Wizards have Nargles (the mischievous thieves thought to infest mistletoe) and Muggles have Gremlins. I learned in Muggle Studies that a Gremlin is a mythical creature believed to tamper with all kinds of machinery. Its mischievous nature resembles an English folkloric imp but its inclination to damage or dismantle machinery is more modern. These invisible beings were first credited with causing aircraft engine trouble and mechanical difficulties by Royal Air Force pilots during World War II as a means of deflecting blame and building morale. Today, Gremlins are equal-opportunity tricksters that sabotage machinery, projects, and arrangements, just to name a few.
It wasn’t long before I had my first encounter. My best friend Toby is a Muggle who can’t learn enough about the magical community but sometimes a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. She was quite agitated when she called to describe some inexplicable appliance behavior.
“Hey. It’s me. You’re not going to believe this. My oven’s been enchanted,” Toby said emphatically.
“What?” I said, not understanding.
“Yep, it goes on all by itself, and more than once. I’m a victim of misused Muggle appliances,” she said.
“Artifacts,” I corrected her softly.
“Whatever,” she said. “Just hurry over.”
So I hurried over; not because I thought the oven was enchanted but because, like Arthur Weasley, I found Muggle inventions fascinating. And I was convinced the culprit was a Gremlin.
The appliance in question was one of those sleek countertop combo convection toaster ovens. The middle knob served two functions; if you turned it counterclockwise, it turned the convection oven on and if you turned it clockwise, it allowed you to choose settings from light to dark for toast.
We decided to make light toast to test the unit. After Toby turned the middle knob clockwise to the light setting, the unit appeared to be working properly; the heating elements were on and the timer ticked loudly while the knob correctly rotated counter-clockwise toward the off position. When the knob reached the off position, the heating elements were indeed turned off but the timer continued to tick, forcing the knob to continue its journey towards the on position. And sure enough, when the knob finally reached the on position, the heating elements were turned back on and the timer stopped.
If we hadn’t been watching, it would have appeared as if the unit had just turned itself on! And there was no way to turn it off so the oven would have remained at maximum temperature until it was unplugged or exploded from excessive heat. So the Gremlin proved to be a fatal design flaw; the dual-purpose middle knob turned the unit into a ticking fire hazard if the timer switch failed.
So next time you see that blue screen of death or find all the food in your freezer is thawed, remember to do a quick check for Gremlins before you call the repair man or file a report with the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office!