Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” may be a classic horror story, but it’s full of “weird wine howlers,” according to Clifton Fadiman.

Fortunato, who is immured in the story, “prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine,” and Montresor, who does the immuring, adds, “I was skilful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.”

But Fortunato tells him, “Luchesi is quite incapable of telling Amontillado from Sherry,” and, later, “Amontillado! You have been imposed upon; and as for Luchesi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”

But Amontillado is a sherry! H. Warner Allen points out that André Simon’s wine encyclopedia defines Amontillado as “one of the most popular types of Sherry, neither too dry nor too sweet.”

Compounding this error, Montresor tells Fortunato that he wants Luchesi’s opinion of a pipe of Amontillado that he has received. But a pipe is a cask of port; a cask of sherry is a butt.

Also, Poe seems to have thought that Amontillado is an Italian wine, perhaps judging by the look of the word. Fadiman writes, “What he thought ‘a flagon of De Grâve’ could be is almost beyond conjecture.”

(Clifton Fadiman, Dionysus: A Case of Vintage Tales About Wine, 1962.)

Midnight Oil

In 1960, MIT mathematician George B. Thomas Jr. received a letter from a waterfowl farmer in Maine. The farmer thought he had discovered an error in a problem in Thomas’ influential textbook Calculus and Analytic Geometry. A little bewildered, Thomas looked into it and discovered that there was indeed an error. He thanked the writer and promised to correct the mistake in future editions.

The two corresponded intermittently thereafter, but four years went by before Thomas realized that the farmer was novelist Henry Roth, author of Call It Sleep. Suffering a disastrous case of writer’s block, Roth had turned to farming and tutoring to support his family, and he had worked his way through every problem in Thomas’ book, ninety per chapter, “often struggling long into the night before arriving at the solution,” according to biographer Steven Kellman.

A copy of the textbook, “inscribed with notes,” is listed among Roth’s papers. In the preface to the fourth edition, Thomas wrote, “One of the author’s friends, Mr. Henry Roth, wrote that he feared that the new edition would be ‘rife with set theory.’ I believe that he, and others who have used the third edition, will find that only modest additions of set theory have been made.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Nearly everyone in Whittier, Alaska, lives under the same roof. The 14-story Begich Towers was built after World War II, and the building was converted to a condominium when the military withdrew. About 200 people live in 150 two- and three-bedroom apartments, and they can go weeks without leaving the building, which contains a post office, a grocery, a medical clinic, the mayor’s office, a general store, the police department, a Methodist church, a laundry, a small hotel, a conference room, and a play area with an indoor pool. A tunnel system leads to the community school and a general store.

By most accounts, life in the tower is pretty agreeable. But “because we have four elevators, sometimes people pull pranks on you and hit every button,” resident June Miller told CBC News. “And it’s like, ‘Really? This again?'”

(Thanks, Ginny.)

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Podcast Episode 130: The Unlikely Ultramarathoner
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Australia’s Westfield ultramarathon had a surprise entrant in 1983: A 61-year-old potato farmer named Cliff Young joined a field of elite professional runners for the 500-mile race from Sydney to Melbourne. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Young’s fortunes in the race and the heart, tenacity, and humor that endeared him to a nation.

We’ll also learn the difference between no and nay and puzzle over a Japanese baby shortage.


Thomas Wedders exhibited his 7.5-inch nose throughout Yorkshire in the 1770s.

Two meteorologists played ping-pong on a solid block of snow atop Scotland’s Ben Nevis in 1902.

Sources for our feature on Cliff Young:

Julietta Jameson, Cliffy: The Cliff Young Story, 2013.

Phil Essam, ed., I’ve Finally Found My Hero, 2016.

Matthew Ricketson, “Cliff’s Not Finished Yet,” The Age, Nov. 29, 1983.

J. Freeman, “Cliff Calls It a Day,” Telegraph, April 17, 1985.

Greg Truman, “A Long-Running Favorite Draws to an End,” The Advertiser, May 5, 1986.

Louise Evans, “Cliff, the Battler’s Hero, Refuses to Shuffle Off Into the Sunset,” Sydney Morning Herald, June 4, 1988.

R. Reed, “Westfield Highway Closed to Cliff: Old Shuffler ‘Saved’ From Himself,” Sunday Herald, March 11, 1990.

G. Legg, “Cliff, 70, Has Enough Puff for 170km,” Courier-Mail, May 23, 1992.

Derek Ballantine, “For Cliff, a Long Road to Nowhere,” The Advertiser, April 10, 1993.

Alan Rider, “‘Where’s Cliffy?’: In Hobart Run-Walk!,” Hobart Mercury, April 20, 1993.

Tony Baker, “An Epic of Eccentricity,” Hobart Mercury, April 25, 1997.

“End of the Road for Cliff,” Sydney Morning Herald, Nov. 3, 2003.

Graeme Leech, “Shy Runner Shuffled Into a Nation’s Heart,” The Australian, Nov. 7, 2003.

Charles Happell, “A Gumbooted Forrest Gump, Cliff Young Ran His Own Race,” The Australian, March 23, 2013.

“Running Legend’s Cup Will Return to District,” Colac Herald, April 17, 2015.

Here’s Neil Kearney’s 1983 documentary Cliffy, made shortly after Young’s victory and showing his trademark shuffling gait:

And Clock End Films made a TV movie about Young in 2013. (Thanks, Julie.)

Listener mail:

“Frenemies — Churchill’s Planned 1945 Surprise Attack on the Soviets,” Military History Now, Oct. 15, 2012.

Wikipedia, “Operational Unthinkable” (accessed Nov. 18, 2016).

Historical Board Gaming: Operation Unthinkable Custom Map & Rules.

BoardGameGeek: Castle Itter.

Digital Capricorn Studios: Castle Itter.

National Public Radio, “No, Yes, Definitely: On the Rise of ‘No, Totally’ as Linguistic Quirk,” Morning Edition, April 12, 2015.

Kathryn Schulz, “What Part of ‘No, Totally’ Don’t You Understand?”, New Yorker, April 7, 2015.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!


A Mrs. Harris published this verse in Golden Days on Oct. 10, 1885:

He squanders recklessly his cash
In cultivating a mustache;
A shameless fop is Mr. Dude,
Vain, shallow, fond of being viewed.
‘Tis true that he is quite a swell —
A smile he has for every belle;
What time he has to spare from dress
Is taken up with foolishness —
A witless youth, whose feeble brain
Incites him oft to chew his cane.
Leave dudes alone, nor ape their ways,
Male readers of these Golden Days.

It reads so naturally that it’s surprising to find that it contains a double acrostic: Taking the fourth letter of each line spells out QUANTITATIVE, and taking the last letter spells out HEEDLESSNESS.

Mens et Manus

David Hagen offered this puzzle in MIT Technology Review in 2007. The MIT logo can be thought of as a slider puzzle. In the figure above, can you slide the tiles about so that the gray I can escape through the opening at top left?

Click for Answer