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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
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?
Futility Closet is a collection of entertaining curiosities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, designed to help you waste time as enjoyably as possible.
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