A Helping Hand

In 1978 a bottlenose dolphin at California’s Marine World swallowed a 3-inch bolt. When the frustrated veterinarian complained that his arms were too short to reach it, the park’s president, Mike Demetrios, had a brainstorm. He called 6’9″ Golden State Warriors center Clifford Ray, whose arms are 45 inches long.

Ray reached into the dolphin’s second stomach and retrieved the bolt while a Los Angeles vet instructed him via intercom (photos here).

“They are a very smart animal and I think he realized he was in trouble,” Ray told the Chicago Tribune. “He was pretty much cooperative through the whole thing.”

Demetrios rewarded Ray with the bolt mounted on a bronze plaque, plus lifetime passes to the park, and named a new tiger cub “Clifford Ray” in his honor. For his part, Ray was convinced the dolphin was grateful. “After that whole incident, whenever I would go to the park, he would always recognize me,” he told sportswriter Howard Beck in 2006. “He would come right up to me without being prompted.”

A Crowning Puzzle

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There’s a hexagon of cloud at Saturn’s north pole. It surrounds the pole at 77 degrees north latitude, making it wider than two Earths. First discovered by Voyager in the early 1980s, it was still there in 2009, nearly 30 years later.

“The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Caltech astronomer Kunio Sayanagi. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter.”

No one knows what causes the hexagon or how it has remained organized for so long. JPL atmospheric scientist Kevin Baines called it “one of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen in the solar system.”

No Good Deed

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In 1939, the U.S. Navy submarine Sculpin helped to rescue the crew of her sister ship Squalus, which had flooded and sunk off the coast of Maine.

After the rescue the Sculpin went on to serve in World War II, where she was sunk in 1943 by a Japanese destroyer. Twenty-one of her crew were captive aboard a Japanese aircraft carrier when the carrier itself was sunk by torpedoes from an American sub.

The attacking sub was the salvaged and repaired Squalus — the same ship that Sculpin had saved four years earlier.

Higher Learning

Unusual dissertation titles from the University Microforms International dissertation database:

  • “Electrical Measurements on Cuticles of the American Cockroach”
  • “Determinants of Flossing Behavior in the College Age Population”
  • “Classification of Drinking Styles Using the Topographical Components of Beer Drinking”
  • “”More Fun Than Anything” (about cyclopropenium salts)
  • “Creep of Portland Cement Paste”
  • “Garage Sales as Practice: Ideologies of Women, Work and Community in Daily Life (Volumes I and II)”
  • “Finger Painting and Personality Diagnosis”
  • “Communication Use in the Motorcycle Gang”
  • “‘Santa Claus’: A Mime-Opera Based on The Morality by e.e. cummings”
  • “Ritual Drama in American Popular Culture: The Case of Professional Wrestling”
  • “Things That Are Good and Things That Are Chocolate: A Cultural Model of Weight Control as Morality”
  • “Acute Indigestion of Solipeds”
  • “The Making of a Hippie Self”
  • “Jock and Jill: Aspects of Women’s Sports History in America, 1870-1940”
  • “An Adaptive Surfing Apparatus”
  • “The Function of the Couch in Stimulating Altered States of Consciousness in Hypnosis and in Psychoanalysis”
  • “I Am You, You Are Me: A Philosophical Explanation of the Possibility That We Are All the Same Person”
  • “You Can’t Just Plug It In: Integrating the Computer Into the Curriculum”

One dissertation’s acknowledgment page read: “Yes, Mother, I am finally done; and no, Mom, I don’t know what good a doctor’s degree is either if I can’t fix you when you’re ill.”

(From a UMI press release, quoted in The Whole Library Handbook 2, 1995.)

The Rich Are Different

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Episodes from the friendship of the eccentric Sir George Sitwell and Henry Moat, the 16-stone Yorkshireman who served for 42 years as his butler-valet:

Sitwell: Henry, I’ve a new idea — knife-handles should be made of condensed milk!

Moat: Yes, Sir George, but what if the cat gets at them?

Sitwell: (when his dinner guests were 90 minutes late) Henry, it is now 8:30. If they don’t arrive in 10 minutes’ time, I intend to sit down to dinner — if necessary by myself.

Moat: Well, Sir George, you couldn’t ask for more cheerful company, could you?

At Sitwell’s 200-room Tuscan palace, the chauffer, the son of the bailiff, and the plasterer were all named Guido.

Moat: Any orders for the motor today, Sir George?

Sitwell: Yes, Henry. Tell Guido to drive into Florence to help Guido with the painting. Guido can wait while Guido has luncheon, and then Guido will go back to Florence and fetch Guido here.

Moat: Sir George, if you are going on like that, I had better give notice before my mind gives way.

Edith Sitwell described Moat as “an enormous purple man like a benevolent hippopotamus,” and Moat called Sir George “the strangest old bugger you ever met.” (Sitwell had once designed a tiny revolver for shooting wasps; his History of the Fork remained unpublished.) “He and my father [were] mutually critical and at the same time appreciative,” wrote Osbert Sitwell.

And Moat himself could be odd. When Sitwell’s 4-year-old grandson visited Italy, he was attended by a beloved Jamaican nanny whom the butler found inquisitive and bossy. When she asked what was for lunch, “Let me see,” he said, “slices of cold boiled missionary it is today.” At that, wrote Osbert, she became “notably more subdued in manner.”

AWOL

On July 4, 1989, Soviet MiG-23 pilot Nikolai Skuridin was on a routine training flight near Kolobrzeg, Poland, when his afterburner failed. Skuridin ejected, thinking the engine was completely dead, but the plane recovered and proceeded on autopilot into the west.

It must have had a lot of fuel, because it crossed out of Poland into East Germany, then into West Germany, then into the Netherlands, where a startled American air base sent up two F-15s to keep it company. As the MiG passed into Belgium the F-15s were told to shoot it down when it reached the North Sea, but it finally ran out of fuel near the French border, crashing into a house and killing a teenager.

The whole trip had covered 560 miles. Belgian Foreign Minister Mark Eyskens complained that the Soviets had issued no warning and no indication as to whether the pilotless plane was carrying dangerous weapons; it turned out that it was unarmed but carrying ammunition for a 23mm machine gun.

See Never Mind.

Presto

Johann Zöllner may have been too trusting. In 1878, convinced that spiritualism was the manifestation of a fourth dimension, the German astronomer proposed an experiment to English medium Henry Slade. If rings composed of two different woods could be interlinked, he said, without evidence of damage to their fibers, this would constitute a “miracle,” that is, “a phenomenon which our conceptions heretofore of physical and organic processes would be absolutely incompetent to explain.”

On May 9, he and Slade met in a room. Zöllner strung two rings on a length of catgut, tied the ends together, secured the knot with a seal of wax, and sat with his hands upon it:

slade-zollner experiment - 1

After a few minutes he smelled a burning odor that “seemed to come from under the table” and heard a rattling sound at the small round table “as of pieces of wood knocking together.” He opened his eyes to find this:

slade-zollner experiment - 2

He pronounced himself “astonished and highly delighted” at this result, though “it will be seen that my prepared experiments did not succeed in the manner expected by me.” But he found his fellow scientists unpersuaded. A colleague from Russia complained that Slade had refused to reproduce his results for a skeptical audience because “his medium was not strong enough for it.”

And “It has further been asked, why the communications which are written for Mr. Slade on his slates, as is supposed by invisible spirits, are for the most part so commonplace, and so completely within the compass of human knowledge. High spirits must yet necessarily write with more genius, and also spell properly.”

Crime Does Not Pay

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In 1799, the English cutter Sparrow intercepted the brig Nancy in the Caribbean. The area was forbidden to American ships, but the Nancy’s captain, Thomas Briggs, produced papers claiming she was owned by a Dutchman. Suspecting a smuggler but lacking evidence, the Sparrow’s captain sent Briggs to Jamaica to have his case heard by the vice-admiralty.

Two days later, another English ship, the Ferret, caught a large shark near the coast of Haiti. In its belly were the papers of the American ship Nancy — which Briggs had thrown overboard before getting false Dutch papers in Curaçao.

The “shark papers” were produced in court, and the Nancy and her cargo were confiscated.

So Ordered

On Feb. 18, 1986, frustrated that heavy rains had prevented some jurors from reaching his court, U.S. District Court Judge Samuel King said, “I hereby order that it cease raining by Tuesday. Let’s see how that works.”

California immediately entered five years of severe drought, with strict water rationing.

When colleagues reminded King of his order in 1991, he said, “I hereby rescind my order of February 18, 1986, and order that rain shall fall in California beginning February 27, 1991.” Later that day the state received 4 inches of rain, the heaviest storm in a decade, and two further storms added another 3 inches.

In a letter to a local newspaper, King said this was “proof positive that we are a nation governed by laws.”