Breakdown

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Duke_Jordan,_Max_Roach_%28Gottlieb_06851%29.jpg

When Charlie Parker’s 2-year-old daughter Pree died of pneumonia on March 6, 1954, he was in Los Angeles fulfilling a week-long engagement at the Tiffany Club. His wife, Chan, sent a wire from New York to let him know that they had lost her, and received four telegrams in reply:

4:11 a.m.:

MY DARLING MY DAUGHTER’S DEATH SURPRISED ME MORE THAN IT DID YOU DON’T FULFILL FUNERAL PROCEEDINGS UNTIL I GET THERE I SHALL BE THE FIRST ONE TO WALK INTO OUR CHAPEL FORGIVE ME FOR NOT BEING THERE WITH YOU WHILE YOU ARE AT THE HOSPITAL YOURS MOST SINCERELY YOUR HUSBAND CHARLIE PARKER.

4:13 a.m.:

MY DARLING FOR GOD’S SAKE HOLD ON TO YOURSELF
CHAS PARKER

4:15 a.m.:

CHAN, HELP
CHARLIE PARKER

7:58 a.m.:

MY DAUGHTER IS DEAD. I KNOW IT. I WILL BE THERE AS QUICK AS I CAN. MY NAME IS BIRD. IT IS VERY NICE TO BE OUT HERE. PEOPLE HAVE BEEN VERY NICE TO ME OUT HERE. I AM COMING IN RIGHT AWAY TAKE IT EASY. LET ME BE THE FIRST ONE TO APPROACH YOU. I AM YOUR HUSBAND. SINCERELY, CHARLIE PARKER.

He never forgave himself for being absent during Pree’s death. “Bird detached from things to save himself, which meant that in a way the sadness between them was very powerful,” recalled his stepdaughter, Kim. “I’ve seen very sad photographs of them … shortly after Pree’s death, and there’s just a complete space between them, and I think it was just the beginning of the end, really.” A year later he too was dead.

A Sky Duel

On March 31, 1943, Army Air Corps second lieutenant Owen Baggett’s B-24 was hit by Japanese fighters while en route to destroy a railroad bridge in Burma. Baggett and four others bailed out before the bomber exploded, and the fighters began strafing them as they descended. Two of the parachutists were killed, and Baggett’s arm was grazed. He drew his .45 and sagged in his harness, hoping the Japanese would think him dead.

Presently a Zero approached him at near stall speeds and the pilot opened his canopy to get a better look. Baggett fired four rounds into the cockpit and the fighter dropped out of sight.

Had he downed a fighter with a pistol? It’s impossible to know for certain. Baggett was captured by the Burmese and spent two years in a Japanese prison camp and eventually retired from the Air Force as a colonel. When journalist John L. Frisbee contacted him in 1996, he was reluctant to talk about the incident — he believed he had hit the pilot but acknowledged that the evidence for this was indirect and circumstantial. Frisbee wrote that a few months after Baggett’s imprisonment, “Col. Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group who had been shot down, passed through the POW camp and told Baggett that a Japanese colonel said the pilot Owen Baggett had fired at had been thrown clear of his plane when it crashed and burned. He was found dead of a single bullet in his head. Colonel Melton intended to make an official report of the incident but lost his life when the ship on which he was being taken to Japan was sunk.” Make your own judgment.

Black and White

gold chess problem

By Sámuel Gold. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

“Anglo-Foreign Words”

Walter Penney of Greenbelt, Md., offered this poser in the August 1969 issue of Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. Below are five groups of English words. Each group appears also in a foreign language. What are the languages?

  1. aloud, angel, hark, inner, lover, room, taken, wig
  2. alas, atlas, into, manner, pore, tie, vain, valve
  3. ail, ballot, enter, four, lent, lit, mire, taller
  4. banjo, chosen, hippo, pure, same, share, tempo, tendon
  5. ago, cur, dare, fur, limes, mane, probe, undo
Click for Answer

A Thankful Village

The township of Thierville, in Normandy, has not lost any service personnel in France’s last five wars — the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, either world war, the First Indochina War, or the Algerian War.

It was the only community in France in which no war memorial was erected between 1919 and 1925 — the only one with no dead to mourn.

In a Word

elephantocetomachia
n. a fight between an elephant and a whale

Anthony R. Wagner uses this word in his foreword to G.D. Squibb’s 1959 book The High Court of Chivalry to describe the controversy in early 20th-century England over the right to bear arms:

I therefore soon found myself studying the whole subject with close attention and in time I came to two conclusions. The first was that the original controversy had been an elephantocetomachia, a fight between an elephant and a whale, incapable of decision because the adversaries lived in different elements and could not come to grips. Oswald Barron, a historian, was trying to settle a legal question by reciting history. [A.C.] Fox-Davies, a lawyer, hoped to settle history by quoting law.

Wagner doesn’t claim to have coined it, but I can’t find it anywhere else except in quotations of that passage. That’s a shame — it’s a useful word.

(Thanks, Julian.)

Projective Chess

In projective geometry, every family of parallel straight lines intersects at an infinitely distant point. Chess problem composers in the former Yugoslavia have adapted this idea for the chessboard, adding four special squares “at infinity.”

projective chess 1

Now a queen on a bare board, for example, can zoom off to the west (or east) and reach a square “at infinity” from which she attacks every rank on the board simultaneously from both directions. She might also zoom to the north (or south) to reach a different square at infinity; from this one she attacks every file simultaneously, again from both directions. Finally she can zoom to the northwest or southeast and attack all the diagonals parallel to a8-h1, or zoom to the northeast or southwest and attack all the diagonals parallel to a1-h8. These four “infinity squares,” plus the regular board, make up the field of play.

N. Petrovic created the problem below, published in Matematika Na Shahmatnoi Doske. White is to play and mate in at least two moves. Can you find the solution?

projective chess 2

Click for Answer

Great Good Fortune

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

In Nature (January 23, p. 271) you give a letter from Mr. Scouller describing an interesting case of a rainbow, due to the image of the sun in water, which, with the ordinary primary and secondary bows, make up (there being no secondary to that formed by the reflected sun) the three which he saw. Here is a short account of what I saw long ago, almost in prehistoric times, in Scotland, where such sights ought, according to your correspondent, to be very commonly seen. I may mention that I saw at the same time, lasting some five minutes, eight well-defined rainbows of one sort or another.

In 1841, during the time of a long vacation party, spent at Oban, I walked out with my brother to Dunstaffnage, and we were on the top of the Castle, somewhere between 3 and 4 p.m., on a day in the middle of August. Not a breath of wind, bright sun over, I think, Lismore Lighthouse, dusky clouds all over Ben Cruachan and Conoll Ferry; the sea in the bay (bounded by Dunstaffnage in the west) as smooth as a pond. Gradually there appeared before us the astonishing sight of the aforesaid eight distinct rainbows, viz. primary and secondary ordinary bows; primary and secondary bows by reflected sun; primary and secondary bows formed by light from the real sun reflected from the water after leaving certain drops; primary and secondary formed by light from the sun reflected at the water, and, after leaving certain other drops, again reflected at the water. I have called the latter four distinct bows, because, although they looked like reflections of a solid set of four arcs, they were really formed by means of drops distinct from those which helped to make the first four bows. I append a sketch of what I saw.

— Percival Frost, letter to Nature, Feb. 6, 1890

Screwy

https://www.google.com/patents/US1087186

Patented in 1914, Socrates Scholfield’s “illustrative educational device” uses two spiral springs to demonstrate the existence of God. Or to demonstrate the tension between good and evil. Or to demonstrate the consciousness of an animal organism. Actually I’m not sure what it demonstrates, and I’ve read the five-page abstract twice.

This schematic device … provides an educational emblem of the conscious relation that must exist between the co-extensive dispensing mediums for beneficence and maleficence, in the terrestrial factory; and it clearly indicates that the attribute of maleficence, which is ascribed to the realm of the adverse medium, may, under certain changed conditions, be made subject to decrease, and to a change in its relative action; while the attribute of beneficence, which pertains to the realm of the controlling supreme governor, is unconditioned, unchangeable and everlasting.

Here’s the whole thing if you want to try it out. Be careful, I guess.

The Steam Bicycle

Visitors to Arizona’s Maricopa County Fair saw a surprising demonstration in 1884 — local inventor Lucius Copeland had added a steam engine to a bicycle to create a new vehicle that could travel 15 miles in an hour.

He sought funding for his idea but couldn’t summon enough public interest. It’s now recognized as one of the first motorcycles.