“If Stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” — Will Rogers

Mail Tale


I’m a stamp —
A postage stamp —
A two-center;
Don’t want to brag,
But I was never
Except once:
By a gentleman, too;
He put me on
To a good thing:
It was an envelope —
Perfumed, pink, square;
I’ve been stuck on
That envelope
Ever since;
He dropped us —
The envelope and me —
Through a slot in a dark box;
But we were rescued
By a mail clerk,
More’s the pity;
He hit me an awful
Smash with a hammer;
It left my face
Black and blue;
Then I went on a long Journey
Of two days;
And when we arrived —
The pink envelope and me —
We were presented
To a perfect love
Of a girl,
With the stunningest pair
Of blue eyes
That ever blinked;
Say, she’s a dream!
Well, she mutilated
The pink envelope
And tore one corner
Of me off
With a hairpin;
Then she read what
Was inside
The pink envelope.
I never saw a girl blush
So beautifully!
I would be stuck
On her — if I could.
Well, she placed
The writing back
In the pink envelope;
Then she kissed me.
O, you little godlets!
Her lips were ripe
As cherries,
And warm
As the summer sun.
We —
The pink envelope and me —
Are now
Nestling snugly
In her bosom;
We can hear
Her heart throb;
When it goes fastest
She takes us out
And kisses me.
O, say,
This is great!
I’m glad
I’m a stamp —
A two-center.

Ohio State Journal, 1901

Podcast Episode 67: Composing Beyond the Grave


In 1933, violinist Jelly d’Aranyi declared that the spirit of Robert Schumann was urging her to find a concerto that he’d written shortly before his death in 1856. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the discovery of Schumann’s lost violin concerto, as well as a similar case in which a London widow claimed to receive new compositions from 12 dead composers.

We’ll also puzzle over how a man earns $250,000 for going on two cruises.

Sources for our feature on Jelly d’Aranyi and Rosemary Brown:

Joseph Macleod, The Sisters d’Aranyi, 1969.

Erik Palmstierna and Adila Fachiri, Horizons of Immortality, 1938.

Rosemary Brown, Unfinished Symphonies, 1971.

Douglas Martin, “Rosemary Brown, a Friend of Dead Composers, Dies at 85,” New York Times, Dec. 2, 2001.

Michael Steinberg, The Concerto: A Listener’s Guide, 1998.

Nicolas Slonimsky, Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes, 1948.

Here’s the Schumann violin concerto played by Frank Peter Zimmermann, and here’s a rather blurry interview with Rosemary Brown, in which she transcribes a composition for Beethoven.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Jed’s List of Situation Puzzles.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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 podcast@futilitycloset.com. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening!


Around Christmas 1921, 16-year-old Vera Howley began to take singing lessons from Owen Richard Williams, the choirmaster of a local Presbyterian church. He had an odd way of working:

On the occasion of the second singing lesson on January 17 the appellant said that she was not singing as she should and was not getting her notes properly and told her to lie down on a settee. He then removed a portion of her clothing and placed upon the lower part of her body an instrument — which was in the nature of an aneroid barometer and according to the evidence was not in working order and would not in any event have been affected by the breathing of the girl — and then told her to take a deep breath three times. He looked at the instrument and purported to write something in a book. He then dropped on to her and proceeded to have sexual intercourse with her. She said: ‘What are you going to do?’ He said: ‘It is quite all right; do not worry. I am going to make an air passage. This is my method of training. Your breathing is not quite right and I have to make an air passage to make it right. Your parents know all about it, it has all been arranged; before God, Vera, it is quite right. I will not do you any harm.’ The girl made no resistance, as she believed what he told her and did not know that what he did was wrong — nor did she know that he was having sexual intercourse with her. The appellant had sexual intercourse with the girl a second time on April 28 in similar circumstances.

Vera told her parents, and Williams was tried at the Liverpool Assizes. He argued that she’d given consent; the court ruled that she’d consented to what she thought was a medical or surgical operation, not intercourse. Williams served 7 years for rape and 12 months for indecent assault.

(King v. Williams [1923] 1 K.B. 340. From Ralph Slovenko, Tragicomedy in Court Opinions, 1973.)

Above and Below


The Man to the Fish:

You strange, astonished-looking, angle-faced,
Dreary-mouthed, gaping wretches of the sea,
Gulping salt-water everlastingly,
Cold-blooded, though with red your blood be graced,
And mute, though dwellers in the roaring waste;
And you, all shapes beside, that fishy be,–
Some round, some flat, some long, all devilry,
Legless, unloving, infamously chaste:–

O scaly, slippery, wet, swift, staring wights,
What is’t ye do? What life lead? eh, dull goggles?
How do ye vary your vile days and nights?
How pass your Sundays? Are ye still but joggles
In ceaseless wash? Still nought but gapes, and bites,
And drinks, and stares, diversified with boggles?

A Fish answers:

Amazing monster! that, for aught I know,
With the first sight of thee didst make our race
For ever stare! O flat and shocking face,
Grimly divided from the breast below!
Thou that on dry land horribly dost go
With a split body and most ridiculous pace,
Prong after prong, disgracer of all grace,
Long-useless-finned, haired, upright, unwet, slow!

O breather of unbreathable, sword-sharp air,
How canst exist? How bear thyself, thou dry
And dreary sloth? What particle canst share
Of the only blessed life, the watery?
I sometimes see of ye an actual pair
Go by! linked fin by fin! most odiously.

— Leigh Hunt



If you move each of its letters to the mirror position in the alphabet (A <-> Z, B <-> Y, etc.), WIZARD becomes DRAZIW.

A word-level palindrome:

“Is it crazy how saying sentences backwards creates backwards sentences saying how crazy it is?”

“To a Baby Born Without Limbs”

From Kingsley Amis’ 1966 novel The Anti-Death League:

This is just to show you whose boss around here.
It’ll keep you on your toes, so to speak,
Make you put your best foot forward, so to speak,
And give you something to turn your hand to, so to speak.
You can face up to it like a man,
Or snivvle and blubber like a baby.
That’s up to you. Nothing to do with Me.
If you take it in the right spirit,
You can have a bloody marvelous life,
With the great rewards courage brings,
And the beauty of accepting your LOT.
And think how much good it’ll do your Mum and Dad,
And your Grans and Gramps and the rest of the shower,
To be stopped being complacent.
Make sure they baptise you, though,
In case some murdering bastard
Decides to put you away quick,
Which would send you straight to LIMB-O, ha ha ha.
But just a word in your ear, if you’ve got one.
Mind you DO take this in the right spirit,
And keep a civil tongue in your head about Me.
Because if you DON’T,
I’ve got plenty of other stuff up My sleeve,
Such as Leukemia and polio,
(Which incidentally your welcome to any time,
Whatever spirit you take this in.)
I’ve given you one love-pat, right?
You don’t want another.
So watch it, Jack.

Misspellings in original. In his memoir Experience, Martin Amis says Yevgeny Yevtushenko asked Kingsley in 1962, “You atheist?” He answered, “Well yes, but it’s more that I hate him.”

The Hasanlu Lovers


In 1972, archaeologists unearthed a plaster-lined brick bin in the Teppe Hasanlu site in northwestern Iran, an ancient city that had been violently sacked and burned at the end of the ninth century B.C. University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Robert Dyson wrote:

Lying in the bottom of the bin were two human skeletons, a male and a female. The male had one of its arms under the shoulder of the female, while the female was looking into the face of the male and reaching out with one hand to touch his lips. Both were young adults. Neither showed any evidence of injury; there were no obvious cuts or broken bones. There were no objects with the skeletons, but under the female’s head was a stone slab. The other contents of the bin consisted of broken pieces of plaster, charcoal, and small pieces of burned brick but nothing heavy enough to crush the bones.

“Two theories have been suggested to explain this unusual scene,” he wrote. “One, that a pair of lovers had crawled into the bin under some light material of some kind to hide in the hope of escaping the destruction of the citadel, and that this is a very tender moment between them. The other is that they were hiding and one is telling the other not to make any noise. In either case it would appear they died peacefully — probably by asphyxiation.”

Alternative Music

Norwegian musician Terje Isungset plays a trumpet and xylophone made of ice. He calls them “the only instruments you can drink after you’ve finished playing.”

The xylophone’s bars are cut from a Norwegian lake with a chainsaw. Isungset explains to Trevor Cox in The Sound Book, “You can have 100 pieces of ice; they will all sound different. Perhaps three will sound fantastic.”

The First Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, below, carves its instruments an hour before each show and makes them into soup afterward. There must be some way to combine these two …

Whose Who’s

What’s the difference between forgery and plagiarism?

“This has been answered clearly by Monroe C. Beardsley: In the case of plagiarism one concerns oneself in ‘passing off another’s work as one’s own’; in the case of forgery, in ‘passing off one’s own work as another’s.'”

— Sándor Radnóti, The Fake: Forgery and Its Place in Art, 1999

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