For the Record

Western Kentucky University geoscientist John All was traversing Nepal’s Mount Himlung in May 2014 when the ice collapsed beneath him and he fell into a crevasse, dislocating his shoulder and breaking some ribs. He landed on a ledge, but now he faced a 70-foot climb back to the surface alone without the use of his right arm or upper leg.

“That’s when I pulled my research camera out and started talking to myself about all my options,” he told National Geographic. “I take photos of everything I do because, if I’m working in Africa and I need to recall a detail, that’s going to be the best way to do it. I was also thinking about my mom and my friends and family and realized that just talking wouldn’t convey what was happening to me nearly as well. So I started recording things.”

“It probably took me four or five hours to climb out,” he said. “I kept moving sideways, slightly up, sideways, slightly up, until I found an area where there was enough hard snow that I could get an ax in and pull myself up and over. I knew that if I fell at any time in that entire four or five hours, I, of course, was going to fall all the way to the bottom of the crevasse. Any mistake, or any sort of rest or anything, I was going to die.”

After reaching the top he rolled as much as walked back to his tent, called for help, and waited 16 hours for a helicopter to arrive. He wrote later, “I had dug myself out of my own grave.”

Double Talk

https://www.flickr.com/photos/xurble/376591423
Image: Flickr

In talking about superheroes, these sentences seem natural and right:

(la) Clark Kent went into the phone booth and Superman came out.
(2a) Superman leapt over tall buildings.
(3a) Superman is more successful with women than Clark Kent.
(4a) Batman wears a mask.

But these seem inappropriate or wrong:

(lb) Clark Kent went into the phone booth and Clark Kent came out.
(2b) Clark Kent leapt over tall buildings.
(3b) Clark Kent is more successful with women than Clark Kent.
(4b) Bruce Wayne wears a mask.

Why is this? If we know that Superman is Clark Kent, then those terms should be interchangeable — a statement about Superman is a statement about Clark Kent; they’re the same person.

“At least in some conversational scenarios, utterances of (la)-(4a) strike us as true, and utterances of (lb) (4b) appear to be false,” writes University of Nottingham philosopher Stefano Predelli. “(3a), for instance, seems just the right thing to say when discussing women’s fascination with men in blue leotard; utterances of (3b), on the other hand, seem trivially false. Similarly, during a discussion of why the famed superhero never engages in extraordinary feats when playing the part of the timid journalist, utterances of (2a) seem unobjectionable, but utterances of (2b) will not do.” Why?

(Stefano Predelli, “Superheroes and Their Names,” American Philosophical Quarterly 41:2 [April 2004], 107-123.)

Spelling It Out

In the 17th century, French architect Thomas Gobert planned 12 churches whose forms spelled out the words LOVIS LE GRAND (where each letter is doubled mirrorwise, for symmetry):

gobert

In 1775 Johann David Steingruber designed a castle whose floor plan formed the initials of Prince Christian Carl Friedrich Alexander of Anspach:

steingruber

And in 1774 Anton Glonner designed a Jesuit college based on the name of Christ (IHS, the first three letters of Jesus’ name in Greek):

glonner

The H contained the kitchen, the dining room, and the sacristy, and the S contained the schoolrooms.

(From Ulrich Conrads and Hans G. Sperlich, The Architecture of Fantasy, 1962.)

Case Closed

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Matthewhopkins.png

“Witchfinder general” Matthew Hopkins hanged 300 women during the English Civil War, accounting for perhaps 60 percent of all executions for witchcraft at that time. After days of starvation, sleep deprivation, and forced walking, the accused women produced some extraordinary confessions:

Elizabeth Clark, an old, one-legged beggar-woman, gave the names of her ‘imps’ as ‘Holt,’ a ‘white kitling;’ ‘Jarmara,’ a ‘fat spaniel’ without legs; ‘Sacke and Sugar,’ a ‘black rabbet;’ ‘Newes,’ a ‘polcat;’ and ‘Vinegar Tom,’ a greyhound with ox-head and horns. Another called her ‘imps’ ‘Ilemauzar’ (or ‘Elemauzer’), ‘Pyewackett,’ ‘Pecke in the Crowne,’ and ‘Griezzell Greedigutt.’

This proved their guilt, Hopkins said — these were names “which no mortal could invent.”

Math Notes

121213882349 = (1212 + 1388 + 2349)3

128711132649 = (1287 + 1113 + 2649)3

162324571375 = (1623 + 2457 + 1375)3

171323771464 = (1713 + 2377 + 1464)3

368910352448 = (3689 + 1035 + 2448)3

Podcast Episode 166: A Dangerous Voyage

gause and osborne

After Japan invaded the Philippines in 1941 two American servicemen hatched a desperate plan to sail 3,000 miles to Allied Australia in a 20-foot wooden fishing boat. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll join Rocky Gause and William Osborne as they struggle to avoid the Japanese and reach safety.

We’ll also tell time in Casablanca and puzzle over a towing fatality.

Intro:

H.M. Small patented a hammock for railway passenger cars in 1889.

The clock face on the Marienkirche in Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, has 61 minutes.

Sources for our feature on Damon Gause:

Damon Gause, The War Journal of Major Damon “Rocky” Gause, 1999.

William L. Osborne, Voyage into the Wind, 2013.

Stephan Wilkinson, “10 Great POW Escapes,” Military History 28:4 (November 2011), 28-33,5.

“Two U.S. Officers Flee Philippines By a 159-Day Journey to Australia,” New York Times, Oct. 20, 1942, 6.

“Bataan-to-Australia Escape Takes 159 Days,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 20, 1942, 1.

“U.S. Officers in Australia After Fleeing Philippines,” New York Times, Oct. 24, 1942, 5.

“Angry Officer Who Fled Luzon Tells Odyssey,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 4, 1942, A1.

“Crash Kills Gause, Who Fled Bataan,” New York Times, March 17, 1944, 7.

Mark Pino, “Bataan Survivors Meet, Share Stories of Strength,” Orlando Sentinel, May 4, 1997, 1.

Tunku Varadarajan, “Bidding War for Diary of Great Escape,” Times, May 8, 1998, 20.

David Usborne, “Hero’s Voyage Ends in Hollywood,” Independent, May 9, 1998, 13.

Don O’Briant, “Georgia Officer’s Great Escape to Get Hollywood Treatment,” Atlanta Constitution, March 4, 1999, 1.

Mark Pino, “War Hero’s Tribute Marching On,” Orlando Sentinel, April 21, 1999, 1.

Bill Baab, “Journal Documents Great Escapes During War,” Augusta Chronicle, Jan. 16, 2000, F5.

Christopher Dickey, “The Great Escape,” New York Times, Jan. 23, 2000.

Don O’Briant, “Veterans Day: Sons Relive WWII Tale of Perilous Getaway,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Nov. 11, 2001, 1.

“The Firsthand Account of One of the Greatest Escapes of World War II,” Book TV, CSPAN2, 2000.

Robert E. Hood, “The Incredible Escape,” Boys’ Life, May 2002.

Chris Petrikin and Benedict Carver, “Miramax Escapes With ‘War Journal,'” Variety, Feb. 9, 1999.

Listener mail:

Telling time in Casablanca:

We discussed English as She Is Spoke in Episode 58.

Deb Belt, “Chesapeake Bay Lighthouse Is the Right House for $15K,” Baltimore Patch, Aug. 1, 2017.

Beth Dalbey, “5 Historic Great Lakes Lighthouses for Sale in Michigan,” Baltimore Patch, July 28, 2017.

A Maryland lighthouse for sale by the General Services Administration.

To see all the lighthouses currently at auction, search for “lighthouse” on this page.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David Pruessner.

Please visit Littleton Coin Company to sell your coins and currency, or call them toll free 1-877-857-7850.

Get your free trial set from Harry’s, including a handle, blade, shave gel, and travel blade cover, by visiting http://harrys.com/closet.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

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!

Alchemy

Mike Keith found this amazing correspondence in 2004. The two 6×6 squares below contain 72 different entries from the periodic table of the elements:

mike keith chemical squares

The two squares are equal in three different ways:

  1. If you spell out the name of each element listed (hydrogen, beryllium, etc.), the square on the left is an anagram of the square on the right.
  2. The sum of the atomic numbers of the 36 elements on the left (2019) equals the sum of those on the right.
  3. If you replace each symbol with its alphabetic score (where A=1, B=2, etc.; e.g. Li = L + I = 12 + 9 = 21), then the sum of the scores on the left (737) equals that of those on the right.

Keith writes, “The next largest pair of triply-equal squares like this would be 7×7 in size, containing a total of 98 different elements, [and] it seems quite unlikely that 98 of them could be so arranged. If this is true then the 6×6 pair presented here is the largest possible (at least for now, until many more new chemical elements have been discovered and named).”

(Mike Keith, “A Magical Pair of 6×6 Chemical Squares,” Word Ways, February 2004.)

The Green Book

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Negro_Motorist_Green_Book.jpg

During the Jim Crow era, it was difficult and dangerous for African-Americans to travel — they were routinely refused even basic amenities such as food and lodging. Civil rights leader (and now Georgia congressman) John Lewis remembered a family trip in 1951:

There would be no restaurant for us to stop at until we were well out of the South, so we took our restaurant right in the car with us. … Stopping for gas and to use the bathroom took careful planning. Uncle Otis had made this trip before, and he knew which places along the way offered ‘colored’ bathrooms and which were better just to pass on by. Our map was marked and our route was planned that way, by the distances between service stations where it would be safe for us to stop.

Accordingly New York mail carrier Victor H. Green began to publish The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guide “to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable.” Green paid his readers to contribute reports of road conditions, sites of interest, and information about their travel experiences. Julian Bond later recalled:

You think about the things that most travelers take for granted, or most people today take for granted. If I go to New York City and want a hair cut, it’s pretty easy for me to find a place where that can happen, but it wasn’t easy then. White barbers would not cut black peoples’ hair. White beauty parlors would not take black women as customers — hotels and so on, down the line. You needed the Green Book to tell you where you can go without having doors slammed in your face.

The book was published annually nationwide from 1937 to 1964. The New York Public Library has the full collection.

Outreach

https://www.flickr.com/photos/au_tiger01/2404952640
Image: Flickr

Church signs, collected by Steve and Pam Paulson for Church Signs Across America, 2006:

BE AS GOOD A PERSON AS YOUR PET BELIEVES YOU ARE
THE EASTER BUNNY DIDN’T RISE FROM THE DEAD
BE YOURSELF, EVERYONE ELSE IS TAKEN
DON’T GIVE UP! MOSES WAS ONCE A BASKET CASE
CH CH: WHAT’S MISSING? U R
LIFE IS CHANGE, GROWTH IS OPTIONAL
ETERNITY: SMOKING OR NONSMOKING
GIVE YOUR TROUBLES TO GOD HE’S UP ALL NIGHT ANYWAY
WORRY IS THE DARK ROOM WHERE NEGATIVES DEVELOP
LOOKING FOR A LIFEGUARD? OURS WALKS ON WATER
FIRE PROTECTION POLICY AVAILABLE INSIDE
DON’T WAIT FOR SIX STRONG MEN TO TAKE YOU TO CHURCH!
PRAY UNTIL SOMETHING HAPPENS
WHEN THE LAST TRUMPET SOUNDS WE’RE OUTTA HERE

Also, from Christianity Today: GOD HAS NO FAVORITES BUT THE SIGN GUY DOES GO BLACKHAWKS