Unquote

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“Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good.” — W.H. Auden

“Good men seek it by the natural means of the virtues; evil men, however, try to achieve the same goal by a variety of concupiscences, and that is surely an unnatural way of seeking the good. Don’t you agree?” — Boethius

“For never, never, wicked man was wise.” — Homer

“Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil.” — G.K. Chesterton

American artist Dennis Oppenheim denied that his 1997 Device to Root Out Evil, above, had an anti-religious message. “Pointing a steeple into the ground directs it to hell as opposed to heaven,” he told one interviewer. “It’s a very simple gesture.”

‘Cartes Blanche

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At a dinner party, René Descartes’ wife posts him next to the shrimp table and tells him not to let the guests eat until an hour after midnight. When a guest reaches for a shrimp, Descartes stops him and says, “I think they’re for 1 a.m.”

René Descartes is sitting in a bar. The bartender asks him if he’d like another drink. He says, “I think not” — and vanishes.

“I think, therefore Descartes is.” — Saul Steinberg

There was a young student called Fred
Who was questioned on Descartes and said:
“It’s perfect clear
That I’m not really here,
For I haven’t a thought in my head.”

– V.R. Ormerod

In 1988 German artist Rosemarie Trockel offered a 210 x 160-centimeter linen panel on which the words cogito ergo sum had been knitted — by machine.

Black and White

kirtley chess problem

Tim Krabbé calls this “one of the funniest chess problems I ever saw.” Its composer, M. Kirtley, won first prize with it in a Problemist tourney in 1986.

It’s a selfmate in 8, which means that White must force Black to checkmate him 8 moves, despite Black’s best efforts to avoid doing so.

The solution is a single line — all of Black’s moves are forced:

1. Nb1+ Kb3 2. Qd1+ Rc2 3. Bc1 axb6 4. Ra1 b5 5. Rh1 bxc4 6. Ke1 c3 7. Ng1 f3 8. Bf1 f2#

kirtley chess problem - solution

All of White’s pieces have returned to their starting squares!

“Editors Have Troubles”

Editors have troubles like less distinguished folk. One of these, who presides over the destinies of a western newspaper, is mourning the loss of two subscribers. One wrote asking how to raise his twins safely, while the other wanted to know how he might rid his orchard of grasshoppers. The answers went forward by mail, but by accident he put them into the wrong envelopes, so that the man with twins received this answer: ‘Cover them carefully with straw and set fire to it, and the little pests, after jumping in the flames a few minutes will be speedily settled.’ And the man with the grasshoppers was told to ‘give them castor oil and rub their gums with a bone.’

The Typographical Journal, Aug. 15, 1900

(Thanks, Zachary.)

Gear Trouble

A problem from the U.S.S.R. mathematical olympiad:

You’re given 13 gears. Each weighs an integral number of grams. Any 12 of them can be placed on a pan balance, with 6 in each pan, so that the scale is in equilibrium. Prove that all the gears must be of equal weight.

Click for solution …

Niche Publishing

The Epworth Instigator, a monthly publication in Santa Monica, edited by Saml. Carlisle, has probably the smallest sworn circulation statement of any paper in the United States. According to the sworn statement, Forrest Harris, the business manager, says that the number of copies printed and circulated for the month of August, 1907, was one.

The paper is published in the interests of the Epworth league here, and the only copy is taken to the meeting and read aloud, advertisements and all.

Printers’ Ink, Oct. 16, 1907

(Thanks, Craig.)

Parting of the Waters

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In Wyoming’s Teton Wilderness, North Two Ocean Creek splits into two smaller creeks: Pacific Creek flows westward to the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Creek eastward to the Atlantic.

In principle this makes it possible for a fish to swim upstream from the Pacific, cross the Great Divide, and pass down into the Atlantic. This may be how the Yellowstone cutthroat trout came to be found in both the Snake and Yellowstone rivers.

Looking Up

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Rome is north of Chicago.

Venice is north of Minneapolis.

London is north of Calgary.

Paris is nine miles south of the U.S.-Canada border.

Muse Be Damned

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Anthony Trollope established himself as one of the world’s most prolific novelists while holding down a 30-year career as a full-time civil servant.

He did this by simply demanding it of himself. Even while traveling he rose at 5:30 each morning and worked for three hours, “allowing himself no mercy,” counting words as he went and noting his progress on a chart, “so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face, and demanding of me increased labour, so that the efficiency might be supplied.” He disdained inspiration: “To me it would not be more absurd if the shoemaker were to wait for inspiration, or the tallow-chandler for the divine moment of melting.”

“All those I think who have lived as literary men — working daily as literary labourers — will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write,” he wrote in his autobiography. “But then he should so have trained himself that he shall be able to work continuously during those three hours — so have tutored his mind that it shall not be necessary for him to sit nibbling his pen, and gazing at the wall before him, till he shall have found the words with which he wants to express his ideas. It had at this time become my custom … to write with my watch before me, and to require from myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went.”

His brother Tom said, “Work to him was a necessity and a satisfaction. He used often to say he envied me the capacity for being idle.”

Podcast: Episode 20

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In 1944, fully a year before the first successful nuclear test, Astounding Science Fiction magazine published a remarkably detailed description of an atomic bomb. The story, by the otherwise undistinguished author Cleve Cartmill, sent military intelligence racing to discover the source of his information — and his motives for publishing it.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the investigation that ensued, which involved legendary editor John W. Campbell and illuminated the imaginative power of science fiction and the role of censorship in times of war. We’ll also hear Mark Twain’s advice against being too clever and puzzle over the failure of a seemingly perfect art theft.

You can listen using the player above, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

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