Buzz Off

Mosquito nets will keep insects off you during sleeping hours, but you’re left to fend for yourself during the day. Boston inventor Thomas Prentiss offered this improvement in 1873, so you can get some exercise in fly-plagued regions and ward off sunstroke as well:

This, my invention, consists in an umbrella, sun-shade, or similar article covered with suitable gauze or netting. To the lower edge of the sun-shade, umbrella, &c., is secured a similar netting of ample dimensions, so that one or more persons can be protected under it. The height of the netting may be made so that the lower edge thereof shall reach the ground when the person who carries it is standing.

The handle can be placed in a socket in a chair or settee, or you can stroll around with it. And the whole thing folds up like an umbrella when you’re not using it. The hat, I suppose, is optional.

Lofty Sentiments

The first marriage ever celebrated in a balloon was held on Oct. 19, 1874, between Mary Elizabeth Walsh and Charles M. Colton, two performers in P.T. Barnum’s Roman Hippodrome in Cincinnati. Fifty thousand people watched as the “monster balloon” P.T. Barnum, trimmed with flags and flowers and “full almost to bursting with the best of gas,” carried the wedding party a mile above Lincoln Park, where minister Howard Jeffries performed the ceremony and made the following remarks:

Marriage is not an earthly but a heavenly institution, belonging to the higher realms of life, and as such is it revered by the enlightened; the greater the enlightenment of any country or community the greater the respect it accords marriage; as an institution above those of the world, merely, it is, then, most fitting that its solemnization should be celebrated far above the earth.

May you, whose life-destinies have been joined together at this altitude, be always lifted above the adversities of life. Hence you look down upon the multitudes below, who appear as pigmies from your elevation, and you see that the sun is fast going down upon them; shadows lengthen and darkness will quickly enwrap them. Upon you the sun shines with greater brilliancy than we have seen it at any time to-day; so may it be in life, and you be exempt from shadows and darkness, though you see them fall upon others. As you here serenely float above the hills, the rocks and the roughness below, so may your united destinies bear you above the rugged places of life; may you have no hills of sorrow to scale, no valley of adversity to pass through, no rock of passion to stumble upon, no treacherous ditch of contention to fall into.

Soon we shall all descend to earth, as we must shortly all go down to the grave. As upon leaving this vessel you two will pass forward in company while you live, so, when you have both crossed to ‘that bourn from whence no traveler returns,’ may your united souls in company explore the glorious paradise of God’s redeemed.

He left them with this certificate:

(From History of Donaldson’s Balloon Ascensions, 1875.)

The Keyhole


Draw circles C1 and C2 with the common chord PQ. Now choose a point A on the arc of C1 that’s outside of C2 and project it through P to B and through Q to C.

Surprisingly, the length of BC remains the same no matter where A is chosen on its arc of C1.

A Southern Education

Sentence completion exercises from Levi Branson’s First Book in Composition, 1863:

_______ is a Confederate State.

Gen. _______ reduced Fort Sumter.

South Carolina is the greatest _______ country in the Confederate States.

Louisiana raises more _______ than any other State in the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln led _______ people into war.

Jefferson Davis defended _______ country bravely, and deserves great applause for _______ patriotism.

General Stuart _______ started in pursuit; he _______ overtook the enemy, _______ led on the attack in person, and gained a complete victory.

General Lee defeated the Yankees, _______ his army was much smaller _______ theirs.

I saw the Confederate flag _______ from the City Hall.

From Marinda Branson Moore’s Dixie Speller, 1864:

It makes us sad to hear the booming of cannon in time of war. We think of our dear friends who are in the army, and fear they may be killed.

War is a sad thing, and those who bring it about will have much to answer for.

Some people lay all the blame at the door of the rulers of the nation. In some countries this is true, but in our country it is not so. The people elect their own rulers, and they should not choose bad men. If the rulers in the United States had been good Christian men, the present war would not have come upon us.

The people sent bad men to Congress, and they were not willing to make just laws, but were selfish, and made laws to suit themselves.

The Bible says “When the wicked bear rule the nation mourneth, but when the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.”

People often do wrong, and when trouble comes upon them, they say God sent it.

God has made good laws for man, and if we do right we will be happy; but sin will always bring trouble.

Let every boy learn this lesson, and when he is a man, let him not vote for a bad man to fill an office of trust. — Then the men who wish to be in office will strive to be good, and the nation will be happy.

A Second Career

bormann wonka

In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), just after Charlie buys a chocolate bar, he discovers a commotion at a newsstand: The finder of the fifth ticket, a “gambler from Paraguay,” has been declared a fraud.

“Can you imagine the nerve of that guy, trying to fool the whole world?” says one man.

“Boy, he really was a crook,” says another.

The man pictured in the newspaper is Martin Bormann, Adolf Hitler’s private secretary.


This paragraph jumped out at me last night from B.G. Wilson’s Unusual Railways (1958) — he’s writing about the Mount Washington Cog Railway in New Hampshire, one of the world’s steepest, with an average grade of 25 percent:

Before leaving this line, mention must be made of a method of riding down the track employed by track maintenance men and long since banned. Wood and metal seats some 3 ft. × 1 ft. were made to fit over the rack rail. These were known as slide-boards, or more popularly, as ‘Devil’s Shingles’. Seated on these, controlling (sometimes) the speed with hand brakes, the men would career down the mountainside. The record time for the trip — as we have said, 3 1/4 miles — was 2 3/4 minutes!

That’s 70 mph! For comparison, the modern train takes 40 minutes to descend at 4.6 mph. And this was in the late 19th century — the railway opened in August 1869. Wilson writes, “After one man had been killed and another seriously injured, the Devil’s Shingles were banned.” I don’t know any more than that.

All Hands on Deck?

A reader named Hamp Stevens sent this conundrum to Martin Gardner, who published it in his Mathematical Magic Show (1965). Can these 25 cards be arranged to form five poker hands, each of them a straight or better (that is, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, or royal flush)? If it’s possible, find the five hands; if it’s not, prove that it’s impossible.

“This ingenious puzzle is quickly solved if you go about it correctly,” Gardner wrote. “A single card is the key.”

Click for Answer


arc lengths

If two unit circles are tangent externally as shown, and from a point P on one circle rays PQ and PR are drawn intersecting both circles, then arc lengths x + y = z.

From Claudi Alsina and Roger B. Nelsen, Icons of Mathematics, 2011.