After a hiatus of more than two and a half years, Jay Foreman and Mark Cooper-Jones are back to producing new episodes of Map Men. Back in 2016 I called the series “two silly people being very smart about often-silly cartographical situations” (though I may have gotten that backward). Anyway, they’re back, with episodes on the geological origins of the English-Scottish border and trap streets.
Last year a Doctor Who episode turned the concept of the trap street—a fictitious map feature designed to catch copyright violations—on its head. In the series nine episode “Face the Raven,” the Doctor looks for a London street that cannot be found on maps.
THE DOCTOR: But if the stories are true though, there should be a street in one of these old maps that no longer exists in the real world.
CLARA: Like a trap street, only not.
THE DOCTOR: What did you say?
CLARA: A trap street. You know, when someone’s making a map—a, um, cartographer—uses a fake street throws it into the mix, names it after one of his kids or whatever, then, if the fake street—the trap street—ever shows up on someone else’s map they know their work’s been stolen. Clever, right?
THE DOCTOR: My God! A whole London street just up and disappeared and you lot assume it’s a copyright infringement.
Unlike trap streets, the street exists, and the reason it has disappeared has nothing to do with cartographic copyright. Finding the street takes some doing, as this clip the BBC has made available recently shows; unfortunately, it takes place immediately after the bit I quoted above.
A trap street is a fictitious street inserted by a mapmaker to catch plagiarists. Trap Street is also the title of a movie making the rounds of the festival circuit. Directed by Vivian Qu, Trap Street (Shuiyin jie) tells the story of a mapmaker who encounters a mysterious woman on an unmappable street. Based on the IMDB listing, it seems to be headed for a June release. (Does anyone have more information on this film?)