In a Word

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/paris-1395428

topolatry
n. excessive reverence for a place

Of the million or so Japanese who visit Paris each year, about 12 have to be repatriated due to “Paris syndrome,” a transient psychological disorder brought on when the mundane reality of the city clashes with their romanticized expectations.

The syndrome was first diagnosed by Hiroaki Ota, a Japanese psychiatrist working in France. Symptoms include delusional states, hallucinations, feelings of persecution, and anxiety.

“Fragile travellers can lose their bearings,” psychologist Hervé Benhamou told Le Journal du Dimanche. “When the idea they have of the country meets the reality of what they discover, it can provoke a crisis.”

(A. Viala et al., “Les japonais en voyage pathologique à Paris : un modèle original de prise en charge transculturelle,” Nervure 5 (2004): 31–34.)

Podcast Episode 85: Raising Chicago

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Briggs_house.jpg

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

In 1868, visiting Scotsman David Macrae was astonished to see Chicago transforming itself — dozens of buildings were transplanted to the suburbs, and hotels weighing hundreds of tons were raised on jackscrews. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the city’s astounding 20-year effort to rid itself of sewage and disease.

We’ll also learn how a bear almost started World War III and puzzle over the importance of a ringing phone.

Sources for our feature on the raising of Chicago:

David Young, “Raising the Chicago Streets Out of the Mud,” Chicago Tribune, date strangely withheld (retrieved Dec. 7, 2015).

Robin Einhorn, “Street Grades, Raising,” Encyclopedia of Chicago (accessed Dec. 6, 2015).

Josiah Seymour Currey, Chicago: Its History and Its Builders, 1918.

Alfred Theodore Andreas, History of Chicago: Ending With the Year 1857, 1884.

David Macrae, The Americans at Home, 1870.

There’s a very extensive collection of contemporaneous news accounts here.

Listener mail:

Aaron Tovish, “The Okinawa Missiles of October,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Oct. 25, 2015.

Wikipedia, “Norwegian Rocket Incident” (retrieved Dec. 12, 2015).

Wikipedia, “Volk Field Air National Guard Base” (retrieved Dec. 12, 2015).

Chris Hubbuch, “False Alarm: How a Bear Nearly Started a Nuclear War,” La Crosse [Wis.] Tribune, Jan. 30, 2009.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is from Matthew Johnstone’s 1999 book What’s the Story?

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Putting Words

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hideki_Tojo.jpg

In 1946, when Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo was being held prisoner by the victorious Allies, he asked for a set of dentures so that he could speak clearly during his war crimes trial.

The dentures were made by 22-year-old military dentist E.J. Mallory. “I figured it was my duty to carry out the assignment,” Mallory remembered in 1988. “But that didn’t mean I couldn’t have fun with it.”

An amateur ham radio operator, he inscribed the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” in Morse code into the dentures and delivered them to Tojo.

Mallory and his colleague George Foster told a few friends, but the secret got out and the two had to awaken Tojo in the middle of the night to borrow back the dentures and grind out the message. The next day, when a colonel confronted them, they were able to say truthfully that there was no message.

It’s not known whether Tojo ever found out what had happened. He was executed in 1948.

“It wasn’t anything done in anger,” Mallory remembered in 1995. “It’s just that not many people had the chance to get those words into his mouth.”

Books

FC book covers

Just a reminder — Futility Closet books make great gifts for people who are impossible to buy gifts for. Both contain hundreds of hand-picked favorites from our 11-year archive of curiosities. Some reviews:

“A wild, wonderful, and educational romp through history, science, zany patents, math puzzles, wonderful words (like boanthropy, hallelujatic, and andabatarian), the Devil’s Game, self-contradicting words, and so much more. Buy this book and feed your mind!” — Clifford A. Pickover, author of The Mathematics Devotional

“Futility Closet delivers concentrated doses of weird, wonderful, brain-stimulating ideas and anecdotes, curated mainly from forgotten old books. I’m hooked — there’s nothing quite like it!” — Mark Frauenfelder, founder, Boing Boing

“Meant to be read in pieces, but impossible to put down.” — Gary Antonick, editor, New York Times Numberplay blog

“Futility Closet is a dusty museum back room where one can spend minutes or hours among seldom-seen curiosities, and feel that none of the time was wasted.” — Alan Bellows, DamnInteresting.com

Both books are available now on Amazon. Thanks for your support!

A Christmas Challenge

http://www.gchq.gov.uk/press_and_media/news_and_features/Pages/Directors-Christmas-puzzle-2015.aspx

Here’s a unique challenge for the holidays — one of the United Kingdom’s intelligence agencies, GCHQ, is distributing the puzzle above on its Christmas card this year. (See GCHQ’s website for details and a high-resolution grid.)

The puzzle is a nonogram: Each row and column bears a string of numbers that indicates the lengths of consecutive runs of black squares that will appear there when the grid has been completed. For example, “3 3” in the eighth row means that in the finished puzzle two shaded sections of 3 squares each will appear somewhere along its length. Some squares in the grid have already been shaded to get you started.

“By solving this first puzzle players will create an image that leads to a series of increasingly complex challenges,” notes the agency. “Once all stages have been unlocked and completed successfully, players are invited to submit their answer via a given GCHQ email address by 31 January 2016. The winner will then be drawn from all the successful entries and notified soon after.” The agency invites players to make a donation to the U.K.’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children if they’ve enjoyed the puzzle.

(Thanks, Alex.)

02/08/2016 UPDATE: The answers have now been revealed — see the link at the bottom of this post.

Art and Science

A reader passed this along — in a lecture at the University of Maryland (starting around 34:18), Douglas Hofstadter presents Napoleon’s theorem by means of a sonnet:

Equilateral triangles three we’ll erect
Facing out on the sides of our friend ABC.
We’ll link up their centers, and when we inspect
These segments, we find tripartite symmetry.

Equilateral triangles three we’ll next draw
Facing in on the sides of our friend BCA.
Their centers we’ll link up, and what we just saw
Will enchant us again, in its own smaller way.

Napoleon triangles two we’ve now found.
Their centers seem close, and indeed that’s the case:
They occupy one and the same centroid place!

Our triangle pair forms a figure and ground,
Defining a six-edgéd torus, we see,
Whose area’s the same as our friend, CAB!

(Thanks, Evan.)

Small Business

Klaus Kemp is the sole modern practitioner of a lost Victorian art form — arranging diatoms into tiny, dazzling patterns, like microscopic stained-glass windows.

Diatoms are single-celled algae that live in shells of glasslike silica. There are hundreds of thousands of varieties, ranging in size from 5 to 50 thousandths of a millimeter. In the latter part of the 19th century, professional microscopists arranged them into patterns for wealthy clients, but how they did this is unknown — they took their secrets with them. Kemp spent eight years perfecting his own technique, which involves arranging the shapes meticulously in a film of glue over a period of several days.

“As a youngster of 16 I had a great passion for natural history and came across a collection of sample tubes of diatoms from the Victorian era,” he told Wired. “I was immediately struck by the beauty and symmetry of diatoms. The symmetry and sculpturing on an organism that one cannot see with the naked eye astonished me, and after 60 years of following this passion I can still get excited from the next sample I receive or collect.”

The Császár Polyhedron

The ordinary tetrahedron, or triangular pyramid, has no diagonals — every pair of vertices is joined by an edge. How many other polyhedra have this feature? In 1949, Hungarian topologist Ákos Császár found the specimen above, which has 7 vertices, 14 faces, and 21 edges.

But so far these two are the only residents in this particular zoo. “It isn’t known if there are any other polyhedra in which every pair of vertices is joined by an edge,” writes David Darling in The Universal Book of Mathematics. “The next possible figure would have 12 faces, 66 edges, 44 vertices, and 6 holes, but this seems an unlikely configuration — as, indeed, to an even greater extent, does any more complex member of this curious family.”

Briefly Noted

Ira D. Sankey’s 1873 music collection Sacred Songs and Solos contains the hymn “There is a land mine eyes have seen.” The index lists this as:

‘There is a land mine’

In the Sunday Times, March 15, 1964, F.N. Scaife recalls seeing a similarly odd entry in an old hymn book. The first lines of the hymn were:

O Lord, what boots it to recall
The hours of anguish spent

This was indexed as:

‘O Lord, what boots’

Product Recall

A problem from the 2004 Harvard-MIT Math Tournament:

Zach chooses five numbers from the set {1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7} and tells their product to Claudia. She finds that this is not enough information to tell whether the sum of Zach’s numbers is even or odd. What is the product that Zach tells Claudia?

Click for Answer