Tunisia has an unique tourist draw — its southern desert contains the abandoned sets of five Star Wars movies, in which the Sahara stood in for the planet Tatooine.
A list, complete with photos and geographical coordinates, is here.
They’re popular with European tourists, but they won’t last — the 20-building set of Mos Espa, Anakin Skywalker’s hometown, is being engulfed by sand dunes.
Japanese puzzle maven Kobon Fujimura devised this mind-reading trick. Ask a friend to look at his analog watch and mentally choose one of the hour numbers. Tell him, “I’m going to point to various numbers on the face of your watch with a pencil. As I do so, count silently, starting with the number after the one you’ve chosen. For example, if you’ve chosen 7, start counting with 8. When we reach 20, say, ‘Stop.’”
Point to any seven numbers at random, pretending to concentrate deeply. Then point to 12, then 11, 10, and so on counterclockwise around the dial. When your friend tells you to stop, you’ll be pointing to the number he had chosen.
The audience was stunned when contestant Michael Larson won $110,237 on Press Your Luck in 1984, easily the largest one-day total ever won on a game show to that date. As lights flashed randomly on the Big Board, somehow Larson was consistently able to stop on squares that led to cash and additional play, and avoid the “whammy” that would bankrupt him.
It turned out that the light indicator wasn’t random. In studying the game at home, Larson had discovered that it followed five recognizable patterns; after memorizing these he could always be sure of landing on winning squares.
CBS producers divined the scheme, but they could find no cause to disqualify Larson, as he had broken no rules. They paid him his money, fixed the board, and established a maximum sum that future contestants could win.
Larson may have congratulated himself, but he didn’t get to enjoy his winnings — he lost the money in bad real estate investments and died of throat cancer at age 49.
Uninspired film titles listed by Patrick Robertson in Film Facts (2001):
- **** (U.S., 1967)
- … (Argentina, 1971)
- ←→ (Canada, 1969)
- A 100% Brazilian Film (Brazil, 1987)
- An Animated Film (Poland, 1984)
- Dutch Movie (Netherlands, 1984)
- Film Without Title (West Germany, 1947)
- Untitled (Italy, 1973)
- Still Lacking a Good Title (Yugoslavia, 1988)
- Don’t Worry, We’ll Think of a Title (U.S., 1965)
Greta Garbo said, “If only those who dream about Hollywood knew how difficult it all is.”
From the Strand, January 1900: As a novel entertainment, George W. Patterson of Chicago fitted a pair of Indian clubs with electric lights powered by a custom-built 35-pound battery. “To give a display the room is darkened, and Mr. Patterson, taking his stand in front of the audience, turns on the current and swings the clubs with the most wonderful results.” The time of these exposures is 5-10 seconds:
“We notice two distinct ‘O’s,’ with a very thick outer circle or ring. This larger circle is produced by a thirty-two candle-power, fifty volt lamp which is usually run on 110 volts, fixed to the tip of each club. Some idea of the power of these two lights, which are necessary to make the figures, may be gauged from the fact that they are too dazzling for the naked eye when lighted and stationary, and are so powerful that they are capable of illuminating an entire church or public hall of average size.”
“A pretty design produced by lighted clubs in a darkened hall is seen in our third photograph. The clubs are always swung to music, so that the effect to the audience is still more pleasing. The patterns or figures which may be obtained by the swinging of the clubs are almost infinite in variety. The lights on the clubs are under the control of an operator behind the scenes, who turns on and off the lights of both clubs by means of a switchboard.”
“In order to produce such a charming picture as seen in our next photograph, the clubs, of course, have to be swung fairly rapidly. Indeed, it would be impossible to obtain so many circles with one pair of clubs unless they are swung quickly, while the grace and style of the whole effect speak volumes for Mr. Patterson’s ability as a club-swinger. His club swinging has rightly been termed ‘poetry in motion.’”
“A complication” and a “running figure.” “Although this kind of electrical display with Indian clubs is entirely new so far as the public is concerned, Mr. Patterson has given much time and thought to the subject, and his entertainments have not reached their present high degree of excellence and novelty without a great deal of patient study of that vast and marvellous subject which we call electricity.”
In 2010 Lithuanian engineer Julijonas Urbonas designed the Euthanasia Coaster, a 7,500-meter roller coaster designed to kill its riders. After a 2-minute climb to the top of the drop tower, the 24 riders plunge 500 meters into a series of seven loops designed to subject them to 10 g for 60 seconds. This forces the blood away from their brains, causing first euphoria, then loss of consciousness and finally death by cerebral hypoxia.
Here’s what that looks like if you don’t black out:
When the train returns to the station, the corpses are unloaded and a new group of passengers can board. Urbonas says, “Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies, and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant, and meaningful.”
On April 2, 1931, during an exhibition game between the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts and the New York Yankees, 17-year-old pitcher Jackie Mitchell found herself facing Babe Ruth.
She struck him out in four pitches. “I had a drop pitch,” she said, “and when I was throwing it right, you couldn’t touch it.”
The New York Times reported that Ruth “flung his bat away in high disdain and trudged to the bench, registering disgust with his shoulders and chin.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball,” he told a Chattanooga newspaper. “Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”
Next up was Lou Gehrig. She struck him out, too.
In 1941, as the British War Office searched for ways to help Allied prisoners escape from German POW camps, it found an unlikely partner: John Waddington Ltd., the U.K. licensee for Monopoly. “Games and pastimes” was an approved category of item to be included in care packages sent to captured soldiers, so Waddington’s set about creating special sets to be sent to the camps.
Under the paper surface of each doctored board was a map printed on durable silk showing “escape routes from the particular prison to which each game was sent,” Waddington’s chairman Victor Watson told the Associated Press in 1985. “Into the other side of the board was inserted a tiny compass and several fine-quality files.” Real French, German, and Italian currency was hidden in the stacks of Monopoly money.
MI-9, the intelligence division charged with helping POWs escape, smuggled the games into prison camps, where prisoners would remove the aids and then destroy the sets in order to prevent their captors from divining the scheme.
“It is not known how many airmen escaped thanks to these Monopoly games,” writes Philip Orbanes in The Game Makers, his 2004 history of Parker Brothers, “but 35,000 POWs did break out of prison camps and reach partisans who helped them to safety.”
In Platoon, Willem Dafoe plays Sgt. Elias, who complains about having to take inexperienced men on patrol.
One of the men says, “Guy’s in three years and he thinks he’s Jesus fucking Christ or something.”
Two years later, Dafoe played the lead in The Last Temptation of Christ.
Never Say Never Again got its title because after Diamonds Are Forever Sean Connery had said he would “never again” play James Bond.
In 2005 Toronto artist Brian Joseph Davis assembled more than 5,000 film taglines into one long narrative.
This version, read by voice-over artist Scott Taylor, is only an excerpt — the whole thing runs to 22 pages (PDF).
Eric Clapton grew up believing that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his sister. His real father had deserted the family, and they had adopted this fiction in order to spare him the stigma of illegitimacy.
“It occurs to me that the family had no real idea of how to explain my own existence to me,” he wrote in his 2007 autobiography, Clapton. “The guilt attached to that made them very aware of their own shortcomings, which would go a long way in explaining the anger and awkwardness that my presence aroused in almost everybody.”
One other striking detail from that book: He mentions that buying a yacht at age 60 was “the first time in my life I had to borrow money to pay for something.” This seems to mean that, ever since stardom had found him at age 18, he could simply acquire anything he wanted.
Niels Bohr liked westerns but found them exasperating. After one feature he told his friends, “I did not like that picture, it was too improbable. That the scoundrel runs off with the beautiful girl is logical, it always happens. That the bridge collapses under their carriage is unlikely but I am willing to accept it. That the heroine remains suspended in midair over a precipice is even more unlikely, but again I accept it. I am even willing to accept that at that very moment Tom Mix is coming by on his horse. But that at that very moment there should be a fellow with a motion picture camera to film the whole business that is more than I am willing to believe.”
He did approve of movie gunfights, where the villain always draws first and yet the hero always wins. Bohr reasoned that the man who draws first in a gunfight is using conscious volition, where his opponent is relying on reflex, a much faster response. Hence the second man should win.
“We disagreed with this theory,” wrote George Gamow, “and the next day I went to a toy store and bought two guns in Western holders. We shot it out with Bohr, he playing the hero, and he ‘killed’ all his students.”
Abie’s Irish Rose became a fixture on Broadway in the 1920s, running for more than five years. That was bad news for Robert Benchley, who had to think up a new capsule review of the play each week for Life magazine:
- “People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”
- “In another two or three years, we’ll have this play driven out of town.”
- “Where do people come from who keep this going? You don’t see them out in the daytime.”
- “A-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh, well, all right.”
- “All right if you never went beyond the fourth grade.”
- “The Phoenicians were among the earliest settlers of Britain.”
- “There is no letter ‘w’ in the French language.”
- “Flying fish are sometimes seen at as great a height as fifteen feet.”
In despair he finally wrote, “See Hebrews 13:8.”
That verse reads “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.”
Paul McCartney never learned to read music. “I don’t have any desire to learn,” he said. “I feel it’s like a voodoo, that it would spoil things if I actually learnt how things are done.”
v. to harass or chase in a manner reminiscent of Achilles
Brad Pitt, who played Achilles in the 2004 film Troy, tore his Achilles tendon during production.
“If scientific theories are correct it is more of an honor to lose at chess than win,” mused Edgar Rice Burroughs in his diary on Jan. 3, 1921. “I do not recall ever having lost a chess game — though I have played but few times.”
Perhaps inspired, he invented a Martian variant of the game, Jetan, for his novel The Chessmen of Mars, published the following spring. Played with alien pieces on a 10×10 board, the game underlies a climactic scene in which living players fight to the death on an oversize board.
A few months after the novel’s appearance, Burroughs received a letter from Elston B. Sweet, a convict at Leavenworth, who with a fellow prisoner had carved a full set of pieces for Jetan. “We have not only played dozens of games between us,” he wrote, “but have succeeded in making the game a favorite among several other prisoners.” When other readers expressed similar interest, Burroughs summarized the rules of the game in an appendix to the novel.
In a 1968 collection of chess variations, John Gollon praises Jetan as “quite good — very playable and entertaining.” He includes this sample game between himself (orange) and J. Miller (black):
1. (T) A2-B4 (T)A9-B7
2. (W) A1-A3 (W) A10-A8
3. (Pd) B1-B3 (Pd) B10-B8
4. (Pa) C2-D3 (Pa) C9-D8
5. (D) C1-C4 (D) C10-C7
6. (O) G1-D4 (O) G10-D7
7. (D) C4-C7X (D) (Pa)D8-C7X (D)
8. (Pa) B3-D5 (O) D7-G8
9. (Pa) D5-B7X (T) (Pa) C7-B7X (Pd)
10. (O) D4-G5 (Pa) F7-F8
11. (Pa) H2-G3 (Pa) H9-I8
12. (D) H1-H4 (D) H10-H7
13. (Pd) I1-I3 (Pa) I7-J8
14. (T) J2-I4 (C) F10-F7
15. (D) H4-H7X (D) (Pa) I8-H7X (D)
16. (Pa) E2-E3 (O) D10-G7
17. (Pd) I3-I5 (O) G7-D6
18. (O) D1-E4 (O) D6-G5X (O)
19. (T) I4-G5X (O) (C) F7-I5X (Pd)
20. (Pa) G3-G4 (C) I5-I2X (Pa)
21. (P) F1-C1 (C) I2-J1X (W)
22. (T) G5-H7X (Pa) (O) G8-H7X (T)
23. (O) E4-H7X (O) (P) E10-C9
24. (O) H7-I10X (Pd) (T) I9-I7
25. (C) E1-E4 (W) J10-I9
26. (C) E4-D7 (P) C9-F1
27. (C) D7-F4
“Black’s Princess ‘escaped’ into certain capture — no matter where she moves, she will be taken.”
New Jersey magician Karl Fulves invented this ESP trick. Hand a friend an ordinary die and turn your back. Ask her to place the die on a table. Now ask her to give the die a quarter turn: If the top number is even, she must turn it to the east (to her right), and if the top number is odd, she must turn it north (away from her). This exposes a new top number, and she can turn the die again according to the same rule, turning it east if the number is even and north if it’s odd. After she has continued in this way for several turns, you ask her to stop when the top number is 1, then to give the die one final turn and to concentrate on the top number. It would seem as though the final number might be any one of four possibilities, but you can name it correctly with your back turned. How?
A magician asks you to shuffle a pack of cards and to take some quantity of them. He takes a larger packet for himself. The magician counts his cards and says, “I have as many cards as you have, plus four cards, and enough left to make 16.”
You count your cards and find that you have 11. The magician counts 11 of his cards onto the table, sets aside a further four, and then continues counting: 12-13-14-15-16. The 16th card is the last, as he predicted.
He can repeat the feat as often as you request it. The number of cards that he sets aside sometimes varies, but he always arrives at the predicted quantity. How does he do it?
Fred Astaire composed a unique dance solo for 1951′s Royal Wedding — he celebrates his love for Sarah Churchill by dancing on the walls and ceiling of his hotel room.
The effect was produced by situating the entire room in a steel-reinforced cylindrical chamber 20 feet in diameter, which the crew could turn as Astaire danced. Cameraman Robert Planck was strapped to a board that rotated with the set, producing the illusion that the room was stationary and that the dancer was freed from gravity.
The details required further trickery. “Fred’s coat was sewed to the chair, and the chair was screwed to the floor,” remembered director Stanley Donen. The photograph that Astaire admires is fitted with magnets. “The draperies were made of wood. There’s nothing soft in the shot. There was only one cut during the sequence — while he is at midpoint on the wall, necessitated by having to change the roll of film. We rehearsed this [scene] for weeks and filmed it in one morning. … We were literally through with the entire sequence by lunch.”
When Steven Spielberg dropped out of college in 1968, he was only a few credits short of a diploma.
So in 2002, after winning three Oscars, five honorary doctorates, and two lifetime achievement awards, he returned to California State University, Long Beach, to complete a degree in film and electronic arts.
He placed out of FEA 309, the advanced filmmaking class. To demonstrate his proficiency, he submitted Schindler’s List.
Letter from Eddie Cantor to Groucho Marx, Jan. 9, 1964:
Since being inactive as a performer I’ve done quite a bit of scribbling. This is my fourth year writing a column for Diners’ Club Magazine.
Will you please send me as quick as you can two lines which have brought you the biggest laughs. I would appreciate it for my next column.
Briefly (and quickly) the two biggest laughs that I can recall (other than my three marriages) were in a vaudeville act called “Home Again.”
One was when Zeppo came out from the wings and announced, ‘Dad, the garbage man is here.’ I replied, ‘Tell him we don’t want any.’
The other was when Chico shook hands with me and said, ‘I would like to say good-bye to your wife,’ and I said, ‘Who wouldn’t?’
Take care of yourself.
Swimming in the Nile at age 10, Hadji Ali discovered he could ingest large amounts of water and bring it up again without ill effect. He parlayed this talent into a career as a “regurgitation act” in music halls and carnivals around the world, playing even to Tsar Nicholas II at the Winter Palace in 1914.
The performance above, from Laurel and Hardy’s 1931 Spanish-language film Politiquerias, includes Ali’s famous closing stunt, in which he ingests both water and kerosene and then upchucks them variously onto an open flame.
All of this was received with surprising tolerance by the era’s audiences — Judy Garland named Ali her favorite vaudevillian — but at least one club cut short an engagement when they found it was “killing their supper shows.”
In 1947, Charles M. Schulz was working as an art instructor at a Minneapolis correspondence school when the accounting department hired a pretty redhead named Donna Mae Johnson. “I just thought she was wonderful,” Schulz said. On his way in to work he would stop off on the second floor to draw cartoons on her desk calendar, and in February 1950 they began to date.
The trouble was that Donna had a second boyfriend, a local boy named Alan Wold whom she had been dating since 1948. “I knew quite soon in the relationship that it was Al that I wanted,” she said, yet “I really loved Sparky too at the same time.” She asked her diary on May 8, 1950: “How will you ever decide?”
On June 14, after signing a deal with a newspaper syndicate to publish his comic strip, Peanuts, Schulz went to her and proposed marriage.
All she could say was “I don’t want to marry anybody. I just wish everybody would leave me alone.”
He pressed her for three weeks, but she was firm. Schulz eventually moved to Colorado, married Joyce Halverson, and started a family, but he kept in touch with Donna for the rest of his life. One night he grew sentimental listening to Joni James sing about unrequited love, “and that was the mindset that got me going on Charlie Brown sitting at the playground, eating his lunch, and he looks across the playground, and he sees the little red-haired girl, and from that, that whole series came, one thing after another.”
“You never do get over your first love,” he said at age 75. “The whole of you is rejected when a woman says, ‘You’re not worth it.’”