Finding Religion

Here are the first three verses of Genesis:

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

Pick any word in the first verse, count its letters, and move ahead by the corresponding number of words. For example, if you start at beginning, you’d count 9 letters and move ahead 9 words, landing on the in the second verse. Count that word’s letters and continue in this manner until you’ve entered the third verse.

You’ll always arrive at God.

(Discovered by Martin Gardner.)

“An Extraordinary Cat!”


In 1821, a shoemaker in the south side of Edinburgh, while engaged in cleaning a cage in which he kept a lark, left the door of the cage open, of which the bird took advantage, and flew away by a window at which its owner was then standing. The lark being a favourite, its loss was much lamented. But it may be imagined what was the surprise of the house, when about an hour after, a cat, belonging to the same person, made its appearance with the lark in its mouth, which it held by the wings over the back, in such a manner that the bird had not received the least injury. The cat, after dropping it on the floor, looked up to those who were observing her, and mewed, as if to attract attention to the capture. The lark now occupies its wiry prison, with the same noisy cheerfulness as before its singular adventure.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

Trompe L’Oeil

Designers wanted to put a dome on Rome’s Sant’Ignazio church, but neighbors complained of the shadow. So, instead, artist Andrea Pozzo painted this design on the flat ceiling.

When it’s viewed from the side (below), the church gets its dome after all.

“Curious Wager”

In August, 1823, a man undertook to carry thirteen sieve-baskets, piled one upon another on his head, from Dean-street, Westminster, to Perry’s potato-warehouse in Covent Garden. The wager was for a sovereign; and the conditions were, that he was to walk through the public streets, and to arrive at the place named with eleven on his head, without resting. He walked with great caution, sometimes in the carriage road, and sometimes on the pavement, followed by numbers of people, who, however, at once encircled and cleared the way for him. His greatest difficulty seemed to be to avoid the lamp irons when upon the pavement, as the upper sieve, which poised the whole, had a continual inclination to the right side. He succeeded in gaining the middle of Southampton-street without losing one sieve, having passed coaches and carts of all descriptions; when here, the upper sieve fell to the ground. He halted for a moment, and poised the remaining sieves, with which he proceeded full into the market, where he cast the whole down, amid the cheers of the populace. Though the weight must have been considerable, the poising the sieves was the greatest difficulty he had to encounter, as they reached the second floor windows. He won his wager; and many gentlemen, who were highly delighted with the novelty of the scene, subscribed to reward his ingenuity and perseverance.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

But the Rent’s Great

“Corner House,” by Hungarian painter István Orosz (b. 1951).

“Illusion,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “is the first of all pleasures.”

“A Shaved Bear”

At Bristol I saw a shaved monkey shown for a fairy, and a shaved bear, in a check waistcoat and trowsers, sitting in a great chair as an Ethiopian savage. This was the most cruel fraud I ever saw. The unnatural position of the beast, and the damnable brutality of the woman-keeper who sat upon his knee, put her arm round his neck, called him husband and sweet-heart, and kissed him, made it the most disgusting spectacle I ever witnessed.

– Robert Southey, Southey’s Common-Place Book, 1851

The Marozi


In 1931, farmer Michael Trent shot two strange creatures in the Aberdare Mountains of central Kenya. They appeared to be small lions, but they bore spots.

Were they a natural hybrid of leopard and lion? A new species? A subsequent expedition found nothing, and no one’s seen one since.

“Vegetable Fungus”

At the beginning of the present century Sir Joseph Banks, of London, had a cask of wine which was too sweet for immediate use, and it was placed in the cellar to become mellowed by age. At the end of three years he directed his butler to ascertain the condition of the wine, when, on attempting to open the cellar door, he could not effect it in consequence of some powerful resistance. The door was cut down, and the cellar was found completely filled with a firm fungus vegetable production — so firm that it was necessary to use an ax for its removal. This had grown from and had been nourished by the decomposed particles of the wine. The cask was empty and touched the ceiling, where it was supported by the surface of the fungus.

– Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Renaissance Surrealism


There’s no mistaking a portrait by Giuseppe Arcimboldo — the Milanese painter represented his subjects as masses of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and fish. These personifications of the four seasons were composed between 1563 and 1573.


“Australasian Monster”

At Liverpool, New South Wales, two men voluntarily made affidavits, that they had seen in a bush, two miles and a half out of town, a tremendous snake, which to the best of their belief, was forty-five feet in length, and three times in circumference of the human body!!! He who first saw it, thinking it dead, threw a stick at it, when it reared its monstrous body five feet from the ground. A third person offered to corroborate on oath the depositions. A party of respectable gentlemen went in quest of this extraordinary object, but succeeded only in finding its track, which bore the impression of immense scales, and confirmed the reports. Some conjecture it must be a species of crocodile, from a mark in the earth fourteen inches long, apparently indented by its jaw.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824



In August 2005, an Airbus A340 airliner overshot the runway at Toronto, plunged into a ravine, and burst into flames.

Of the 309 people on board, all survived.

It’s known as the Toronto Miracle.

“Light From Potatoes”

The emission of light from the common potato, when in a state of decomposition, is sometimes very striking. Dr. Phipson, in his work on ‘Phosphorescence,’ mentions a case in which the light thus emitted from a cellarful of these vegetables was so strong as to lead an officer on guard at Strasbourg to believe that the barracks were on fire.

– Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

An Early Escher


“False Perspective,” a 1754 engraving by William Hogarth.

“Whoever makes a DESIGN without the Knowledge of PERSPECTIVE,” he wrote, “will be liable to such Absurdities as are shewn in this Frontispiece.”

King Size

January 11, 1613, some masons digging near the ruins of a castle in Dauphiné, in a field which (by tradition) had long been called the giant’s field, at the depth of eighteen feet discovered a brick tomb thirty feet long, twelve feet wide, and eight feet high, on which was a gray stone, with the words Theutobochus Rex cut thereon; when the tomb was opened, they found a human skeleton entire, twenty-five feet and a half long, ten feet wide across the shoulders, and five feet deep from the breast-bone to the back, his teeth were each about the size of an ox’s foot, and his shin bone measured four feet.

Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1803



An optical illusion. Nothing’s actually moving.

“Grand and Awful Beyond Description”


Account of strange electrical activity during a blizzard at Bar Harbor, Maine, from the Ellsworth Herald, March 4, 1853:

Mrs. E. Holden was near a window, winding up a clock; a ball of fire came in through the window and struck her hand, which benumbed her hand and arm. She then, with all in the house, retreated into the entry. Another flash succeeded, and, in the room from which they had retired, resembled [sic] a volume of fire, whirling around and producing a cracking noise. A similar appearance of fire was seen, and cracking noises were heard in a large number of houses. Some who heard the noise say it sounded like breaking glass.

Capt. Maurice Rich had his light extinguished, and his wife was injured. He got his wife onto a bed and found a match; at that instant another flash came and ignited the match and threw him several feet backwards. John L. Martin received such a shock that he could not speak for a long time.

A great many people were slightly injured. Some were struck in the feet, some in the eye while others were electrized [sic], some powerfully and some slightly. But what was very singular, not a person was killed or seriously injured, not a building damaged; but a cluster of trees within a few rods of two dwelling houses was not thus fortunate. The electric fluid came down among them, taking them out by the roots, with stones and earth, and throwing all in every direction. Some were left hanging by their roots from the tops of adjacent standing trees — roots up, tops down.

The New York Times later quoted a witness: “I don’t believe there ever was a worse frightened lot of people in the world than the inhabitants of Bar Harbor were that night. That purple ball [of] lightning flashed about and obtruded itself everywhere. There was scarsely [sic] a house that was not visited by it.”

The Vela Incident

On Sept. 22, 1979, a U.S. satellite spotted a flash of light in the Indian Ocean. The satellite was designed to detect nuclear explosions, but unfortunately it was failing, so we can’t be sure what it saw.

What caused the flash? Possibilities include a nuclear test by South Africa or Israel; a meteor entering the atmosphere; a French neutron bomb; or even a meteor striking the satellite itself. For now, no one knows.

String Not Included


“The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography,” said Fellini.

In this case it’s an epic: The Pearl of Lao Tzu weighs 31,893 carats, or more than 14 pounds.

It was extracted from a giant clam in the Philippines in 1934.

“Swallowed by an Earthquake and Thrown Out Again”

A tombstone in the island of Jamaica has the following inscription: ‘Here lieth the body of Lewis Galdy, Esq., who died on the 22d of September, 1737, aged 80. He was born at Montpellier, in France, which place he left for his religion, and settled on this island, where, in the great earthquake, 1672, he was swallowed up, and by the wonderful providence of God, by a second shock was thrown out into the sea, where he continued swimming until he was taken up by a boat, and thus miraculously preserved. He afterwards lived in great reputation, and died universally lamented.’

– Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Party of One


This is not Photoshopped — it’s an actual photograph of the world’s largest chair, in the piazza of Manzano, Italy, where it was dedicated. (Manzano is a city of chair makers.)

Photographer Rob Krause says, “They’re still working on the table.”

The “Ghost Yacht”

Two months ago an unmanned catamaran appeared near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The Kaz II had set out safely from nearby Airlie Beach four days earlier. Her engine was running, and her radio and navigation system were working. The sails were up, though one was badly shredded. Survival equipment, including three life jackets and an emergency beacon, were found on board. Investigators even found a laptop running and the table laid for dinner. But the three-man crew were nowhere to be found.

A search was called off after two days. That’s all anyone knows.

Maunder’s Auroral Beam


On Nov. 17, 1882, something odd appeared in the sky over Europe. The “strange celestial visitor” appeared low in the northeastern sky and elongated as it moved steadily from east to west over the course of two minutes. It was whitish or greenish-white, about 30 degrees long and 3 degrees wide, and had distinct edges.

Whatever it was, the thing was witnessed by professional astronomers across the continent and described in journals including Nature and The Observatory. Edward Walter Maunder of the Greenwich Royal Observatory said it moved “as the Sun, Moon, stars and planets move but nearly a thousand times as quickly.” Even 34 years later Maunder recalled the phenomenon as “unlike any other celestial object that I have ever seen. The quality of its light, and its occurrence while a great magnetic storm and a bright aurora were in progress, seem to establish its auroral origin. But it differed very widely in appearance from any other aurora that I have ever seen.”

What was it? No one knows.

A Pet Lover


‘A fellow, a shepherd at Beverley, in Yorkshire, about eleven years ago, for a bet of five pounds, was produced, who was to devour a living cat. The one produced was a large black tom cat, which had not been fed for the purpose; but was chosen, as being the largest in that neighbourhood. The day appointed was the fair-day at Beverley. The parties met. The man produced was a raw-boned fellow, about forty. The cat was then given to him; on which he took hold of his four legs with one hand, and closing his mouth with the other, he killed him by biting his head to pieces immediately, and in less than a quarter of an hour, devoured every part of the cat, tail, legs, claws, bones, and every thing. The man who laid the wager gave the fellow two guineas for doing it, and the shepherd appeared perfectly satisfied with the reward.’

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

“Bogs of Butter”

‘At Stramore, in the county of Monaghan, near the town of Glaslough,’ say the newspapers of 1813, ‘a short time ago a quantity of butter was found in a bog on the lands of Thomas Johnson, of Armagh, Esq. at the depth of twenty feet beneath the surface of the ground. In consequence of the antiseptic qualities of the bog, the butter was found in a state of the most perfect preservation; its colour a statuary white. The person who found this butter mixed it with other unctuous matter, and formed it into candles for family use. It was more condensed in substance than butter usually is, but perfectly sweet in taste, and free from any disagreeable odour.’

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824