“To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.” — Bertrand Russell

“There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” — George Bernard Shaw

“Leave something to wish for, so as not to be miserable from very happiness.” — Baltasar Gracián


  • It is illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament.
  • More than half of Uganda’s population is under 15.
  • 176502 + 381252 = 1765038125
  • Uzbekistan is surrounded by “stans”: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.
  • Great Britain never puts its name on postage stamps.

In June 2011, 49-year-old Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov of Russia woke up in a coffin surrounded by weeping relatives. Realizing she was at her own funeral, she began screaming and was rushed back to the hospital, which declared her dead of a heart attack. “I am very angry and want answers,” her husband, Fagili, told the Sun. “She wasn’t dead when they said she was, and they could have saved her.” (Thanks, Mark.)

Time and Again


Peter and Jane, both 20 years old, are visited by a time machine one day in 1999. A familiar figure emerges, hands a diary to Jane, and asks her to travel to 2019, recording her impressions of the trip. She does so, dutifully making an entry in the diary. When she arrives in 2019 she meets the 40-year-old Peter and gives the diary to him. He returns to 1999, making an entry in the diary himself. When he emerges in 1999, he gives the diary to the 20-year-old Jane and asks her to travel to 2019.

Now: How many entries are in the diary when Peter gives it to Jane? It’s not blank, for we know it contains Jane and Peter’s accounts of their journeys through time. But if it contains those two accounts when Jane departs, then she will have written a third on her journey to 2019, and Peter a fourth before arriving at the present moment. It seems that the diary must contain an indefinite number of entries, but there are clearly only two trips, Jane’s to 2019 and Peter’s to 1999. What is the answer?

(From Robin Le Poidevin, Travels in Four Dimensions, 2003.)


From a collection of poems presented to J.B.S. Haldane by colleagues on his 60th birthday:

The Dinosaurs, or so we’re told,
Were far too imbecile to hold
Their own against mammalian brains;
Today not one of them remains.
There is another school of thought,
Which says they suffered from a sort
Of constipation from the loss
Of adequate supplies of moss.

But science now can put before us
The reason true why Brontosaurus
Became extinct. In the Cretaceous
A beast incredibly sagacious
Lived and loved and ate its fill;
Long were its legs, and sharp its bill,
Cunning its hands, to steal the eggs
Of beasts as clumsy in the legs
As Proto- and Triceratops,
And run, like gangsters from the cops,
To some safe vantage-point from which
It could enjoy its plunder rich.
Cleverer far than any fox
Or Stanley in the witness box
No egg was safe from it unless
Retained within its mother’s womb,
And so the Reptiles met their doom.

The Dinosaurs were most put out
And bitterly complained about
The way their eggs, of giant size,
Were eaten up before their eyes,
Before they had a chance to hatch,
By a beast they couldn’t catch.

This awful carnage could not last;
The age of ARCHOSAURS was past.
They went as broody as a hen
When all her eggs are pinched by men.
Older they grew, and sadder yet,
But still no offspring could they get.

Until at last the fearful time, as
Yet unguessed by Struthiomimus
Arrived, when no more eggs were laid,
And then at last was he afraid.
He could not learn to climb with ease
To reach the birds’ nests in the trees,
And though he followed round and round
Some funny furry things he found,
They never laid an egg — not once.
It made him feel an awful dunce.
So, thin beyond all recognition,
He died at last of inanition.


This story has a simple moral
With which the wise will hardly quarrel;
Remember, Prof., it scarcely ever
Pays to be too bloody clever.

— J. Maynard Smith

Math Notes

This equation:

122 + 542 + 695 = 211 + 364 + 784

… remains valid when the digits of each term are permuted in the same way:

122 + 542 + 695 = 211 + 364 + 784
122 + 524 + 659 = 211 + 346 + 748
212 + 452 + 965 = 121 + 634 + 874
221 + 425 + 956 = 112 + 643 + 847
212 + 254 + 569 = 121 + 436 + 478
221 + 245 + 596 = 112 + 463 + 487

And everything above remains valid if you square each term.

(Discovered by Albert Gloden.)

Worldly Wise

Proverbs from around the world:

  • A shroud has no pockets. (Scotland)
  • No one is a blacksmith at birth. (Namibia)
  • The absent always bears the blame. (Netherlands)
  • One cannot make soup out of beauty. (Estonia)
  • Bad is called good when worse happens. (Norway)
  • When the mouse laughs at the cat, there is a hole. (Gambia)
  • Under trees it rains twice. (Switzerland)
  • Everyone is foolish until they buy land. (Ireland)
  • Every head is a world. (Cuba)
  • The only victory over love is flight. (France)
  • Don’t look where you fell, but where you slipped. (Liberia)
  • Many lose when they win, and others win when they lose. (Germany)

And “It is not economical to go to bed early to save the candles if the result is twins.” (China)

Second Sight

Ben Underwood lost his eyes to retinal cancer at age 2, but within three years he had taught himself to discern objects by echolocation, making clicking noises with his tongue and listening for reflected sound. Soon he was able to run, rollerblade, skateboard, and play basketball with other children.

His first Braille teacher, Barbara Haase, witnessed his progress as they went on walks together. “I said, ‘Okay, my car is the third car parked down the street. Tell me when we get there,'” she remembered. “As we pass the first vehicle, he says, ‘There’s the first car. Actually, a truck.’ And it was a pickup. He could tell the difference.”

Underwood led a full life until age 16, when he died of the same cancer that took his eyes. “People ask me if I’m lonely,” he once said. “I’m not, because someone’s always around, or I’ve got my cell phone and I’m always talking to friends. … I tell people I’m not blind, I just can’t see.”

(Thanks, Mike.)

Black and White


By Joseph Kling, from Chess Euclid, 1849. White to mate with the pawn in three moves.

Click for Answer

In a Word


n. a mass execution by drowning

adj. crying out together

adj. dying together or at the same time

J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship recalls a brutal convention in the Atlantic slave trade — an insurance company would reimburse a captain for a slave who was lost at sea, but not for one who died of illness aboard ship. In 1781 Luke Collingwood, captain of the Zong, threw 133 sick and malnourished Africans overboard so that he could claim their value from his insurers. Turner displayed the painting next to lines from his own poem:

Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon’s coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying — ne’er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?

Britain had already outlawed its own slave trade when the painting appeared, but its impact encouraged the empire to oppose the institution everywhere.



When Polish composer André Tchaikowsky died in 1982, he left his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company in hopes that he might appear as Yorick in a production of Hamlet.

No one felt comfortable fulfilling this wish until David Tennant used the skull in a performance in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2008. He continued to use it throughout the production’s West End run and in a later television adaptation.

“André’s skull was a profound memento mori, which perhaps no prop skull could quite provide,” said director Gregory Doran. “I hope other productions may, with the greatest respect for André, use the skull as he intended it to be used, for precisely this purpose.”

(Thanks, Pål.)