Safe and Sound

New York architect Edwin Koch had a brainstorm in 1939 — he proposed a teardrop-shaped “hurricane house” that could rotate like a weather vane. “This amazing dwelling would revolve automatically to face into the oncoming storm, meeting it like the wing of an airplane and passing it smoothly around its curving sides toward its pointed tip,” explained Popular Science.

Electricity would enter through one of the circular tracks on which the house turned, and water and sewage pipes would be connected via swivel joints at the axis of rotation.

Koch had planned the house for hurricane zones, but the swiveling feature could prove useful in any climate: “Merely by selecting the desired push button on a central control board, the entire house may be rotated to face rooms toward or away from the sun or to point bedroom windows toward a cooling breeze.”


One day [A.J. Conant] asked Mr. Lincoln how he became interested in the law. ‘It was Blackstone’s “Commentaries” that did it,’ said Mr. Lincoln, and then he related how he first happened on the books. ‘I was keeping store in New Salem, when one day a man who was migrating to the West drove up with a wagon which contained his family and household plunder. He asked me if I would buy an old barrel for which he had no room in his wagon, and which he said contained nothing of special value. I did not want it, but to oblige him I bought it and paid him, I think, half a dollar. Without further examination I put it away in the store and forgot all about it. Sometime after, in overhauling things, I came upon the barrel and emptied its contents upon the floor. I found at the bottom of the rubbish a complete edition of Blackstone’s “Commentaries.” I began to read those famous works, and I had plenty of time, for during the long summer days, when the farmers were busy with their crops, my customers were few and far between. The more I read’ — this he said with unusual emphasis — ‘the more intensely interested I became. Never in my whole life was my mind so thoroughly absorbed. I read until I devoured them.’ …

— Ida M. Tarbell, Selections From the Letters, Speeches, and State Papers of Abraham Lincoln, 1911

United Nations

Writer Harry Mathews experimented with a bilingual vocabulary he called “legal franglais.” He compiled 425 words that are spelled identically in French and English (aside from accents and capitals). Examples:

Mets attend the sale
Mets attend thé salé

If rogue ignore genes, bride pays
If rogue ignore gênes, bride pays

As mute tint regains miens, touts allege bath
As muté tint regains miens, tout s’allège, bath

If emu ignore bonds, mire jars rogue
If ému ignore bonds, mire jars rogue

Roman delusive gent fit crisper rayon
Roman d’élusive gent fit crisper rayon

Because, ideally, the words should have no meaning in common, it’s hard to find reasonable settings for these utterances. Ian Monk proposed this example:

Il ne faut pas rôtir les oies mais plutôt les mâles de l’espèce, et en grande quantitê.

When it was Fred’s round, he told the landlord to grab their pint glasses and serve him and his three companions forthwith.


One can attempt the same thing preserving sound rather than spelling. In Alphonse Allais’ verse, entire lines are pronounced the same:

Par le bois du djinn, où s’entasse de l’effroi,
Parle, bois du gin, ou cent tasses de lait froid.

And, combining these two ideas, one can compose a sentence that looks like French but sounds like English. Stopping before a monkey’s cage, François Le Lionnais exclaimed, “Un singe de beauté est un jouet pour l’hiver!”

The Lion at Bay

sutherland churchill portrait

Winston Churchill faced an awkward moment in 1954, when Parliament unveiled a portrait on the occasion of his 80th birthday. The ceremony took place before a crowded Westminster Hall, and no one present, one observer said, “will forget the idiosyncratic nonsound with which a thousand people stopped breathing when the canvas was revealed.”

The painting, by Graham Sutherland, was a decidedly modern take on the octogenarian statesman. “Its chief defect was that it looked unfinished in as much as his feet were concealed in a carpet that seemed to have sprouted a dun-coloured grass,” wrote Studio editor G.S. Whittet. “The artist had obviously been unhappy about them and they had been painted over since it would have been impossible to ‘cut off’ his legs below the knees without radically altering the proportions and placing of the picture on the canvas.”

One MP called the portrait “a study in lumbago,” and Lord Hailsham said it was “disgusting, ill-mannered, terrible.” Churchill accepted the gift with a measured good humor, but privately he muttered, “It makes me look half-witted, which I ain’t.” After the unveiling, the painting was never seen again — shortly before Churchill’s death, his wife had it cut up and burned.

See Immortalized.


“2 Poems,” by Tom King, from The Oulipo Compendium. I don’t know why these are so charming, but they are:

This Is Jist Ti Siy

by Tim King

I hivi iitin
thi plims
thit wiri in
thi icibix
ind which
yii wiri pribibli
fir briikfist
Firgivi mi
thiy wiri diliciiis
si swiit
ind si cild

Thos Os Jost To Soy

by Tom Kong

O hovo ooton
tho ploms
thot woro on
tho ocobox
ond whoch
yoo woro proboblo
for brookfost
Forgovo mo
thoy woro dolocooos
so swoot
ond so cold

Three Tales

Here are three items that I haven’t been able to confirm — I expect the first two are false, but I’m posting them here for what they’re worth. The first is from Henry Thomas and Dana Lee Thomas, Living Biographies of Great Poets, 1941:

An interesting and touching story is told about the manuscript of the first Jungle Book. Kipling gave this manuscript as a present to the nurse who had cared for his first-born child. ‘Take this script,’ he said, ‘and someday if you are in need of money you may be able to sell it at a handsome price.’ Years later, when the nurse was actually in want, she sold the manuscript and managed to live in comfort for the rest of her life.

I can’t verify that anywhere. The second item is from Robert Hendrickson, American Literary Anecdotes, 1992:

Some 5,000 copies of [Steinbeck’s] The Wayward Bus (1947) went up in flames when the truck taking them from the bindery collided with a bus — yes, a wayward bus — travelling on the wrong side of the road.

San Jose State University’s Center for Steinbeck Studies repeated that story in a 1995 newsletter, but it cited Hendrickson as the source. I haven’t been able to confirm it independently.

This last one may be true. The Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotations claims that Millvina Dean (1911-), the youngest survivor of the Titanic disaster, while visiting the Kansas City house in which her family would have lived, said, “I can’t bear iced drinks … the iceberg, you know. Perhaps some champagne though.”

The dictionary cites the Times, Aug. 20, 1997, for this quote, but I haven’t tracked that down to confirm it.

Black and White

keym chess puzzle

By Werner Keym, from Die Schwalbe, 1979. What were the last moves by White and Black?

Click for Answer