Efficiency

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

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.)

Podcast Episode 173: The Worst Journey in the World

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

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.

Intro:

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.

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

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).

http://www.ceskatelevize.cz/ct24/domaci/2224855-majitele-chteji-billboardy-jen-prelepit-odstranime-je-stejne-vzkazal-tok
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!

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.

Southern Literature

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During Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition, 1901–04, Ernest Shackleton edited an illustrated magazine, the South Polar Times, to entertain the crew. Each issue consisted of a single typewritten copy that would circulate among up to 47 readers aboard the Discovery, Scott’s steam-powered barque, through each of two dark winters. Contributors would drop their anonymous essays, articles, and poems into a mahogany letterbox, and Shackleton composed each issue on a Remington typewriter perched atop a storeroom packing case.

The first issue appeared on April 23, 1902, and was, Shackleton noted, “greatly praised!” Scott wrote, “I can see again a row of heads bent over a fresh monthly number to scan the latest efforts of our artists, and I can hear the hearty laughter at the sallies of our humorists and the general chaff when some sly allusion found its way home. Memory recalls also the proud author expectant of the turn of the page that should reveal his work and the shy author desirous that his pages should be turned quickly.”

Shackleton was invalided home that summer, but other crewmembers took over the magazine for him that winter and indeed again on Scott’s second expedition in 1911. BBC History has some scans.

south polar times 2

(Anne Fadiman, “The World’s Most Southerly Periodical,” Harvard Review 43 [2012], 98-115.)

Podcast Episode 172: An American in Feudal Japan

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In 1848, five years before Japan opened its closed society to the West, a lone American in a whaleboat landed on the country’s northern shore, drawn only by a sense of mystery and a love of adventure. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Ranald MacDonald as he travels the length of Japan toward a destiny that will transform the country.

We’ll also remember a Soviet hero and puzzle over some security-conscious neighbors.

See full show notes …

The Hollow Nickel Case

https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/hollow-nickel-rudolph-abel

In June 1953, Brooklyn newsboy Jimmy Bozart was collecting in a Foster Avenue apartment building when someone paid him with a nickel that felt light. When he dropped it it popped open, revealing a piece of microfilm that bore a series of numbers (below).

The New York police gave it to the FBI, which spent four years trying to determine the origin of the nickel and the meaning of the numbers. Finally, in May 1957 defecting KGB agent Reino Häyhänen helped them crack the cipher. The message was a greeting from Moscow welcoming him to the United States:

  1. WE CONGRATULATE YOU ON A SAFE ARRIVAL. WE CONFIRM THE RECEIPT OF YOUR LETTER TO THE ADDRESS ‘V REPEAT V’ AND THE READING OF LETTER NUMBER 1.
  2. FOR ORGANIZATION OF COVER, WE GAVE INSTRUCTIONS TO TRANSMIT TO YOU THREE THOUSAND IN LOCAL (CURRENCY). CONSULT WITH US PRIOR TO INVESTING IT IN ANY KIND OF BUSINESS, ADVISING THE CHARACTER OF THIS BUSINESS.
  3. ACCORDING TO YOUR REQUEST, WE WILL TRANSMIT THE FORMULA FOR THE PREPARATION OF SOFT FILM AND NEWS SEPARATELY, TOGETHER WITH (YOUR) MOTHER’S LETTER.
  4. IT IS TOO EARLY TO SEND YOU THE GAMMAS. ENCIPHER SHORT LETTERS, BUT THE LONGER ONES MAKE WITH INSERTIONS. ALL THE DATA ABOUT YOURSELF, PLACE OF WORK, ADDRESS, ETC., MUST NOT BE TRANSMITTED IN ONE CIPHER MESSAGE. TRANSMIT INSERTIONS SEPARATELY.
  5. THE PACKAGE WAS DELIVERED TO YOUR WIFE PERSONALLY. EVERYTHING IS ALL RIGHT WITH THE FAMILY. WE WISH YOU SUCCESS. GREETINGS FROM THE COMRADES. NUMBER 1, 3RD OF DECEMBER.

With Häyhänen’s help the FBI were able to arrest Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher, whose hotel room was full of espionage equipment. He was sentenced to a 30-year prison term in 1957 and exchanged for Francis Gary Powers in 1962.

Both the FBI and the CIA have articles about the case. It’s not immediately clear to me how the nickel found its way to the two ladies who’d given it to Jimmy. “Why, we’ve never seen a hollow coin,” they told the FBI, “or, for that matter, even heard of one before.”

https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol5no4/html/v05i4a09p_0001.htm

“Electric Bathing”

https://books.google.com/books?id=CrbPAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA359

In 1878 Coney Island mounted electric lights on poles so that visitors could play in the surf at night.

“One could take many a long journey and never meet elsewhere with so strange, so truly weird a sight as this,” reported Scribner’s Monthly. “The concentrated illumination falls on the formidable breakers plunging in against the foot of the bridge, and gives them spots of sickly green translucence below and sheets of dazzlingly white foam above. There is a startling spot of foreground and nothing more. A couple who are confident swimmers, possibly a man and his wife, come down the bridge and put off into the cold flood. The woman holds by the man’s belt behind, and he disappears with her into the darkness. A circle disports with hobgoblin glee around a kind of May-pole in the water.”

“Nothing else,” opined the New York Times, “would answer the purpose of those lunatics who persist in bathing after nightfall.”

Podcast Episode 171: The Emperor of the United States

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In the 1860s, San Francisco’s most popular tourist attraction was not a place but a person: Joshua Norton, an eccentric resident who had declared himself emperor of the United States. Rather than shun him, the city took him to its heart, affectionately indulging his foibles for 21 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the reign of Norton I and the meaning of madness.

We’ll also keep time with the Romans and puzzle over some rising temperatures.

See full show notes …

Winkie

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On Feb. 24, 1942, a bedraggled carrier pigeon arrived at an RAF bomber base on Scotland’s Fifeshire coast. She was covered with oil and appeared exhausted.

The sergeant who examined her, George Ross, alerted his superior officer. The bird had been carried aboard a Bristol Beaufort bomber that had crashed in the North Sea after taking enemy fire over Norway the previous day. The pilot had been unable to radio his position as they went down, and rescue planes had been searching the freezing waters in vain all night for some sign of the four-man crew.

The bird’s arrival told Ross that they’d been searching in the wrong place. She had flown for 16 hours, but with oil-smeared wings couldn’t have covered more than 140 miles in that time. The rescue operation had been searching beyond that range. When they moved closer to shore they discovered the crewmen, freezing but safe, in a rubber dinghy within 15 minutes.

When the fuselage had broken up, the pigeon had somehow escaped into the oily water, struggled free, and then flown across 120 miles of ocean to the base, despite a natural fear of the dark and a dislike of wide expanses of water. When she arrived she was so exhausted that she was closing one eye intermittently.

“Winkie” was awarded the Dickin Medal at a dinner that December. She was cited “for delivering a message under exceptional difficulties and so contributing to the rescue of an Air Crew while serving with the RAF in February 1942.”

In a Word

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symposiast
n. a member of a drinking party

alate
adj. winged

dimication
n. fighting or strife

bouleversement
n. a turning upside down

“In Other Words,” an airman’s drinking song from World War I:

I was fighting a Hun in the heyday of youth,
Or perhaps ’twas a Nieuport or Spad.
I put in a burst at a moderate range
And it didn’t seem too bad.
For he put down his nose in a curious way,
And as I watched, I am happy to say:

Chorus:
He descended with unparalleled rapidity,
His velocity ‘twould beat me to compute.
I speak with unimpeachable veracity,
With evidence complete and absolute.
He suffered from spontaneous combustion
As towards terrestrial sanctuary he dashed,
In other words — he crashed!

I was telling the tale when a message came through
To say ’twas a poor RE8.
The news somewhat dashed me, I rather supposed
I was in for a bit of hate.
The CO approached me. I felt rather weak,
For his face was all mottled, and when he did speak

Chorus:
He strafed me with unmitigated violence,
With wholly reprehensible abuse.
His language in its blasphemous simplicity
Was rather more exotic than abstruse.
He mentioned that the height of his ambition
Was to see your humble servant duly hung.
I returned to Home Establishment next morning,
In other words — I was strung!

As a pilot in France I flew over the lines
And there met an Albatros scout.
It seemed that he saw me, or so I presumed;
His manoeuvres left small room for doubt.
For he sat on my tail without further delay
Of my subsequent actions I think I may say:

Chorus:
My turns approximated to the vertical,
I deemed it most judicious to proceed.
I frequently gyrated on my axis,
And attained colossal atmospheric speed,
I descended with unparalleled momentum,
My propeller’s point of rupture I surpassed,
And performed the most astonishing evolutions,
In other words — * *** ****!

I was testing a Camel on last Friday week
For the purpose of passing her out.
And before fifteen seconds of flight had elapsed
I was filled with a horrible doubt
As to whether intact I should land from my flight.
I half thought I’d crashed — and half thought quite right!

Chorus:
The machine seemed to lack coagulation,
The struts and sockets didn’t rendezvous,
The wings had lost their super-imposition,
Their stagger and their incidental, too!
The fuselage developed undulations,
The circumjacent fabric came unstitched
Instanter was reduction to components,
In other words — she’s pitched!

(From Peter G. Cooksley, Royal Flying Corps 1914-1918, 2007.)