Pool Party

A billiard ball is resting on a table that measures 10 feet by 5 feet. A player hits it with no “English” and it strikes four different cushions and returns to its starting point. University of Alberta mathematician Murray Klamkin asks: How far did it travel?

Click for Answer

Hard Money

steel check

In 1932 the Lincoln Electric Company held an essay contest on the virtues of arc welding. The top three entrants received “what are believed to be the most unusual check ever issued”:

These checks, for $7500, $3500 and $1500 respectively, were ‘written’ on 1/8-inch sheet steel. Each check was 24 inches long and 10 inches wide. All information including date, amount, payee and name of bank was arc welded, welding operators in the Lincoln plant relieving the treasurer’s office of this detail.

The company president, J.C. Lincoln, signed each check by arc welding, and the prize winners endorsed them the same way. “When the panels of steel are presented to banks and paid, they will be returned to the bank of issue, where guards will cancel them with the aid of a submachine gun.”

(Steel, June 13, 1932)

Black and White

loyd retrograde puzzle

By Sam Loyd. White is kicking himself — he has just completed a move, and realizes that he could have given mate instead. What was his move, and what was the mate?

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Altered States


The Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence from Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939. It was annexed by Hungary the next day. It had been independent for only 24 hours.

In December 2006, Belgian public television station RTBF reported that Dutch-speaking Flanders had declared independence and that Belgium as a nation had ceased to exist. Panicked viewers placed 2,600 calls to the station and crashed its website as they sought further information.

The station kept up the story for two hours, then admitted it was a hoax. “It’s very bad Orson Welles, in very poor taste,” said a spokesman for Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt. “We obviously scared many people,” acknowledged news director Yves Thiran. “Maybe more than we expected.”

Low Profile


No building in Washington, D.C., is taller than the Washington Monument.

The city enacted a height restriction in 1899 to protect Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an “American Paris” with “low and convenient” buildings on “light and airy” streets.

In a Word


adj. bloodsucking

The Tempest Prognosticator

tempest prognosticator

Naturalist George Merryweather offered a gruesome new instrument at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851: He imprisoned 12 leeches in a ring of bottles, which he capped with whalebone levers. (The bottles were arranged in a circle so that the leeches “might see one another and not endure the affliction of solitary confinement.”) When a storm approached, the agitated leeches would climb the bottles, trip the levers, and ring a bell. The more agitated this “jury of philosophical councilors,” the more frequently the bell sounded, and the more likely a storm.

After a year of experiments, Merryweather claimed great success — among other feats, the “leech barometer” foretold the disastrous storm of October 1850 51 hours before it took place. “I may here observe,” Merryweather wrote, “that I could cause a little leech, governed by its instinct, to ring Saint Paul’s great bell in London as a signal for an approaching storm.”

He proposed that the government install stations around the British coast, and nominated engineer William Reid to be inspector-general of leeches and meteorologist James Glaisher his second-in-command. Inexplicably, they turned him down. “After this,” opined Chambers’ Journal, “the Snail Telegraph looks not quite so outrageous an absurdity.”

Return of Post


Letter from Charles Dodgson to Nellie Bowman, Nov. 1, 1891:

C.L.D., Uncle loving your! Instead grandson his to it give to had you that so, years 80 or 70 for it forgot you that was it pity a what and: him of fond so were you wonder don’t I and, gentleman old nice very a was he. For it made you that him been have must it see you so: grandfather my was, then alive was that, ‘Dodgson Uncle’ only the. Born was I before long was that, see you, then But. ‘Dodgson Uncle for pretty thing some make I’ll now,’ it began you when, yourself to said you that, me telling her without, knew I course of and: ago years many great a it made had you said she. Me told Isa what from was it? For meant was it who out made I how know you do! Lasted has it well how and. Grandfather my for made had you macassar-Anti pretty that me give to you of nice so was it, Nellie dear my

“If you see Nobody come into the room,” he wrote to another girl, “please give him a kiss from me.”

“In the Sultan’s Garden (Pantoum)”

She oped the portal of the palace,
She stole into the garden’s gloom;
From every spotless snowy chalice
The lilies breathed a sweet perfume.

She stole into the garden’s gloom,
She thought that no one would discover;
The lilies breathed a sweet perfume,
She swiftly ran to meet her lover.

She thought that no one would discover,
But footsteps followed, ever near:
She swiftly ran to meet her lover
Beside the fountain crystal clear.

But footsteps followed ever near;
Ah, who is that she sees before her
Beside the fountain crystal clear?
‘T is not her hazel-eyed adorer.

Ah, who is that she sees before her,
His hand upon his scimitar?
‘T is not her hazel-eyed adorer,
It is her lord of Candahar!

His hand upon his scimitar–
Alas, what brought such dread disaster!
It is her lord of Candahar,
The fierce Sultan, her lord and master.

Alas, what brought such dread disaster!
“Your pretty lover’s dead!” he cries–
The fierce Sultan, her lord and master–
“‘Neath yonder tree his body lies.”

“Your pretty lover’s dead!” he cries–
(A sudden, ringing voice behind him);
“‘Neath yonder tree his body lies–”
“Die, lying dog! go thou and find him!”

A sudden, ringing voice behind him,
A deadly blow, a moan of hate,
“Die, lying dog! go thou and find him!
Come, love, our steeds are at the gate!”

A deadly blow, a moan of hate,
His blood ran red as wine in chalice;
“Come, love, our steeds are at the gate!”
She oped the portal of the palace.

— Clinton Scollard, Pictures in Song, 1884

Out of Order

John and Margaret Vivian declared bankruptcy in 1992, so they weren’t pleased when NationsBank sent them a dunning notice on a debt that had been discharged. The bank apologized, saying that a computer had generated the notice, but the Vivians received a second notice, then a third.

So Florida bankruptcy judge A. Jay Cristol held the computer in contempt of court:

ORDERED that the NationsBank computer, having been determined in civil contempt, is fined 50 megabytes of hard drive memory and 10 megabytes random access memory. The computer may purge itself of this contempt by ceasing the production and mailing of documents to Mr. and Mrs. Vivian.

The computer had no comment.