One Last Thrill

In 2010 Lithuanian engineer Julijonas Urbonas designed the Euthanasia Coaster, a 7,500-meter roller coaster designed to kill its riders. After a 2-minute climb to the top of the drop tower, the 24 riders plunge 500 meters into a series of seven loops designed to subject them to 10 g for 60 seconds. This forces the blood away from their brains, causing first euphoria, then loss of consciousness and finally death by cerebral hypoxia.

Here’s what that looks like if you don’t black out:

When the train returns to the station, the corpses are unloaded and a new group of passengers can board. Urbonas says, “Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies, and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant, and meaningful.”

Heaven’s Domain

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Castel_Gandolfo_Papst.JPG

In April 2005, when the Vatican began to seek a successor to John Paul II, technology author Rogers Cadenhead registered the domain names ClementXV.com, InnocentXIV.com, LeoXIV.com, BenedictXVI.com, PaulVII.com, and PiusXIII.com, hoping that the new pope would take one of these names.

“Someone else already has JohnPaulIII.com and JohnXXIV.com,” he wrote on his blog, “but otherwise I put a chip down on every name of the past three centuries.”

When Joseph Ratzinger chose the name Benedict XVI, “I felt like my horse had come in first at the Kentucky races,” he told CNN. As owner of the new pope’s domain, he made a few requests, including:

  1. Three days, two nights at the Vatican hotel.
  2. “One of those hats.”
  3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for the third week of March 1987.

“Whatever decision I make will be guided by the desire not to make 1.5 billion people mad at me … including my grandmother,” he told the Washington Post. As I write this, the domain appears to be unused — perhaps they’re still negotiating.

Hidden Men

Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets to a “Mr. W.H.” No one knows who this was — his identity has remained a mystery for 400 years. Most of the sonnets are addressed to a young man, and some seem to contain puns on the names “Will” and “Hughes” (for example, sonnet 20 refers to “a man in hue all hughes in his controlling”), so the 18th-century scholar Thomas Tyrwhitt suggested that the young man was named William Hughes. Oscar Wilde took this up in his 1889 short story “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.,” in which he imagines that Mr. W.H. was one Willie Hughes, “a wonderful boy-actor of great beauty” who played women’s roles in Shakespeare’s company. Unfortunately there’s no evidence that such a person actually existed, though Samuel Butler discovered a real-life William Hughes who served as cook on a ship called the Vanguard in 1634.

In Ulysses, Mr. Best calls Wilde’s the “most brilliant” of all theories to explain the mystery. That’s ironic, because Ulysses contains a mysterious character of its own, a “man in a macintosh” who appears repeatedly but is never identified:

Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I’d like to know? Now I’d give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of. A fellow could live on his lonesome all his life.

And, later:

Mr Bloom stood far back, his hat in his hand, counting the bared heads. Twelve. I’m thirteen. No. The chap in the macintosh is thirteen. Death’s number. Where the deuce did he pop out of? He wasn’t in the chapel, that I’ll swear. Silly superstition that about thirteen.

This being Ulysses, he could be almost anyone, and critics have suggested everyone from Satan to Charles Stewart Parnell. Joyce seemed to delight in his own riddle, asking his friends, “Who was the man in the macintosh?” But he never revealed the answer.

Black and White

hoeg chess problem

By Niels Høeg. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Double Indemnity

This past February, brothers named Elwin and Yohan were arrested for six rapes in France, but both denied the charges. Deciding which is guilty is a tricky affair — they’re identical twins, so the genetic difference between them is very slight. Marseille police chief Emmanual Kiehl said, “It could take thousands of separate tests before we know which one of them may be guilty.”

This is only the latest in a series of legal conundrums involving identical twins and DNA evidence. During a jewel heist in Germany in January 2009, thieves left behind a drop of sweat on a latex glove. A crime database showed two hits — identical twins Hassan and Abbas O. (under German law their last name was withheld). Both brothers had criminal records for theft and fraud, but both were released. The court ruled, “From the evidence we have, we can deduce that at least one of the brothers took part in the crime, but it has not been possible to determine which one.”

Later that year, identical twins Sathis Raj and Sabarish Raj escaped hanging in Malaysia when a judge ruled it was impossible to determine which was guilty of drug smuggling. “Although one of them must be called to enter a defence, I can’t be calling the wrong twin to enter his defence,” the judge told the court. “I also can’t be sending the wrong person to the gallows.”

In 2003, a Missouri woman had sex with identical twins Raymon and Richard Miller within hours of one another. When she became pregnant, both men denied fathering the child. In Missouri a man can be named a legal father only if a paternity test shows a 98 percent or higher probability of a DNA match, but the Miller twins both showed a probability of more than 99.9 percent.

“With identical twins, even if you sequenced their whole genome you wouldn’t find difference,” forensic scientist Bob Gaensslen told ABC News at the time. More recent research shows that this isn’t the case, but teasing out the difference can be expensive — in the Marseilles case, police were told that such a test would cost £850,000.

It goes on. Last month British authorities were trying to decide how to prosecute a rape when DNA evidence identified both Mohammed and Aftab Asghar. “It is an unusual case,” said prosecutor Sandra Beck. “They are identical twins. The allegation is one of rape. There is further work due.”

A Day’s Work

gehrig mitchell ruth

On April 2, 1931, during an exhibition game between the minor-league Chattanooga Lookouts and the New York Yankees, 17-year-old pitcher Jackie Mitchell found herself facing Babe Ruth.

She struck him out in four pitches. “I had a drop pitch,” she said, “and when I was throwing it right, you couldn’t touch it.”

The New York Times reported that Ruth “flung his bat away in high disdain and trudged to the bench, registering disgust with his shoulders and chin.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen if they begin to let women in baseball,” he told a Chattanooga newspaper. “Of course, they will never make good. Why? Because they are too delicate. It would kill them to play ball every day.”

Next up was Lou Gehrig. She struck him out, too.

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_-_San_Giorgio_Maggiore_at_Dawn_-_WGA23170.jpg

ughten
n. the part of the night immediately before daybreak

“Friendship’s Garland”

When I was a boy there was a friend of mine,
We thought ourselves warriors and grown folk swine,
Stupid old animals who never understood
And never had an impulse, and said “You must be good!”

We stank like stoats and fled like foxes,
We put cigarettes in the pillar-boxes,
Lighted cigarettes and letters all aflame–
O the surprise when the postman came!

We stole eggs and apples and made fine hay
In people’s houses when people were away,
We broke street lamps and away we ran;
Then I was a boy but now I am a man.

Now I am a man and don’t have any fun,
I hardly ever shout and never never run,
And I don’t care if he’s dead, that friend of mine,
For then I was a boy and now I am a swine.

— G.K. Chesterton

Oops

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

In January 1961, a B-52 Stratofortress began leaking fuel near Goldsboro, N.C., and the crew were forced to eject before they could reach Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

They watched as the plane descended toward the tobacco farmland below carrying two 3.8-megaton nuclear weapons. As the plane broke up, it dropped both of them. One smashed into a muddy field, but the other deployed a parachute to slow its descent and activated five of its six arming mechanisms.

It stopped short of detonating, which is good, because it packed more than 250 times the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb.

“How close was it to exploding?” asked disposal team commander Lt. Jack B. ReVelle afterward. “My opinion is damn close. You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off.”

Only three years earlier, a similar mishap had occurred over Georgia.

Space Saver

https://www.google.com/patents/US541216

This kitchen cabinet dates from 1895, but it’s as ruthlessly efficient as any modern appliance. The steel frame holds containers for flour, meal, spices, and condiments, and it’s fitted with an egg beater on the left, a coffee grinder on the right, sifting screens, and a scale. Inventor Michael Shanley even stood the whole thing in two cups of water to keep bugs from reaching the meal.

Under the counter is a tiny forlorn drawer marked Miscellaneous. What’s in there?