Insight

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fran%C3%A7ois_de_La_Rochefoucauld.jpg

Maxims of François VI, Duc de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680):

  • “An extraordinary Haste to discharge an Obligation is a Sort of Ingratitude.”
  • “Did we not flatter ourselves, the Flattery of others could never hurt us.”
  • “Before we passionately desire a Thing, we should examine into the Happiness of its Possessor.”
  • “Few Men are able to know all the Ill they do.”
  • “Fortune never seems so blind to any as to those on whom she bestows no Favours.”
  • “Happiness is in the Taste, not in the Thing; and we are made happy by possessing what we love, not what others think lovely.”
  • “Men may boast of their great Actions; but they are oftner the Effects of Chance, than of Design.”
  • “The Glory of great Men ought always to be rated according to the Means used to acquire it.”
  • “We should manage our Fortune as our Constitution; enjoy it when good, have Patience when ’tis bad, and never apply violent Remedies but in Cases of Necessity.”
  • “We bear, all of us, the Misfortunes of other People with heroic Constancy.”
  • “Whatever great Advantages Nature can give, she can’t without Fortune’s Concurrence make Heroes.”

And “Hope, deceitful as it is, carries us thro’ Life agreeably enough.”

Star Power

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pentagram.svg

A puzzle by A. Korshkov, from the Russian science magazine Kvant:

It’s easy to show that the five acute angles in the points of a regular star, like the one at left, total 180°.

Can you show that the sum of these angles in an irregular star, like the one at right, is also 180°?

Click for solution …

Multimedia

https://www.flickr.com/photos/phlyingpenguin/147524019/

Image: Flickr

James Mason’s topiary park in downtown Columbus, Ohio, was inspired by Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, below.

So the image above is a photograph of a sculpture of a painting of a landscape.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Georges_Seurat_-_A_Sunday_on_La_Grande_Jatte_--_1884_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

In a Word

quisquilian
adj. worthless, trivial

noncurantist
adj. marked by indifference

diversivolent
adj. desiring strife

On April 18, 1930, in place of its 6:30 p.m. radio news bulletin, the BBC announced, “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” It filled the time with two minutes of piano music.

In 2010 computer programmer William Tunstall-Pedoe sifted 300 million facts about “people, places, business and events” and determined that April 11, 1954, was the single most boring day in the 20th century.

He told the Telegraph, “Nobody significant died that day, no major events apparently occurred and, although a typical day in the 20th century has many notable people being born, for some reason that day had only one who might make that claim — Abdullah Atalar, a Turkish academic.

“The irony is, though, that — having done the calculation — the day is interesting for being exceptionally boring. Unless, that is, you are Abdullah Atalar.”

(Thanks, Duncan.)

Misc

  • The clock face on the Marienkirche in Bergen auf Rügen, Germany, has 61 minutes. Does this mean time moves more slowly there — or more quickly?
  • To ensure quiet, poet Amy Lowell hired five rooms at every hotel — her own and those on either side, above, and below.
  • A perplexing sentence from a letter by Dorothy Osborne, describing shepherdesses in Bedfordshire, May 1653: “They want nothing to make them the happiest people in the world but the knowledge that they are so.”
  • OVEREFFUSIVE is a palindrome in Scrabble — its letter values are 141114411141. (Discovered by Susan Thorpe.)
  • The sum of the digits of every multiple of 2739726 up to the 72nd is 36. (E.M. Langley, Mathematical Gazette, 1896)
  • I’ll bet I have more money in my pocket than you do. (Of course I do — you have no money in my pocket!)
  • In 1996 a model airplane enthusiast was operating a remote-controlled plane in Phoenix Park in Dublin when the receiver died and the plane flew off on its own. It flew five miles to the northeast, ran out of fuel, and glided to a landing … on the taxi-way to Runway 28 at Dublin Airport.

(Thanks, Brian and Breffni.)

Hoop Dreams

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WhiteHouse_viaFlickr_HulaHoops_8735987624_035318723f_o.jpg

A memorably phrased puzzle from The Graham Dial: “Consider a vertical girl whose waist is circular, not smooth, and temporarily at rest. Around the waist rotates a hula hoop of twice its diameter. Show that after one revolution of the hoop, the point originally in contact with the girl has traveled a distance equal to the perimeter of a square circumscribing the girl’s waist.”

Click for solution …

Progress

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WasserstoffballonProfCharles.jpg

Frightened villagers “killed” the first hydrogen balloon, launched in Paris by Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers Anne-Jean and Nicolas-Louis on Aug. 27, 1783. Allen Andrews, in Back to the Drawing Board: The Evolution of Flying Machines, quotes a contemporary account:

It is presumed that it was carried to a height of more than 20,000 feet, when it burst by the reaction of the Inflammable Gas upon the Atmospheric Air. It fell at three quarters past five near Gonesse, ten miles [actually, 15 miles] from the Field of Mars. The affrightened inhabitants ran together, appalled by the Hellish stench of sulphur, and two monks having assured them it was the skin of a Monstrous Animal, they attacked it with stones, pitchforks and flails. The Curate of the village was obliged to attend in order to sprinkle it with holy water and remove the fears of his astonished parishioners. At last they tied to the tail of a horse the first Instrument that was ever made for an Experiment in Natural Philosophy, and trained it across the field more than 6000 feet.

Perhaps forewarned, the first man to undertake a balloon flight in North America carried a pass from George Washington.

Podcast Episode 54: Escape From Stalag Luft III

stalag luft iii

In 1943 three men came up with an ingenious plan to escape from the seemingly escape-proof Stalag Luft III prison camp in Germany. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about their clever deception, which made them briefly famous around the world.

We’ll also hear about the chaotic annual tradition of Moving Day in several North American cities and puzzle over how a severely injured hiker beats his wife back to their RV.

Sources for our feature on the escape from Stalag Luft III:

Eric Williams, The Wooden Horse, 1949.

The Wooden Horse, British Lion Film Corporation, 1950.

Oliver Philpot, Stolen Journey, 1952.

Here’s the movie:

It became the third most popular film at the British box office in 1950. The book’s success led Williams to write The Tunnel, a prequel that described his and Michael Codner’s earlier escape from the Oflag XXI-B camp in Poland.

Sources for listener mail:

Ian Austen, “When a City Is on the Move, With Mattresses and Dishwashers in Tow,” New York Times, July 1, 2013.

Localwiki, Davis, Calif., “Moving Day” (accessed April 16, 2015).

Samara Kalk Derby, “Happy Holiday or Horror Story? Moving Day Hits UW,” Wisconsin State Journal, Aug. 15, 2011.

City of Madison Streets & Recycling, “August Moving Days” (accessed April 16, 2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White and his daughter Katherine.

This episode is sponsored by our patrons and by The Great Courses — go to http://www.thegreatcourses.com/closet to order from eight of their best-selling courses at up to 80 percent off the original price.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes 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 all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar 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. And you can finally follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for listening!

Quickie

University of Strathclyde mathematician Adam McBride recalls that in his student days a particular teacher used to present a weekly puzzle. One of these baffled him:

Find positive integers a, b, and c, all different, such that a3 + b3 = c4.

“The previous puzzles had been relatively easy but this one had me stumped,” he wrote later. He created three columns headed a3, b3, and c4 and spent hours looking for a sum that would work. On the night before the deadline, he found one: 703 + 1053 = 354.

“This shows how sad a person I was! However, I then realised also how stupid I had been. I had totally missed the necessary insight.” What was it?

Click for Answer

A New Line

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Stearns_Eliot_by_Lady_Ottoline_Morrell_(1934).jpg

In 1948, as T.S. Eliot was departing for Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize, a reporter asked which of his books had occasioned the honor.

Eliot said, “I believe it’s given for the entire corpus.”

The reporter said, “And when did you publish that?”

Eliot later said, “It really might make a good title for a mystery — The Entire Corpus.”

Page 1 of 85612345...10203040...Last »