Side Effects

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/810139

From a letter from Gerard Manley Hopkins to his sister Kate, April 25, 1871:

We were all vaccinated the other day. The next day a young Portug[u]ese came up to me and said ‘Oh misther Opkins, do you feel the cows in yewer arm?’ I told him I felt the horns coming through. I do I am sure. I cannot remember now whether one ought to say the calf of the arm or the calf of the leg. My shoulder is like a shoulder of beef. I dare not speak above a whisper for fear of bellowing – there now, I was going to say I am obliged to speak low for fear of lowing. I dream at night that I have only two of my legs in bed. I think there is a split coming in both of my slippers. Yesterday I could not think why it was that I would wander about on a wet grass-plot: I see now. I chew my pen a great deal. The long and short of it is that my left forequarter is swollen and painful (I meant to have written arm but I cowld not.) Besides the doctor has given us medicine, so that I am in a miserable way just now.

Squaring Accounts

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

Ernest Thompson Seton called his father “the most selfish man I ever knew, or heard of, in history or in fiction.” In 1881, on Seton’s 21st birthday, his father called him into his study, took down an enormous cash book from a high shelf, and opened it at E.

In the book he had recorded every expense he had ever made on the boy, including the day and date of each outlay, all the way back to the doctor’s fee for his delivery. The total was $537.50.

“Hitherto,” he said, “I have charged no interest. But from now on I must add the reasonable amount of 6 per cent per annum. I shall be glad to have you reduce the amount at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Stunned, Seton staggered to his feet and left the room, refusing his father’s offer “to furnish without expense a full copy of the indebtedness.”

His father called after him, “God bless you, my son. In the natural course of events, you cannot much longer be an inmate of my house; but I must prayerfully trust that, wherever your lot is cast in the near future, you will never forget the debt you owe your father, who is to you on earth the next to God.”

Seton paid the bill and never spoke to him again.

Podcast: Episode 17

http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&lang=&rec_nbr=3237626&rec_nbr_list=3237626

In 1943 German submarines were devastating the merchant convoys carrying supplies to Britain. Unable to protect them with aircraft or conventional ships, the resource-strapped Royal Navy considered an outlandish solution: a 2-million-ton aircraft carrier made of ice.

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the strange history of the project, which Winston Churchill initially praised as dazzling but which ended in ignominy at the bottom of a Canadian lake. We’ll also discover a love pledge hidden for 200 years in the heart of a Yorkshire tree and puzzle over the deaths of two men in a remote cabin.

You can listen using the player above, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset. The show notes are on the blog. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Unquote

“The light in the world comes principally from two sources, — the sun, and the student’s lamp.” — Christian Nestell Bovee, Intuitions and Summaries of Thought, 1862

Flexagons

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hexahexaflexagon_template.svg

Create a strip of 19 triangles like the one above (printable version here) and fold the left portion back successively at each of the northeast-pointing lines to produce a spiral:

Fold this spiral backward along line ab:

Then fold the resulting figure backward at cd. You should be left with one blank triangular tab that can be folded backward and pasted to another blank panel on the opposite side. The resulting hexagon should have six 1s on one side and six 2s on the other.

With some adroit pinching this hexagon produces some marvelous effects. Fold down two adjacent triangles so that they meet, and then press in the opposite corner to join them. Now the top of the figure can be prised open and folded down to produce a new hexagon — this one with 1s on one face and a surprising blank on the second. What has become of the 2s?

Exploring the properties of this “hexahexaflexagon” offers an intuitive lesson in geometric group theory:

When Martin Gardner wrote about these bemusing creatures in his first column for Scientific American in 1956, he received two letters. The first was from Neil Uptegrove of Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories in Clifton, N.J.:

Sirs:

I was quite taken with the article entitled ‘Flexagons’ in your December issue. It took us only six or seven hours to paste the hexahexaflexagon together in the proper configuration. Since then it has been a source of continuing wonder.

But we have a problem. This morning one of our fellows was sitting flexing the hexahexaflexagon idly when the tip of his necktie became caught in one of the folds. With each successive flex, more of his tie vanished into the flexagon. With the sixth flexing he disappeared entirely.

We have been flexing the thing madly, and can find no trace of him, but we have located a sixteenth configuration of the hexahexaflexagon.

Here is our question: Does his widow draw workmen’s compensation for the duration of his absence, or can we have him declared legally dead immediately? We await your advice.

The second was from Robert M. Hill of The Royal College of Science and Technology in Glasgow, Scotland:

Sirs:

The letter in the March issue of your magazine complaining of the disappearance of a fellow from the Allen B. Du Mont Laboratories ‘down’ a hexahexaflexagon, has solved a mystery for us.

One day, while idly flexing our latest hexahexaflexagon, we were confounded to find that it was producing a strip of multicolored material. Further flexing of the hexahexaflexagon finally disgorged a gum-chewing stranger.

Unfortunately he was in a weak state and, owing to an apparent loss of memory, unable to give any account of how he came to be with us. His health has now been restored on our national diet of porridge, haggis and whisky, and he has become quite a pet around the department, answering to the name of Eccles.

Our problem is, should we now return him and, if so, by what method? Unfortunately Eccles now cringes at the very sight of a hexahexaflexagon and absolutely refuses to ‘flex.’

Flash Mob

Pipe plot - 1877 - George Henry Boughton

When Wilhelm Kieft tried to outlaw smoking in New Amsterdam in the 1630s, he brought on a unique protest. Washington Irving writes:

A mob of factious citizens had … the hardihood to assemble before the governor’s house, where, setting themselves resolutely down, like a besieging army before a fortress, they one and all fell to smoking with a determined perseverance, that seemed as though it were their intention to smoke him into terms. The testy William issued out of his mansion like a wrathful spider, and demanded to know the cause of this seditious assemblage, and this lawless fumigation; to which these sturdy rioters made no other reply, than to loll back phlegmatically in their seats, and puff away with redoubled fury; whereby they raised such a murky cloud, that the governor was fain to take refuge in the interior of his castle.

Wilhelm finally gave in — people could smoke, he said, but they had to give up long pipes. “Thus ended this alarming insurrection, which was long known by the name of the pipe plot, and which, it has been somewhat quaintly observed, did end, like most other plots, seditions, and conspiracies, in mere smoke.”

(Thanks, Dan.)

Black and White

yarosh chess puzzle

By Alexander Yarosh. The position above was reached in a legal game, except that one piece has been knocked off the board. What was it?

Click for Answer

Saving Face

“The Joker,” a picture-preserving geomagic square by Lee Sallows. The 16 pieces can be assembled in varying groups of 4 to produce the same picture in 16 different ways, without rotation or reflection.

The outline need not be a joker — it can take almost any shape.

In a Word

titivil

n. “Name for a devil said to collect fragments of words dropped, skipped, or mumbled in the recitation of divine service, and to carry them to hell, to be registered against the offender.” [OED]

Low Profile

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jonathan-the-tortoise-1900.jpeg

In 2008 L.A. Innes of Jamestown, Saint Helena, auctioned a collection of images taken during the Boer War. This one shows a prisoner standing next to a tortoise on the island. The tortoise was mature at the time of the photograph, which was taken in 1900, and investigators were surprised to find that he’s still alive — “Jonathan” lives on the grounds of the governor’s residence, blind in one eye but still active and mating with other tortoises.

If he was 70 at the time Innes’ photograph was taken, then he’s 184 today — the oldest living reptile on earth.

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