The Agony Column

In the summer of 1977, a disconcerting series of personal advertisements began appearing in the London Times:

DR. MOREAU requires lab. assistant. Experience not necessary. Strong stomach.

DR. MOREAU seeks Harley St. offices. Soundproofing essential.

HEART OF BABOON, eye of newt and other spare parts required by Dr. Moreau.

QUESTION for Dr. Moreau: What do you do with the leftovers?

WERE YOU cut out to be a patient of Dr. Moreau?

DON’T MAKE a pig of yourself without consulting Dr. Moreau.

DR. MOREAU will have you in stitches.

DR. MOREAU goes in one ear and out the other.

I’M JUST WILD about Dr. Moreau. He has so much animal magnetism.


OVERWEIGHT? Dr. Moreau will cut you down to size.

ARE YOU A MAN – or a mouse? Get an expert opinion from Dr. Moreau.

DR. MOREAU made a monkey out of me. See what he can do for you.

LEND a hand to Dr. Moreau and you’ll never get it back.

DR. MOREAU does brain transplants while you wait.

UNFORTUNATELY Dr. Moreau’s services are not available on the National Health.

DR. MOREAU is coming soon. Can’t you feel it in your bones?

The last one appeared on Sept. 3. American International Pictures’ production of The Island of Dr. Moreau, starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York, opened later that month.

(From Peter Haining, The H.G. Wells Scrapbook, 1978.)

A New Angle

liu problem

I just ran across this in an old Math Horizons article — Andy Liu, vice president of the International Mathematics Tournament of the Towns, calls it “one all-time favorite geometric gem.” Given the four angles shown, compute angle CAD. “It sounds like a trivial exercise at first, and therein lies its charm.”

Liu doesn’t give the solution, but he does give a hint — I’ll put that in a spoiler box in case you want to work on the problem first.

Click for spoiler …


Items requested in the 2000 Baylor College Linguistic Scavenger Hunt:

  1. the word for “cheese” in Estonian
  2. the longest word in English that uses no letter more than once
  3. a nine-letter English word that has only one syllable
  4. the sound that a dog makes in Swedish
  5. the regional word for “drinking fountain” that’s used in Wisconsin
  6. the language that Jesus spoke
  7. the American equivalent of the British word “ex-directory”
  8. five words that are legal plays in Scrabble and that have only two letters, one of which is “x”
  9. the motto of the Klingon Language Institute
  10. identity of the person who said, “England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”

Click for solution …

Podcast Episode 75: The Sea Devil

Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero of World War I, a dashing nobleman who commanded one of the last sailing ships to fight in war. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Luckner’s uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We’ll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Sources for our feature on Felix von Luckner:

Lowell Thomas, Count Luckner, The Sea Devil, 1928.

Edwin P. Hoyt, Count von Luckner: Knight of the Sea, 1969.

In all, Seeadler captured 16 ships totaling 30,099 tons between Dec. 21, 1916, and Sept. 8, 1917.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!

Amphibious Assault


The U.S. 2nd Marine Division picked up an unlikely member in 1943: Siwash the duck, won in a New Zealand raffle, spent 18 months as the mascot of the 1st Battalion, 10th Marines. He took part in three major engagements: Tarawa, Saipan, and Tinian, even winning a combat citation for duckly valor:

For courageous action and wounds received on Tarawa, in the Gilbert Islands, November 1943. With utter disregard for his own personal safety, Siwash, upon reaching the beach, without hesitation engaged the enemy in fierce combat, namely, one rooster of Japanese ancestry, and though wounded on the head by repeated pecks, he soon routed the opposition. He refused medical aid until all wounded members of his section had been care of.

“Siwash holds the rank of sergeant and has a thirst for beer,” reported the Associated Press the following year. “The duck nearly lost its tail feathers on a pier at Tarawa, but since then it learned to jump in a foxhole the minute the marines leaped.”

When his division arrived in Chicago in October 1944, a luncheon party was held in Siwash’s honor, and he gave two radio broadcasts. After the war he helped in recruiting for the Korean War before retiring to the Lincoln Park Zoo, where he died in 1954, 11 years after signing up, modest to the end.

Take Two

Ulysses, Kansas, moved. Founded in 1885, the town thrived at first, but after four years a drought arrived, and by 1906 the population had dwindled from 1500 to 100. Worse, during the boom years the town had sold thousands of dollars’ worth of bonds to finance improvements that were never made. When East Coast bondholders began to sue, the city fathers were forced to raise the taxes of the remaining residents in order to meet the judgments.

After a year of this, in February 1909, the people of Ulysses decided as a body to give up and start over. They cut their builings into sections, moved them two miles west on horse-drawn sledges, and established “New Ulysses.” The lots on the old site were deeded back to the bondholders, and the new town became the county seat in June.

The Hotel Edwards, above, is the only remaining business building from “Old Ulysses.” It rests today on the grounds of the Grant County Museum.

Black and White

kraemer chess problem

By Adolf Kraemer. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer


I just stumbled across this — in May 1938 Weird Tales published an “acrostic sonnet” by H.P. Lovecraft:

Eternal brood the shadows on this ground,
Dreaming of centuries that have gone before;
Great elms rise solemnly by slab and mound,
Arch’d high above a hidden world of yore.
Round all the scene a light of memory plays,
And dead leaves whisper of departed days,
Longing for sights and sounds that are no more.

Lonely and sad, a spectre glides along
Aisles where of old his living footsteps fell;
No common glance discerns him, tho’ his song
Peals down thro’ time with a mysterious spell:
Only the few who sorcery’s secret know
Espy amidst these tombs the shade of Poe.

The lines’ initial letters spell out EDGAR ALLAN POE.

Tech Talk

Reviewing Heathcote Statham’s book Form and Design in Music in 1893, George Bernard Shaw decried the “insufferable affectation” of music criticism. He quoted Statham’s analysis of a Mozart symphony:

The principal subject, hitherto only heard in the treble, is transferred to the bass (Ex. 28), the violins playing a new counterpoint to it instead of the original mere accompaniment figure of the first part. Then the parts are reversed, the violins taking the subject and the basses the counterpoint figure, and so on till we come to a close on the dominant of D minor, a nearly related key (commencement of Ex. 29) and then comes the passage by which we return to the first subject in its original form and key.

“How succulent this is,” Shaw wrote, “and how full of Mesopotamian words like ‘the dominant of D minor.’ I will now, ladies and gentlemen, give you my celebrated ‘analysis’ of Hamlet’s soliloquy on suicide, in the same scientific style”:

Shakespear, dispensing with the customary exordium, announces his subject at once in the infinitive, in which mood it is presently repeated after a short connecting passage in which, brief as it is, we recognize the alternative and negative forms on which so much of the significance of repetition depends. Here we reach a colon; and a pointed pository phrase, in which the accent falls decisively on the relative pronoun, brings us to the first full stop.

“I break off here, because, to confess the truth, my grammar is giving out,” he wrote. “But I want to know whether it is just that a literary critic should be forbidden to make his living in this way on pain of being interviewed by two doctors and a magistrate, and haled off to Bedlam forthwith; while the more a music critic does it, the deeper the veneration he inspires.”

(From The World, May 31, 1893.)

A Narrowing Window

In 2006 I noted this excerpt from Lillie de Hagermann-Lindencrone’s 1912 book In the Courts of Memory:

I sang, and thought I sang very well; but he just looked up into my face with a very quizzical expression, and said, ‘How long have you been singing, Mademoiselle?’

The bolded section is a “pangrammatic window,” a string of naturally occurring text that contains all the letters of the (English) alphabet. This one is 56 letters long.

That was nine years ago. Can we do better? In 2012 a 42-letter example was discovered in Piers Anthony’s novel Cube Route:

‘We are all from Xanth,’ Cube said quickly. ‘Just visiting Phaze. We just want to find the dragon.’

Last year, Jesse Sheidlower wrote a bot that retweets pangrams that it finds on Twitter. Inspired by this, Google software engineer Malcolm Rowe set out to search first Project Gutenberg and then the web for the shortest possible window. Remarkably, he found one of only 36 letters, in a review of the film Magnolia by Todd Ramlow, for PopMatters:

Further, fractal geometries are replicated on a human level in the production of certain ‘types’ of subjectivity: for example, aging kid quiz show whiz Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) and up and coming kid quiz show whiz Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) are connected (or, perhaps, being cloned) in ways they couldn’t possibly imagine.

(The link seems to be down at the moment.)

“I’m pretty impressed by this result,” Rowe writes. “It’s only one letter longer than “The quick brown fox …”, and while that’s not the shortest possible pangram by far, it is one of the more coherent ones.”

(Thanks, Malcolm.)

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