Three by Three

three by three puzzle

What’s the ratio between the areas of the two triangles?

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On Time

In Max Beerbohm’s 1916 short story “Enoch Soames,” an unsuccessful poet sells his soul to the devil for the chance to travel 100 years into the future to see how time has favored his work.

Under the agreement, Soames is transported to the Reading Room of the British Museum at 2:10 p.m. on June 3, 1997. He searches for references to his work but finds himself mentioned only once, as an “imaginary character” in a story by Max Beerbohm, and is whisked off to hell.

But, Beerbohm writes, “You realize that the reading-room into which Soames was projected by the devil was in all respects precisely as it will be on the afternoon of June 3, 1997. You realize, therefore, that on that afternoon, when it comes round, there the selfsame crowd will be, and there Soames will be, punctually. … The fact that people are going to stare at him and follow him around and seem afraid of him, can be explained only on the hypothesis that they will somehow have been prepared for his ghostly visitation.”

On June 3, 1997, about a dozen onlookers collected in the Reading Room of the British Museum to see what would happen. To their surprise, at precisely 2:10 p.m. a man matching Soames’ description — “a stooping, shambling person, rather tall, very pale, with longish and brownish hair” — appeared and began to search catalogs and speak with the librarians. Dejected, he finally disappeared among the stacks.

Among the onlookers was Teller, of the magician duo Penn & Teller.

Lecture Notes

“While I am describing to you how Nature works, you won’t understand why Nature works that way. But you see, nobody understands that.” — Richard Feynman

“I am no poet, but if you think for yourselves, as I proceed, the facts will form a poem in your minds.” — Michael Faraday

“Now, this case is not very interesting,” said Bell Labs mathematician Peter Winkler during a lecture at Rutgers. “But the reason why it’s not interesting is really interesting, so let me tell you about it.”

Ernest Rutherford addressed the Royal Institution in 1904:

I came into the room, which was half dark, and presently spotted Lord Kelvin in the audience and realised that I was in for trouble at the last part of the speech dealing with the age of the Earth, where my views conflicted with his. To my relief Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye, and cock a baleful glance at me. Then a sudden inspiration came and I said Lord Kelvin had limited the age of the Earth, provided no new source was discovered. That prophetic utterance referred to what we are now considering tonight, radium! Behold! the old boy beamed upon me.

When Antonie van Leeuwenhoek declined to teach his new methods in microbiology, Leibniz worried that they might be lost. Leeuwenhoek replied, “The professors and students of the University of Leyden were long ago dazzled by my discoveries. They hired three lens grinders to come to teach the students, but what came of it? Nothing, so far as I can judge, for almost all of the courses they teach there are for the purpose of getting money through knowledge or for gaining the respect of the world by showing people how learned you are, and these things have nothing to do with discovering the things that are buried from our eyes.”


When he [Benjamin Franklin] was in London, a member of the House of Lords took him to see a house he had just built in a narrow street on land that was so irregular all the rooms had to be oddly shaped and inconveniently arranged. The beautiful columns decorating the front made the rest of the house seem smaller. ‘My lord,’ Franklin told him, ‘if you wish to enjoy your house and its superb colonnade more, all you need do is rent a spacious apartment directly across the street.’

— From the papers of Franklin’s friend Abbé Lefebvre de la Roche

Well Traveled

In Lord Dunsany’s Fourth Book of Jorkens, a member of the Billiards Club observes a book called On the Other Side of the Sun and says, “On the other side of the sun. I wonder what’s there.”

Jorkens, to everyone’s surprise, says, “I have been there.”

Terbut challenges this, but Jorkens insists he was on the other side of the sun six months ago. Terbut knows perfectly well that Jorkens was at the club six months ago, so he wagers £5 that Jorkens is wrong. Jorkens accepts.

“You have witnesses, I suppose,” says Terbut.

“Oh, yes,” says Jorkens.

“My first witness will be the hall-porter,” says Terbut. “And yours?”

“I am only calling one witness,” says Jorkens.

“Went with you to the other side of the sun?” asks Terbut.

“Oh, yes,” says Jorkens. “Six months ago.”

“And who is he?” asks Terbut.

Whom did Jorkens call?

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Lending a Hand

The tricks by which a shop-lifter succeeds in plying her profession without being caught are many and ingenious. The most successful of all tricks is the false arm and hand, shown in one of the illustrations. While the shop-lifter’s hands are apparently in sight of the store clerks, one is at work stowing away articles. The false hand is, of course, gloved and thrust through one of the sleeves. The real hand works under cover of the bodice and coat. The second illustration shows one of the pockets in which stolen articles are secreted.

Popular Mechanics, September 1908

Great Minds

boullee newton cenotaph

In 1784, French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée proposed building an enormous cenotaph for Isaac Newton, a cypress-fringed globe 500 feet high. A sarcophagus would rest on a raised catafalque at the bottom of the sphere; by day light would enter through holes pierced in the globe, simulating starlight, and at night a lamp hung in the center would represent the sun.

“I want to situate Newton in the sky,” Boullée wrote. “Sublime mind! Vast and profound genius! Divine being! Newton! Accept the homage of my weak talents. … O Newton! … I conceive the idea of surrounding thee with thy discovery, and thus, somehow, surrounding thee with thyself.”

As far as I can tell, this is unrelated to Thomas Steele’s proposal to enshrine Newton’s house under a stone globe, which came 41 years later. Apparently Newton just inspired globes.

Black and White

shinkman chess problem

By William Anthony Shinkman. White to mate in two moves.

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Red and Black

Jokes from the Soviet Union, from University of Louisville historian Bruce Adams’ 2005 collection Tiny Revolutions in Russia:

A man is walking along the road wearing only one boot. ‘Did you lose a boot?’ a passerby asks sympathetically. ‘No, I found one,’ the man answers happily.

What is it that doesn’t knock, growl or scratch the floor?
A machine made in the USSR for knocking, growling, and scratching the floor.

It is the middle of the night. There is a knock at the door. Everyone leaps out of bed. Papa goes shakily to the door. ‘It’s all right,’ he says, coming back. ‘The building’s on fire.’

A shopper asks a food store clerk, ‘Are you all out of meat again?’ ‘No, they’re out of meat in the store across the way. Here we’re out of fish.’

Why doesn’t the Soviet Union send people to the Moon?
They are afraid they won’t come back.

A man fell asleep on a bus. When someone stepped on his foot, he woke with a start and applauded. ‘What are you doing, citizen?’ ‘I was dreaming I was at a meeting.’

‘What is the difference between Pravda [Truth] and Izvestia [The News]?’
‘There is no truth in The News, and no news in the Truth.’

“In the Soviet Army,” said Stalin, “it takes more courage to retreat than advance.”

Ruler Measurement

If Elizabeth II is still on the throne on Sept. 10, 2015, she’ll surpass Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

Interestingly, no one knows precisely when she became queen. George VI died in his sleep sometime between 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 5, 1952, and 7:30 a.m. on Feb. 6. At that instant, Elizabeth acceded to the throne. At the time she was staying at the Treetops Hotel in Kenya; according to Ben Pimlott’s 1998 biography The Queen, at the moment of George’s death she was either asleep, eating breakfast, or watching the sun rise.

Mike Parker, a member of the royal party, had joined her at the top of the tree that morning to watch the dawn break over the jungle when he noticed an eagle hovering just over their heads and “for a moment, he was frightened that it would dive onto them.”

“I never thought about it until later,” he said, “but that was roughly the time when the king died.”