Stone Cold

“A cactolith is a quasihorizontal chonolith composed of anastomosing ductoliths whose distal ends curl like a harpolith, thin like a sphenolith, or bulge discordantly like an akmolith or ethmolith.”

That’s from USGS researcher Charles B. Hunt’s 1953 paper “Geology and Geography of the Henry Mountains Region, Utah.” He was describing an actual geological feature — but also commenting on the absurd profusion of -lith words in geology.

Word Ways chose it as its word of the year for 2010.

Back Aid

http://www.google.com/patents/US1409326

E.S. Williamson’s “spring lift for stoopers,” patented in 1922, was essentially a stiff spring that a laborer could mount on his back “so that when the wearer bends over or stoops this spring body member is flexed and exerts a tendency to support and balance the bent-over portion of the body, whereby the muscles ordinarily brought into play to balance and support the body in such position need not be fully exercised and can rest.”

The wearer can sit or kneel normally, and there’s even an attachment to help bear the weight of a shovel during heavy work. “Thus it will be seen that a workman equipped with my device will not tire as easily and can do more work more comfortably and easily.”

The Indiana Pi Bill

In 1894, Indiana physician Edwin J. Goodwin published a one-page article in the American Mathematical Monthly claiming to have found a method of squaring the circle — that is, of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle using only a compass and straightedge, a task known to be impossible. He proposed a bill to state representative Taylor I. Record, laying out the “new mathematical truth” and offering it “as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana free of cost by paying any royalties whatever on the same, provided it is accepted and adopted by the official action of the legislature of 1897.”

Apparently flummoxed, the House referred the bill to its Committee on Swamp Lands, which transferred it to the Committee on Education … which approved it. Whereupon the whole house passed it unanimously.

The bill, which the Indianapolis Journal was already calling “the strangest bill that has ever passed an Indiana Assembly,” moved on to the senate, which referred it the Committee on Temperance. (Chronicler Will E. Edington writes, “One wonders whether this was done intentionally, for certainly the bill could have been referred to no committee more appropriately named.”) Equally flummoxed, the committee recommended that it pass.

The bill might have achieved full passage had not Purdue mathematics professor C.A. Waldo happened to be visiting the House that day. “A member … showed the writer a copy of the bill just passed and asked him if he would like an introduction to the learned doctor,” Waldo later recalled in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. “He declined the courtesy with thanks, remarking that he was acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.”

That did it. “Representative Record’s mathematical bill legalizing a formula for squaring the circle was brought up and made fun of,” reported by Indianapolis News on Feb. 13. “The Senators made bad puns about it, ridiculed it and laughed over it. The fun lasted half an hour. Senator Hubbell said that it was not meet for the Senate, which was costing the State $250 a day, to waste its time in such frivolity.”

“Senator Hubbell characterized the bill as utter folly,” added the Indianapolis Journal. “The Senate might as well try to legislate water to run up hill as to establish mathematical truth by law.”

Trinity

In 1959, psychologist Milton Rokeach assembled three mentally ill patients each of whom believed he was Jesus Christ:

Leon: “People can use the same Bible but some of them will worship Jesus Christ instead of worshiping God through Jesus Christ.”

Clyde: “We worship both.”

Leon: “I don’t worship you. I worship God Almighty through you, and through him, and him.”

Clyde: “You oughta worship me, I’ll tell you that!”

Leon: “I will not worship you! You’re a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts.”

Clyde: “I’m living my life. You don’t wake up! You can’t wake up!”

Joseph: “No two men are Jesus Christs.”

Leon: “You hear mechanical voices.”

Clyde: “You don’t get it right. I don’t care what you call it. I hear natural voices. I hear to heaven. I hear all over.”

Joseph: “I’m going back to England.”

Leon: “Sir, if the good Lord wills only.”

Joseph: “Good Lord! I’m the good Lord!”

Leon: “That’s your belief, sir.”

Rokeach intended the study as an inquiry into the nature of identity: If there is only one son of God, how would these men react on encountering one another? He found that they explained the disagreement by calling one another crazy, duped, or disingenuous, but that the conflict was less damaging psychologically than might have been supposed. In his 1964 account of the experiment, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, Rokeach writes, “We have learned that even when a summit of three is composed of paranoid men, deadlocked over the ultimate in human contradiction, they prefer to seek ways to live with one another in peace rather than destroy one another.”

Half and Half

half and half puzzle

Choose an arbitrary point inside an equilateral triangle and draw segments to the vertices and perpendiculars to the sides. This divides the triangle into six smaller triangles, A, B, C, D, E, and F. Prove that the areas A + C + E and B + D + F are equal.

Click for Answer

Witchery

wingdings bell book and candle

In the Wingdings font, characters 0x25, 0x26, and 0x27 are a bell, a book, and a candle.

(Thanks, Malcolm.)

Cameo

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

I beg to send you the enclosed photo, as a contribution to your ‘Curiosity’ pages. A brother of mine tried to step through a long window, thinking it was open. He found it was closed, but succeeded in opening part of it, leaving the profile of Sir Wm. Harcourt in the gap. This is just as the glass remained when the noise subsided. — Mr. Arthur R. Mills, 38, Billing Road, Northampton

Strand, February 1902

Reflected Glory

The town of Viganella in the Italian Alps receives no direct sun for 83 days each year. So in 2006 mayor Pierfranco Midali commissioned a 26-by-16-foot mirror to be placed on a nearby mountainside at 3,600 feet. Tracking the sun with computer-controlled motors, the mirror throws light into the town square for six hours each day.

The illuminated area measures 300 square yards. “I can already see my little old ladies coming out of the church after mass and just standing there, enjoying a bit of sun,” Midali said.

Theme and Variations

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_nascita_di_Venere_(Botticelli).jpg

After reading David Shulman’s anagrammed tribute to Washington crossing the Delaware, Janet Hodge composed this sonnet:

Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus

Love is born. A thin cloud bestirs theft —
such a festive birth not to be droll sin.
No strict habits should live on bereft
of love. Blind, it throbs; truth ceases in
antic trust. Oh, love is blest, for behind
its first bother, viols enchant. Double
fret (blush) scares the volition to bind.
It finds both chaste lovers in trouble.
Loves throes ache, but sit blind in frost.
The love born of bliss dictates in hurt
a nibbled truth, sloven heir of its cost.
Noble itch is hovel burn, tastes of dirt.
The bit done, not favors rise, but chills;
Best avoid, not note, such brief thrills.

Each line is a perfect anagram of the title.

Unquote

“There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god.” — J.B.S. Haldane