Benjamin Franklin and Sir Francis Dashwood once set out to shorten the Book of Common Prayer. Noel Perrin writes in Dr. Bowdler’s Legacy:

Franklin and Dashwood had made contact while each was a postmaster general, and found themselves agreeing that the great trouble with church services is that they are too long. They then put out their anonymous Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer (1773), in which the communion service takes about ten minutes, and a funeral six. (‘The Order for the Burial of the Dead is very solemn and moving; nevertheless, to preserve the health and lives of the living, it appeared to us that this service ought particularly to be shortened,’ Franklin wrote jauntily in the preface.) The book could be called expurgated only in the sense that Franklin and Dashwood both disapproved of Old Testament ideas of vengeance, and therefore omitted the service of Commination and all psalms which contain maledictions.

In 1785 Franklin wrote to Granville Sharp, “The Liturgy you mention was an abridgment of that made by a noble Lord of my acquaintance, who requested me to assist him by taking the rest of the book; viz., the Catechism and the reading and singing Psalms. These I abridged by retaining of the Catechism only the two questions, What is your duty to God? What is your duty to your neighbour? with answers. The Psalms were much contracted by leaving out the repetitions (of which I found more than I could have imagined) and the imprecations, which appeared not to suit well with the Christian doctrine of forgiveness of injuries and doing good to enemies. The book was printed for Wilkie, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, but never much noticed. Some were given away, very few sold, and I suppose the bulk became waste-paper. In the prayers so much was retrenched that approbation could hardly be expected; but I think with you, a moderate abridgment might not only be useful, but generally acceptable.”

(Richard Meade Bache, “The So-Called ‘Franklin Prayer-Book,'” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 21:2 [1897], 224-234.)

Domestic Situations

A couple of items concerning servants: In his Memoirs and Anecdotes, Philip Thicknesse notes that in 1742 the Duke of Somerset had his dinners announced in a sort of diminishing echo:

… a servant entered, holding a silver staff in his right hand, something like a bishop’s crozier, and bare headed, announced the splendid repast three times thus; Forte, — Piano, — Pianissimo. My Lord Duke of Somerset. — My Lord Duke of Somerset. — My Lord Duke of Somerset. Your Grace’s dinner is upon the table.

“I believe my brother was the only undignified clergyman who was ever admitted to such an honor,” writes Thicknesse, “and as he died suddenly, a few days after, he died without knowing why this singular mark of attention was shown him.”

In a 1788 letter, Horace Walpole mentions the very aged Lady Philipps, the wife of a cousin. The family had a favorite African servant, “who has lived with them a great many years, and is remarkably sensible. To amuse Lady Philipps under a long illness, they had read to her the account of the Pelew Islands. Somebody happened to say we were sending a ship thither; the black, who was in the room, exclaimed, ‘Then there is an end of their happiness.'” Walpole writes, “What a satire on Europe!”


A problem from the British Columbia Colleges Senior High School Contest for 2000:

If I place a 6 cm × 6 cm square on a triangle, I can cover up to 60% of the triangle. If I place the triangle on the square, I can cover up to 2/3 of the square. What is the area, in cm2, of the triangle?

(a) 22 4/5
(b) 24
(c) 36
(d) 40
(e) 60

Click for Answer


don martin sound effects

Don Martin’s cartoons in MAD magazine were famous for their sound effects:

  • ARGLE GLARGLE GLORGLE GLUK: princess using mouthwash
  • BUKKIDA BUKKIDA BAKKIDA BAKKIDA: boxer pummeling opponent’s head
  • CHOOK CHOOK CHOOK CHOOK: man digging
  • DOOT: doctor hitting patient’s knee with a hammer
  • FAGWOOSH SHOSSH GOOGLOOOM FUSH: sounds heard in a seashell
  • FLOOT THWIP THOP KLOP: a man folds up a beach umbrella
  • FOOWOOM: flamethrower
  • FWISK FWISK FWISKITTY FWASK: man sweeping a desert island
  • GEEEN: Plastic Man giving the finger to a guy on the 32nd floor
  • KITTOONG SHKLUNK: brain thrown into Frankenstein’s head like a basketball
  • KOONG: man hit in head with wheelbarrow full of cement
  • MOWM: atomic blast
  • POING POING POING: pogo stick
  • SHKWITZ SHKWITZ: man cleaning eyeglasses
  • SLOOPLE GLIK SPLORP: man eating soup
  • WUNK SPWAPPO KATOONK SPLAT: passengers attacking a hijacker

Doug Gilford maintains an online dictionary.

Podcast Episode 173: The Worst Journey in the World


In 1911, three British explorers made a perilous 70-mile journey in the dead of the Antarctic winter to gather eggs from a penguin rookery in McMurdo Sound. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the three through perpetual darkness and bone-shattering cold on what one man called “the worst journey in the world.”

We’ll also dazzle some computers and puzzle over some patriotic highways.


In 2014, mathematician Kevin Ferland determined the largest number of words that will fit in a New York Times crossword puzzle.

In 1851, phrenologist J.P. Browne examined Charlotte Brontë without knowing her identity.

Sources for our feature on Apsley Cherry-Garrard:

Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, 1922.

Sara Wheeler, Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, 2007.

“Scott Perishes Returning From Pole,” Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 11, 1913.

Paul Lambeth, “Captain Scott’s Last Words Electrify England and World by Their Pathetic Eloquence,” San Francisco Call, Feb. 12, 1913.

Hugh Robert Mill, “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic, 1910-1913,” Nature 111:2786 (March 24, 1923), 386-388.

“Cherry-Garrard, Explorer, Dead,” New York Times, May 19, 1959.

“Obituary: Apsley Cherry-Garrard,” Geographical Journal 125:3/4 (September-December 1959), 472.

James Lees-Milne, “From the Shavian Past: XCII,” Shaw Review 20:2 (May 1977), 62.

W.N. Bonner, “British Biological Research in the Antarctic,” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 14:1 (August 1980), 1-10.

John Maxtone-Graham, “How Quest for Penguin Eggs Ended,” New York Times, Oct. 2, 1994.

Gabrielle Walker, “The Emperor’s Eggs,” New Scientist 162:2182 (April 17, 1999), 42-47.

Gabrielle Walker, “It’s Cold Out There,” New Scientist 172:2315 (Nov. 3, 2001), 54.

Edward J. Larson, “Greater Glory,” Scientific American 304:6 (June 2011), 78-83.

“When August Was Cold and Dark,” New York Times, Aug. 8, 2011, A18.

Robin McKie, “How a Heroic Hunt for Penguin Eggs Became ‘The Worst Journey in the World,'” Guardian, Jan. 14, 2012.

Matilda Battersby, “Cache of Letters About Scott Found as Collection of His Possessions Acquired for the Nation,” Independent, July 19, 2012.

Karen May, “Could Captain Scott Have Been Saved? Revisiting Scott’s Last Expedition,” Polar Record 49:1 (January 2013), 72-90.

Karen May and Sarah Airriess, “Could Captain Scott Have Been Saved? Cecil Meares and the ‘Second Journey’ That Failed,” Polar Record 51:3 (May 2015), 260-273.

Shane McCorristine and Jane S.P. Mocellin, “Christmas at the Poles: Emotions, Food, and Festivities on Polar Expeditions, 1818-1912,” Polar Record 52:5 (September 2016), 562-577.

Carolyn Philpott, “Making Music on the March: Sledging Songs of the ‘Heroic Age’ of Antarctic Exploration,” Polar Record 52:6 (November 2016), 698-716.


Listener mail:

Robinson Meyer, “Anti-Surveillance Camouflage for Your Face,” Atlantic, July 24, 2014.

Adam Harvey, “Face to Anti-Face,” New York Times, Dec. 14, 2013.

“How to Find a Spider in Your Yard on a Tuesday at 8:47pm.”

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Petr Smelý, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

Image: Ceská Televize

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!

Worldly Wise

Picture 060

Proverbs from around the world:

  • A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner. (English)
  • Impulse manages all things badly. (Latin)
  • It is not the thief who is hanged, but the one who is caught stealing. (Czech)
  • Never promise a poor man, and never owe a rich one. (Brazilian)
  • A fool at forty is a fool indeed. (Ethiopian)
  • Quarrelsome dogs come limping home. (Swedish)
  • A canoe does not know who is king: when it turns over, everyone gets wet. (Malagasy)
  • A thousand regrets do not pay one debt. (Turkish)
  • Every road leads somewhere. (Filipino)
  • He who steals a needle will steal an ox. (Korean)
  • Cleverness is serviceable for everything, sufficient for nothing. (French)
  • The tongue is the neck’s worst enemy. (Egyptian)
  • If work were good for you, the rich would leave none for the poor. (Haitian)
  • Happiness is not a horse that can be harnessed. (Russian)
  • Relatives are scorpions. (Tunisian)
  • Silence does not make mistakes. (Hindi)


Image: Wikimedia Commons

Canada is south of Detroit.

Due to a curve in the border, Windsor, Ontario, lies south of Michigan’s largest city.

A floral compass in Windsor bears a plaque that reads: