Dizzy

https://archive.org/details/FigureForFunStoriesAndConundrums

Russian science writer Yakov Perelman asks: How many times must an 8-toothed cogwheel rotate on its axis to circle around a 24-toothed cogwheel?

Click for solution …

“A Large Turtle”

Captain Augustus G. Hall and the crew of the schooner Annie L. Hall vouch for the following: On March 30, while on the Grand Bank, in latitude 40° 10′, longitude 33°, they discovered an immense live trunk turtle, which was at first thought to be a vessel bottom up. The schooner passed within twenty-five feet of the monster, and those on board had ample opportunity to estimate its dimensions by a comparison with the length of the schooner. The turtle was at least 40 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 30 feet from the apex of the back to the bottom of the under shell. The flippers were 20 feet long. It was not deemed advisable to attempt its capture.

Scientific American, May 12, 1883

Black and White

tanner chess problem

By John Tanner. White to mate in two moves.

Click for solution …

Man Handling

date

In 1946, sociologist Mirra Komarovsky asked American undergraduate women whether they had “played dumb” on dates. Some of their responses:

  • I am engaged to a southern boy who doesn’t think too much of the woman’s intellect. In spite of myself, I play up to his theories because the less one knows and does, the more he does for you and thinks you “cute” into the bargain. … I allow him to explain things to me in great detail and to treat me as a child in financial matters.
  • When my date said that he considers Ravel’s Bolero the greatest piece of music ever written, I changed the subject because I knew I would talk down to him.
  • One of the nicest techniques is to spell long words incorrectly once in a while. My boyfriend seems to get a great kick out of it and writes back, “Honey, you certainly don’t know how to spell.”
  • Once I went sailing with a man who so obviously enjoyed the role of a protector that I told him I didn’t know how to sail. As it turned out he didn’t either. We got into a tough spot, and I was torn between a desire to get a hold of the boat and a fear to reveal that I had lied to him.
  • I am better in math than my fiancé. But while I let him explain politics to me, we never talk about math even though, being a math major, I could tell him some interesting things.
  • I was once at a work camp. The girls did the same work as the boys. If some girls worked better, the boys resented it fiercely. The director told one capable girl to slow down to keep peace in the group.
  • On dates I always go through the “I-don’t-care-anything-you-want-to-do” routine. It gets monotonous but boys fear girls who make decisions. They think such girls would make nagging wives.
  • I am a natural leader and, when in the company of girls, usually take the lead. That is why I am so active in college activities. But I know that men fear bossy women, and I always have to watch myself on dates not to assume the “executive” role. Once a boy walking to the theater with me took the wrong street. I knew a short cut but kept quiet.

In all, 60 percent said they had “concealed some academic honor, pretended ignorance of some subject, or allowed the man the last word in an intellectual discussion.” “And the funny part of it is that the man, I think, is not always so unsuspecting,” one said. “He may sense the truth and become uneasy in the relation. ‘Where do I stand? Is she laughing up her sleeve or did she mean this praise? Was she really impressed with that little speech of mine or did she only pretend to know nothing about politics?’ And once or twice I felt that the joke was on me: the boy saw through my wiles and felt contempt for me for stooping to such tricks.”

(Mirra Komarovsky, “Cultural Contradictions and Sex Roles,” American Journal of Sociology 52:3 [November 1946], 184-189.)

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gen._Andrew_A._Humphreys_-_NARA_-_528076.jpg

thersitical
adj. abusive, foul-mouthed, reviling

In his Recollections of the Civil War, Charles Anderson Dana called Union general Andrew Atkinson Humphreys “one of the loudest swearers that I ever knew.” “The men of distinguished and brilliant profanity in the war were General Sherman and General Humphreys — I could not mention any others that could be classed with them. General Logan also was a strong swearer, but he was not a West Pointer: he was a civilian. Sherman and Humphreys would swear to make everything blue when some dispatch had not been delivered correctly or they were provoked.”

In Rex v. Sparling (1722), a leather dresser named James Sparling was alleged in the course of 10 days to “profanely swear fifty-four oaths, and profanely curse one hundred and sixty curses, contra formam statuti.” His conviction was overturned because the charge sheet had failed to list them. “For what is a profane oath or curse is a matter of law, and ought not to be left to the judgment of the witness … it is a matter of great dispute among the learned, what are oaths and what curses.”

When in 1985 a man named Callahan called a California highway patrolman a “fucking asshole,” California Court of Appeal Justice Gerald Brown referred to this phrase as the “Callahan epithet” to avoid having to repeat it continuously, “which arguably would assist its passage into parlor parlance.” And he reversed Callahan’s conviction:

A land as diverse as ours must expect and tolerate an infinite variety of expression. What is vulgar to one may be lyric to another. Some people spew four-letter words as their common speech such as to devalue its currency; their repetition dulls the senses; Billingsgate thus becomes commonplace. Not everyone can be a Daniel Webster, a William Jennings Bryan or a Joseph A. Ball. …

Fifty years ago the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ were as shocking to the sensibilities of some people as the Callahan epithet is to others today. The first word in Callahan’s epithet has many meanings. When speaking about coitus, not everyone can be an F.E. Smith (later Earl of Birkenhead) who, in his speech in 1920 in the House of Commons on the Matrimonial Causes Act, referred to ‘that bond by which nature in its ingenious telepathy has contrived to secure and render agreeable the perpetuation of the species.’

Spirit Reading

https://www.google.com/patents/US1767820

During Prohibition, an enforcement agent had a tough job: If he infiltrated a speakeasy and ordered a drink to confirm that it was alcoholic. his oral testimony could easily be attacked in court, and, ironically, once he admitted that he drank alcohol regularly then defense attorneys could question his reliability.

Robert Tetro patented this solution in 1930. Instead of drinking your drink, you’d discreetly clip a tube over the rim of the glass, reach into your pocket and squeeze a bulb, drawing off a sample. Then you’d pay your tab and leave. If the sample proved alcoholic then the feds could raid the place, which had no warning that it was under surveillance. And now the authorities had physical proof that alcohol was being served.

In the patent application, Tetro says his invention “has been used to a considerable extent, proving its value.” He was based in Michigan; I don’t know how widely it was used.

Too Far

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Renouf_Brooklyn_Bridg_1889.jpg

“I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the one who sold it.” — Will Rogers

Nobody Home

pooh and piglet

A puzzle by S. Sefibekov:

Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet set out to visit one another. They leave their houses at the same time and walk along the same road. But Piglet is absorbed in counting the birds overhead, and Winnie-the-Pooh is composing a new “hum,” so they pass one another without noticing. One minute after the meeting, Winnie-the-Pooh is at Piglet’s house, and 4 minutes after the meeting Piglet is at Winnie-the-Pooh’s. How long has each of them walked?

Click for solution …

Podcast Episode 70: Sunk by a Whale

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amerikanischer_un_franz%C3%B6sischer_Walfang_vor_Mexico_(1848).jpg

In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex was attacked and sunk by an 85-foot sperm whale in the South Pacific, a thousand miles from land. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the attack, which left 20 men to undertake an impossible journey to South America in three small whaleboats.

We’ll also learn about an Australian athlete who shipped himself across the world in a box in 1964 and puzzle over an international traveler’s impressive feat of navigation.

Sources for our feature on the whaleship Essex:

Owen Chase, Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex, 1821.

Thomas Farel Heffernan, Stove by a Whale: Owen Chase and the Essex, 1981.

Thomas Nickerson et al., The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale, 2000.

Nathaniel Philbrick, In the Heart of the Sea, 2000.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851.

Adam Summers, “Fat Heads Sink Ships,” Natural History 111:7 (September 2002): 40-41.

David R. Carrier, Stephen M. Deban, and Jason Otterstrom, “The Face That Sank the Essex: Potential Function of the Spermaceti Organ in Aggression,” Journal of Experimental Biology 205:12 (June 15, 2002), 1755-1763.

Henry F. Pommer, “Herman Melville and the Wake of The Essex,” American Literature 20:3 (November 1948): 290-304.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Essex_photo_03_b.jpg

Fourteen-year-old cabin boy Thomas Nickerson was at the helm at the time of the attack; he made this sketch later in life. “I heard a loud cry from several voices at once, that the whale was coming foul of the ship. Scarcely had the sound of their voices reached my ears when it was followed by a tremendous crash. The whale had struck the ship with his head directly under the larboard fore chains at the waters edge with such force as to shock every man upon his feet.”

Thanks to listener David Balmain (and David McRaney’s “You Are Not So Smart” podcast) for the tip about penurious javelinist Reg Spiers’ 1964 postal odyssey to Australia. Further sources for that segment:

Jason Caffrey, “The Man Who Posted Himself to Australia,” BBC World Service, March 6, 2015.

Reg Spiers, “I Posted Myself in a Box From England to Australia,” Financial Times, June 19, 2015.

“Going East in a Coffin,” Chicago Herald, Oct. 25, 1887.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jason Wood, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

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.

Use this link to get video and audio lectures at up to 80 percent off the original price from The Great Courses.

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.

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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!

A Frightful Collaboration

mcbryde whistle illustration

When M.R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary appeared in 1904, readers were puzzled to find that it contained only four illustrations, an odd number for a book of eight stories. In the preface, James explained that he’d assembled the collection at the suggestion of a friend who had offered to illustrate it but was “taken away” unexpectedly after completing only four pictures.

The friend was James McBryde, a student whom James had met in 1893 at King’s College, Cambridge, where James was dean. The two quickly became close, and McBryde was one of the select few to whom James would read a new ghost story each Christmas by the light of a single candle. They remained close after McBryde left Cambridge, traveling together each year to Denmark and Sweden, and eventually they appointed to work together to publish the ghost stories, which now numbered enough for a collection.

In May 1904 McBryde wrote, “I don’t think I have ever done anything I liked better than illustrating your stories. To begin with I sat down and learned advanced perspective and the laws of shadows …” Regarding the collection’s crowning horror, “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” he wrote, “I have finished the Whistle ghost … I covered yards of paper to put in the moon shadows correctly and it is certainly the best thing I have ever drawn.”

Alas, McBryde died only a month later of complications following an appendix operation. James was adamant that no replacement be found, and Ghost Stories of an Antiquary was published with only four illustrations as a tribute to his friend. “Those who knew the artist will understand how much I wished to give a permanent form even to a fragment of his work,” he wrote. “Others will appreciate the fact that here a remembrance is made of one in whom many friendships centred.”

Of the true depth of their friendship, the full story will never be known. James picked roses, lilac, and honeysuckle from the Fellows Garden at King’s College and carried them with him on the train to McBryde’s funeral in Lancashire, where he dropped them into the grave after the other mourners had left. He remained friends with McBryde’s wife and legal guardian of his daughter, and he arranged for the posthumous publication of McBryde’s children’s book The Story of a Troll Hunt. In the introduction he wrote, “The intercourse of eleven years, — of late, minutely recalled, — has left no single act or word of his which I could choose to forget.”

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