Dante in France


Three nightmare glimpses of World War I:

The first experience I had of rotting bodies had been at Serre, where, as a battalion, we dealt with the best part of a thousand dead who came to pieces in our hands. As you lifted a body by its arms and legs they detached themselves from the torso, and this was not the worst thing. Each body was covered inches deep with a black fur of flies which flew up into your face, into your mouth, eyes and nostrils, as you approached. The bodies crawled with maggots. … We stopped every now and then to vomit. … The bodies had the consistency of Camembert cheese. I once fell and put my hand through the belly of a man. It was days before I got the smell out of my hands.

— British lieutenant Stuart Cloete on a burial party after the Somme, from his autobiography A Victorian Son

At the Epéhy crossroads, we found a huge cat squatting on the chest of a dead German, eating his face. It made us sick to see it, and I sent two men to chase it away. As they approached it sprang snarling at them, but they beat it down with their rifles and drove it into the ruined houses. Then we covered the body with a sack, and went on … [Later] we saw the sack we had thrown over the dead Jerry heaving up and down, and there was pretty pussy, still rending and tearing the body; so we shot it and continued our march to Longavesnes.

— From the diary of British lieutenant Edwin Vaughan of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, April 1917

One evening, whilst on patrol, Jacques saw some rats running from under the dead men’s greatcoats, enormous rats, fat with human flesh. His heart pounding, he edged towards one of the bodies. Its helmet had rolled off. The man displayed a grimacing face, stripped of flesh; the skull bare, the eyes devoured. A set of false teeth slid down on to his rotting jacket, and from the yawning mouth leapt an unspeakably foul beast.

— A French soldier, quoted in John Ellis’ Eye-Deep in Hell, 1989

Seven Tails


Here are seven pennies, all heads up. In a single move you can turn over any four of them. By repeatedly making such moves, can you eventually turn all seven pennies tails up?

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Bitter Justice

An 1873 arrest report by Arizona sheriff George Tyng, quoted in Case and Comment, 1934:

Received the within process Arizona City, Jan. 1873 and served same by arresting defendant at Ehrenberg, A.T., Jan. 31, 1873, but as defendant had no money and I was broke myself and the county dont pay cash in advance, and no steamboat around and no calaboose here and defendant wouldn’t walk down to Yuma all alone by himself and I wouldn’t walk down with him and as he wouldn’t stay arrested unless I boarded him which I had no money for to do, and as he gave up the coat (value .45 cents currency — estimated) and said he never stole it but Bryson gave it to him in presence of witnesses and that Bryson was a damned liar anyhow, and not knowing what to do with him, I did nothing more to him up to date beyond giving him excellent moral advice which he assured me was entirely unnecessary in his case, his life having been blameless and his reputation spotless as he could prove by the best men in Nevada and Idaho but have allowed him to run at large until a more favorable season when a steamboat happens to be here, and will take scrip for his passage to Yuma and present the bill to Supervisors themselves, which is nearly all I have done toward serving within process, though I would make return of the Balance were this process bigger on the back.

Fees — Balance of what coat sells for after paying Justice fees.

George Tyng,
Sheriff of Yuma County,



In 1947, Charles M. Schulz was working as an art instructor at a Minneapolis correspondence school when the accounting department hired a pretty redhead named Donna Mae Johnson. “I just thought she was wonderful,” Schulz said. On his way in to work he would stop off on the second floor to draw cartoons on her desk calendar, and in February 1950 they began to date.

The trouble was that Donna had a second boyfriend, a local boy named Alan Wold whom she had been dating since 1948. “I knew quite soon in the relationship that it was Al that I wanted,” she said, yet “I really loved Sparky too at the same time.” She asked her diary on May 8, 1950: “How will you ever decide?”

On June 14, after signing a deal with a newspaper syndicate to publish his comic strip, Peanuts, Schulz went to her and proposed marriage.

All she could say was “I don’t want to marry anybody. I just wish everybody would leave me alone.”

He pressed her for three weeks, but she was firm. Schulz eventually moved to Colorado, married Joyce Halverson, and started a family, but he kept in touch with Donna for the rest of his life. One night he grew sentimental listening to Joni James sing about unrequited love, “and that was the mindset that got me going on Charlie Brown sitting at the playground, eating his lunch, and he looks across the playground, and he sees the little red-haired girl, and from that, that whole series came, one thing after another.”

“You never do get over your first love,” he said at age 75. “The whole of you is rejected when a woman says, ‘You’re not worth it.'”



George Eliot’s 1859 novel Adam Bede opens in a carpenter’s workshop:

The concert of the tools and Adam’s voice was at last broken by Seth, who, lifting the door at which he had been working intently, placed it against the wall, and said, ‘There! I’ve finished my door to-day, anyhow.’

The workmen all looked up; Jim Salt, a burly, red-haired man known as Sandy Jim, paused from his planing, and Adam said to Seth, with a sharp glance of surprise, ‘What! Dost think thee’st finished the door?’

‘Aye, sure,’ said Seth, with answering surprise; ‘what’s awanting to’t?’

A loud roar of laughter from the other three workmen made Seth look round confusedly. Adam did not join in the laughter, but there was a slight smile on his face as he said, in a gentler tone than before, ‘Why, thee’st forgot the panels.’

The laughter burst out afresh as Seth clapped his hands to his head, and coloured over brow and crown.

“I found out in the first two pages that it was a woman’s writing,” Thomas Carlyle complained to Willliam Allingham. “She supposed that in making a door, you last of all put in the panels!”

Opposites Exact


Prove that, at any given moment, there are two points on the equator that are diametrically opposed yet have the same temperature.

Click for Answer

Anatomy Lesson


In 1988, Shao-Chun Chu conceived a unique way to teach people about the human body — an amusement ride that would carry passengers through an enormous model of a sleeping man and woman:

An educational amusement apparatus forms a large building structure having an external appearance simulating a man and a woman resting partially under a blanket, wherein riders are taken through a succession of cavities that simulate internal organs of the man and woman. Entrance to a head chamber simulating an oral cavity is achieved by a stairway supported by a simulated arm of the man, the oral cavity having displays of teeth in normal and abnormal conditions, and serving as a staging area for a train to carry the riders. The train passes into a simulated cranial cavity of the woman, past a sectional display of simulated ear organs, and into a body portion of the building that is representative of the abdomen of both the man and the woman, first through a simulated esophagus, stomach, and intestine of an alimentary canal, through simulated urinary and reproductive tracts, then through a simulated liver and a simulated cardiovascular canal, and finally through a simulated lung and windpipe to an exit staging area of the building.

Chu hoped the ride would encourage people to take better care of their bodies and would be “effective in transporting a large ridership.” His 10-page patent abstract contains sentences that I’m pretty sure have never been written before (“Further, the structure continues to descend until the cars become partially submerged in the lake of the stomach, preferably with considerable splashing”). Unfortunately, to my knowledge it’s never been realized.

“Advice Concerning Low Spirits”

A letter from Sydney Smith to Lady Georgiana Morpeth, Feb. 16, 1820:

Dear Lady Georgiana,– Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done — so I feel for you. 1st. Live as well as you dare. 2nd. Go into the shower-bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold, 75° or 80°. 3rd. Amusing books. 4th. Short views of human life — not further than dinner or tea. 5th. Be as busy as you can. 6th. See as much as you can of those friends who respect and like you. 7th. And of those acquaintances who amuse you. 8th. Make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely — they are always worse for dignified concealment. 9th. Attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you. 10th. Compare your lot with that of other people. 11th. Don’t expect too much from human life — a sorry business at the best. 12th. Avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, and everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence. 13th. Do good, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree. 14th. Be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue. 15th. Make the room where you commonly sit, gay and pleasant. 16th. Struggle by little and little against idleness. 17th. Don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice. 18th. Keep good blazing fires. 19th. Be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion. 20th. Believe me, dear Lady Georgiana,
Very truly yours,
Sydney Smith