Two-Way Traffic

http://www.google.com/patents?id=xTBiAAAAEBAJ

In 2009 I mentioned that in 1895 Henry Simmons invented ramp-shaped railroad cars that could pass over one another.

At the time I thought this was alarming, but something like it was actually carried out. On Coney Island’s Leap Frog Railway of 1905, one car full of passengers clambered over another:

The passengers in breathless excitement momentarily anticipating disaster, realizing that their lives are in jeopardy, clinging to one another for safety, closing their eyes to the impending danger. … The cars crash into one another, 32 people are hurled over the heads of 32 others. … They are suddenly awakened to a realization of the fact that they have actually collided with another car and yet they find themselves safe and sound … proceeding in the same direction in which they started.

On the return journey the cars changed positions. At the time this was billed as a prototype “to reduce the mortality rate due to collisions on railways.” Now I wonder whether Simmons’ invention was ever realized.

(From Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York, 1994.)

D’oh!

In a 2005 story about The Simpsons, San Francisco Chronicle writer Steve Rubenstein mentioned that in a dream Homer once “wrote that 1782 to the 12th power plus 1841 to the 12th power equals 1922 to the 12th power.” Rubenstein added, “(It does.)”

Well, it doesn’t — the first factor here must be even, and the second must be odd, so their sum can’t be even. The city desk prepared a correction saying that the equation was wrong, but Deputy Managing Editor Stephen R. Proctor pointed out that unless it gave the right answer, “the correction doesn’t correct.”

So they called in Sonoma State University mathematician Sam Brannen and produced this unusual notice:

A story Nov. 15 about mathematical references on “The Simpsons” TV show mistakenly said that 1,782 to the 12th power plus 1,841 to the 12th power equals 1,922 to the 12th power. Actually, 1,782 to the 12th power plus 1,841 to the 12th power equals 2,541,210,258,614, 589,176,288, 669, 958, 142, 428, 526,657, while 1,922 to the 12th power equals 2,541,210,259,314,801,410, 819, 278,649, 643,651,567,616.

Ombudsman Dick Rogers added, “Obviously.”

Jump Cut

This must have scared the daylights out of people in 1895 — The Execution of Mary Stuart, one of the first films to use editing for special effects.

After the executioner raises his ax, the actress is replaced with a mannequin.

Misc

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

  • Dick Gregory gave his twin daughters the middle names Inte and Gration.
  • Trains were invented before bicycles.
  • CONSTRAINT = CANNOT STIR
  • “We must believe in free will — we have no choice.” — Isaac Bashevis Singer

“How Rumors Spread,” a palindrome by Fred Yannantuono:

“Idiot to idiot to idiot to idiot to idiot to idi …”

More Theatrical Codes

https://pixabay.com/p-1982718

Last year I mentioned Sullivan & Considine’s Theatrical Cipher Code of 1905, a telegraphic code for “everyone connected in any way with the theatrical business.” The idea is that performers, managers, and exhibitors could save money on telegrams by replacing common phrases with short code words:

Filacer – An opera company
Filament – Are they willing to appear in tights
Filander – Are you willing to appear in tights
Filiation – Chorus girls who are shapely and good looking
Filibuster – Chorus girls who are shapely, good looking, and can sing

At the time I lamented that I had only one page. Well, a reader just sent me the whole book, and it is glorious:

Abbacom – Carry elaborate scenery and beautiful costumes
Abbalot – Fairly bristles with hits
Abditarum – This attraction will hurt our business
Addice – Why have not reported for rehearsal
Admorsal – If you do not admit at once will have to bring suit of attachment
Behag – Not the fault of play or people
Bordaglia – Do not advance him any money
Boskop – Understand our agent is drinking; if this is true wire at once
Bosom – Understand you are drinking
Bosphorum – Understand you are drinking and not capable to transact business
Bosser – We are up against it here
Bottle – You must sober up
Bouback – Your press notices are poor
Deskwork – A versatile and thoroughly experienced actress
Despair – Absolute sobriety at all times essential
Detour – Actress for emotional leads
Devilry – Actress with child preferred
Dextral – An actor with fine reputation and proven cleverness
Dishful – Comedian, Swedish dialect
Disorb – Do not want drunkards
Dispassion – Do you object to going on road
Distal – Good dresser(s) both on and off stage
Dormillon – Lady for piano
Drastic – Must be shapely and good looking
Druism – Not afraid of work
Eden – Strong heavy man
Election – What are their complexions
Epic – Does he impress you as being reliable and a hustler
Exclaimer – Are they bright, clever and healthy children
Eyestone – Can you recommend him as an experienced and competent electrician
Faro – A B♭ cornetist
Flippant – Must understand calcium lights
Fluid – Is right up-to-date and understands his business from A to Z
Forester – Acts that are not first class and as represented, will be closed after first performance
Foxhunt – Can deliver the goods
Gultab – The people will not stand for such high prices
Hilbert – State the very lowest salary for which she will work, by return wire
Jansenist – Fireproof theatre
Jinglers – How did the weather affect house
Jolly – Temperature is 15° above zero

There’s also an appendix for the vaudeville circuit:

Kajuit – Trick cottage
Kakour – Grotesque acrobats
Kalekut – Sparring and bag punching act
Kernwort – Troupe of dogs, cats and monkeys
Kluefock – Upside down cartoonist
Koegras – Imitator of birds, etc.
Letabor – Act is poorly staged and arranged
Litterat – The asbestos curtain has not arrived yet
Mallius – How many chairs do you need in the balcony
Meleto – Is the opposition putting on stronger shows than we

The single word “Lechuzo” stands for “Make special effort to mail your report on acts Monday night so as to enable us to determine your opinion of the same, as in many instances yours will be the first house that said act has performed in, and again by receiving your report early it enables us to correct in time any error that may be made regarding performer, salary and efficiency.”

(Thanks, Peter.)

Balance

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Neil_Young_2008_Firenze_02.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In a 2013 radio interview, Graham Nash recalled visiting Neil Young in 1972:

The man is totally committed to the muse of music. And he’ll do anything for good music. And sometimes it’s very strange. I was at Neil’s ranch one day just south of San Francisco, and he has a beautiful lake with red-wing blackbirds. And he asked me if I wanted to hear his new album, Harvest. And I said sure, let’s go into the studio and listen.

Oh, no. That’s not what Neil had in mind. He said get into the rowboat.

I said get into the rowboat? He said, yeah, we’re going to go out into the middle of the lake. Now, I think he’s got a little cassette player with him or a little, you know, early digital format player. So I’m thinking I’m going to wear headphones and listen in the relative peace in the middle of Neil’s lake.

Oh, no. He has his entire house as the left speaker and his entire barn as the right speaker. And I heard Harvest coming out of these two incredibly large loud speakers louder than hell. It was unbelievable. Elliot Mazer, who produced Neil, produced Harvest, came down to the shore of the lake and he shouted out to Neil: How was that, Neil?

And I swear to God, Neil Young shouted back: More barn!

Asked in 2016 whether this story was true, Young said, “Yeah, I think it was a little house-heavy.”

Quick Cuts

In 1973, at the Cricketers Arms pub in Wisborough Green, West Sussex, Irishman Jim Gavin was bemoaning the high cost of motorsports when he noticed that each of his friends had a lawnmower in his garden shed. He proposed a race in a local field and 80 competitors turned up.

That was the start of the British Lawn Mower Racing Association, “the cheapest motorsport in the U.K.” — the guiding principles are no sponsorship, no commercialism, no cash prizes, and no modifying of engines. (The mower blades are removed for safety.) The racing season runs from May through October, with a world championship, a British Grand Prix, an endurance championship, and a 12-hour endurance race, and all profits go to charity.

For the past 26 years, Bertie’s Inn in Reading, Pa., has held a belt sander race (below) in which entrants ride hand-held belt sanders along a 40-foot-long plywood track. All entry fees and concession sales are donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Each competitor keeps one hand on the sander’s front knob and the other on the rear power switch while an assistant runs behind, paying out an extension cord. Women tend to excel, apparently because they can balance better than men. “You can’t lean back or lean forward,” Donna Knight, who won her heat in 2013, told the Reading Eagle.

Anne Thomas, who owns the inn with her husband, Peter, said, “We must be crazy, but everybody loves it and has a great time, and we raise a lot of money for charity. We tried to quit one time, and nobody would let us.”

Triangle

When blues singer Sally Osman filed for divorce from ventriloquist Herbert Dexter in 1934, she named his dummy, Charlie, as a co-respondent.

When she and Dexter had married two years earlier, she agreed that Dexter could take the puppet along on their honeymoon, as he had often complimented her through Charlie’s voice. But when they developed a new stage act, the dummy began to interrupt her songs with cruel ad libs and rob her of applause by making rude wisecracks. She asked Dexter to change the act so that she could sing without interruption, but he refused.

In I Can See Your Lips Moving, Valentine Vox writes, “She also accused the duo of physical cruelty, telling the court how she constantly received on-stage blows from the mechanical figure, which left her with severe bruises. One night in particular, Charlie had hit her so hard between the shoulder blades that he knocked the wind out of her.”

Osman further testified that Dexter would take the dummy everywhere they went and spent more time talking to it than to her. “I got to hate Charlie so deeply that homicidal thoughts began to haunt my mind,” she said. “Sometimes when I had Charlie alone and helpless, I fear that I would have thrown him out of the window, had I been able to unlock the coffin-like trunk in which he was kept.”

Dexter never contested the case, and Osman got her divorce. When the judge asked why she hadn’t requested alimony, she said, “I wouldn’t be able to collect it anyway; he spends all his money on Charlie.”

Moving Spirits

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_GreatLester_1904_-_Wielki_Lester_1904.png

Vaudeville ventriloquist Harry Lester made his reputation with feats of vocal dexterity — he would walk among the audience while his dummy whistled a tune, or place telephone calls to heaven and hell, altering his voice to simulate a remote character on the line. Most famously he could drink water and smoke while his dummies talked.

In 1925, during a performance at the Balaban and Katz Theatre in Chicago, Lester’s drinking feat was unexpectedly modified when straight whisky replaced the usual coloured water in his decanter. The orchestra had switched drinks as a joke, trying to catch him off guard. When Lester innocently drank the liquid, not a muscle moved in his face, but the figure exploded into a storm of coughing. This piece of showmanship was so much appreciated by the orchestra that they rose from their seats and applauded; the audience, sensing something unusual, joined in.

(From Valentine Vox, I Can See Your Lips Moving, 1981.)

I Got a Feeling

My teenage children are mad about rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t mind, but between them they have socks, pullovers and slacks which are fluorescent, and I am worried in case these are harmful to their health. Surely things that are luminous in the dark are usually radioactive, which, I take it, could be dangerous.

You’ll be relieved to know that these clothes, so popular with teenagers (particularly the rock ‘n’ rollers), have been tested for radioactivity, and there is none. So there should be no danger at all, except to anyone who is sensitive to the kinds of colours they select!

Woman’s Realm, April 12, 1958