Space Saver

Even in 1923, parking was a problem. Iowa’s Leander Pelton proposed this solution — a lightweight car that can be stood on end and wheeled about on casters.

“When it is in this position, it may be moved through an ordinary doorway, or a very large number of them could be stored or parked in a comparatively small road or floor area.”

Unfortunately it would also be a bonanza for car thieves.

Overstuffed Monograms

In 1960, Cambridge graduate Ron Hall announced a discovery he called Hall’s Law: “For any sufficiently large group of people the average number of initials possessed by members of that group is a direct measure of the predominant social class of the group.”

Hall’s computer analysis of the English aristocracy found that dukes averaged four names apiece, marquesses 3.96, earls 3.92, barons 3.53, baronets 3.49, viscounts 3.41, and knights 3.06. As modern examples he named John Selwyn Brooke Lloyd and Hugh Todd Naylor Gaitskell; those from the past included Admiral the Honorable Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunket-Ernle-Erle-Drax, a commodore of convoys during World War II, and Major Tollemache-Tollemache de Orellana Plantagenet Tollemache-Tollemache, who was killed in World War I.

From across the sea, an American newspaper observed, “It would be interesting to know what the worthy major’s parents called him in his boyhood years.”


A girl who weighed many an oz.
Used language I dare not pronoz.
For a fellow unkind
Pulled her chair out behind
Just to see (so he said) if she’d boz.

There once was a young cow named Zephyr.
She seemed quite an amiable hephyr.
But the farmer came near
And she kicked off his ear,
Which made him considerably dephyr.

(Thanks, Jon.)

A guy asked two jays at St. Louis
What kind of an Indian the Souis.
They said “We’re no en-
Cyclopaedia, by hen!”
Said the guy: “If you fellows St. Whouis?”

A bright little maid in St. Thomas
Discovered a suit of pajhomas.
Said the maiden: “Well, well!
What they are I can’t tell,
But I’m sure that these garments St. Mhomas.”

— Ferdinand G. Christgau


  • Dorothy Parker named Alexander Woollcott’s apartment “Wit’s End.”
  • Can you look at something and imagine it at the same time?
  • 36850 = (36 + 8) × 50
  • AGNOSTIC is an anagram of COASTING.
  • “The errors of a man are what make him really lovable.” — Goethe

The Divestiture Puzzle

Suppose you own stock in a company that you believe has acted immorally. You want to sell the stock, but is this morally permissible? If owning the stock is wrong, then selling it to another person amounts to abetting an immoral act. The buyer might not feel the stock is tainted, but you do.

Even just renouncing ownership amounts to redistributing the stock’s value among the other stockholders, which increases their moral culpability. Is principled divestiture possible?

(Steven M. Cahn, “A Puzzle Concerning Divestiture,” Analysis, 1987.)

Roll Call

Yet more unusual names of real people. Most of these are from the collection of Leland Hilligoss of the St. Louis Public Library, via Paul Dickson, A Collector’s Compendium of Rare and Unusual, Bold and Beautiful, Odd and Whimsical Names (1986). “As far as can be determined, all of the names are real and almost all were collected in North America and the British Isles”:

  • Magdalena Babblejack
  • Phoebe B. Peabody Beebe
  • Sibyl Bibble
  • Christian Bible
  • Hiawatha Cathcart
  • Tensil Cheesebrew
  • Adeline Dingledine
  • W. French Dingler
  • Ed Ek
  • JoAnn Floozbonger
  • E. Vercel Fuglestad
  • Cashmere Funkhouser
  • L.E. Vontilzer Gleaves
  • Felty Goosehead
  • Icy Macy Hoober
  • Zola G. Hooberry
  • Square Horn Jr.
  • Birdie T. Hospital
  • Elizabeth Hogg Ironmonger
  • Mingtoy Johnson
  • Epluribus Kitchen
  • Varnard P. Longhibler
  • Channing Manning
  • Duel Maroon
  • Luch V. Moga
  • Otis Muckenfuss
  • Lester Ouchmoody
  • Loveless Pelt
  • Grace Pinkapank
  • Evangelist Polite
  • Curt Puke
  • Burger Rocket
  • Melon Roof
  • Goolsby Scroggins
  • Norval Sleed
  • Craven Tart
  • Eloise Tittlekitty
  • Kong Vang
  • Gwendolyne Winklepleck
  • Clifteen Wooters

Boxing Day

Death row is overcrowded, so the warden proposes a radical solution. He places 100 boxes in a sealed room. Each contains a slip of paper bearing the name of one of the 100 prisoners on the row.

Each prisoner will enter the room by one door, open 50 boxes, and exit by another door. Unless every prisoner can discover his own name, all 100 will be executed.

The prisoners will be supervised by a guard. They cannot communicate with one another, and they must leave the room as they found it, but the group can prepare a plan in advance and post it on the wall of the room.

If they proceed at random, their chance of succeeding is 1/2100, or about 0.00000000000000000000000000000008. What should they do?

Click for Answer

Skyline Trouble

In June 1978, a Princeton engineering student called structural engineer William LeMessurier with some worrying calculations. LeMessurier’s new Citicorp Tower, which had opened the previous year, was vulnerable to quartering winds — winds that blew from a 45-degree angle. On investigating, LeMessurier found also that the welded joints he had specified had been replaced with weaker bolted joints during construction. This meant that a strong wind could shear the bolts and topple a 59-story building into midtown Manhattan.

With hurricane season approaching, welders worked from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. every night, reinforcing the building’s joints, and the Red Cross worked out an evacuation plan for the surrounding neighborhood. Because of a press strike at the time, many of these details came to light only 20 years later.

That year’s Hurricane Ella actually bore down on New York as the workers were finishing the job, but the storm veered out to sea before reaching the city. The welding was completed in October, and it’s now estimated that a storm strong enough to rock the tower will occur only once every 700 years.


When Marshall Bean left the Army in 1965 after eight years’ service, he inverted his name to avoid his creditors. His new driver’s license and Social Security card read Naeb Llahsram.

Unfortunately, this fooled the Army, too, which drafted him back again in 1966. It took him more than a year to convince them he’d already served.

“All this is his own fault,” an Army spokesman told the Associated Press. “It would not have happened in the first place if he hadn’t spelled his name backwards.”

Accordion Commute

A puzzle by David Wells:

Every day I take the subway from Startville to Endville. Today I arrived at the Startville station to find that my train was just departing. I caught the next train to Endville, where I left the station at exactly the same time as if I had caught the first train. How did I manage this? The two trains traveled at the same speed, and I myself did not have to rush to make up the lost time.

Click for Answer