Louisiana State University law professor Christine Alice Corcos points out that Ghostbusters, apart from being an entertaining comedy, also offers “a thoughtful introduction to environmental law and policy, suitable for discussion in a law school class.” For example, the team has no license for the containment unit in the basement of their firehouse:
The LLRWA sets forth extremely specific terms under which sites must be proposed, evaluated, and chosen. It also mandates environmental impact statements, which the Ghostbusters could not have prepared since they did not notify any agency of their activities. Additionally, the LLRWA guidelines require that the waste being stored, and the disposal site, be structurally stable. Apparently the psychic waste being stored does not meet Class B or C waste guidelines, nor does it seem to have the minimum stability required by any other class. As we see on Peck’s second visit to the facility, it is neither liquid nor solid, and if released will likely ignite or emit toxic vapors. Furthermore, storage is likely to be advisable not for 100 years, as with Class A and B wastes, but forever. However, under RCRA, the government need only show that the waste is hazardous within the statutory definition. The EPA might prefer to exercise this option for this particular case.
On the other hand, it’s EPA lawyer Walter Peck who orders the unit to be shut down, over the team’s protests. “Peck’s unilateral action may leave the EPA liable for suit by New York City residents under the Federal Tort Claims Act,” Corcos writes. “A successful suit would have to fall outside one of two exceptions to the federal government’s waiver of immunity. The discretionary function exception, exempts the acts and omissions of a government employee ‘exercising due care in the execution of a statute or regulation,’ or specific intentional torts, such as assault, battery and false imprisonment. Peck’s behavior in forcing the release of the psychic waste arguably falls within the battery exception, as would Venkman’s claim of malicious prosecution.”
(Christine Alice Corcos, “‘Who Ya Gonna C(S)ite?': Ghostbusters and the Environmental Regulation Debate,” Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law (1997): 231-272.) (Thanks, Mark.)
The daily New York Times crossword puzzle fills a grid measuring 15×15. The smallest number of clues ever published in a Times puzzle is 52 (on Dec. 23, 2008), and the largest is 86 (on Jan. 21, 2005).
This set Bloomsburg University mathematician Kevin Ferland wondering: What are the theoretical limits? What are the shortest and longest clue lists that can inform a standard 15×15 crossword grid, using the standard structure rules (connectivity, symmetry, and 3-letter words minimum)?
The shortest is straightforward: A blank grid with no black squares will be filled with 30 15-letter words, 15 across and 15 down.
The longest is harder to determine, but after working out a nine-page proof Ferland found that the answer is 96: The largest number of clues that a Times-style crossword will admit is 96, using a grid such as the one above.
In honor of this result, he composed a puzzle using this grid — it appears in the June-July 2014 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly.
(Kevin K. Ferland, “Record Crossword Puzzles,” American Mathematical Monthly 121:6 [June-July 2014], 534-536.)
The theme music for the British television series Inspector Morse starts with a motif based on the Morse code for the word Morse:
-- --- ·-· ··· ·
“It was just a little in-joke,” composer Barrington Pheloung told Essex Life & Countryside in 2001. “I put his name at the beginning and then it recurred all the way through.”
Encouraged, he carried the idea into subsequent episodes. “Sometimes I got a bit cheeky and spelled out the killer’s name in the episode. In the episode ‘WHOK,’ which was a bit of an enigma, the culprit was called Earle. So he got plastered all over the orchestra.” When viewers caught on to this, occasionally he’d insert another character’s name to fool them.
And sometimes he’d give them the slip entirely. When the episode aired in which the detective was due to reveal his first name, 20 million people tuned in to listen for clues in the music, and a national newspaper enlisted the Royal College of Signalling to decipher the notes. They found nothing. (The inspector’s name is Endeavour.)
UPDATE: In the same spirit, the theme to the 1970s British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (below) spells out the series’ title in Morse code (minus the apostrophes). (Thanks, Nick.)
Rod Serling’s original opening narration for The Twilight Zone read, “There is a sixth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man’s fear and the sunlight of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that might be called The Twilight Zone.”
Producer Bill Self questioned the line There is a sixth dimension … “I said, ‘Rod, what is the fifth one?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. Aren’t there five?’ I said, ‘I can only think of four.’ So we rewrote it and rerecorded it and said, ‘There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man …'”
Asked how he came up with the title The Twilight Zone, Serling said, “I thought I’d made it up, but I’ve heard since that there is an Air Force term relating to a moment when a plane is coming down on approach and it cannot see the horizon. It’s called the twilight zone, but it’s an obscure term which I had not heard before.”
(From Marc Scott Zicree, The Twilight Zone Companion, 1982.)
ArnoldC, a language devised by Finnish computer programmer Lauri Hartikka, assigns programming functions to catch phrases from Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. Some keywords:
False: I LIED
True: NO PROBLEMO
If: BECAUSE I’M GOING TO SAY PLEASE
EndIf: YOU HAVE NO RESPECT FOR LOGIC
While: STICK AROUND
MultiplicationOperator: YOU’RE FIRED
DivisionOperator: HE HAD TO SPLIT
EqualTo: YOU ARE NOT YOU YOU ARE ME
GreaterThan: LET OFF SOME STEAM BENNET
Or: CONSIDER THAT A DIVORCE
And: KNOCK KNOCK
DeclareMethod: LISTEN TO ME VERY CAREFULLY
MethodArguments: I NEED YOUR CLOTHES YOUR BOOTS AND YOUR MOTORCYCLE
Return: I’LL BE BACK
EndMethodDeclaration: HASTA LA VISTA, BABY
AssignVariableFromMethodCall: GET YOUR ASS TO MARS
ReadInteger: I WANT TO ASK YOU A BUNCH OF QUESTIONS AND I WANT TO HAVE THEM ANSWERED IMMEDIATELY
AssignVariable: GET TO THE CHOPPER
SetValue: HERE IS MY INVITATION
EndAssignVariable: ENOUGH TALK
ParseError: WHAT THE FUCK DID I DO WRONG
This program prints the string “hello world”:
IT'S SHOWTIME TALK TO THE HAND "hello world" YOU HAVE BEEN TERMINATED
adj. half again as large
adj. not tall
Born in 1915, giant Henry M. Mullins partnered with Tommy Lowe and little Stanley Rosinski to form the vaudeville act Lowe, Hite and Stanley. Of Mullins, who stood 7’6-3/4″ and weighed 280 pounds, doctor Charles D. Humberd said, “It is indeed amazing to watch so vast a personage doing a whirlwind acrobatic act. … He dances, fast and furiously, and engages in a comedy knock-about ‘business’ that would be found strenuous by any trained ‘Physical culturist.’ … He is alert, intelligent, well read, affable and friendly.” The act continued until Rosinski’s death in 1962.
Mathematician Marion Tinsley lost only seven games of checkers in a career that spanned 45 years. Between 1950 and 1995, he took first place in every tournament in which he played. “Dr. Tinsley has taken the game beyond what anybody else ever conceived,” International Checkers Hall of Fame founder Charles Walker told Sports Illustrated in 1992. “No one presumed to think they could beat him.”
His last and best opponent was a machine, Chinook, designed by University of Alberta computer scientist Jonathan Schaeffer. When the American Checkers Federation refused to let a machine play for the championship in 1990, the sporting Tinsley resigned his crown and immediately accepted the match.
He won 4-2, with 33 draws. In one game, after the program had played its 10th move, Tinsley said, “You’re going to regret that.” Chinook resigned 26 moves later, and in the ensuing analysis Schaeffer found that Tinsley had looked 64 moves ahead to find the only winning strategy. (When asked for the source of his advantage, Tinsley, a lay preacher, said, “I’ve got a better programmer — God.”)
But the machine kept improving, and Tinsley’s health began to fail. He had to withdraw after six draws in their 1994 rematch, and he died of pancreatic cancer shortly afterward at age 68.
Chinook has since solved the game — after 18 years of thinking, it produced a map that would show it a non-losing move in any situation. In principle, at least, the computer is now invincible — the best a human can hope for is a draw.
This might have disappointed Tinsley, who played not for supremacy but for a love of the game. “Checkers can get quite a hold on you,” he said. “Its beauty is just overwhelming — the mathematics, the elegance, the precision. It’s capable of wrapping you all up.”
n. a rolling toward
“The ball was my idea,” said Steven Spielberg of the boulder that threatens Indiana Jones at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I don’t even know where I came up with it — it might have been deeply in my subconscious from something I saw when I was a kid — but I just said, ‘You know, at some point some huge boulder should start chasing Indy, and it almost squashes him three or four times until he gets out of the cave.'”
The scene was shot 10 times, with the crew replacing fallen stalactites each time. “I didn’t know it was gonna look as good as it did until the day [production designer] Norman Reynolds showed me that he had actually made a boulder that was something like 22 feet in circumference,” Spielberg said. “So I didn’t have Harrison step in the shot until I was completely convinced it was safe. Once we’d rehearsed it several times with a stuntman, Harrison did every shot himself.”
When Spielberg, George Lucas, and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan had met in January 1978 to brainstorm ideas, it was quickly clear that Lucas already had an articulate vision of the story. At one point Kasdan asked Lucas why he didn’t direct the film himself. He said, “Because then I’d never get to see it.”
(From J.W. Rinzler, The Complete Making of Indiana Jones, 2008.)
In 1904 Belgian circus manager Eduard Wulff patented an apparatus “whereby living animals, such as horses, elephants, monkeys etc., are readily thrown into space for the purpose of causing same to take a somersault or so-called salto-mortale.”
It’s pretty simple: A “throwing plate” (3) is clamped over a stationary base (1), compressing two powerful arched springs (6). The animal is fitted with a corset which is attached by rings to four supporting standards (7). Wulff emphasizes that the animal should be nearly hanging on the standards, with its feet barely contacting the base. “Otherwise the animal would cling with the legs, which would be objectionable.”
The user pulls a lever, releasing the throwing plate, and “the animal will be caused to turn in space and perform a so-called salto-mortale.” Fair enough. He says nothing about landing.
Mathematician Yutaka Nishiyama of the Osaka University of Economics has designed a nifty paper boomerang that you can use indoors. A free PDF template (with instructions in 70 languages!) is here.
Hold it vertically, like a paper airplane, and throw it straight ahead at eye level, snapping your wrist as you release it. The greater the spin, the better the performance. It should travel 3-4 meters in a circle and return in 1-2 seconds. Catch it between your palms.
Claude Shannon, the father of information theory, took an active interest in juggling. He used to juggle balls while riding a unicycle through the halls of Bell Laboratories, and he built the first juggling robot from an Erector set in the 1970s. (The machine above mimics W.C. Fields, who himself juggled in vaudeville before turning to comedy.)
Noting that juggling seems to appeal to mathematics-minded people, Shannon offered the following theorem:
F is flight time, the time the ball spends in the air
D is “dwell time,” the time it spends in the hand
V is vacancy, the time a hand spends empty
B is the number of balls
H is the number of hands
“Theorem 1 allows one to calculate the range of possible periods (time between hand throws) for a given type of uniform juggle and a given time of flight,” he wrote. “A juggler can change this period, while keeping the height of his throws fixed, by increasing dwell time (to increase the period) or reducing dwell time to reduce the period. The total mathematical range available for a given flight time can be obtained by setting D = 0 for minimum range and V = 0 for maximum range in Theorem 1. The ratio of these two extremes is independent of the flight time and dependent only on the number of balls and hands.”
To measure dwell times, Shannon actually created a “jugglometer” in which a juggler wore copper mesh over his fingers and juggled foil-covered lacrosse balls; catching the ball closed a connection between the fingers and started a clock. “Preliminary results from testing a few jugglers indicate that, with ball juggling, vacant time is normally less than dwell time, V ranging in our measurements from fifty to seventy per cent of D.”
Shannon noted that juggling gets dramatically harder as the number of balls increases. He worked out a foolproof solution, at least in theory. A light ray that starts at one focus of an ellipse will be reflected to the other focus. If the ellipse is rotated around its major axis, it will create an egglike shell with two foci. Now if a juggler stands with a hand at each focus, then a ball thrown from either hand, in any direction, will bounce off the shell and arrive at the other hand!
(“Scientific Aspects of Juggling,” in Claude Elwood Shannon: Collected Papers, 1993.)
Herbert Hoover weighed 200 pounds when he entered the White House in 1929. He couldn’t spare time for golf or tennis, so physician Joel Boone invented a game called Hooverball that could give him a strenuous workout in the minimum time.
On a tennis-like court, two teams of three players throw a 6-pound medicine ball back and forth over an 8-foot net. Sports Illustrated noted, “This cannot be accomplished graciously.” Rules:
- The ball is served from the back line.
- The ball must be caught in the air and immediately thrown back from the point where it was caught. It cannot be carried or passed.
- Points are scored when a team fails to catch the ball, fails to throw it across the net, or throws the ball out of bounds.
- A ball caught in the front half of one team’s court must be thrown to the back half of the opponents’ court. If it doesn’t reach the back court, the opponents score a point.
- Scoring is exactly like tennis. The serve rotates among one team’s members until a game is won, then passes to the other team.
- A ball that hits the line is good.
- A player who catches the ball out of bounds can return to the court before throwing it back.
- A ball that hits the net but passes over is a live ball.
- Teams can make substitutions when the ball is dead.
Hoover played with his friends at 7 a.m. every day, even in snow. The regulars included the president, Boone, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet members, and journalists such as Mark Sullivan and William Hard. Talking shop was forbidden, and after the game they gathered on the White House lawn for juice and coffee.
“The regimen worked well for the president,” writes biographer Glen Jeansonn. “By the end of the term he had firmed up and slimmed down to 179 pounds. … Hoover looked forward to the games and the camaradarie, although he did not like rising quite so early. But the games were energizing and he began each day refreshed and relaxed.”
The Hoover Presidential Foundation, which co-hosts a national championship each year, has a complete set of rules.
Playing baseball for the St. Louis Browns, Eddie Gaedel had a career on-base percentage of 1.000, but most people have never heard of him.
Why? Because he had only one at-bat. Gaedel was a dwarf signed by the Browns as a publicity stunt in 1951. He had a legitimate contract, so the umpire had to let him play, but since he was only 3’7″, his strike zone measured an inch and a half.
“Three thoughts went through my mind that day,” said Frank Saucier, for whom Gaedel was pinch-hitting. “One, this is more like a carnival or a circus than a professional baseball game. Two, this is the greatest bit of showmanship I’ve ever seen. Three, this is the easiest money I’ll ever make.”
Tigers pitcher Bob Cain threw four balls, all high. The Tigers won 6-2, but Gaedel got a standing ovation. “For a minute,” he said, “I felt like Babe Ruth.” Today his jersey (number “1/8″) hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“He was, by golly, the best darn midget who ever played big-league ball,” wrote Browns owner Bill Veeck, who had cooked up the scheme. “He was also the only one.”
n. a composer of songs
While on the road with his 1927 musical Funny Face, George Gershwin left “two notebooks containing at least forty tunes” in a hotel room in Wilmington, Del. “After calling the hotel and learning the notebooks could not be located, he did not seem greatly perturbed,” wrote his brother and lyricist, Ira. “His attitude is that he can always write new ones.”
George was a songwriting machine, always at work. “I can think of no more nerve-wracking, no more mentally arduous task than making music,” he said in 1930. “There are times when a phrase of music will cost many hours of internal sweating.” Though he would sometimes try ideas at the piano, he insisted that “the actual composition must be done in the brain” — the fifth and final version of “Strike Up the Band” came to him in bed, and he heard, and even saw on paper, the complete construction of Rhapsody in Blue while riding a train from New York to Boston. “Like a pugilist,” he once said, “the songwriter must always keep in training.”
Ira’s struggle was less apparent. While working on lyrics he would wander the room, singing to himself or playing the piano with one finger. A new maid once asked his wife, “Don’t Mr. Gershwin never go to work?”
A puzzle from University of Michigan philosopher Kendall Walton:
“Charles is watching a horror movie about a terrible green slime. He cringes in his seat as the slime oozes slowly but relentlessly over the earth, destroying everything in its path. Soon a greasy head emerges from the undulating mas, and two beady eyes fix on the camera. The slime, picking up speed, oozes on a new course straight toward the viewers. Charles emits a shriek and clutches desperately at his chair. Afterwards, still shaken, he confesses that he was ‘terrified’ of the slime.”
Was he? Walton says no. Charles may have felt intense fear, even shrieking as the slime approached the camera. But he knew that he was not literally in danger. This was not a half-belief or a “gut” feeling — he never considered leaving the theater or calling the police, for instance. Charles wasn’t motivated to avoid the slime physically. Yet he says that what he felt was fear of the slime.
What are we to make of this? “This issue is of fundamental importance,” Walton writes. “It is crucially related to the basic question of why and how fiction is important, why we find it valuable, why we do not dismiss novels, films, and plays as ‘mere fiction’ and hence unworthy of serious attention.” What is the answer?
(Kendall Walton, “Fearing Fictions,” Journal of Philosophy, January 1978.)
Asked to choose a single “master image” to sum up his work, Steven Spielberg chose this shot from Close Encounters, in which little Barry Guiler opens his living-room door to see the “beautiful but awful light” emanating from an alien spacecraft. “And he’s very small,” Spielberg said, “and it’s a very large door, and there’s a lot of promise or danger outside that door.”
The scene in which Barry encounters midnight visitors in his kitchen won praise for Spielberg’s direction of untrained 3-year-old actor Cary Guffey:
The story is recounted in Joseph McBride’s 2010 biography of Spielberg: “I had to the left of the camera a cardboard partition, and to the right of the camera a second cardboard partition. To the left of the camera, I put Bob Westmoreland, our makeup man, in a gorilla suit — the full mask and hands and hairy body. To the right of the camera, I dressed myself up as an Easter Bunny, with the ears and the nose and the whiskers painted on my face. Cary Guffey didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know what he was gonna react to. His job was to come into the kitchen, stop at the door, and just have a good time. … And just as he came into the kitchen, I had the cardboard partition dropped and Bob Westmoreland was there as the gorilla. Cary froze, like a deer caught in car headlights … I dropped my partition, and he looked over at me, and there was the Easter Bunny smiling at him. He was torn. He began to smile at me — he was still afraid of that thing. Then I had Bob — I said, ‘Take off your head.’ Bob took off his mask, and when Cary saw it was the man that put his makeup on in the morning, Cary began to laugh. Even though it was a trick, the reaction was pure and honest.”
Eugene Graves and William Brown patented this grim game in 1902. A row of effigies stand on blocks under a gibbet. Each effigy is fitted with a noose, and the players take turns shooting balls at the blocks, “representing summary punishment meted out to the victim.”
In the patent abstract, the effigies are described only as “notorious criminals and persons opposed to law and order”; Graves and Brown note that these can be varied to suit the “location, place or country for which the game is especially designed.”
“A flag may be provided for each figure to designate the character or nationality of the effigy.” We’re lucky this didn’t catch on.
In 1869, composer Frederic Clay introduced W.S. Gilbert to Arthur Sullivan.
“I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Sullivan,” said Gilbert, “because you will be able to settle a question which has just arisen between Mr. Clay and myself. My contention is that when a musician who is master of many instruments has a musical theme to express, he can express it as perfectly upon the simple tetrachord of Mercury (in which there are, as we all know, no diatonic intervals whatever) as upon the more elaborate disdiapason (with the familiar four tetrachords and the redundant note) which (I need not remind you) embraces in its simple consonance all the single, double, and inverted chords.”
This was gobbledegook that Gilbert had simply cooked up; he wanted to see whether it would “pass muster with a musician.”
Sullivan asked him to repeat the question, then politely said he would like to think it over before making a reply. In 1891 Gilbert said, “I believe he is still engaged in hammering it out.”
When John Barrymore was on his deathbed in 1942, he received a wire from W.C. Fields.
It said YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME.
The football teams of Barbados and Grenada found themselves in a bizarre situation in a qualification round for the 1994 Carribean Cup. In order to advance to the finals, Barbados had to win this game by a margin of two goals; in any other outcome Grenada would qualify. Also, the tournament organizers had stated that if the teams reached a draw, extra time would be added to the match in which every goal would count double, the so-called “golden goal.”
Barbados was leading 2-0 when Grenada scored a goal in the final four minutes. With so little time remaining, the Barbados players conferred and, to everyone’s surprise, turned on their own goal, evening the score at 2-2. Their strategy was clear: If they could maintain this tie for the remaining few minutes, they’d be rewarded with an extra 30 minutes of playing time in which a single goal would give them the two-point margin they needed.
The Grenadians, realizing this, spent the last two minutes trying to get control of the ball and send it into their own goal — this would end the game at 3-2 and deny Barbados its two-goal margin.
The Barbadians, realizing this, began defending the Grenadian goal, effectively reversing the whole game. To add to the confusion, some Grenadians tried to make regular goals as well, which left Grenada attacking both goals, Barbados defending both, and most players and supporters utterly bewildered. The Barbadians eventually succeeded in holding the score at 2-2 — and made a winning goal in the extra time.
“I feel cheated,” complained Grenadian manager James Clarkson. “The person who came up with these rules must be a candidate for a madhouse. The game should never be played with so many players running around the field confused. Our players did not even know which direction to attack: our goal or their goal. I have never seen this happen before. In football, you are supposed to score against the opponents to win, not for them.” The Caribbean Cup retired the golden goal rule shortly thereafter.
In 1961, when Groucho Marx turned 71, he received a telegram from Irving Berlin:
THE WORLD WOULD NOT BE IN SUCH A SNARL
HAD MARX BEEN GROUCHO INSTEAD OF KARL.
The word zombie is never used in Night of the Living Dead.
The word Mafia is never used in The Godfather.
It is often very hard to tell a fake from an original, even when you know it must be fake. Think about the opening scenes of the movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Some scenes were shot in the galleries of the Louvre. The museum would not allow actors Tom Hanks or Audrey Tautou to remove Leonardos from the wall, so those scenes were shot in London. One hundred and fifty paintings from the Louvre were reproduced for the London set, using digital photography. Artist James Gemmill overpainted and glazed each, even copying the craquelure and the wormholes in the frames. When Madonna of the Rocks is removed from the wall, the back of the painting shows the correct stretcher placement and Louvre identification codes.
Dealers in Old Masters who saw the movie and were familiar with the originals in the Louvre confess to not being sure which paintings are copies … The answer is that every painting in the movie that is touched by Hanks or Tautou is a copy. Paintings that appear only as background in the Louvre are real. What happened to James Gemmill’s copies after the scenes were shot? No one will say.
— Don Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, 2009
One afternoon the doorbell rang at Peter Sellers’ London flat. Sellers was working in his study upstairs, so his wife Anne answered the door. It was a telegram for her:
BRING ME A CUP OF COFFEE. PETER.
In 1960 Jerry Lewis and Henny Youngman were having lunch at a Miami restaurant when Lewis was mobbed by autograph seekers. Youngman slipped out to the lobby unnoticed and returned as if nothing had happened. Shortly afterward Lewis received a telegram from the hotel bellboy:
DEAR JERRY, PLEASE PASS THE SALT. HENNY.