Milestones

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A conundrum by French puzzle maven Pierre Berloquin:

Caroline leaves town driving at a constant speed. After some time she passes a milestone displaying a two-digit number. An hour later she passes a milestone displaying the same two digits but in reverse order. In another hour she passes a third milestone with the same two digits (in some order) separated by a zero.

What is the speed of Caroline’s car?

Click for Answer

A New Commute

http://books.google.com/books?id=uFk2AQAAMAAJ

In 1914, Russian physicist Boris Weinberg proposed an electromagnetic vacuum train that could move an individual passenger from New York to San Francisco in half a day. Reasoning that air resistance and friction are the greatest enemies to speed, Weinberg envisioned using electromagnets to suspend a car in a tube from which the air had been partially exhausted. An individual passenger would lie prone in a 300-pound iron cylinder drawn along by a series of solenoids. New passengers could be introduced into the system through an airlock at a rate as high as 12 per minute, “the whole proceeding being not unlike that of feeding cartridges from a belt or clip to a machine gun.”

Weinberg estimated a maximum speed of 500 mph. “Think what that means!” he wrote in The Popular Science Monthly. “New York would be no more distant from Chicago than it is now from Philadelphia, so far as relative times are concerned. Florida might easily become a kind of winter Coney Island for all New York.”

He built a model of the system at the Technological Institute of Tomsk, but the project never got off the ground (so to speak). One reason may have been the cost: In order to slow the cars gradually, each station would have to be 2 miles long.

Money Market

A curious bet was made in one of the London clubs, some years ago, that will doubtless point a moral. It was that a certain member could not, within two hours, on London-bridge, sell one hundred new guineas at a penny apiece.

The man took his place on the bridge with a little tray on which he had the coins. He informed the passers-by that they were genuine gold coins from the Bank of England, and that they were to be had for a penny each.

The cartmen and policemen laughed at him. When the time had expired, such is human incredulity, that he had sold but two, which a maid-servant bought to amuse her two little charges.

London Reader, July 11, 1885

Bard to Worse

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Dismissals of Shakespeare:

  • “An upstart crow beautified with our feathers.” — Robert Greene
  • “The most insipid, ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life.” — Samuel Pepys, on A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • “His rude unpolished style and antiquated phrase and wit.” — Lord Shaftesbury
  • “A disproportioned and misshapen giant.” — David Hume
  • “Shakespeare never had six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion.” — Samuel Johnson
  • “I cannot read him, he is such a bombast fellow.” — George II
  • “Was there ever such stuff as the greater part of Shakespeare? Only one must not say so.” — George III
  • “Shakespeare — what trash are his works in the gross.” — Edward Young
  • “One of the greatest geniuses that ever existed, Shakespeare, undoubtedly wanted taste.” — Horace Walpole
  • “I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.” — Darwin, Autobiography
  • “The undisputed fame enjoyed by Shakespeare as a writer is, like every other lie, a great evil.” — Tolstoy
  • “If all the work of Shakespeare could be gathered up and burned in one pile, the world would witness the most beneficial action for the sake of literature since the invention of alcohol.” — Waterloo, Iowa, Times-Tribune, 1920

After seeing Henry Irving’s production of Cymbeline, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his. The intensity of my impatience with him occasionally reaches such a pitch, that it would positively be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him, knowing as I do how incapable he and his worshippers are of understanding any less obvious form of indignity.”

“Disappearances”

knuth - disappearances - 1

Donald E. Knuth composed this poem in honor of Martin Gardner. When the right-hand portions of the eight-line verse are interchanged, it becomes a seven-line verse. Which line disappears?

knuth - disappearances - 2

In a Word

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gynophagite
n. an eater of women

androphagous
adj. eating men

brephophagist
n. one who eats babies

Dust to Dust

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Annihilation has no terrors for me, because I have already tried it before I was born — a hundred million years — and I have suffered more in an hour, in this life, than I remember to have suffered in the whole hundred million years put together. There was a peace, a serenity, an absence of all sense of responsibility, an absence of worry, an absence of care, grief, perplexity; and the presence of a deep content and unbroken satisfaction in that hundred million years of holiday which I look back upon with a tender longing and with a grateful desire to resume, when the opportunity comes.

– Mark Twain, Autobiography

Unquote

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“Patriotism ruins history.” — Goethe

The Air Loom

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In January 1797 London tea broker James Tilly Matthews was committed to the Bethlem psychiatric hospital after increasingly erratic outbursts in which he claimed he was being persecuted by political enemies. In 1809 Matthews’ friends petitioned for his release, arguing that he was no longer insane, and Bethlem apothecary John Haslam published a book-length study showing how bad his case had become.

Matthews believed that a gang of spies were occupying a Roman wall near the asylum and torturing him with a device called an air loom. The loom was operated by “the Middle Man,” while “Sir Archy” and the “Glove Woman” focused its rays on Matthews and “Jack the Schoolmaster” recorded their effects. Similar gangs, Matthews said, were operating looms all over London to influence the thinking of the nation’s leaders. The tortures included “fluid locking,” “cutting soul from sense,” “stone making,” “thigh talking,” and “lobster-cracking,” which Matthews also described as “sudden death-squeezing”:

In short, I do not know any better way for a person to comprehend the general nature of such lobster-cracking operation, than by supposing himself in a sufficiently large pair of nut-crackers or lobster-crackers, with teeth which should pierce as well as press him through every particle within and without; he experiencing the whole stress, torture, driving, oppressing, and crush all together.

Matthews remained an asylum inpatient until his death in 1815. His is now considered to be the first documented case of paranoid schizophrenia.

Supply and Demand

The Waterford Chronicle requests that persons supplying the Journal with obituaries will attend to the following scale of prices (the idea is droll); for a simple death two shillings and sixpence. For the death of a person deeply regretted, five shillings. For the death of a person who lived a perfect pattern of all the Christian virtues, and died regretted by the whole country, ten shillings. For the death of a person who possessed extensive literature and profound erudition, superadded to which, his whole life was remarkable for piety, humility, charity, and self-denial, one pound. For the death of a lady, whose husband is inconsolable for her loss, and who was the delight of the circle in which she moved, one pound ten shillings. For the death of a gentleman, who had only been six months married, who was an example of every conjugal and domestic virtue, and whose widow is in a state of anguish bordering on distraction, two pounds. For the death of an aristocrat, who was a pattern of meekness, a model of humility, a patron of distressed genius, a genuine philanthropist, an exemplary Christian, an extensive alms-giver, profoundly learned, unremitting to the duties of his station, kind, hospitable, and affectionate to his tenantry, and whose name will be remembered and his loss deplored to the latest posterity, five pounds. For every additional good quality, whether domestic, moral, or religious, there will be an additional charge.

Birmingham Journal, Aug. 21, 1830

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