Fore!

Temporary rules adopted by London’s Richmond Golf Club during the Battle of Britain:

richmond rules

I had my doubts about this, but the rules are acknowledged by the club itself. While we’re at it: In A Wodehouse Handbook, N.T.P. Murphy notes two unusual tournament rules at the annual Bering Sea Ice Classic in Nome, Alaska:

  • If a player hits a polar bear, he is penalized three strokes.
  • If a player hits a polar bear and retrieves his ball, he is awarded five strokes.

Apparently those are local rules: In Extreme Golf, Duncan Lennard notes that officials of the World Ice Golf Championship actually wrote to the game’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, to ask what to do about polar bears, and received the ruling that “in the event of a polar bear wandering onto the ice golf course, the same safety procedure should be followed as for rattlesnakes and ants elsewhere in the world” — a free drop out of harm’s way.

Podcast Episode 110: The Brooklyn Chameleon

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Over the span of half a century, Brooklyn impostor Stanley Clifford Weyman impersonated everyone from a Navy admiral to a sanitation expert. When caught, he would admit his deception, serve his jail time, and then take up a new identity. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll review Weyman’s surprisingly successful career and describe some of his more audacious undertakings.

We’ll also puzzle over why the police would arrest an unremarkable bus passenger.

Sources for our feature on Stanley Clifford Weyman:

St. Clair McKelway, The Big Little Man From Brooklyn, 1969.

Alan Hynd, “Grand Deception — ‘Fabulous Fraud From Brooklyn,'” Spokane Daily Chronicle, April 13, 1956.

Tom Henshaw, “Bygone State Visits Marked by Incidents,” Associated Press, Sept. 13, 1959.

John F. Murphy, “Notorious Impostor Shot Dead Defending Motel in Hold-Up,” New York Times, Aug. 28, 1960.

Richard Grenier, “Woody Allen on the American Character,” Commentary 76:5 (November 1983), 61-65.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Josva Dammann Kvilstad. Here are three corroborating links (warning — these spoil 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 all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, 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 Chromatic Illusion

This illusion was discovered by University of California psychologist Diana Deutsch. Listen first with the left and right channels in balance, then isolate each ear. Though the pattern in each channel jumps around in pitch, when they’re combined we tend to hear two smooth scales. Why?

“It is as though the sounds gravitate towards neighbours, where ‘neighbourhood’ is defined not by the physical proximity of the causative events, but by adjacent places on the pitch spectrum,” writes philosopher Roger Scruton. “Yet the sequences as heard are played into neither ear, and represent no causally unified process in the physical world. The auditory Gestalt is not merely incongruous with the physical events that produce it. It is organized according to principles that are intrinsic to the world of sounds, and which would be operative even if there were no physical events that could be identified as the causes of the individual sounds.”

(Roger Scruton, “Thoughts on Rhythm,” in Kathleen Stock, ed., Philosophers on Music, 2007.)

Eating Words

Reader Colin Brown sent this in: In the Harvard Libraries in 2008 he checked out a history of Tillamook County, Oregon, and of cheesemaking in particular, issued in the 1930s by the Oregon Journal. There were two volumes: Volume One was a book titled Cheese Cheddar, and in place of Volume Two he found a note taped to the inside cover:

Note for the Cataloguer:

Vol. II of this work was a two pound piece of Cheddar Cheese. The Librarian can attest to its excellent quality and to the fact that it no longer exists. Sic transit gloria caseii.

A.C.R.

Dec. 31, 1933

“The book was noted as a personal gift of Charles H. Taylor, Jr., but it was unclear whose initials those were on the added sheet,” Colin writes. “When I checked the book out in 2008, it had only been checked out one other time since its donation (in 1944).”

He adds, “I informed the library and they have archived it in their protected section of the Widener Depository for unusual addenda or marginal notes.”

cheddar box 1
cheddar box 2
cheddar box 3

(Thanks, Colin.)

Distant Early Warning

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Alexandre Dumas’ cat knew when he was coming home:

At the time I speak of, I held a situation in the service of the Duc d’Orléans, with a salary of 1500 francs. My work occupied me from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon. We had a cat in those days, whose name was Mysouff. This cat had missed his vocation; he ought to have been a dog. Every morning I started for my office at half-past nine, and came back every evening at half-past five. Every morning Mysouff followed me to the corner of a particular street, and every evening I found him in the same street, at the same corner, waiting for me. Now the curious thing was that on the days when I had found some amusement elsewhere, and was not coming home to dinner, it was of no use to open the door for Mysouff to go and meet me. Mysouff, in the attitude of the serpent with its tail in its mouth, refused to stir from his cushion. On the other hand, on the days I did come, Mysouff would scratch at the door until some one opened it for him.

“My mother was very fond of Mysouff,” he wrote. “She used to call him her barometer.”

Podcast Episode 106: The Popgun War

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During wargames in Louisiana in September 1941, the U.S. Army found itself drawn into a tense firefight with an unseen enemy across the Cane River. The attacker turned out to be three boys with a toy cannon. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll revisit the Battle of Bermuda Bridge and the Prudhomme brothers’ account of their historic engagement.

We’ll also rhapsodize on guinea pigs and puzzle over some praiseworthy incompetence.

Sources for our feature on the “Battle of Bermuda Bridge”:

Elizabeth M. Collins, “Patton ‘Bested’ at the Battle of Bermuda Bridge,” Soldiers 64:9 (September 2009), 10-12.

Terry Isbell, “The Battle of the Bayous: The Louisiana Maneuvers,” Old Natchitoches Parish Magazine 2 (1997), 2-7.

Special thanks to the staff at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library for access to the Prudhomme family records.

Listener mail:

Alastair Bland, “From Pets To Plates: Why More People Are Eating Guinea Pigs,” The Salt, National Public Radio, April 2, 2013.

Christine Dell’Amore, “Guinea Pigs Were Widespread as Elizabethan Pets,” National Geographic, Feb. 9, 2012.

Wikipedia, “Guinea Pig” (accessed May 20, 2016).

David Adam, “Why Use Guinea Pigs in Animal Testing?”, Guardian, Aug. 25, 2005.

Maev Kennedy, “Elizabethan Portraits Offer Snapshot of Fashion for Exotic Pets,” Guardian, Aug. 20, 2013.

“How Did the Guinea Pig Get Its Name?”, Grammarphobia, Dec. 22, 2009.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Tommy Honton, who sent these corroborating links (warning: these spoil 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.

Enter code CLOSET to get $5 off your first purchase of high-quality razor blades at Harry’s.

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!

Parenthood

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On Mother’s Day, May 14, 1939, Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller took his mother to Comiskey Park to see him pitch against the Chicago White Sox. Lena Feller, who had traveled 250 miles from Van Meter, Iowa, with her husband and daughter, sat in the grandstand between home and first base and watch her son amass a 6-0 lead in the first three innings.

Then, in the bottom of the third, Chicago third baseman Marvin Owen hit a line drive into her face.

Feller was following through with his pitching motion and saw it happen. “I felt sick,” he wrote later, “but I saw that Mother was conscious. … I saw the police and ushers leading her out and I had to put down the impulse to run to the stands. Instead, I kept on pitching. I felt giddy and I became wild and couldn’t seem to find the plate. I know the Sox scored three runs, but I’m not sure how.”

The injury was painful but not serious. Feller managed to win the game (9-4) and then hurried to the hospital. In his 1947 autobiography, Strikeout Story, he wrote, “Mother looked up from the hospital bed, her face bruised and both eyes blacked, and she was still able to smile reassuringly. ‘My head aches, Robert,’ she said, ‘but I’m all right. Now don’t go blaming yourself … it wasn’t your fault.'”

Wing Men

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Bombers in World War I were typically manned by two crew members, a pilot and an observer. The pilot operated the forward machine gun and the observer the rear one, so they depended on one another for their survival. In addition, the two men would share the same hut or tent, eat their meals together, and often spend all their free time together. This closeness produced “some remarkable and amusing results,” writes Hubert Griffith in R.A.F. Occasions (1941):

There were pilots who took the precaution of teaching their observers to fly, with the primitive dual-control fitted to the R.E.8 of those days — and at least one couple who used to take over the controls almost indiscriminately from one another: there was the story that went round the mess, of Creaghan (the pilot) arriving down out of the air one day and accusing his observer of having made a bad landing, and of Vigers, the observer, in turn accusing Creaghan of having made a bad landing. It turned out on investigation that each of them had thought the other to be in control of the aircraft; that because of this neither of them, in fact, had been in control at all; and that, in the absence of any guiding authority, the machine had made a quite fairly creditable landing on her own.

Griffith writes, “It was, I suppose, the most personal relationship that ever existed.”

New Tricks

A British officer in the 44th regiment, who had occasion, when in Paris, to pass one of the bridges across the Seine, had his boots, which had been previously well polished, dirtied by a poodle Dog rubbing against them. He in consequence went to a man who was stationed on the bridge, and had them cleaned. The same circumstance having occurred more than once, his curiosity was excited, and he watched the Dog. He saw him roll himself in the mud of the river, and then watch for a person with well polished boots, against which he contrived to rub himself. Finding that the shoeblack was the owner of the Dog, he taxed him with the artifice; and, after a little hesitation, he confessed that he had taught the Dog the trick in order to procure customers for himself. The officer being much struck with the Dog’s sagacity, purchased him at a high price, and brought him to England. He kept him tied up in London for some time, and then released him. The dog remained with him a day or two, and then made his escape. A fortnight afterwards he was found with his former master, pursuing his old trade on the bridge.

— Samuel Griswold Goodrich, Tales of Animals, 1835

Persons and Promises

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A conundrum by Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit:

In several years, a young Russian will inherit vast estates. Because he has socialist ideals, he intends, now, to give the land to the peasants. But he knows that in time his ideals may fade. To guard against this possibility, he does two things. He first signs a legal document, which will automatically give away the land, and which can be revoked only with his wife’s consent. He then says to his wife, ‘Promise me that, if I ever change my mind, and ask you to revoke this document, you will not consent.’ He adds, ‘I regard my ideals as essential to me. If I lose these ideals, I want you to think that I cease to exist. I want you to regard your husband then, not as me, the man who asks for this promise, but only as his corrupted later self. Promise me that you will not do what he asks.’

She agrees. In time the Russian’s ideals fade, and when he inherits the land he asks his wife to revoke the document, declaring that he releases her from her earlier commitment. What is her obligation here? She had made her promise to her earlier husband, but is that a different person from the man before her now? In her view, the man to whom she made her promise no longer exists, and so cannot release her from her obligation. Is this right? If a person is a succession of earlier and later selves, does a promise attach to a person or to a self?

(Derek Parfit, Reasons and Persons, 1984. See The Ulysses Contract.)