Sunset

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In May 1856, an African teenager named Nongqawuse had a vision: If her people killed all their cattle, she said, their long-dead ancestors would rise and drive out the European settlers.

Word spread quickly, and they did as she urged. In 10 months that followed, the Xhosa nation killed 400,000 cattle, driven by mounting rumor and revelation that great fields of corn would also spring into existence, that their ancient heroes would return to life, and that sickness and old age would disappear. In his Compendium of South African History and Geography of 1877, George McCall Theal records the climax:

At length the morning dawned of the day so long and so ardently looked for. All night long the Kaffirs had watched, with feeling stretched to the utmost tension of excitement, expecting to see two blood-red suns rise over the eastern hills, when the heavens would fall and crush the races they hated. Famished with hunger, half dying as they were, that night was yet a time of fierce, delirious joy. The morn, that a few short hours, slowly becoming minutes, would usher in, was to see all their sorrows ended, all their misery past. And so they waited and watched. It came, throwing a silver sheen upon the mountain peaks, and bathing hill-side and valley in a flood of light, as the ruler of day appeared. The hearts of the watchers sank within them; ‘What,’ said they, ‘will become of us if Mhlakaza’s predictions turn out untrue?’ It was the first time they had asked such a question, the dawn of doubt had never entered their thoughts till the dawn of the fatal day. But perhaps, after all, it might be midday that was meant, and when the shadows began to lengthen towards the east perhaps, thought they, the setting of the sun is the time. The sun went down behind clouds of crimson and gold, and the Amaxosa awoke to the reality of their dreadful position.

The ensuing famine killed 40,000 Xhosa. “Nongqause escaped, and is still living,” Theal wrote. “For prudential reasons she has ever since resided in the colony, where she preserves an unbroken silence concerning the deeds in which she played so prominent a part.”

Unquote

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“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.” — G.K. Chesterton

Square Deal

Wordplay maven Dave Morice discovered something strange in 1992: Write out the three-letter word ONE, and beneath it write out the next odd number whose name is spelled with four letters, then the next spelled with five letters, and so on up to TWENTY-ONE, which has nine letters. Then, in a separate column, do the same with even numbers, from the three-letter TWO to the nine-letter TWENTY-TWO — but list these in reverse order:

square deal

Now each line contains 12 letters — and in each instance the numbers named total 23! What does this mean?

Book Search

For her 1974 book Lighter Side of the Library, Janice Glover asked American librarians to recall titles requested by confused patrons, and the books they turned out to want:

Requested: Who Is Your Schoolmaster?
Book wanted: Hoosier Schoolmaster

Requested: Entombed With an Infant
Book wanted: In Tune With the Infinite

Requested: The Missing Hand
Book wanted: A Farewell to Arms

Requested: The Armored Chinaman
Book wanted: The Chink in the Armour

Requested: King of the Ants
Book wanted: Lord of the Flies

Requested: The Wooden Kid
Book wanted: Pinocchio

Requested: Five Pennies and the Sun
Book wanted: The Moon and Sixpence

And so on: From Here to Maternity; The Merchant of Venus; “Allergy in a Country Churchyard”; My Heart Is Wounded, They Buried My Knee. One inspired library staff finally sent a student home with Homer’s Iliad; he had come in asking for Homeless Idiot.

Cold Case

Enigma, the official publication of the National Puzzlers’ League, published this item in the “Chat” column of its August 1916 issue:

“The police department of Lima, O., is greatly puzzled over a cryptic message received in connection with the robbery of a Western Ohio ticket agent. Here it is: WAS NVKVAFT BY AAKAT TXPXSCK UPBK TXPHN OHAY YBTX CPT MXHG WAE SXFP ZAV FZ ACK THERE FIRST TXLK WEEK WAYZA WITH THX.”

As far as I can tell, in the ensuing 97 years it has never been solved. Any ideas?

Down and Out

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A letter received by the White House in February 1936:

Dear Mr. President:

I’m a boy of 12 years. I want to tell you about my family. My father hasn’t worked for 5 months. He went plenty times to relief, he filled out application. They won’t give us anything. I don’t know why. Please you do something. We haven’t paid 4 months rent. Everyday the landlord rings the door bell, we don’t open the door for him. We are afraid that will be put out, been put out before, and don’t want to happen again. We haven’t paid the gas bill, and the electric bill, haven’t paid grocery bill for 3 months. My brother goes to Lane Tech. High School. he’s eighteen years old, hasn’t gone to school for 2 weeks because he got no carfare. I have a sister she’s twenty years, she can’t find work. My father he
staying home. All the time he’s crying because he can’t find work. I told him why are you crying daddy, and daddy said why shouldn’t I cry when there is nothing in the house. I feel sorry for him. That night I couldn’t sleep. The next morning I wrote this letter to you in my room. Were American citizens and were born in Chicago, Ill. and I don’t know why they don’t help us Please answer right away because we need it. will starve Thank you.
God bless you.

In her “My Day” newspaper column on Dec. 30, 1935, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “I wonder if anyone else glories in cold and snow without, an open fire within, and the luxury of a tray of food all by one’s self in one’s own room?” A Columbus, Ind., woman responded, “I would give ten years of my life to be able to have the luxury of an open fire just one evening, as you write about in the Indianapolis Times.”

Read This Aloud

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When the Rose & Crown signboard blew down
George the landlord remarked with a frown,
“On the one to replace it
We’ll have much more space be-
Tween Rose and & and & and Crown.”

– Leigh Mercer

The Master’s Voice

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David Garrick revolutionized the 18th-century stage with a naturalistic style of acting that replaced the self-conscious theatricality of the earlier tradition. Audiences flocked to see his productions, forsaking earlier favorites such as James Quin, who admitted, “If this young fellow be right, then we have been all wrong.”

Garrick died in 1779, so we have no recordings of his performances. But we do have this:

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

That’s Garrick’s line reading preserved in the “prosodia rationalis,” a system for recording linguistic prosody using a music-like notation. Its creator, Joshua Steele, had attended a Garrick performance in order to compare his own rendering of Hamlet with that of the acclaimed actor. He found that “that speech, or soliloque, which I (for want of better judgement) have noted in the stile of a ranting actor, swelled with forte and softened with piano, he delivered with little or no distinction of piano and forte, but nearly uniform; something below the ordinary force, or, as a musician would say, sotto voce, or sempre poco piano.”

Steele gives a few other fragments of Garrick’s performance, but “I shall forbear to give any more specimens of that great actor’s elocution, from the memory of once hearing, lest I should do him injustice, as my intention here is not to play the critic; but merely to shew, that by means of these characters, all the varieties of enunciation may be committed to paper, and read off as easily as the air of a song tune.”

Related (sort of): The Parrot of Atures.

Black and White

challenger chess problem

By Alfred Clement Challenger. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Periodic Labels

I think this first appeared in the puzzle newsletter The Ag Mine — 12 chemical elements can be spelled using element symbols:

ArSeNiC
AsTaTiNe
BiSmUTh
CArBON
CoPPEr
IrON
KrYPtON
NeON
PHOsPHORuS
SiLiCoN
TiN
XeNoN

See Transmutation.