An Oldie

In the 1950s, archaeologists unearthed a cuneiform tablet from an ancient palace in northern Syria. Dating to 1400 BC, it contained lyrics for a hymn to Nikkal, a Semitic goddess of orchards, as well as instructions for a singer accompanied by a nine-stringed lyre.

That makes the “Hurrian hymn” the oldest surviving example of a written song.

Podcast Episode 196: The Long Way Home

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When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the crew of an American seaplane were caught off guard near New Zealand. Unable to return across the Pacific, they were forced to fly home “the long way” — all the way around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the adventures of the Pacific Clipper on its 30,000-mile journey through a world engulfed in war.

We’ll also delve into the drug industry and puzzle over a curious case of skin lesions.

See full show notes …

In a Word

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diremption
n. a forcible separation; a tearing asunder

phronesis
n. practical judgment; the faculty of conducting oneself wisely

obsecrate
v. to entreat (a person) earnestly

rescribe
v. to write back; to write in reply

From Betty’s Weekly, Feb. 19, 1916:

Dear Betty — My boy has been in the trenches for six months, and expects to get furlough any moment. What I want to ask is that, if you were me, would you meet him at the station, or would you wait for him at home?

You ask me a difficult question, little girl, and I find it hard to advise you. Were I you I’d want with all my heart and soul to be the first woman my boy would see when he arrived. And yet, dear, the meeting him after all he’s been through would mean so much to me and to him, too, that I don’t think I could bear to see him in public. Really and truly, were I you, I’d wait for him alone somewhere — at home, if possible. Somehow, such a meeting is too sacred to be witnessed by anybody. But be sure you go to see him off when he leaves for the Front again, and be as brave as you can, dear.

The Ripon Hornblower

Every night at 9 p.m. a horn is blown at the four corners of the market obelisk in Ripon, North Yorkshire. The tradition dates back to 886, when Alfred the Great granted a charter to the settlement and offered them a symbolic horn. At the king’s advice the townspeople appointed a wakeman to patrol the settlement throughout the night; he would sound the horn at the four corners of the market to inform the people that the watch was set and he was now on patrol.

In 1604 James I granted the city a second charter, and the hornblower was now appointed by the democratically elected mayor, who gave him an extra duty: After setting the watch at the market cross he must find the mayor, wherever he may be in the city, sound the horn three times before him, raise his hat, bow his head, and tell him, “Mr. Mayor, the watch is set.” That tradition is still carried out today.

Podcast Episode 194: The Double Life of Clarence King

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American geologist Clarence King led a strange double life in the late 1800s: He invented a second identity as a black railroad porter so he could marry the woman he loved, and then spent 13 years living separate lives in both white and black America. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the extraordinary lengths that King went to in order to be with the woman he loved.

We’ll also contemplate the dangers of water and puzzle over a policeman’s strange behavior.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 192: The Winchester Diver

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Image: Flickr

In 1905 Winchester Cathedral was in danger of collapsing as its eastern end sank into marshy ground. The surprising solution was to hire a diver, who worked underwater for five years to build a firmer foundation for the medieval structure. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of William Walker and his curious contribution to saving a British landmark.

We’ll also contemplate a misplaced fire captain and puzzle over a shackled woman.

See full show notes …

The Devens Literacy Test

This test was administered to recruits at Fort Devens, Mass., during World War I. The idea is to measure reading comprehension, but the questions take on a surreal poetry:

https://books.google.com/books?id=YIH7DBtwZOkC&pg=PA281

Norms:

Below 6: Illiterate
6 to 20: Primary
21 to 25: Grammar
26 to 30: Junior high school
31 to 35: Senior high school
36 to 42: College

Three additional versions of the test are given here.

Podcast Episode 191: The Longest Flight

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The world’s longest airplane flight took place in 1958, when two aircraft mechanics spent 64 days above the southwestern U.S. in a tiny Cessna with no amenities. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the aerial adventures of Bob Timm and John Cook as they set a record that still stands today.

We’ll also consider a derelict kitty and puzzle over a movie set’s fashion dictates.

See full show notes …