Just Deserts

The image of a man playing chess with the devil for possession of his soul has appeared in many pieces of fiction, notably Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal (and later Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey). In one interesting twist that appears in some folk stories, the devil takes black (naturally), and play goes like this:

chess with death

1. … Nd4+ 2. Kd6 Qxd7+ 3. Nxd7 Rxd5+ 4. Nxd5 Re6

“Mate!” cries the fiend — but then he takes a second look at the board and disappears with a scream:

chess with death - solution

Field Report

The longest item of news ever telegraphed to a newspaper, was the entire New Testament as revised, and all variations of the English and American committees, from New York to Chicago, and the whole published as an item of news in the Sunday morning Chicago Tribune for May 22, 1882. That day’s Tribune comprised 20 pages, 16 of which were required for the New Testament.

Miscellaneous Notes and Queries, May 1889

“Value of a Long Psalm”


In old times a culprit, when at the gallows, was allowed to select a Psalm, which was then sung, thereby lengthening the chances of the arrival of a reprieve. It is reported of one of the chaplains to the famous Montrose, that being condemned in Scotland to die for attending his master in some of his exploits, he selected the 119th Psalm. It was well for him that he did so, for they had sung it half through before the reprieve came. A shorter Psalm, and he would have been hung.

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

The Jefferson Bible

Thomas Jefferson once composed a secular version of the Christian Gospels. He said he wanted to study Jesus’ teachings without “the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves.”

He called the Bible’s supernatural content “nonsense,” from which Jesus’ ideas were “as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.” His narrative ends like this:

“Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

Now You See Him …

Teleportation in the Bible:

And he commanded the chariot to stand still [in Gaza]: and they went down both into the water, both Philip [the Evangelist] and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea.

(From Acts 8:38-40.)

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.)


Notable authors on the Vatican’s list of prohibited books:

  • Francis Bacon
  • Honoré de Balzac
  • Giordano Bruno
  • Nicolaus Copernicus
  • Daniel Defoe
  • René Descartes
  • Denis Diderot
  • Desiderius Erasmus
  • Gustave Flaubert
  • Galileo Galilei
  • Edward Gibbon
  • Thomas Hobbes
  • Victor Hugo
  • David Hume
  • Immanuel Kant
  • John Locke
  • John Stuart Mill
  • John Milton
  • Blaise Pascal
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  • Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Jonathan Swift
  • Voltaire
  • Émile Zola

George Bernard Shaw said, “Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books that nobody reads.”