still weather (no wind)

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    Would hot air balloons work for still weather? – EveryBitHelps Aug 9 at 15:18
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    @EveryBitHelps That would be perfect, but they take a bit (lot) more to engineer – DhDd Aug 10 at 7:05

As the ruler of a great kingdom, surely you have multiple options:

  • Sell all your spoons to a neighbouring kingdom that does still have pigeons to buy them

  • Commence a nation-wide manhunt for the court alchemist (reward: spoons) and 'convince' him to fix the situation

  • If there's powerful magic in your world, have your court mages send 'long-range fireblasts' set to explode at given intervals akin to morse code (obviously you'll need a code book so the enemy won't decipher the message)

  • Start experimenting with turning birds into enormous, mountable monstrosities / combining bird and man into one body

  • Appoint volunteers who will attempt untested teleportation magic with ancient, recently discovered runes or transmute them into pigeons

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    for convincing the court alchemist, hit him with spoons 'till he agrees – Ajnatorix Zersolar Aug 9 at 15:49
  • Selling spoons is probably not worth it. Wooden spoons were common in medieval times so I think it is safe to assume the pigeons were turned into wooden spoons - not modern spoons. – Ole Tange Aug 12 at 8:30
  • @AjnatorixZersolar At least he didn't turn the pigeons into hammers... – Redwolf Programs Aug 12 at 17:29

Drums and communication by sound

With drums you can encode short messages as a unique pattern of sounds and sound travels really fast (>300m/s) and a chain of drummers situated at suitable distances can transmit the message on and on.

If you are worried about the drummers making mistakes inventing some form of error correction code might be a good idea.

Only drawback: That constant drumming in your castle and in all areas around it will drive you crazy.

Alternative: Try Didgeridoos or Alphorns.

Create a minor catapault network using only spoons and branches. You can probably launch a short message several dozens of meters per spoon. Assuming you have many hundreds or thousands of spoons now, you should be able to link your communication network up.

It's a bit vulnerable to high winds, but then again, your birds kind of were too.

Shine them up and trade them to crows in exchange for delivering your message.

  • Magpies, surely? – Bex Aug 14 at 11:45
  • @Bex Nope, crows are smarter and cooler. They'll figure out where to go, how to get there, and what to avoid. Then they'll tell every other crow. They'll collectively relieve themselves on someone too if they start messing with the crows. Crows have been shown to gift humans trinkets before. I don't think it's a stretch to start an economic exchange with crows using spoons. – Steve Aug 14 at 14:47

In this answer, I assume you have metal spoons.
Melt the spoons together end to end and transmit an electrical signal down the long conductor, with earth ground as a reference point. It's relatively crude, subject to interference, and only useful for relatively short distances over preplanned routes. You might need error correction codes or a second line of spoons for a ground. Depending on technology and heat available, you could even melt the spoons down to wires to cover a longer distance.

While my initial thought was the mirror/sun reflection answer, this one works at night and on cloudy days and doesn't require adjustment for angle of the sun.

  • Wooden spoons were common in medieval times so I think it is safe to assume the pigeons were turned into wooden spoons. Do you have a solution with wooden spoons? – Ole Tange Aug 12 at 8:32

Melt and/or beat the spoons into rockets, with the message in a fireproof nose cone.

If your kingdom has strong magic, a little alchemy to create gunpowder or V2 fuel shouldn't be too advanced.

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