- EPISCOPAL is an anagram of PEPSI COLA.
- Theodore Roosevelt’s wife and mother died in the same house on the same day.
- Only a perfect square has an odd number of divisors.
- “Makes no sense makes no sense” makes no sense.
- The grounds of the Oklahoma state capitol include working oil rigs.
- “Time is the only critic without ambition.” — John Steinbeck
While serving in Congress in 1848, Abe Lincoln conceived a way to help boats that became stranded on sandbars. If bellows were attached to a craft below the waterline, these could be inflated when it got stuck, buoying the craft and allowing it to float over the shoal.
Lincoln whittled a 20-inch model from a cigar box and a shingle. His law partner, W.H. Herndon, didn’t think much of it, but Lincoln presented it to lawyer Z.C. Robbins, who arranged a patent in 1849. This makes Lincoln the only president to hold a patent.
Apparently it never went to market, though. “Railroads soon diverted traffic from the rivers,” Robbins recalled, “and Lincoln got deep in law and politics, and I don’t think he ever received a dollar from it.”
The first eyewitness account of the Wright brothers’ flying machine appeared in the journal Gleanings in Bee Culture.
The editor, beekeeper Amos I. Root, had visited the Wrights in 1904 at Huffman Prairie, Ohio, where they were working to perfect the machine after its historic first flight the preceding December.
Root sent copies of his article to Scientific American — but they were dismissed.
It was customary with Frederick the Great of Prussia, whenever a new soldier appeared in his guards, to ask him three questions–viz., ‘How old are you? How long have you been in my service? Are you satisfied with your pay and treatment?’ It happened that a young soldier, born in France, and who had served in his own country, desired to enlist into the Prussian service, and his figure was such as to cause him immediately to be accepted. He was totally ignorant of the German language, but his captain gave him notice that the King would question him in that language the first time he saw him, and therefore cautioned him to learn by heart the three answers he was to give. The soldier learned them by the next day, and as soon as he appeared in the ranks Frederick came up to interrogate him. His Majesty, however, happened to begin with the second question first, and asked him, ‘How long have you been in my service?’ ‘Twenty-one years,’ answered the soldier. The king, struck with his youth, which plainly indicated he had not borne a musket near so long as that, said to him, much astonished, ‘How old are you?’ ‘One year, an’t please your Majesty.’ Frederick, still more astonished, cried, ‘You or I must certainly be bereft of our senses.’ The soldier, who took this for the third question, replied firmly, ‘Both, an’t please your Majesty.’ ‘This is the first time I ever was treated as a madman at the head of my army,’ rejoined Frederick. The soldier, who had exhausted his stock of German, stood silent; and when the king again addressed him, in order to penetrate the mystery, the soldier told him in French that he did not understand a word of German. The king laughed heartily, and after exhorting him to perform his duty, left him.
– E. Shelton, ed., The Book of Battles, 1867
In 1943, writer Cleve Cartmill proposed a story about a futuristic bomb to John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction. Campbell liked the idea and gave him some background material on fission devices and uranium-235.
The story, “Deadline,” ran in Campbell’s March 1944 issue — and shortly brought a visit from the FBI. Apparently the technical details in Cartmill’s story had some uncomfortable resonances with the top-secret Manhattan Project, then under way at Los Alamos:
Two cast-iron hemispheres, clamped over the orange segments of cadmium alloy. And the fuse–I see it is in–a tiny can of cadmium in a beryllium holder and a small explosive powerful enough to shatter the cadmium walls. Then–correct me if I’m wrong, will you?–the powdered uranium oxide runs together in the central cavity. The radium shoots neutrons into this mass–and the U-235 takes over from there. Right?
Campbell explained that he’d studied atomic physics at MIT and had drawn the research from unclassified journals. In the end the authorities were satisfied — but they asked him not to publish any more stories on nuclear technology.
- Georgia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut didn’t ratify the Bill of Rights until 1939.
- Wilt Chamberlain never fouled out of a game.
- 3864 = 3 × (-8 + 64)
- What’s the opposite of “not in”?
- Alaska has a longer coastline than all other U.S. states combined.
- “To do nothing is also a good remedy.” — Hippocrates
In 1863, the register of the U.S. Treasury, L.E. Chittenden, had to sign 12,500 bonds in a single weekend to stop the delivery of two British-built warships to the Confederacy. He started at noon on Friday and managed 3,700 signatures in the first seven hours, but by Saturday morning he was desperate:
[E]very muscle on the right side connected with the movement of the hand and arm became inflamed, and the pain was almost beyond endurance. … In the slight pauses which were made, rubbing, the application of hot water, and other remedies were resorted to, in order to alleviate the pain and reduce the inflammation. They were comparatively ineffectual, and the hours dragged on without bringing much relief.
He finished, exhausted, at noon on Sunday, completing a mountain of bonds more than 6 feet high. These were rushed to a waiting steamer — and only then did word come that the English warships had been sold to a different buyer. The bonds, in the end, were not needed.
In October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of American destroyers trapped a Soviet submarine near Cuba. When the ships began dropping depth charges, the sub’s captain prepared to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo, believing that a war between the superpowers might already be under way.
But the launch was permitted only if three officers agreed to it, and second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov held out against his superior. An argument ensued, but eventually he persuaded the captain to surface instead and seek orders from Moscow.
“The lesson from this,” remarked NSA director Thomas Blanton in 2002, “is that a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”
See Close Call.
The Musical World of London, Nov. 28, 1874, reports a surprising project — apparently a Massachusetts composer set the entire American constitution to music:
The authors of the Constitution of the Union thought more of reason than of rhyme, and their prose is not too well adapted to harmony, but the patriotic inspiration of Mr. Greeler, the Boston composer, overcomes every difficulty. He has made his score a genuine musical epopœia, and had it performed before a numerous public. The performance did not last less than six hours. The preamble of the Constitution forms a broad and majestic recitative, well sustained by altos and double basses. The first clause is written for a tenor; the other choruses are given to the bass, soprano, and baritone. The music of the clause treating of state’s rights is written in a minor key for bass and tenor. At the end of every clause, the recitative of the preamble is re-introduced and then repeated by the chorus. The constitutional amendments are treated as fugues and serve to introduce a formidable finale, in which the big drum and the gong play an important part. The general instrumentation is very scholarly, and the harmony surprising.
The music has been lost, but it would be out of date now anyway — we’ve added 12 amendments since then.
Dorothy Parker named her Boston terrier Woodrow Wilson “because he was full of shit.”
An episode from the German trenches, August 1915, from artilleryman Herbert Sulzbach’s 1935 memoir With the German Guns:
One of the next starlit summer nights, a decent Landwehr chap came up suddenly and said to 2/Lt Reinhardt, ‘Sir, it’s that Frenchie over there singing again so wonderful.’ We stepped out of the dug-out into the trench, and quite incredibly, there was a marvellous tenor voice ringing out through the night with an aria from Rigoletto. The whole company were standing in the trench listening to the ‘enemy,’ and when he had finished, applauding so loud that the good Frenchman must certainly have heard it and is sure to have been moved by it in some way or other as much as we were by his wonderful singing.
“Musical compositions, it should be remembered, do not inhabit certain countries, certain museums, like paintings and statues,” wrote Henri Rabaud. “The Mozart Quintet is not shut up in Salzburg: I have it in my pocket.”
“This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” — Admiral William D. Leahy to Harry Truman, 1945
Buzz Aldrin celebrated communion on the moon. From his 2009 book Magnificent Desolation:
So, during those first hours on the moon, before the planned eating and rest periods, I reached into my personal preference kit and pulled out the communion elements along with a three-by-five card on which I had written the words of Jesus: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.’ I poured a thimbleful of wine from a sealed plastic container into a small chalice, and waited for the wine to settle down as it swirled in the one-sixth Earth gravity of the moon. My comments to the world were inclusive: ‘I would like to request a few moments of silence … and to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his or her own way.’ I silently read the Bible passage as I partook of the wafer and the wine, and offered a private prayer for the task at hand and the opportunity I had been given.
“Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion,” he wrote. “Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience that by giving thanks to God.”
When Eisenhower took office in 1953, a group of conservative Republicans claimed that the outgoing Democrats had been stealing gold deposits from Fort Knox.
Bowing to pressure from the Daughters of the American Revolution, Eisenhower had the gold counted. Sure enough, it came up ten bucks short: The depository contained only $30,442,415,581.70.
Truman’s treasurer, Georgia Clark, rolled her eyes and sent a check to cover the shortfall.
Bonaparte: Alone I am in this sequestered spot, not overheard.
Bonaparte: ‘Sdeath! Who answers me? What being is there nigh?
Bonaparte: Now I guess! To report my accents Echo has made her task.
Bonaparte: Knowest thou whether London will henceforth continue to resist?
Bonaparte: Whether Vienna and other courts will oppose me always?
Bonaparte: O, Heaven! what must I expect after so many reverses?
Bonaparte: What! should I, like a coward vile, to compound be reduced?
Bonaparte: After so many bright exploits be forced to restitution?
Bonaparte: Restitution of what I’ve got by true heroic feats and martial address?
Bonaparte: What will be the fate of so much toil and trouble?
Bonaparte: What will become of my people, already too unhappy?
Bonaparte: What should I then be that I think myself immortal?
Bonaparte: The whole world is filled with the glory of my name, you know.
Bonaparte: Formerly its fame struck this vast globe with terror.
Bonaparte: Sad Echo, begone! I grow infuriate! I die!
It’s said that the Nuremberg bookseller who penned this clever bit of sedition was court-martialed and shot in 1807. Napoleon later said, “I believe he met with a fair trial.”
Sostratos, architect of the famous light-house on the Island of Pharos, Alexandria, once numbered among the seven wonders of the world, engraved deeply on one of the stones the words, ‘Sostratos of Gnidos, son of Dexiphanos, to the Gods protecting those on the sea.’ Knowing very well that Ptolemy, his employer, would not be satisfied with this inscription, he covered it with a thin coating of plaster on which he inscribed the name of Ptolemy. In time the plaster disappeared, and with it the name of the king, so that in the end the architect had all the credit for the work.
– The Illustrated American, June 18, 1892
Dwight Eisenhower’s elliptical speaking style exasperated the Washington press corps. Journalist Oliver Jensen rewrote the Gettysburg Address as Ike would have delivered it:
I haven’t checked these figures, but 87 years ago, I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental setup here in this country, I believe it covered certain eastern areas, with this idea they were following up based on a sort of national independence arrangement and the program that every individual is just as good as every other individual. Well, now, of course, we are dealing with this big difference of opinion, civil disturbance you might say, although I don’t like to appear to take sides or name any individuals, and the point is naturally to check up, by actual experience in the field, to see whether any governmental setup with a basis like the one I was mentioning has any validity and find out whether that dedication by those early individuals will pay off in lasting values and things of that kind. …
Now frankly, our job, the living individuals’s job here, is to pick up the burden and sink the putt they made these big efforts here for. It is our job to get on with the assignment–and from these deceased fine individuals to take extra inspiration, you could call it, for the same theories about the setup for which they made such a big contribution. We have to make up our minds right here and now, as I see it, that they didn’t put out all that blood, perspiration and–well–that they didn’t just make a dry run here, and that all of us here, under God, that is, the God of our choice, shall beef up this idea about freedom and liberty and those kind of arrangements, and that government of all individuals, by all individuals and for the individuals, shall not pass out of the world-picture.
An American reporter discovered this inscription on the wall of a Verdun fortress in 1945:
Austin White–Chicago, Ill.–1918
Austin White–Chicago, Ill.–1945
This is the last time I want to write my name here.
Under the terms of an 1845 treaty, Texas has the right to divide itself at any time into five new states.
That was part of the deal when the Lone Star State was first annexed to the Union, and, according to University of Minnesota law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen, it’s still valid and constitutional.
Such a move would create eight new senators and four new governors — and it would add eight votes to the Electoral College.
Picasso’s Guernica depicts the suffering wrought by a German bombing in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.
Three years later, when the artist was living in Nazi-occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer saw a photo of the painting in his apartment. “Did you do that?” he asked.
“No,” Picasso said. “You did.”
Stigler’s Law of Eponymy states that “no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.” Examples:
- Arabic numerals were invented in India.
- Darwin lists 18 predecessors who had advanced the idea of evolution by natural selection.
- Freeman Dyson credited the idea of the Dyson sphere to Olaf Stapledon.
- Charles Wheatstone invented the Playfair cipher.
- Salmonella was discovered by Theobald Smith but named after Daniel Elmer Salmon.
- Copernicus propounded Gresham’s Law.
- Pell’s equation was first solved by William Brouncker.
- Euler’s number was discovered by Jacob Bernoulli.
- The Gaussian distribution was introduced by Abraham de Moivre.
- The Mandelbrot set was discovered by Pierre Fatou and Gaston Julia.
University of Chicago statistics professor Stephen Stigler advanced the idea in 1980.
Delightfully, he attributes it to Robert Merton.
Curious coincidences in the lives of Louis Philippe and Napoleon III, from a French daily paper of 1869 — the central events in their lives seem to foretell their downfall:
See The Stars Align.
In 1808, a French gentleman bought 2,700 acres in Georgetown, N.Y., and erected a chateau on the highest hill. Evidently he was massively wealthy, landscaping the grounds extensively and ordering a hamlet built on the estate, after the fashion of the great French nobles. And he seemed fearful for his safety, securing the house against gunfire and clearing the woods around it.
He roved the estate on horseback, attended by armed servants, and was described as erect, agile, and commanding. When asked to muster for the local militia he responded with outrage, saying he had led a division and participated in making three treaties, but he gave no other clues to his identity. He followed closely the progress of the War of 1812 and of Napoleon, whose ascendancy he evidently feared; when the Corsican met disaster in Russia he returned abruptly to France.
Who was this man? He gave his name as Louis Anathe Muller, but he guarded his true identity closely. Was he a French duke? A son of Charles X? The future king himself? With only circumstantial evidence, there’s no way to be certain. After Waterloo he sold the estate for a fraction of its value, and he never returned to New York.
“Nobody now fears that a Japanese fleet could deal an unexpected blow on our Pacific possessions. … Radio makes surprise impossible.”
– Josephus Daniels, former U.S. secretary of the navy, Oct. 16, 1922