In a Word

nudiustertian
adj. of the day before yesterday

ereyesterday
adv. on the day before yesterday

yestreen
n. yesterday evening

yester-afternoon
adv. yesterday afternoon

yesternoon
n. yesterday at noon

pridian
adj. of or relating to the previous day

yestern
adj. of yesterday

hesternal
adj. of yesterday

yesternight
adv. last night

hodiernal
adj. of or belonging to the present day

overmorrow
adv. on the day after tomorrow

Round Numbers

Every now and again one comes across an astounding result that closely relates two foreign objects which seem to have nothing in common. Who would suspect, for example, that on the average, the number of ways of expressing a positive integer n as a sum of two integral squares, x2 + y2 = n, is π?

– Ross Honsberger, Mathematical Gems III, 1977

Princess Caraboo

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Illustration_facing_page_36,_Devonshire_Characters_and_Strange_Events.png

In April 1817 a strange young woman appeared in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire. She was 5 foot 2, with black hair and eyes, and wore a black shawl twisted like a turban around her head and a black dress with a muslin frill. She presented herself at a cottage in the village and pointed to the couch. The cottager, struck that she did not seem to understand him, summoned help, and she was sent to the county magistrate.

The woman spoke an unfamiliar tongue and looked blankly at those who spoke English. At first she sought to sleep on the floor, apparently not understanding what beds were for. The next morning the parish clergyman showed her a series of books and divined that she had come from China aboard a ship. She seemed to call herself Caraboo.

In the weeks that followed she taught her new friends the strange language that she spoke and wrote, and through it gave her story: She was a princess from an island named Javasu, and had been captured by pirates while walking in her garden. The pirates had sold her to the captain of a brig in exchange for a sack of gold dust. After some ill treatment, she jumped overboard and swam to the nearest shore, which happened to be England.

Throughout this time Caraboo exhibited strange behavior, wandering abroad with a gong, a tambourine, and a bow and arrow. She climbed trees dextrously and swam like a fish; she fenced capably and danced a peculiar sort of waltz.

Eventually a local scientist named Wilkinson published several letters in the Bath Chronicle hoping that someone might recognize a description of the strange woman. A woman named Mrs. Neale responded, and the truth came out. Princess Caraboo was Mary Baker, the daughter of a cobbler in Devonshire. She had wanted five pounds to pay passage to Philadephia on an emigrant ship, and had decided to beg for it while posing as a foreigner.

The magistrate’s wife forgave her and paid for her passage. She returned seven years later and tried to earn a living by exhibiting herself in her old guise, but few people came. She ended her days selling leeches in Bristol drugstores.

Water Bed

http://www.google.com/patents/US299951

Edward Brown’s ill-considered “hammock canoe,” patented in 1884, can be suspended between trees like a conventional hammock or launched on a river like a bottomless aquatic coffin:

On the sides of the main structure or frame handles or holding means are provided, by means of which the person using the device can support the same while walking or floating with their body protruding through the opening in the netting or floor of the float. In addition to the handles I can employ a strap or band adapted to pass over the shoulders of the person using the device.

It’s not clear to me how someone can walk, float, lie, stand, and carry a boat at the same time. Perhaps I should get one and try it out.

Metaphysical Necessity

In the early 1770s a writer signing himself Junius published a series of letters in the Public Advertiser, criticizing the British government. His identity was the matter of much speculation, so much so that Samuel Parr jokingly wrote to Jane Morsingale, “Madam, You are a very charming woman, and I should be happy to obtain you as a wife. If you accept my proposal I will tell you who was the author of Junius.”

The writer’s identity was never discovered, but suppose he was Sir Philip Francis, as is widely suspected. We would say that Junius necessarily is Francis. But this seems an odd kind of necessity: There’s no logical contradiction in the sentence “Junius is not Francis,” and the laws of physics don’t prevent the two from being distinct.

“There is a kind of necessity that is neither logical nor physical, namely metaphysical necessity,” writes Robin Le Poidevin in Travels in Four Dimensions. “When we say that something is metaphysically necessary, we do not imply that in denying it, one would commit oneself to a logical contradiction. Nor are we saying that it is required by the laws of nature. But we are saying that, in some fundamental sense, matters could not be otherwise.”

A related puzzle: Charles Dodgson made this entry in his diary on Nov. 8, 1897:

A letter came, addressed to ‘L. Carroll, Christ Church, Oxford.’ So many such now come, that I have decided to refuse them, and gave it, unopened, to Telling, to return to the Post Office. All such will now go back to the writers, through the Dead Letter Office, with endorsement ‘not known.’

If Charles Dodgson explicitly disavows being Lewis Carroll — then who is Lewis Carroll?

Digit Sums

Sort the numbers 0, 1, 2, …, 123456 into two sets. In one set put all the numbers who digits add to an even sum; in the other put those whose digits produce an odd sum. Which set is larger?

Click for Answer

Think Piece

To create the conceptual artwork Vertical Earth Kilometer, Walter De Maria drilled a hole in the Friedrichsplatz Park in Kassel, Germany, and inserted a brass rod 1 kilometer long.

The rod exists underground, but only its top, a coin of brass 5 centimeters wide, is visible. Is art still art if it can’t be experienced by the senses?

So There

The eccentric Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, erected a “useless” 100-foot tower on his property in 1935.

He added a notice: MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC COMMITTING SUICIDE FROM THIS TOWER DO SO AT THEIR OWN RISK.

(At the opening, guests were invited to bring up to six effigies of enemies to be thrown on a bonfire; one complained that this was “most inadequate.”)

Special Delivery

On June 23, 1908, a messenger delivered a bottle of ale to the door of Philadelphia doctor William Wilson. “We are taking the liberty of sending a few physician’s samples of our new product,” read an accompanying letter, which bore the name of a well-known Philadelphia brewing company. “As the beneficial qualities of our ale is to be our strong talking point, we have decided to cooperate with physicians as far as possible in the introduction of our goods.” It asked him to sample the product and to respond if he felt he could recommend it to his patients.

Three days later, Wilson sampled the bottle. Within 30 minutes he was dead of cyanide poisoning.

On June 29, coroner Rush Jermon received a typewritten letter:

Dear Mr. Coroner:

I want to write you regarding the death of Dr. W.H. Wilson.

In some way he induced my wife to become a patient of his. As a result of poisonous injections he used, she died a few weeks ago. In order to protect her name, I did not give the last attending physician all the facts, and she was buried with another cause assigned.

To rid the community of this wholesale killer, I have removed him like a weed from a garden. …

Now that this service to the community is rendered and the death of my dear wife avenged, I am going to quit this part of the world. I don’t think you will ever find me but I don’t care much what happens anyhow.

My only regret is the grief caused his wife and child but I believe they are better off without him. I say let those who live by poison die by poison.

“By the time you get this on Monday morning, I will be far from here,” it concluded. It was signed “An outraged husband and father.”

An investigation showed that the killer must have mailed the first letter from a West Philadelphia postal station at 1 a.m. on June 23, but no one remembered seeing him there. A clerk at the messenger service described a clean-shaven, neatly dressed man of about 40 wearing a black derby, and a station agent at Bristol, Pa., recalled a man of that description jumping briefly off a train to mail a letter on June 27, the day after Wilson had died. This man had apparently bought a ticket at Torresdale, a small station between Philadelphia and Bristol, earlier that day.

But there the trail ended. The mystery became a nationwide sensation, but no further progress was made. An inquest on July 10 returned a verdict of death by cyanide of potassium poisoning at the hands of a person or persons unknown. The killer was never found.

Unquote

“Anger makes dull men witty, but it keeps them poor.” — Francis Bacon