Pen Guidance

“The secret of playwriting can be given in two maxims: stick to the point and whenever you can, cut.” — W. Somerset Maugham

“I’ll give you the whole secret of short story writing, and here it is: Rule one, write stories that please yourself. There is no rule two. If you can’t write a story that pleases yourself, you’ll never please the public.” — O. Henry

Better Safe

Nohl Braun’s “neonatal net,” patented in 1990, prevents any untoward accidents as you’re entering the world:

The neo-natal device of the present invention comprises, essentially, a net having connecting members on each side thereof adapted for connecting the net between the delivery table and the attending obstetrician, whereby the net is suspended over the space between the delivery table and the obstetrician, to thereby provide a safety net for catching the newborn infant in the event that the baby accidentally slips from the hands of the obstetrician.

This is particularly useful if the mother is whirling on a centrifuge.

Twice Blessed

When Linus Pauling won his second Nobel Prize in 1962, he joked that receiving his second Nobel was less remarkable than receiving his first: The chance of anyone receiving his first Nobel Prize is one in several billion (the population of the world), while the chance of receiving his second is one in several hundred (the number of living people who have received one prize).

What’s wrong with this argument?

Click for Answer

Another Fad

Before the existence of the association of clubs (1857), and when [baseball] was to be learned only from witnessing the practice and match games at Hoboken, the prejudice which existed against the game could scarcely be imagined. The favor with which it was regarded may be judged from the observation used by an accidental witness of a game who, after looking for a while, with unfeigned astonishment exclaimed: ‘I can’t see what fun such great, big men can find in hitting a little ball with a big stick and run away like mad, and kick at a sand bag.’

DeWitt Baseball Guide, 1868

Side Issue

A conundrum by Russian puzzle maven Boris Kordemsky:

A work train composed of a locomotive and five cars has just stopped at a railway station when word comes that a passenger train is approaching. The smaller train must make way for it to pass through, but the station has only one siding, and this will accommodate only three cars (or an engine and two cars). How can it arrange to let the passenger train through?

Click for Answer

A Small Start

Europe once had a state whose official language was Esperanto. When boundaries were redrawn after the Napoleonic wars, a dispute arose regarding the border between Prussia and the Netherlands, and a sliver of 3.44 square kilometers became a no man’s land known as Neutral Moresnet. In 1908, German immigrant Wilhelm Molly proposed making the territory into the world’s first Esperanto-speaking state. They rechristened the area Amikejo (literally, “friend-place”) and adopted a national anthem, and the International Esperantist Congress even decided to move its headquarters from The Hague to the new “world capital” of the international language.

But it wasn’t to be. Germany overran the tiny territory as World War I broke out, and it was formally annexed by Belgium in the Treaty of Versailles.

Somewhat related: In 2004 deaf journalist Marvin T. Miller proposed building the “world’s first sign language town,” a community whose common languages would be American Sign Language and written English. Miller chose a site in South Dakota and named it Laurent, after Laurent Clerc, who co-founded the country’s first school for the deaf. But the project appears to have stalled due to lack of funding.

Dangerous Years

Arthur Miller’s first impressions of Marilyn Monroe, on the set of As Young As You Feel, 1950:

We had just arrived on a nightclub set when Marilyn, in a black open-work lace dress, was directed to walk across the floor, attracting the worn gaze of the bearded [Monty] Woolley. She was being shot from the rear to set off the swivelling of her hips, a motion fluid enough to seem comic. It was, in fact, her natural walk: her footprints on a beach would be in a straight line, the heel descending exactly before the last toeprint, throwing her pelvis into motion.

When the shot was finished she came over to [Elia] Kazan, who had met her with [agent Johnny] Hyde on another visit some time before. From where I stood, yards away, I saw her in profile against a white light, with her hair coiled atop her head; she was weeping under a veil of black lace that she lifted now and then to dab her eyes. When we shook hands the shock of her body’s motion sped through me, a sensation at odds with her sadness amid all this glamour and technology and the busy confusion of a new shot being set up. She had been weeping, she would explain later, while telling Kazan that Hyde had died calling her name in a hospital room she had been forbidden by his family to enter. She had heard him from the corridor, and had left, as always, alone.

Flying Fur

loyd cat and dog puzzle

Sam Loyd devised this puzzle for P.T. Barnum:

A trained cat and dog run a race, one hundred feet straight away and return. The dog leaps three feet at each bound and the cat but two, but then she makes three leaps to his two. Now, under those circumstances, what are the possible outcomes of the race?

Click for Answer