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Simple Enough

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In February 1965, Harry W. Brooks of Knoxville, Tenn., wrote to Norman Rockwell asking for the secret of his success. He received this reply:

Dear Mr. Brooks:

In reply to your letter of February 8th, I feel a little presumptive to give a formula for success, but here goes:

‘A little talent, a lot of ambition, some self-confidence and a pile of hard work.’

Sincerely yours,

Norman Rockwell

The Six Circles Theorem

Fit a circle into one corner of a triangle. Now fit a second circle into a second corner so that it’s tangent to the first circle. Then fit a third circle into the third corner so that it’s tangent to the second circle.

Keep this up, cycling among the three corners, and the sixth circle will be tangent to the first one.

Unquote

“I have always observed that to succeed in the world one should appear like a fool but be wise.” — Montesquieu

“It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.” — Aeschylus

“All wisdom is folly that does not accommodate itself to the common ignorance.” — Montaigne

Peripatetic Pussycats

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When Ernest Shackleton set out for Antarctica in 1914, his carpenter, Harry “Chippy” McNish, brought along a tabby who was quickly named “Mrs. Chippy,” though he proved to be a male. When the Endurance was crushed by pack ice, Shackleton ordered the “weakling” cat to be shot, a decision for which McNish never forgave him. Cat and carpenter were reunited in 2004, when a life-size bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy was added to McNish’s grave in Wellington.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s 1913 arctic expedition ended in disaster when the main vessel sank, but ship’s kitten Nigeraurak (“little black one”) was lugged safely home in a sack, “the only member of the expedition to survive the whole affair sleek and unscathed.”

And Matthew Flinders’ cat Trim accompanied him on several adventures, including the circumnavigation of Australia, a shipwreck in 1803, and imprisonment in Mauritius during the return to England. Today Sydney’s Mitchell Library bears a statue of the cat (below), with a plaque quoting Flinders’ own words:

TO THE MEMORY OF
TRIM
The best and most illustrious of his race
The most affectionate of friends,
faithful of servants,
and best of creatures
He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia,
which he circumnavigated, and was ever the
delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers.

Standing Order

On June 1, 1873, during a visit to New College, Oxford, South Carolina planter William Heyward Trapier asked for a mint julep, “to the utter bewilderment of the butler,” according to the Oxford Companion to the Year.

When his hosts confessed their ignorance of the American drink, Trapier gave them his family recipe, a silver pot in which to share it, and instructions to prepare it every year on the anniversary of his visit. Thereafter it became a college tradition to substitute juleps for the after-dinner port on June 1 each year, and to leave a place empty for Trapier.

This continued for a century, but apparently the tradition died out during World War II. But there’s good news — Oxford’s student newspaper now says that the college has approved a Mint Julep Quartermaster to start it up again.

Here’s the recipe that Trapier gave to the college, according to the Oxford Times:

  • Crush two sprigs of mint and half a teaspoon of sugar in the bottom of a tall glass.
  • Add two lumps of ice and cover with Bourbon whiskey.
  • Fill the glass with cracked ice and chill for several hours before drinking.

A Penny Saved

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Ben Franklin’s “necessary hints to those that would be rich,” written around 1730:

  • The use of money is all the advantage there is in having money.
  • For six pounds a year you may have the use of one hundred pounds, provided you are a man of known prudence and honesty.
  • He that spends a groat a day idly, spends idly above six pounds a year, which is the price for the use of one hundred pounds.
  • He that wastes idly a groat’s worth of his time per day, one day with another, wastes the privilege of using one hundred pounds each day.
  • He that idly loses five shillings worth of time, loses five shillings, and might as prudently throw five shillings into the sea.
  • He that loses five shillings, not only loses that sum, but all the advantages that might be made by turning it in dealing, which, by the time that a young man becomes old, will amount to a considerable sum of money.
  • Again: he that sells upon credit, asks a price for what he sells equivalent to the principal and interest of his money for the time he is to be kept out of it; therefore, he that buys upon credit, pays interest for what he buys, and he that pays ready money, might let that money out to use: so that he that possesses any thing he has bought, pays interest for the use of it.
  • Yet, in buying goods, it is best to pay ready money, because he that sells upon credit expects to lose five per cent by bad debts; therefore he charges, on all he sells upon credit, an advance, that shall make up that deficiency.
  • Those who pay for what they buy upon credit, pay their share of this advance.
  • He that pays ready money, escapes, or may escape, that charge.
  • A penny sav’d is two-pence clear, A pin a day’s a groat a year.

Don’t Ask Directions

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In the 19th century, feeling expansive, the Welsh village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll extended its name to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, meaning “The Church of Mary of White Hazel Pool quite near the rapid whirlpool, the church of Tysilio under a red cave.”

In the same spirit, the gift shop in Llangollen bears the name Ysiopfachgardiauwrthybontdrosyrafonddyfrdwyynllangollen. It means “The little card shop by the bridge over the river Dee in Llangollen.”

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Image: Flickr

Sanctuary

Oxfordshire’s annual stag hunt took a strange turn in 1819:

Dec. 21, being St. Thomas’s Day, as usual, a stag was turned out from Blenheim Park, the property of his Grace, the Duke of Marlborough. It directed its course towards Wickham; from thence it took the high road and proceeded to Oxford; and then formed one of the most beautiful and picturesque sights that can be imagined. The stag, and dogs in close pursuit, followed by a great number of well-known and experienced sportsmen, proceeded up the High-street, as far as Brazenose College; when, to the no small astonishment of hundreds of spectators, the stag took refuge in the chapel, during divine service; where it was killed, sans ceremonie, by the eager dogs.

From The Gentleman’s Magazine, January 1820.

The Paradox of Suspense

anthony perkins - psycho

Psycho is certainly suspenseful on the first viewing. But why does it remain so on the second?

“How can there be suspense if we already know how things will turn out?” asks University of Michigan philosopher Kendall Walton. “Why, for example, should Tom and Becky’s plight concern or even interest a reader who knows, from reading the novel previously, that eventually they will escape from the cave? One might have supposed that, once we have experienced a work often enough to learn thoroughly the relevant features of the plot, it would lose its capacity to create suspense, and that future readings or viewings of it would lack the excitement of the first one. But this frequently is not what happens.”

The paradox extends to music. Why does a crescendo continue to “work” on repeated listenings? Why does it still move us?

(Kendall Walton, “Fearing Fictions,” The Journal of Philosophy 75:1 [January 1978], 26)

Black and White

holst chess problem

By Viktor Holst. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer
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