This wooden model was created by the late Japanese puzzle inventor Nob Yoshigahara. It appears “impossible only from this one viewpoint,” notes Caltech neuroscientist Al Seckel, who presented it in his 2006 book Optical Illusions. “This time we won’t reveal the solution. We want you to think about it!”
In 1769, inspired by Rousseau’s Émile, British author Thomas Day set out to train the perfect wife. He adopted foundlings of 11 and 12 years old, named them Sabrina and Lucretia, and took them to France, where he tried to rear them in isolation.
This went well at first — under Day’s direction, Sabrina wrote to one of his friends: “I love Mr. Day dearly and Lucretia. I am learning to write. … I hope I shall have more sense against I come to England. I know the cause of night and day, winter and summer. I love Mr. Day best in the world, Mr. Bicknell next, and you next.”
But it fell apart within 18 months. When the girls began to quarrel and tease him, he returned to England, placed Lucretia with a chamber milliner, and concentrated on Sabrina. But she screamed when he fired pistols at her petticoats (trying, at Rousseau’s suggestion, to accustom her to “détonations les plus terribles”), and she winced unheroically when he dropped sealing wax on her arms. Finally he released her to a boarding school, where in time she grew up to be “an elegant and amiable woman.”
In 1780, Day finally did find a wife who “often wept but never repined” at his “frequent experiments upon her temper and attachment.” But even that didn’t last — he died, ironically, while trying to break a horse.
Written by German composer Peter Cornelius in 1854, “Ein Ton” has a single note for a melody — the note B is repeated 80 times in 42 bars.
I hear a tone so wondrous sweet
In heart and spirit of repeat.
Is it that breath that from thee fled,
The last faint breath e’er thou wert dead?
Nicolas Slonimsky writes, “Of course, there are constant modulations so that harmonic changes make up for monotony.”
On Feb. 29, 1868, London’s Langham Hotel sponsored a “horseflesh dinner” to see whether the popular prejudice against the eating of horses might be overcome in English society. About 150 influential Londoners dined on “saucissons de cheval,” “aloyau de de cheval farci,” and “gelée de pied de cheval au Marasquin.”
“Men looked at each other curiously while eating, and each course ran the gauntlet of puns and satire,” reported Charles Dickens’ All the Year Round.
But the consensus was negative. “There are, no doubt, numerous proofs that the flesh of the horse is, at any rate, a wholesome food, and indeed there seems no reason why it should not be,” opined the Medical Times and Gazette. “The dishes we tasted … were all palatable. … [But] horseflesh leaves a pungency on the palate that is not agreeable — a pungency that reminds one of what one has been eating for some time after the meal is over.”
“I came back from it a wiser and a sadder man,” reported zoologist Francis Trevelyan Buckland. “In my opinion, hippophagy has not the slightest chance of success in this country; for, firstly, it has to fight against prejudice, and, secondly, the meat is not good.”
Also: “During the dinner, photographs of the horses which we were eating were handed round, and the appearance of one of these was, I think, the turning point of the argument.”
I don’t know who first observed this — the design of Norway’s flag contains those of six other countries:
The similarities are apparently accidental — designer Fredrik Meltzer had chosen the Nordic cross to reflect his nation’s ties with Denmark and Sweden and the tricolor to evoke the liberal ideals of France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
An English statistician has recently been engaged in an original task, that of studying the influence of music on the hair. … While stringed instruments prevent and check the falling out of the hair, brass instruments have the most injurious effects upon it. The piano and the violin, especially the piano, have an undoubted preserving influence. The violoncello, the harp, and the double bass participate in the hair-preserving qualities of the piano. But the hautboy, the clarinet, and the Mute have only a very feeble effect. Their action is not more than a fiftieth part as strong. On the contrary, the brass instruments have results that are deplorable.
– Scientific American, Aug. 29, 1896
(Summarizing the same study, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal reported that “brass instruments have a fatal influence on the growth of the hair, notably the cornet, the French horn, and the trombone, which apparently will depilate a player’s scalp in less than five years. … The baldness which prevails among members of regimental bands has been given the name of ‘trumpet baldness,’ calvitié des fanfares.”)
In 2008, five European scientists announced that cattle and deer around the world align their bodies in roughly a north-south direction when grazing or resting.
German zoologist Sabine Begall studied thousands of Google Earth images and discovered that both types of animals appear to align their bodies with magnetic north. The conclusion “appears to be quite clear-cut from the data,” observed ornithologist Wolfgang Wiltschko.
“It boggles the mind that no one — herdsman, rancher, or hunter — had noticed this before,” writes ethologist Jonathan Balcombe. “What else are we failing to notice?”
(Begall, S., et al. “Magnetic alignment in grazing and resting cattle and deer.” PNAS 105(36) (2008): 134510-13455.)
When his wife grew ill in the early 1960s, Indian farmhand Dashrath Manjhi took her from their home in Gelaur to the hospital in the neighboring town of Wazirganj. Unfortunately, this meant a journey of 19 kilometers, as a hillock of solid rock lay between the two villages.
When he returned to Gelaur, Manjhi resolved to improve matters. Working alone with a hammer and chisel, he spent 22 years cutting a passage through a solid mass of rock 360 feet long, 25 feet high, and 30 feet wide. When he finished in the 1980s, he had reduced the route from 19 kilometers to six and the travel time from six hours to one.
When Dasrath died in 2007, the Indian state of Bihar gave him a state funeral. He is remembered today in Gelaur as “the man who moved a mountain.”
See A for Effort.
In 2002 a Russian student emailed her postal address to a friend in France so that she could send her a Harry Potter book. Unfortunately the French friend’s email program was not set up to display Cyrillic characters; instead, it produced diacritics from the Western character set. Apparently not realizing the error, the French girl copied them down and mailed the package. Postal employees realized what had happened, deciphered the address, and delivered the book successfully. (Thanks, Nicholas.)
Readers of the Strand seemed to delight in torturing the post office. In 1908 one mailed this card, which was delivered successfully, though postal officials said it took them 20 minutes to decipher it:
The address reads “Hemhigheses Hemhayary Achhighelel, Teaarhehentea Veehayelelwhy, Oheldee Esteahayteahighhohen Achohyoueshe, Elhighseaachefhighhehelldee, Esteahayefefes.” “The puzzle … is quite an easy matter once the clue is obtained.”
This American letter was mailed late one Sunday night in 1902:
It was delivered correctly the next morning to Alfred Craven of Chattanooga, Tenn., who remarked, “I think it shows the efficiency of our postal service.” The profile is made up of the letters A. CRAVEN.
In 1868, American alpinist W.A.B. Coolidge received a unique gift — Tschingel, a 3-year-old dog with a preternatural passion for mountaineering. Though he was “not at all a dog fancier,” Coolidge began to take her on expeditions, and he watched as she climbed the Torrenthorn (2,998 meters), crossed the Gemmi pass (2,316 meters), and reached the summit of the Blümlisalphorn (3,664 meters) — where she slipped on the final slope and was caught by her collar as she slid toward the Oeschinensee. “She seemed to like it very much,” he wrote, “and, so we thought, the panoramas from tops, running on ahead of us to the summit of a peak, and then running back to encourage us by showing how near we were to the wished-for goal.”
So she joined the team. Over the next 11 years Tschingel and Coolidge climbed 30 peaks and crossed 36 passes. While climbing, she was roped to her companions by a cord passed through her collar; they made leather boots to preserve her feet, but she always kicked them off. As they climbed the Aletschhorn (4,195 meters), Coolidge wrote, “my aunt went up the Sparrhorn to look at us, and we waved Tschingel in the air as a sort of red flag.”
Her greatest conquest was the Breithorn, at 4,171 meters; when she descended from Monte Rosa, some English climbers elected her an “honorary lady member” of the Alpine Club. She died in her sleep in Surrey in 1879.
Forty years later Alpine historian Monroe Thorington visited Coolidge at his home in Grindelwald. “Just when I was leaving, he pointed to the door,” he recalled later. “There on a hook was Tschingel’s collar with the little bangles shining in the sun. Not a word was said, but Coolidge managed something resembling a smile.”
One day I paid him a visit [an orangutan at the Paris Zoological Gardens], accompanied by an illustrious old gentleman, who was a clever, shrewd observer. His somewhat peculiar costume, bent body, and slow, feeble walk at once attracted the attention of the young animal, who, while doing most complacently all that was required of him, kept his eyes fixed on the object of his curiosity. We were about leaving, when he approached his new visitor, and, with mingled gentleness and mischief, took the stick which he carried, and pretending to lean upon it, rounding his shoulders, and slackening his pace, walked round the room, imitating the figure and gait of my old friend. He then gave him back the stick of his own accord, and we took our leave, convinced that he also knew how to observe.
– M. Flourens, quoted in Ernest Menault, The Intelligence of Animals, 1869
In 1855 the Western Lancet published a letter from an officer in the Crimea:
A curious thing occurred yesterday. A sapper was brought from the trenches with his jaw broken, and the doctor told me that there was a piece of it sticking out an inch and a half from his face. The man said it was done by a round shot, which the doctor disbelieved, but the poor fellow insisted, and said, ‘Yes, and it took off the head of the man next me.’ This was conclusive, and the surgeon proceeded to remove the bone: it came out easy, when the doctor said to the man, whose face appeared to preserve its form pretty well, ‘Can you move your jaw?’ ‘Oh, yes, sir,’ was the reply. The doctor then put his finger into the man’s mouth, and found the teeth were there, and at length assured the soldier that it was no jaw of his that was broken, but that of his headless comrade, inflicting a severe but not dangerous wound. Upon this, the man’s visage, which had been rather lengthened, rounded up most beautifully.
Reprinted in Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857.
Norman Bel Geddes announced big plans in 1932: Air Liner Number 4, a gigantic V-winged flying boat with a wingspan of 528 feet, more than twice that of today’s 777. Twenty 1900-horsepower engines would carry it through the air at 100 mph and an altitude of only 5,000 feet while 451 passengers ranged over nine decks containing 180 apartments, three kitchens, three private dining rooms, an orchestra platform, a gym, six shuffleboard courts, a dance floor, a library, separate solaria for men and women, a writing room, and a promenade deck. The 155-person crew included two telephone operators, 24 waiters, two masseuses, a manicurist, and a gymnast.
The plane was “not ‘big’ for the sake of being big,” Bel Geddes insisted, but he pointed out that
if it were possible to stand her upon one wing tip against the Washington Monument, she would lack only 23 feet of reaching the top. Or imagine that the Public Library was removed from its site in Bryant Park at Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue, New York. The plane could then settle comfortably in the park with a clearance of about 35 feet all around.
The craft had a range of 7,500 miles, and it would be supported on the water by two enormous pontoons, 60 feet high and designed “substantially as the hull of a yacht, in order to withstand tremendous pounding when the plane rests on a rough sea.” In the end it was never built, but it may have helped inspire Howard Hughes’ “Spruce Goose.”
When actor Conrad Cantzen died in 1945, he left $226,608.34 in a special fund to enable performers to buy new shoes each year.
“I leave the Conrad Cantzen Shoe Fund for the people who can’t buy shoes, even if they are not paid-up members of Equity,” his will read. “Many times I have been on my uppers, and the thinner the soles of my shoes were, the less courage I had to face the managers in looking for a job.”
Remarkably, the fund is still running. If you work in entertainment, are currently unemployed, belong to a performing arts union, and haven’t already applied in the past year, the Actors Fund will reimburse you up to $40 toward a pair of shoes costing no more than $100. Details are here.
Yellowstone National Park doesn’t quite fit in Wyoming — small portions extend into Montana and Idaho. But Congress has placed the legal jurisdiction for the entire park in the District of Wyoming. At the same time, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that a jury be “of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
Suppose you lure me into the 50 square miles of Yellowstone that lie within Idaho, and suppose you kill me there. The Sixth Amendment requires that the jury be drawn from the state (Idaho) and the district (Wyoming) in which the crime occurred. But the only way to fulfill both those requirements is to draw the jury from the tiny part of Yellowstone that lies in Idaho — and its census population is zero. Without a jury, you can’t be tried. “Assuming that you do not feel like consenting to trial in Cheyenne,” writes Michigan State law professor Brian Kalt, “you should go free.”
“It bears emphasis that the flaw here is really with the District of Wyoming statute, not with the Sixth Amendment,” advises Kalt, whose full paper is here. “The solution is to fix the statute, not eviscerate the Constitution. If we do it quickly enough, no one will get hurt.”
Please don’t actually kill me. (Thanks, Ty.)
That’s Ronald Reagan, just before being shot by John Hinckley outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. The man in the white raincoat is Secret Service agent Jerry Parr; after the shooting, it was Parr who pushed Reagan into a limousine, noticed he was bleeding, and directed the driver to take them to a hospital, probably saving Reagan’s life.
Parr had been inspired to pursue his career by the 1939 film The Code of the Secret Service, in which dashing agent “Brass” Bancroft survives a shooting in Mexico. Bancroft was played by a 28-year-old Ronald Reagan.
A third case is one of somnocyclism (cycling in sleep). The patient, asleep, sometimes in cycling costume, and sometimes in an undershirt or less, got up, mounted his wheel, and rode about town and in the country. He generally awoke from a fall. On one occasion it was at the foot of a hill, his head on the edge of a pond, and his wheel about thirty feet distant. Another night he found himself suspended by his shirt on a pear tree in his father’s garden. It is not known whether he had descended thither from the roof or was trying to ascend. At other times he would go to his office and work. Once, having stuck over a balance in the afternoon, he found next morning that he had completed it, correcting an error previously not observed. There is no subsequent recollection of what has transpired. He has been observed in hospital to hold a conversation through an imaginary telephone, and again to sit atop a wardrobe with an umbrella up over him. Evidently this man’s disease included a sense of humour.
– G.R. Wilson, “Alcoholism and Allied Neuroses,” Journal of Mental Science, October 1899
Time and weather have sculpted a likeness of George Washington in Colorado’s Roxborough State Park. It even has “teeth.”
Right: A profile discovered near South Bethlehem, Pa., during the clearing of a mountainside in 1913. “Viewed in profile, the nose, upper lip, eye, and chin are as clearly defined as though cut by human agency,” wrote one observer. “Even the rock formation of the head has a surface curiously like in appearance to the wigs of colonial days.”
During an Air Force training mission over Montana on Feb. 2, 1970, Gary Foust’s F-106 entered an uncontrollable flat spin at 35,000 feet.
He rode it down to 12,000 feet, ejected — and watched as the plane righted itself, descended into a snowy field, and made a gentle belly landing. Its engine was still running when the police arrived.
After repairs, the fighter was returned to service in California and New York. Today it’s on display in a museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
When I lived at Durham, I was walking one evening in a park belonging to the Earl of Stamford, along the bank of a lake where fishes abounded. My attention was turned towards a fine jack of about 6 lbs., which, seeing me, darted into the middle of the water. In its flight it struck its head against the stump of a post, fractured its skull, and wounded a part of the optic nerve. The animal gave signs of ungovernable pain, plunged to the bottom of the water, burying its head in the mud, and turning with such rapidity that I lost it for a moment; then it returned to the top, and threw itself clean out of the water on to the bank. I examined the fish, and found that a small part of the brain had gone out through the fracture of the cranium.
I carefully replaced the shattered brain, and, with a small silver tooth-pick, raised the depressed parts of the skull. The fish was very quiet during the operation; then I replaced it in the pond. It seemed at first relieved, but after some minutes it threw itself about, plunged here and there, and at last threw itself once more out of the water. It continued thus to act many times following. I called the keeper, and, with his assistance, applied a bandage to the fracture. This done, we threw the fish into the water, and left him to his fate. The next morning, when I appeared on the bank, the pike came to me near where I sat, and put his head near my feet! I thought the act extraordinary, but taking up the fish, without any resistance on its part, I examined the head, and found that it was going on well. I then walked along the banks for some time; the fish did not cease to swim after me, turning when I turned; but as it was blind on the side where it was wounded, it appeared always agitated when the injured eye was turned toward the bank. On this, I changed the direction of my movements. The next day I brought some young friends to see this fish, and the pike swam towards me as before. Little by little he became so tame that he came when I whistled, and ate from my hand. With other people, on the contrary, it was as gloomy and fierce as it always had been.
– “Dr. Warwick,” anecdote read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, 1850, quoted in Ernest Menault, The Intelligence of Animals, 1869
Dean Buckland, the geologist, when riding once with friends and the party lost their way and were overtaken by night, alighted from his horse, picked up a handful of earth, smelled it, and at once declared they were near Uxbridge. He knew the geology of the land and the smell of the soil.
– Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, March 23, 1921
Landlocked Bolivia has a navy. Though the South American nation lost its coast in a war with Chile in 1879, it maintains a 5,000-member “naval force,” a naval academy, and a fleet of 173 vessels, most of which patrol Lake Titicaca.
The loss of the coast is a subject of strong sentiment in the republic, which holds an annual “Day of the Sea.” Schoolchildren are taught that regaining access to the ocean is a patriotic duty.
“There is a clear historic injustice, and the Bolivian navy was created as a way of protesting before the whole world,” Capt. Remi de la Barra told the Guardian in 2008. “We are perfectly qualified to sail in any sea in the world. And sooner or later, God willing, we will be sailing in our own sea.”
In 1982, San Francisco police lieutenant George LaBrash suffered a stroke while guarding the 3,300-year-old mask of King Tutankhamun. He filed an $18,400 lawsuit against the city, alleging that the pharaoh’s curse had struck him for disturbing the dead — and hence that the injury was job-related.
“I firmly believe that King Tut’s curse is as good an explanation for what happened to me as any,” he told Superior Court Judge Richard P. Figone.
Figone didn’t buy it. “The spectators who attended the exhibit may just as well have ‘disturbed’ the remains of the deceased,” he wrote. “Officer LaBrash, if anything, prevented desecration of those remains.”
I, along with several onlookers, says a friend, recently, observed a swallow enter an exhaust-pipe in the roof of one of the Grand Trunk workshops, evidently for the purpose of building her nest in it. Unfortunately for her, she could not get out again; and her partner entered the pipe also, and backed out again with a feather in his beak. Three times did he ineffectually attempt to rescue his mate. When work was resumed in the afternoon, the swallow was blown out of the pipe by the steam, and lay dead on the roof of the building, the survivor standing by and showing signs of deep distress.
– James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879
The following is related by an eminent naturalist: ‘A young lady was sitting in a room adjoining a poultry yard, where chickens, ducks and geese were disporting themselves. A drake came in, approached the lady, seized the bottom of her dress with his beak, and pulled it vigorously. Feeling startled, she repulsed him with her hand. The bird still persisted. Somewhat astonished, she paid some attention to this unaccountable pantomime, and discovered that the drake wished to drag her out of doors. She got up, and he waddled out quietly before her. More and more surprised, she followed him, and he conducted her to the side of a pond where she perceived a duck with its head caught in the opening of a sluice. She hastened to release the poor creature and restored it to the drake, who by loud quackings and beating of his wings testified his joy at the deliverance of his companion.’
– Ballou’s Monthly Magazine, May 1870