Misc

  • Conceptual artist Joseph Beuys accepted responsibility for any snow that fell in Düsseldorf February 15-20, 1969.
  • Any three of the numbers {1, 22, 41, 58} add up to a perfect square.
  • Nebraska is triply landlocked — a resident must cross three states to reach an ocean, gulf, or bay.
  • The only temperature represented as a prime number in both Celsius and Fahrenheit is 5°C (41°F).
  • “A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents.” — Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

“I was tossing around the names of various wars in which both the opponents appear: Spanish-American, Franco-Prussian, Sino-English, Russo-Japanese, Arab-Israeli, Judeo-Roman, Anglo-Norman, and Greco-Roman. Is it a quirk of historians or merely a coincidence that the opponent named first was always the loser? It would appear that a country about to embark on war would do well to see that the war is named before the fighting starts, with the enemy named first!” — David L. Silverman

Never Too Late

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_Lincoln,_President,_U.S_-_NARA_-_527823.tif

Abraham Lincoln had less than a year of formal schooling.

The fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate was held before Knox College in 1858. As he crawled through a second-story window to reach the platform, he said, “At last I have gone through college.”

Tatlin’s Tower

tatlin's tower

After the Bolshevik Revolution, architect Vladimir Tatlin proposed this enormous monument to house Communist headquarters in Petrograd. Two large helixes would spiral 400 meters into the air, surpassing the Eiffel Tower as the world’s foremost symbol of modernity. The helixes would point to Polaris, so that the star and the tower would remain motionless relative to each other. Suspended from the framework would be three office buildings of glass and steel, each moving in harmony with the cosmos: A is a cylindrical auditorium that rotates once a year, B is a cone-shaped office structure that rotates once a month, C is a cubical information center that rotates once a day, and on top is an open-air screen on which messages could be projected. (During overcast weather they planned to project the news onto clouds.)

In the end it was never built — even if Russia could have produced the steel, it’s not clear that it would have stood up.

Wanted

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Second_Anglo_-_Boer_War,_South_Africa_1899_-_1902_ZZZ7150D.jpg

In 1899 Winston Churchill was covering the Boer War as a correspondent when he was captured and put in a Pretoria prison. He climbed a wall and set out to flee 300 miles to neutral Portuguese East Africa while the Afrikaners raised the alarm and circulated a rather unflattering description:

Escaped prisoner-of-war Winston Spencer Churchill Englishman 25 years old about 5 foot 8 inches tall medium build walks with a slight stoop. Pale features. Reddish-brown hair almost invisible small moustache. Speaks through his nose and cannot pronounce the letter S. Had last a brown suit on and cannot speak one word of Dutch.

Churchill fled on foot for two days, hid in a coal mine for three, and finally boarded a freight train, where he hid under bales of wool to evade a Boer search party. When he reached safety, publicity of his adventure set him on the path toward a career in government.

Podcast Episode 158: The Mistress of Murder Farm

belle gunness

Belle Gunness was one of America’s most prolific female serial killers, luring lonely men to her Indiana farm with promises of marriage, only to rob and kill them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of The LaPorte Black Widow and learn about some of her unfortunate victims.

We’ll also break back into Buckingham Palace and puzzle over a bet with the devil.

Intro:

Lee Sallows offered this clueless crossword in November 2015 — can you solve it?

Souvenir hunters stole a rag doll from the home where Lee surrendered to Grant.

Sources for our feature on Belle Gunness:

Janet L. Langlois, Belle Gunness, 1985.

Richard C. Lindberg, Heartland Serial Killers, 2011.

Ted Hartzell, “Belle Gunness’ Poisonous Pen,” American History 3:2 (June 2008), 46-51.

Amanda L. Farrell, Robert D. Keppel, and Victoria B. Titterington, “Testing Existing Classifications of Serial Murder Considering Gender: An Exploratory Analysis of Solo Female Serial Murderers,” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling 10:3 (October 2013), 268-288.

Kristen Kridel, “Children’s Remains Exhumed in 100-Year-Old Murder Mystery,” Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2008.

Dan McFeely, “DNA to Help Solve Century-Old Case,” Indianapolis Star, Jan. 6, 2008.

Kristen Kridel, “Bones of Children Exhumed,” Chicago Tribune, May 14, 2008.

Ted Hartzell, “Did Belle Gunness Really Die in LaPorte?” South Bend [Ind.] Tribune, Nov. 18, 2007.

Edward Baumann and John O’Brien, “Hell’s Belle,” Chicago Tribune, March 1, 1987.

Associated Press, “Authorities Question Identity of Suspect in Matrimonial Farm,” St. Petersburg [Fla.] Evening Independent, July 18, 1930.

“Hired Hand on Murder Farm,” Bryan [Ohio] Democrat, Jan. 11, 1910.

“The First Photographs of the ‘American Siren’ Affair: Detectives and Others at Work on Mrs. Belle Gunness’s Farm,” The Sketch 62:801 (June 3, 1908), 233.

“Horror and Mystery at Laporte Grow,” Los Angeles Times, May 7, 1908.

“Police Are Mystified,” Palestine [Texas] Daily Herald, May 6, 1908.

“Federal Authorities Order All Matrimonial Agencies in Chicago Arrested Since Gunness Exposure,” Paducah [Ky.] Evening Sun, May 8, 1908.

“Tale of Horror,” [Orangeburg, S.C.] Times and Democrat, May 8, 1908.

“Lured to Death by Love Letters,” Washington Herald, May 10, 1908.

“Fifteen Victims Die in Big Murder Plot,” Valentine [Neb.] Democrat, May 14, 1908.

“Murderess,” Stark County [Ohio] Democrat, May 22, 1908.

“Mrs. Belle Gunness of LaPorte’s Murder Farm,” Crittenden [Ky.] Record-Press, May 29, 1908.

“The La Porte Murder Farm,” San Juan [Wash.] Islander, July 11, 1908.

“Ray Lamphere Found Guilty Only of Arson,” Pensacola [Fla.] Journal, Nov. 27, 1908.

“Lamphere Found Guilty of Arson,” Spanish Fork [Utah] Press, Dec. 3, 1908.

Listener mail:

“Text of Scotland Yard’s Report on July 9 Intrusion Into Buckingham Palace,” New York Times, July 22, 1982.

Martin Linton and Martin Wainwright, “Whitelaw Launches Palace Inquiry,” Guardian, July 13, 1982.

Wikipedia, “Michael Fagan Incident” (accessed June 16, 2017).

Wikipedia, “Isn’t She Lovely” (accessed June 16, 2017).

Wikipedia, “Body Farm” (accessed June 16, 2017).

Kristina Killgrove, “These 6 ‘Body Farms’ Help Forensic Anthropologists Learn To Solve Crimes,” Forbes, June 10, 2015.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Frank Kroeger.

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!

Many in One

At the site where apartheid police officers arrested Nelson Mandela in 1962, sculptor Marco Cianfanelli has erected 50 laser-cut steel columns. They range in height from 21 to 31 feet and appear randomly placed, but the approach to the site leads visitors down a path at the correct angle, and at a distance of 115 feet their meaning becomes clear.

“The fifty columns represent the fifty years since his capture, but they also suggest the idea of many making the whole, of solidarity,” Cianfanelli said in a statement at the sculpture’s dedication in 2012. “It points to an irony as the political act of Mandela’s incarceration cemented his status as an icon of struggle, which helped ferment the groundswell of resistance, solidarity, and uprising, bringing about political change and democracy.”

06/14/2017 UPDATE: I’m told there’s also a scale model of the sculpture at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, which may be more accessible. (Thanks, Martin.)

06/14/2017 UPDATE: There’s a similar installation on the wall of 105 Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis in Paris (below), by artist Jean-Pierre Yvaral, depicting Vincent de Paul, who established a mission here to care for the needy. (Thanks, Nick.)

http://parisisinvisible.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/saints-and-sinners-part-1.html
Image: David Partridge

06/19/2017 UPDATE: And Daniël Hoek noted that a portrait of Steve Jobs is hidden in fence pickets in Lower Manhattan, near Silicon Alley:

manhattan jobs portrait

A Stormy Mistress

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Guardi,Francesco_-_The_Departure_of_Bucentaur_for_the_Lido_on_Ascension_Day.jpg

Each Ascension Day between 1311 and 1798, the doge of Venice was rowed into the Adriatic aboard a palatial barge to perform the “Marriage of the Sea,” a ceremony that symbolically wedded Venice to the sea. The ship, known as the Bucentaur, led a solemn procession of boats out of the city, where the doge dropped a consecrated ring into the water with the words Desponsamus te, mare (“We wed thee, sea”) to indicate that the city and the sea were indissolubly one.

After the Treaty of Versailles, Polish general Jozef Haller marked his country’s renewed access to the Baltic Sea by throwing a ring into the water with the words “In the name of the Holy Republic of Poland, I, General Jozef Haller, am taking control of this ancient Slavic Baltic Sea shore”:

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

His act was repeated in 1945 in several ceremonies by members of the First Polish Army, who threw rings, dipped flags, and swore an oath pledging their nation’s devotion to the Baltic. The text of the oath was later printed in the Polish Army newspaper Zwyciezymy: “I swear to you, Polish Sea, that I, a soldier of the Homeland, faithful son of the Polish nation, will not abandon you. I swear to you that I will always follow this road, the road which has been paved by the State National Council, the road which has led me to the sea. I will guard you, I will not hesitate to shed my blood for the Fatherland, neither will I hesitate to give my life so that you do not return to Germany. You will remain Polish forever.”

Podcast Episode 157: The Brutal History of Batavia’s Graveyard

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ongeluckige_voyagie_vant_schip_Batavia_(Plate_3).jpg

In 1629, a Dutch trading vessel struck a reef off the coast of Australia, marooning 180 people on a tiny island. As they struggled to stay alive, their leader descended into barbarity, gathering a band of cutthroats and killing scores of terrified castaways. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll document the brutal history of Batavia’s graveyard, the site of Australia’s most infamous shipwreck.

We’ll also lose money in India and puzzle over some invisible Frenchmen.

Intro:

In 1946, an Allied dentist inscribed “Remember Pearl Harbor” on Hideki Tojo’s dentures.

Sigourney Weaver named herself after a character in The Great Gatsby.

Sources for our feature on the Batavia mutiny:

Mike Dash, Batavia’s Graveyard, 2002.

Mike Sturma, “Mutiny and Narrative: Francisco Pelsaert’s Journals and the Wreck of the Batavia,” The Great Circle 24:1 (2002), 14-24.

“We Are Still on the Batavia,” Queen’s Quarterly 12:4 (Winter 2005), 489.

Bruce Bennett, “Politics and Spying: Representations of Pre- and Early Australia,” Antipodes 22:1 (June 2008), 17-22.

“Batavia,” Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia, 1997, 52-53.

D. Franklin, “Human Skeletal Remains From a Multiple Burial Associated With the Mutiny of the VOC Retourschip Batavia, 1629,” International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 22:6 (Jan. 19, 2011), 740-748.

Michael Titlestad, “‘Changed as to a Tiger’: Considering the Wreck of the Batavia,” Antipodes 27:2 (December 2013), 149-156.

Mark Staniforth, “Murder and Mayhem,” dig 8:4 (April 2006), 20-21.

Christopher Bray, “The Wreck of the Batavia [review],” Financial Times, Aug 17, 2007.

“Batavia’s History,” Western Australian Museum (accessed May 28, 2017).

Sarah Taillier, “Unearthed Grave Sheds Light on Batavia Shipwreck Mass Murder,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Feb. 3, 2015.

“Australia Dig Unearths Batavia Mutiny Skeleton,” BBC News, Feb. 4, 2015.

Libby-Jane Charleston, “The Batavia Mutiny and Massacre of 1629 Is Still Revealing Secrets,” Huffington Post, July 2, 2016.

Karl Quinn, “Mutiny, Shipwreck, Murder: The Incredible True Story Russell Crowe Wants to Film,” Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 2016.

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

Interest in the Batavia was reawakened in the 1960s, when archaeologists began to examine the site of the mutiny. This victim, excavated in 1963, had received a cutting wound to the head; the right shoulder blade was broken, and the right foot was missing.

Listener mail:

Andrew Levy, “Doctors Solve Mystery of a Man Who ‘Died From Laughter’ While Watching The Goodies After His Granddaughter Nearly Dies From Same Rare Heart Condition,” Daily Mail, June 20, 2012.

Wikipedia, “2016 Indian Banknote Demonetisation” (accessed June 9, 2017).

“The Dire Consequences of India’s Demonetisation Initiative,” Economist, Dec. 3, 2016.

Micheline Maynard, “The ‘Zion Curtain’ Is About to Fall in Utah, and Restaurants Can’t Wait,” Forbes, March 29, 2017.

Donald Hoffman, “Do We See Reality As It Is?” TED, March 2015.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Aden Lonergan. Here’s a corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

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!

The Baltic Way

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Baltsk%C3%BD%C5%98et%C4%9Bz.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

On August 23, 1989, two million peaceful demonstrators joined hands across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to protest the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union. The chain, 675 kilometers long, connected the capitals of Vilnius, Riga, and Tallinn. Coordinated by portable radios, the protesters peacefully joined hands for 15 minutes at 7 p.m. local time, saying they wanted to demonstrate solidarity among the three nations in their desire for independence.

“This is something I feel in my heart,” said Rita Urbanovich, who had brought her 7-year-old twin sons to a spot along the Viljandi Highway outside Tallinn. “We suffered. Our whole country suffered — every person. And I brought my children because this is my way to explain to them why independence is important for their future.”

Moscow responded with heated rhetoric but backed down when the activists appealed to the United Nations. Within seven months, Lithuania had declared its independence, and by the end of 1991 all three Baltic states were free.

Things to Come

In 1899, preparing for festivities in Lyon marking the new century, French toy manufacturer Armand Gervais commissioned a set of 50 color engravings from freelance artist Jean-Marc Côté depicting the world as it might exist in the year 2000.

The set itself has a precarious history. Gervais died suddenly in 1899, when only a few sets had been run off the press in his basement. “The factory was shuttered, and the contents of that basement remained hidden for the next twenty-five years,” writes James Gleick in Time Travel. “A Parisian antiques dealer stumbled upon the Gervais inventory in the twenties and bought the lot, including a single proof set of Côté’s cards in pristine condition. He had them for fifty years, finally selling them in 1978 to Christopher Hyde, a Canadian writer who came across his shop on rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie.”

Hyde showed them to Isaac Asimov, who published them in 1986 as Futuredays, with a gentle commentary on what Côté had got right (widespread automation) and wrong (clothing styles). But maybe some of these visions are still ahead of us:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:France_in_XXI_Century_(fiction)

Wikimedia Commons has the full set.