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Invented by "Professor Cone", the device is designed to protect the most secret of conversations (aka "C.O.S. security risks") by enshrouding its users within a transparent sound-proof shield. Unfortunately, Control had purchased the device from a "discount place" rather than the federal government, so it has never worked properly. Naturally, this frustrating situation provides fuel for comedy.
Whenever Maxwell Smart ("Agent 86") wants to speak to his boss ("Chief") about a top secret matter, "86" would insist on using the comically defective technology despite being reminded that it never works. The Chief, usually with annoyed skepticism, would press a switch, causing the device to descend from above his desk, surrounding the heads of the two would-be conversers. The awkwardly impractical device appears to be constructed of clear plastic in the shape of a large oblong box with two interconnected inverted bowls on top.
Part of the humor is in the irony that Agent 86 and Chief cannot hear each other clearly, while bystanders outside the Cone of Silence can hear everything they say as well as speak to them. Sometimes the bystander would even act as a relay so that Chief and "86" inside the device could communicate. Often at the end of the labored conversation, Chief would become terribly frustrated and upset as it quickly becomes clear that the Cone of Silence is (as expected) worse than useless. In one episode, when Smart was questioned as to why he insisted on using the Cone, he responded that it was 20 degrees cooler inside.
Variations on the Cone included a portable version, made of two globes for the participants' heads connected by a tube; the "Umbrella of Silence", which supported up to four people, and the "Closet of Silence," into which three people were uncomfortably squeezed. In one occasion where the Cone wasn't even available, Smart convinced the Chief to use the (more efficient) "Coughing Code", where both parties communicate through strategic coughing, despite the Chief's claims that the Coughing Code wasn't used for years due to "too many agents giving each other colds".
Although Get Smart popularized the term, the "Cone of Silence" actually originated on the syndicated TV show Science Fiction Theatre in an episode titled "Barrier of Silence" written by Lou Huston and first airing September 3, 1955, 10 years ahead of the NBC comedy. The story focused on finding a cure for Professor Richard Sheldon, who had been returned to the United States in a confused, altered state of mind after abduction by enemy agents while visiting Milan. Scientists discovered that placing Sheldon in an environment of total silence was the means of brainwashing, a precursor to later ideas of sensory deprivation, celebrated in such films as Altered States and sundry spy thrillers. He was placed on a chair in the "Cone of Silence" which consisted of a raised circular platform suspended by three wires tied to a common vertex. Although the cone's surface was open, noise canceling sound generators located just below the vertex would shroud anyone sitting inside in a complete silence impossible in natural surroundings. Only a speculative possibility at that time (and so science fiction), such technology is now commonplace in Active Noise Canceling electronics for personal and industrial use. It was also demonstrated that anyone speaking inside the cone, could not be heard outside, the feature later used in Get Smart.
An episode of Mission: Impossible featured an inverted cone of silence (outside sounds were blocked and replaced). A government official attending a theater play hears subversive dialogue in place of the original lines, and the playwright is jailed for subversion.
The larger, plastic version of the "Cone of Silence", appeared in the pilot episode of Get Smart, entitled "Mr. Big", which aired on September 18, 1965. Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, the original screenwriters for the series, devised many of the running jokes. Henry either borrowed or independently came up with the Cone of Silence concept, which debuted in the pilot along with other show standards, like Fang, the improperly trained dog-agent, and Max's shoe phone. The Cone of Silence scene was shot ahead of the rest of the pilot episode, and was used to sell the series to NBC.
Cones of Silence appear in The Nude Bomb (1980), the first attempt at a theatrical Get Smart movie. Max, the Chief, and the delegates all have their own cone placed over them. Neither the characters nor the audience hear what is being said. In the later sequel movie, Get Smart, Again! (1989), when Maxwell is reactivated as a secret agent, he insists on following protocol to ensure secrecy by using the Cone of Silence. However, the device is considered to be completely outdated (however Max and 99 still have one at home), and the current methods used were the following:
A new version of the Cone Of Silence appears in the 2008 Get Smart film. One of the early versions of the Cone used in the television series is on display in the CONTROL museum seen in the beginning of the film. The new version has an appearance more consistent with the cones of silence used in The Nude Bomb than in the television series. It was apparently constructed by the lab guys Bruce and Lloyd, and was untested at the time it was used. It seems much more high-tech, being a small handheld device which, when the button is pressed, creates a cone-shaped beam of light shining down from the ceiling, forming a force field around the person highlighted. This field ought to block all exterior sound, making external communication all but impossible. However, as usual, this updated version is ineffective. The force field was shown to be solid, though, to the point where a panicking Larrabee found he could not escape, to the cause of his greater panic. When Max himself attempts to use the device to hide his glee at being named field agent, it malfunctions and does not even raise the field, permitting everybody to hear his embarrassing shouts. However, in fairness to the manufacturers, this was because Max didn't push the button hard enough.
Throughout the five seasons of Get Smart, the Cone of Silence appears many times. For security reasons, Maxwell Smart insists upon using it to discuss his case. Despite this, it is always defective in some way, such as in the examples below.
In one episode, when the Cone of Silence isn't working, Max insists on using the Closet of Silence. In the Closet, there are so many coats and jackets, they can barely hear each other, and can't get out of the Closet, so Max shoots the lock off, injuring Larabee in the process.
In one episode, when Max and Chief aren't in the office, Max brings along a portable Cone of Silence, for them to use. This Cone seems to work, as the two can hear each other perfectly. Of course, the audience can hear them too. This cone apparently obscured the Chief's vision, and echoed violently when struck. When they try to take them off, Max succeeds but has to help the chief get his off. He uses his shoe and the butt of his gun, but the Chief finally breaks out after falling off a stage.
In one episode, Max, 99 and Chief go to England where they meet the Chief of English CONTROL, who has an Umbrella of Silence which can fit more people in, but the disadvantage is that since the Chief of English CONTROL smokes a lot, he intolerably pollutes the air inside.
The term cone of silence is also used when people are overtly zealous in trying to keep a secret: here the term usually refers to the fact that the "outsider" can see something is there, but is unable to find out exactly what.
The term cone of silence has been adopted in pop culture for any system that prevents eavesdropping, usually by creating a private or encrypted link between the clients. VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are a good example, as is any form of encrypted or hidden instant messaging.
The term cone of silence has been adopted in online chat rooms as a method by which troublesome trolls are excluded from conversations. The shorthand term "COS" is invoked whenever a troll appears warning "regulars" not to engage the troll or encourage their behavior.
Cone of silence was the name given by Stanford University students at Synergy House for their method of muting the morning crows of the roosters in their chicken coop at the campus residence; it consisted of a wooden pyramid inside the coop into which the roosters were individually placed after dark and removed from in the morning.
The term is originally from a 1930's airplane instrument navigation system, the AN (or "four-course") range. Flying along the range and listening to the signal, the pilot knew he was over the transmitter and therefore at the only uniquely knowable point when the sound died. This region over the transmitter was known as the "cone of silence." This inverted instrument, signaling as it did the desired point by loss of sound, may have been Brooks' inspiration for the comic effect.
The term was later used in radar technology. As the radar beam projects outward, a volume in the shape of an inverted cone is created above the radar station where objects cannot be detected by the radar operator. This is known as the cone of silence.
The Cone Of Silence is also a Reichel-Pugh designed "Super 30" sailboat which has raced extensively in Australia and North America.
"Cone of Silence" is the second book written by Michael Sloan. It is a political thriller that takes place in Southern Massachusetts.
The term "cone of silence" was used in one episode of Everybody Loves Raymond (Boy's Therapy), by Frank Barone (Peter Boyle), after his wife Marie (Doris Roberts) said that she couldn't wait to talk more about his therapy session that he just got back from, Frank told her that he needed a "cone of silence" whenever he felt bad Frank coming on.
The term "cone of silence" was used in the 1996 movie Twister, though used inaccurately during the events of the scene.
The term was used on the show Gilmore Girls, (season 6, episode 7) when Lorelai asks for the "cone of silence." She says "Now, just give me a minute to concentrate. Cone of silence, please."
The term was also used in the 2009 comedy I Love You, Man, when Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) asks his new friend Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) to consider his "man cave" to have a "cone of silence" and that Sydney would not reveal to anyone anything Peter said in the room.
Cone of Silence is used as a metaphor for a lawyer's response to successive representation conflicts of interest by the court in Nemours Foundation v. Gilbane.
The term "cone of silence" was also used in the Civil Forum on the Presidency on August 16, 2008. Host Rick Warren stated, "Now, Senator Obama is going to go first. We flipped a coin, and we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence." In fact, however, McCain did not even arrive at the church until nearly half an hour later. A minor controversy arose over the question of whether McCain had actually been able to hear Obama's answers to Warren's questions. One journalist dubbed the controversy "Cone-of-Silence-Gate". Some commentators noted the irony that the hypothetical "cone of silence" at the forum may have worked no better than its Get Smart namesake.
Andrew Marsh, CEO of Fifth Column Games, has developed a system so that employees can work without being interrupted. By placing a "cone of silence" on their desks, employees conveys that they should not be disturbed except in an emergency situation.
In meteorology, particularly in the United States, the "cone of silence" refers to the broad, cone-shaped area above a particular weather radar station in which the device does not scan. NEXRAD radars make two-dimensional scans at varying angles ranging from 0.5° above level to 19.5° above level (during a signficant weather event). These levels become much closer to the ground, and closer to each other, as they get closer to the radar site, rendering them of little use for the three-dimensional profiling such multi-level scanning is meant to provide. Thus, a weather event located very close to and/or directly overhead of the radar site will be mostly situated in the "cone of silence." This is part of the reason why most U.S. weather radars partially overlap each other's territories.