“History may be read as the story of the magnificent action fought during several thousand years by dogma against curiosity.” — Robert Lynd

“Perfection of means and confusion of ends seems to characterize our age.” — Albert Einstein

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” — H.G. Wells


Why are old bachelors bad grammarians?

Because when asked to conjugate, they invariably decline.

– James Baird McClure, ed., Entertaining Anecdotes From Every Available Source, 1879

Heartland Surgery


Thomas Jefferson proposed dividing the American Midwest into 10 states with Greek and Latin names: Sylvania, Michigania, Chersonesus, Assenisipia, Metropotamia, Illinoia, Saratoga, Polypotamia, Pelisipia, and Washington.

“While we may see the reasons for these names, we may be thankful that they did not prevail,” wrote Curtis Manning Geer in The Louisiana Purchase (1904). “Ohio is better than Pelisipia, and Wisconsin to be preferred to Assenisipia.”

John Patterson, who died in 1886 at age 96, performed a sort of geographical hat trick by passing the 19th century in the lower Mississippi Valley. His epitaph reads:

I was born in a kingdom
Reared in an empire
Attained manhood in a territory
Am now a citizen of a state
And have never been 100 miles from where I now live.

The kingdom was Spain, the empire France, the territory Louisiana, and the state Arkansas.


Between 1963 and 1987, a tortoiseshell cat named Towser caught an estimated 28,899 mice in Scotland’s Glenturret Distillery. (Mice like barley.) Her prowess earned her a bronze statue and a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

Her paw prints appeared on each bottle of Fairlie’s Light Highland Liqueur.

A Listing Ship


Though it’s three and a half hours long, Lawrence of Arabia contains no credited speaking roles for women.

Math Notes

123456789 = ((86 + 2 × 7)5 – 91) / 34
987654321 = (8 × (97 + 6/2)5 + 1) / 34
14459929 = 17 + 47 + 47 + 57 + 97 + 97 + 27 + 97
595968 = 45 + 49 + 45 + 49 + 46 + 48
397612 = 32 + 91 + 76 + 67 + 19 + 23

36428594490313158783584452532870892261556 = 342 + 642 + 442 + 242 + 842 + 542 + 942 + 442 + 442 + 942 + 042 + 342 + 142 + 342 + 142 + 542 + 842 + 742 + 842 + 342 + 542 + 842 + 442 + 442 + 542 + 242 + 542 + 342 + 242 + 842 + 742 + 042 + 842 + 942 + 242 + 242 + 642 + 142 + 542 + 542 + 642

“On the Play of Hamlet”


Hamlet was a young man very nervous. He was always dressed in black because his uncle had killed his father by shooting him in his ear. He could not go to the theatre because his father was dead so he had the actors come to his house and play in the front parlor and he learned them to say the words because he thought he knew best how to say them. And then he thought he’d kill the king but he didn’t. Hamlet liked Ophelia. He thought she was a very nice girl but he didn’t marry her because she was going to be a nunnery. Hamlet went to England but he did not like it very much so he came home. Then he jumped into Ophelia’s grave and fought a duel with her brother. Then he died.

English as She Is Taught: Genuine Answers to Examination Questions in Our Public Schools, 1887

Sweet Verse

James Grainger (1721–1766) had a lot to say about growing sugarcane — unfortunately, he chose to say it in poetry:

Whether the fattening compost, in each hole,
‘Tis best to throw; or, on the surface spread,
Is undetermin’d: Trials must decide.
Unless kind rains and fostering dews descend,
To melt the compost’s fertilizing salts;
A stinted plant, deceitful of thy hopes,
Will from those beds slow spring where hot dung lies:
But, if ’tis scatter’d generously o’er all,
The Cane will better bear the solar blaze;
Less rain demand; and, by repeated crops,
Thy land improv’d, its gratitude will show.

Grainger’s 1764 epic “Sugar-Cane” runs on for an excruciating 162 pages, with footnotes, waxing lyrical over every aspect of cane farming, from climate to pest control. James Boswell told Samuel Johnson that a reading of the poem at Sir Joshua Reynolds’ “had made all the assembled wits burst into a laugh when, after much blank verse pomp, the poet began a new paragraph thus:

“‘Now, Muse, let’s sing of rats.’

“And what increased the ridicule was, that one of the company, who slyly overlooked the reader, perceived that the word had been originally mice, and had been altered to rats, as more dignified.”

String Theory


A boy at the edge of a pond pulls a toy boat ashore. If he pulls in one yard of string, will the boat advance by more or less than one yard?

Surprisingly (to me), it will cover more than one yard. Because the boy is above the level of the water, he won’t pull in the entire length of string — length c will remain when the boat reaches shore. The length he’ll pull in, then, is ac.

In any triangle, the sum of the lengths of any two sides must be greater than the length of the remaining side, so b + c > a and b > ac — so the boat travels a greater distance than the length of string pulled in.

In a Word

n. cultivation and improvement of the mind