Futility Closet book ad

Backstroke

swims symmetry

SWIMS is rotationally symmetric — it reads the same right side up and upside down.

(Thanks, Chris.)

Headstones

http://www.sxc.hu/browse.phtml?f=view&id=97467

Before his death in 1923, Curtis Lloyd erected an enormous granite monument to himself in the Kentucky woods. One side reads:

CURTIS G. LLOYD BORN 1859 — DIED 60 OR MORE YEARS AFTERWARDS. THE EXACT NUMBER OF YEARS, MONTHS AND DAYS THAT HE LIVED NOBODY KNOWS AND NOBODY CARES.

The other side reads:

CURTIS G. LLOYD MONUMENT ERECTED IN 1922 BY HIMSELF FOR HIMSELF DURING HIS LIFE TO GRATIFY HIS OWN VANITY. WHAT FOOLS THESE MORTALS BE!

World War I ended at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Each year at that moment, sunlight shining through the window of the Canadian War Museum illuminates the headstone of Canada’s Unknown Soldier.

In Gray, Maine, is a tombstone reading:

STRANGER — A SOLDIER OF THE LATE WAR. DIED 1862. ERECTED BY THE LADIES OF GRAY.

Lt. Charles Colley of the 10th Maine Volunteers had died that September at Alexandria, Va., and his parents had paid to have his remains embalmed and transported home. When they opened the casket, they found the body of a uniformed Confederate soldier. After some consternation the town interred him, and it commemorates the unknown soldier each Memorial Day. (Colley’s body arrived a week later and is buried 100 feet away.)

An epitaph in Keesville, N.Y., quoted in John R. Kippax, Churchyard Literature, 1876:

HERE LIES A MAN OF GOOD REPUTE,
WHO WORE A NO. 16 BOOT.
‘TIS NOT RECORDED HOW HE DIED,
BUT SURE IT IS, THAT OPEN WIDE,
THE GATES OF HEAVEN MUST HAVE BEEN
TO LET SUCH MONSTROUS FEET WITHIN.

Charles Wallis’ Stories on Stone records the epitaph of Dr. Fred Roberts in Pine Log Cemetery, Brookland, Ark.:

OFFICE UP STAIRS.

An epitaph on a trout, near a pond in Blockley, England:

IN
MEMORY
OF THE
OLD FISH.
UNDER THE SOIL
THE OLD FISH DO LIE
20 YEARS HE LIVED
AND THEN DID DIE.
HE WAS SO TAME
YOU UNDERSTAND
HE WOULD COME AND
EAT OUT OF OUR HAND.
DIED APRIL 20, 1855.
AGED 20 YEARS.

Below: The German word for cobblestone translates literally as “headstone” — so artist Timm Ulrichs offered this “cobblestone” pavement:

commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Timm_Ulrichs_Kopf-Stein_Pflaster_Hannover.jpg

(Thanks, Zach.)

Oops

PARISEAU, N. De, born in 1753; a celebrated victim of the ‘mistakes’ of the guillotine. Pariseau was director of the opera ballets at Paris, and ardently espoused the cause of the revolution in ‘La Feuille du Jour.’ He was arrested by the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1793, and beheaded by mistake, instead of Parisot, a captain of the king’s guard.

The Biographical Treasury, 1847

A Knotty Problem

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Granny_knot.svg

In a 2002 article in Nature, Australian mathematician Burkard Polster concluded that most of us are doing a pretty good job lacing our shoes: “No matter whether you prefer to lace them straight or criss-crossed, you come close to maximizing the total horizontal tension when you pull on the two ends of one of your shoelaces.”

When it comes to tying them, though, we don’t do so well. “A very large number of people, possibly even the majority, do tie their shoe laces much worse than the rest,” Polster wrote in his 2006 book-length followup, The Shoelace Book. Most of us tie a shoe by placing one half-granny knot on top of another, but this can produce either a very unstable granny knot (left) or a very stable reef knot (right), depending on whether the two half-knots have the same or opposite orientation. (It’s not essential that the second half-granny is typically tied with loops; these are omitted in the diagrams.)

“Hundreds of years of trial and error have led to the strongest way of lacing our shoes,” Polster wrote in Nature, “but unfortunately the same cannot be said about the way in which most of us tie our shoelaces — with a granny knot.”

(Burkard Polster, “What is the best way to lace your shoes?” Nature 2002: 476.)

Unquote

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henri_Rousseau_-_Il_sogno.jpg

“In dreams I do not recollect that state of feeling so common when awake, of thinking of one subject and looking at another.” — Coleridge

“In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but you never feel pain.” — Dostoevsky

“In a dream you are never eighty.” — Anne Sexton

“The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.” — Heraclitus

The Skeleton in the Bale

The Atlanta Constitution of Oct. 2, 1892, contains this lurid tale from the Civil War. Discharged after losing a leg in battle, Confederate colonel Clay Clayton had returned to Sans Souci, his Alabama plantation, when a portion of the Union army established camp nearby and the Yankee officers made Clayton’s mansion their headquarters. During the occupation, Frederick Jasper, a disreputable captain from a Massachusetts regiment, pursued Clayton’s beautiful daughter, Virginia, who rejected his proposal of marriage. Virginia’s two brothers and lover learned of this during a visit to the plantation immediately after the Union troops left.

When the war ended, Clayton’s sons returned to Sans Souci and Virginia married her lover and settled on an adjoining plantation. Cotton had risen to a high price, and Clayton had two bales in his ginhouse, but he vowed not to sell them for less than $1 a pound, and they lay there unregarded for years.

In 1866 a Boston lawyer appeared looking for any trace of Jasper. The captain had separated from the Union troops after they had departed the plantation, taking with him a sergeant and promising to return in half an hour. He was never seen again, and now the lawyer sought to establish his fate in order to settle his estate. Clayton could tell him nothing, and he returned to Boston.

Twenty years later Clayton died, and the brothers and Virginia’s husband finally sold the ginhouse bales, which were stamped with the plantation’s mark and sent to Russia.

When it came to the turn of these two bales from old Colonel Clay Clayton’s Alabama plantation they were opened and the cotton dumped out on the floor of the factory. One was shaken up, there was a flash of blue and something bright, and a rattle of something on the floor. What was it? It was a skeleton in the uniform of a captain of the army of the United States of America. Sword, watch, money, buttons, some rotten cloth and bones. That was all. On the watch were the words, ‘Frederick Jasper, Boston.’

The sergeant’s body was found in the other bale. When the Boston lawyer returned to Alabama to investigate, Virginia’s husband told him everything: He and the Claytons had discovered Jasper assaulting Virginia on the plantation and carried him and the sergeant to the ginhouse.

The cotton was lying ready to be baled. We started the press and filled it. Into the middle of the bale of cotton went the wretch Jasper, begging like a hound to be killed first. But no. He went into the bale alive and was pressed with it. The other man, seeing the fate in store for him, shot himself, while we were at the press and he was lying wounded on the ground. Then he went in the other bale.

The Claytons then retained the bales with the excuse that they were waiting for a high price. But they were unrepentant: They had killed a Union soldier on Southern territory during wartime, and one who had behaved “vilely” despite their hospitality. “I cannot blame you at all,” said the lawyer, who returned to Boston and delivered Jasper’s fortune to his heirs.

The whole thing is so melodramatic that I think it must be fiction, but the Constitution ran it as a news story with the notice “Every particular of this incident can be verified by legal papers on file in Boston courts and by the testimony of witnesses yet living.” Make your own judgment.

Trivium

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ed_state_map.gif

The names of two U.S. state capitals end with the same eight letters. What are they?

Click for Answer

Overthinking

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Operation_Crossroads_Baker_Edit.jpg

When I was a child, it was believed that animals became extinct because they were too specialized. My father used to tell us about the saber-tooth tiger’s teeth — how they got too big and the tiger couldn’t eat because he couldn’t take game anymore. And I remember my father saying, with my brother sitting there, ‘I wonder what it will be with the human beings that will be so overspecialized that they’ll kill themselves off?’

My father never found out that my brother was working on the bomb.

– Richard Feynman’s sister Joan, quoted in Christopher Sykes, No Ordinary Genius, 1994

Fate Fall

Triple Divide Peak, in Montana’s Glacier National Park, sits at the meeting of two continental divides (red and green on the map above). A drop of rain that lands on the mountain might arrive at any of three oceans — the Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Arctic.

Breakdown

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Duke_Jordan,_Max_Roach_%28Gottlieb_06851%29.jpg

When Charlie Parker’s 2-year-old daughter Pree died of pneumonia on March 6, 1954, he was in Los Angeles fulfilling a week-long engagement at the Tiffany Club. His wife, Chan, sent a wire from New York to let him know that they had lost her, and received four telegrams in reply:

4:11 a.m.:

MY DARLING MY DAUGHTER’S DEATH SURPRISED ME MORE THAN IT DID YOU DON’T FULFILL FUNERAL PROCEEDINGS UNTIL I GET THERE I SHALL BE THE FIRST ONE TO WALK INTO OUR CHAPEL FORGIVE ME FOR NOT BEING THERE WITH YOU WHILE YOU ARE AT THE HOSPITAL YOURS MOST SINCERELY YOUR HUSBAND CHARLIE PARKER.

4:13 a.m.:

MY DARLING FOR GOD’S SAKE HOLD ON TO YOURSELF
CHAS PARKER

4:15 a.m.:

CHAN, HELP
CHARLIE PARKER

7:58 a.m.:

MY DAUGHTER IS DEAD. I KNOW IT. I WILL BE THERE AS QUICK AS I CAN. MY NAME IS BIRD. IT IS VERY NICE TO BE OUT HERE. PEOPLE HAVE BEEN VERY NICE TO ME OUT HERE. I AM COMING IN RIGHT AWAY TAKE IT EASY. LET ME BE THE FIRST ONE TO APPROACH YOU. I AM YOUR HUSBAND. SINCERELY, CHARLIE PARKER.

He never forgave himself for being absent during Pree’s death. “Bird detached from things to save himself, which meant that in a way the sadness between them was very powerful,” recalled his stepdaughter, Kim. “I’ve seen very sad photographs of them … shortly after Pree’s death, and there’s just a complete space between them, and I think it was just the beginning of the end, really.” A year later he too was dead.

Page 10 of 794« First...89101112...20304050...Last »