Unquote

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“It has been said of the Iliad that anyone who starts reading it as history will find that it is full of fiction but, equally, anyone who starts reading it as fiction will find that it is full of history.” — Arnold Toynbee

Three Odd Books

B.S. Johnson’s 1969 “book in a box” The Unfortunates consists of 27 unbound sections, ranging in length from a single paragraph to 12 pages. The first and last chapters are specified, but the 25 in between can be read in any order. Johnson felt this was a “better solution to the problem of conveying the mind’s randomness than the imposed order of a bound book.”

Jerzy Andrzejewski’s 40,000-word novel The Gates of Paradise, published in 1960, consists of only two sentences. The second is “And they marched all night.”

When Edgar Wallace published his detective thriller The Four Just Men in 1905, he challenged readers of the Daily Mail to guess the murder method, offering first, second, and third prizes of £250, £200, and £50. Unfortunately he failed to specify that each prize would go to a single entrant, so he was legally obliged to award a prize to every correct entry. He went bankrupt, and the newspaper had to pay more than £5,000 to protect its reputation.

Quarters

From Lancelot Hogben’s Mathematics in the Making, an appealingly memorizable table of basic trigonometric values:

hogben table

See Alison’s Triangle.

(Thanks, Tom.)

You’ve Got Mail

A great deal of the work of the post office would then be to regulate the use of these personal television channels. Much of the information now sent by mail could be sent through the air on the personal channel, to be viewed in the home or to be printed out for a more or less permanent record. …

Very likely there will be a signal light to indicate that a message is waiting to be viewed. When the personal channel is then activated, each item stored will be displayed in turn. Each can be scanned and erased, scanned and temporarily returned to storage, or scanned and printed out, after which the next item would appear. It will be very much like going through one’s mail today, with its mixture of personal items and advertising, in which some are discarded, some put aside, and some filed.

— Isaac Asimov, “The Individualism to Come,” New York Times, Jan. 7, 1973

Sociable Numbers

The sum of the proper divisors of 14316 is 19116.
The sum of the proper divisors of 19116 is 31704.
The sum of the proper divisors of 31704 is 47616.
The sum of the proper divisors of 47616 is 83328.
The sum of the proper divisors of 83328 is 177792.
The sum of the proper divisors of 177792 is 295488.
The sum of the proper divisors of 295488 is 629072.
The sum of the proper divisors of 629072 is 589786.
The sum of the proper divisors of 589786 is 294896.
The sum of the proper divisors of 294896 is 358336.
The sum of the proper divisors of 358336 is 418904.
The sum of the proper divisors of 418904 is 366556.
The sum of the proper divisors of 366556 is 274924.
The sum of the proper divisors of 274924 is 275444.
The sum of the proper divisors of 275444 is 243760.
The sum of the proper divisors of 243760 is 376736.
The sum of the proper divisors of 376736 is 381028.
The sum of the proper divisors of 381028 is 285778.
The sum of the proper divisors of 285778 is 152990.
The sum of the proper divisors of 152990 is 122410.
The sum of the proper divisors of 122410 is 97946.
The sum of the proper divisors of 97946 is 48976.
The sum of the proper divisors of 48976 is 45946.
The sum of the proper divisors of 45946 is 22976.
The sum of the proper divisors of 22976 is 22744.
The sum of the proper divisors of 22744 is 19916.
The sum of the proper divisors of 19916 is 17716.
The sum of the proper divisors of 17716 is 14316 again.

Insult to Injury

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Shortly after his travel book Alexandria appeared in December 1922, E.M. Forster received a regretful letter from the publisher, Whitehead Morris & Co. There had been a fire in the warehouse and the entire edition had been burned. Fortunately, it had been insured, and they enclosed a substantial check in compensation.

“A few weeks later Forster received a yet more regretful letter from the publishers,” notes editor Lawrence Durrell in the book’s 1961 edition. “The books had been found intact, in a cellar which had escaped the flames. This, in view of the insurance money, his publishers wrote, had created a most awkward situation, and they had taken the only way out: they burnt the books deliberately.”

All Right, Then

Index entries in Hilaire Belloc’s The Aftermath: Or, Gleanings From a Busy Life, 1903:

Abingdon, History of, by Lord Charles Gamber, see Pulping, p. 187.
Advertisement, Folly and Waste of, see Pulping, p. 187.
All Souls, College of, see Pulping, p. 187.
Cabs, Necessity of, to Modern Publisher, see Pulping, p. 187.
Cabs to Authors, Unwarrantable Luxury, see Pulping, p. 187.
Call, Divine, to a Literary Career, see Pulping, p. 187.
Dogs, Reputation Going to the, see Pulping, p. 187.
England, Source and Wealth of, see Pulping, p. 187.
Fame, see Pulping, p. 187.
Genius, Indestructibility of, see Pulping, p. 187.
India, Lord Curzon’s Views on, see Pulping, p. 187.
Jesuits, Their Reply to “Huguenot,” see Pulping, p. 187.
“Mamma,” “Darling Old,” Story for Children, by the Countess of K——, see Pulping, p. 187.
Name, Real, of “Diplomaticus,” see Pulping, p. 187.
Rhodes, Cecil, Numerous Lives of, see Pulping, p. 187.
Suzanna and the Elders, Sacred Poem, see Pulping, p. 187.
Uganda Railway, Balance-sheet of, see Pulping, p. 187.

So runs the whole thing, right up to the summary “W.X.Y.Z., see Pulping, p. 187″ at the end.

There’s also an entry for “Pulping, p. 187.”

“The Strangest Soccer Match Ever”

The football teams of Barbados and Grenada found themselves in a bizarre situation in a qualification round for the 1994 Carribean Cup. In order to advance to the finals, Barbados had to win this game by a margin of two goals; in any other outcome Grenada would qualify. Also, the tournament organizers had stated that if the teams reached a draw, extra time would be added to the match in which every goal would count double, the so-called “golden goal.”

Barbados was leading 2-0 when Grenada scored a goal in the final four minutes. With so little time remaining, the Barbados players conferred and, to everyone’s surprise, turned on their own goal, evening the score at 2-2. Their strategy was clear: If they could maintain this tie for the remaining few minutes, they’d be rewarded with an extra 30 minutes of playing time in which a single goal would give them the two-point margin they needed.

The Grenadians, realizing this, spent the last two minutes trying to get control of the ball and send it into their own goal — this would end the game at 3-2 and deny Barbados its two-goal margin.

The Barbadians, realizing this, began defending the Grenadian goal, effectively reversing the whole game. To add to the confusion, some Grenadians tried to make regular goals as well, which left Grenada attacking both goals, Barbados defending both, and most players and supporters utterly bewildered. The Barbadians eventually succeeded in holding the score at 2-2 — and made a winning goal in the extra time.

“I feel cheated,” complained Grenadian manager James Clarkson. “The person who came up with these rules must be a candidate for a madhouse. The game should never be played with so many players running around the field confused. Our players did not even know which direction to attack: our goal or their goal. I have never seen this happen before. In football, you are supposed to score against the opponents to win, not for them.” The Caribbean Cup retired the golden goal rule shortly thereafter.

(Thanks, Karl.)

Podcast Episode 19: Testing the Post Office

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In 1898, 19-year-old W. Reginald Bray made a thorough study of British postal regulations, which laid out rules for mailing everything from bees to elephants and promised that “all letters must be delivered as addressed.” He resolved to give the service “a severe test without infringing its regulations.”

In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the antics that followed, in which Bray sent turnips, bicycle pumps, shoes, and even himself through the British post. We’ll also sympathize with Lucius Chittenden, a U.S. Treasury official who had to sign 12,500 bonds in one harried weekend in 1862, and puzzle over the worrying train journey of a Wall Street banker.

Our segment on W.R. Bray, the Edwardian postal experimentalist, is based chiefly on John Tingey’s 2010 book The Englishman Who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects.

Tingey maintains a website with an extensive catalog of the curios that Bray sent through the post.

Also David Leafe, “The Man Who Posted Himself,” Daily Mail, March 19, 2012.

In an article in the Royal Magazine in 1904, Bray noted the usefulness of the Post Office’s offer to conduct a person “to any address on payment of the mileage charge”:

What mothers know that, if they like, they can send their little ones to school as letters? Possibly, as soon as the ‘mother-readers’ see this, the Post Offices will be crowded with toddling infants, both in and out of ‘prams,’ all waiting to be taken to schools, or out for a day in the country. ‘But I should not like my child to be carried with postage stamps, and arrive at the school black with postmarks!’ That is what I expect some mothers will say.

Oh, don’t be alarmed, nothing like this will happen! All that you need to do is to take the child to the Post Office across the road, pay a small fee, and a messenger boy will escort the little one to the very door of the school. However Post Office officials do not appear anxious to gain fame as nurse providers to infants.

Past postal mischief on Futility Closet:

Torturing the Post Office

Post Haste

Riddling Letters

Sources for our segment on L.E. Chittenden, the iron-wristed Register of the Treasury under Lincoln:

Lucius Eugene Chittenden, Recollections of President Lincoln and His Administration, 1891.

Joseph F. Tuttle, “Abraham Lincoln, ‘The Perfect Ruler of Men,'” Historical Register of the Colorado Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, Nov. 1, 1906.

William Juengst, “In Ruffles and Starch Cuffs: The American Jews’ Part in Our International Relations,” The American Hebrew & Jewish Messenger, Sept. 30, 1921.

Arthur Laurents wrote a piece for the New York Herald Tribune in 1957 that discusses the development of West Side Story.

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. The show notes are on the blog. 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. Thanks for listening!

Leonardo’s Robot

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In 1495 Leonardo da Vinci devised a mechanical knight that could sit up, open and close its arms, move its head on flexible neck, and open its visor. The plans have been lost, but we know it was made of wood, brass, and leather and operated by cables, possibly driven by a water wheel. The Duke of Milan displayed it at a pageant near the end of the 15th century, perhaps at the wedding of his niece.

Roboticist Mark Elling Rosheim built a working replica of the knight in 2002 using the sketches that remain, detailed in his book Leonardo’s Lost Robots. He thinks it may have been designed to accost an unwary visitor by remote control. “It is almost like something one would find in an old time amusement park, a piece for the scary haunted mansion or tunnel of love — or a labyrinth, which was the 16th century equivalent. The Knight would be excellent at grabbing someone with its arms in a bear hug. … Perhaps the visor would rise, revealing a hideously contorted, sculpted face.”

“Perhaps the great mystery surrounding this lost robot of Leonardo can be summed up by the master himself in the giant scrapbook known as the Codex Atlanticus. In the sheets for this project, we read an incomplete sentence with which Leonardo tried out his pen: ‘Tell me if ever, tell me if ever anything was built in Rome …’ Leonardo may be expressing his frustration and anxiety about a project near and dear to his heart that because of external pressures could not be born.”

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