Late Arrivals

Reiss records the death of a woman who was hastily buried while her husband was away, and on his return he ordered exhumation of her body, and on opening the coffin a child’s cry was heard. The infant had evidently been born postmortem. It lived long afterward under the name of ‘Fils de la terre.’ Willoughby mentions the curious instance in which rumbling was heard from the coffin of a woman during her hasty burial. One of her neighbors returned to the grave, applied her ear to the ground, and was sure she heard a sighing noise. A soldier with her affirmed her tale, and together they went to a clergyman and a justice, begging that the grave be opened. When the coffin was opened it was found that a child had been born, which had descended to her knees. In Derbyshire, to this day, may be seen on the parish register: ‘April ye 20, 1650, was buried Emme, the wife of Thomas Toplace, who was found delivered of a child after she had lain two hours in the grave.’

— George Milbry Gould and Walter Lytle Pyle, Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, 1896

Unfinished Business

Benjamin West undertook this painting of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the American Revolution. The British delegation refused to pose, so he had to abandon it.

As its colonies and dominions won independence, Britain faced a curious legal problem: How can a sovereign release a subject from subjection? If it passes a law, then implicitly the law might someday be repealed, “revoking” the new state’s freedom. And if Parliament promises never to do this, then it’s denying the power of the British people to change their own laws. The 1931 Statute of Westminster solemnized Britain’s intent never again to legislate for the colonies, but in 1935 Parliament ruled that the statute could in principle be repealed. “This was a world-class cartoon of the child with flypaper on its fingers trying to shake it off,” writes Peter Suber in The Paradox of Self-Amendment. “England was learning that it is paradoxical to command another to be free or even to offer another their freedom as a gift.”

In the Philippine Independence Act of 1934, the United States promised that, when a suitable Philippine constitution was ratified, “the United States shall by proclamation withdraw and surrender all right of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control, or sovereignty then existing and exercised by the United States in and over the territory and people of the Philippine Islands …” But, like Westminster, this is only a statute, and unless Congress can bind itself irrevocably, it might be repealed at any time. Suber writes, “If after a certain time repeal would have no effect on the independence of the former dependent, which is almost certainly the case, then legal formalism cannot explain the source of the independence.”

Making Way,_Echo_Canyon,_450_feet_long_and_75_feet_high._Summit_County,_Utah._-_NARA_-_516630.jpg

A man is 4/7 across a train trestle when he sees a train coming. To get off the trestle, he can run toward the train or away from it. As it happens, in either case he’ll reach safety just as the locomotive passes him. If he runs at 20 kph, how fast is the train going?

Click for Answer

Road Music

Samuel Goss made the world a little sweeter in 1899:

My invention relates to bicycles, and has for its object to provide a combined bicycle and musical instrument whereby the rider when so disposed may treat himself and others in his immediate neighborhood to a musical accompaniment as he rides along.

Essentially it’s a giant music box mounted on the frame and driven by the pedals. Presumably a tandem bike could play in harmony — perhaps “A Bicycle Built for Two,” which had come out just five years earlier.


How to get rich using pocket handkerchiefs, from Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno Concluded:

Here Lady Muriel returned with her father; and, after he had exchanged some friendly words with ‘Mein Herr’, and we had all been supplied with the needful ‘creature-comforts,’ the newcomer returned to the suggestive subject of Pocket-handkerchiefs.

‘You have heard of Fortunatus’s Purse, Miladi? Ah, so! Would you be surprised to hear that, with three of these leetle handkerchiefs, you shall make the Purse of Fortunatus, quite soon, quite easily?’

‘Shall I indeed?’ Lady Muriel eagerly replied, as she took a heap of them into her lap, and threaded her needle. ‘Please tell me how, Mein Herr! I’ll make one before I touch another drop of tea!’

‘You shall first,’ said Mein Herr, possessing himself of two of the handkerchiefs, spreading one upon the other, and holding them up by two corners, ‘you shall first join together these upper corners, the right to the right, the left to the left; and the opening between them shall be the mouth of the Purse.’

A very few stitches sufficed to carry out this direction. ‘Now, if I sew the other three edges together,’ she suggested, ‘the bag is complete?’

‘Not so, Miladi: the lower edges shall first be joined–ah, not so!’ (as she was beginning to sew them together). ‘Turn one of them over, and join the right lower corner of the one to the left lower corner of the other, and sew the lower edges together in what you would call the wrong way.’

I see!’ said Lady Muriel, as she deftly executed the order. ‘And a very twisted, uncomfortable, uncanny-looking bag it makes! But the moral is a lovely one. Unlimited wealth can only be attained by doing things in the wrong way! And how are we to join up these mysterious–no, I mean this mysterious opening?’ (twisting the thing round and round with a puzzled air.) ‘Yes, it is one opening. I thought it was two, at first.’

‘You have seen the puzzle of the Paper Ring?’ Mein Herr said, addressing the Earl. ‘Where you take a slip of paper, and join its ends together, first twisting one, so as to join the upper corner of one end to the lower corner of the other?

‘I saw one made, only yesterday,’ the Earl replied. ‘Muriel, my child, were you not making one, to amuse those children you had to tea?’

‘Yes, I know that Puzzle,’ said Lady Muriel. ‘The Ring has only one surface, and only one edge. It’s very mysterious!’

‘The bag is just like that, isn’t it?’ I suggested. ‘Is not the outer surface of one side of it continuous with the inner surface of the other side?’

‘So it is!’ she exclaimed. ‘Only it isn’t a bag, just yet. How shall we fill up this opening, Mein Herr?’

‘Thus!’ said the old man impressively, taking the bag from her, and rising to his feet in the excitement of the explanation. ‘The edge of the opening consists of four handkerchief-edges, and you can trace it continuously, round and round the opening: down the right edge of one handkerchief, up the left edge of the other, and then down the left edge of the one, and up the right edge of the other!’

‘So you can!’ Lady Muriel murmured thoughtfully, leaning her head on her hand, and earnestly watching the old man. ‘And that proves it to be only one opening!’

She looked so strangely like a child, puzzling over a difficult lesson, and Mein Herr had become, for the moment, so strangely like the old Professor, that I felt utterly bewildered: the ‘eerie’ feeling was on me in its full force, and I felt almost impelled to say ‘Do you understand it, Sylvie?’ However I checked myself by a great effort, and let the dream (if indeed it was a dream) go on to its end.

‘Now, this third handkerchief,’ Mein Herr proceeded, ‘has also four edges, which you can trace continuously round and round: all you need do is to join its four edges to the four edges of the opening. The Purse is then complete, and its outer surface–‘

‘I see!’ Lady Muriel eagerly interrupted. ‘Its outer surface will be continuous with its inner surface! But it will take time. I’ll sew it up after tea.’ She laid aside the bag, and resumed her cup of tea. ‘But why do you call it Fortunatus’s Purse, Mein Herr?’

The dear old man beamed upon her, with a jolly smile, looking more exactly like the Professor than ever. ‘Don’t you see, my child–I should say Miladi? Whatever is inside that Purse, is outside it; and whatever is outside it, is inside it. So you have all the wealth of the world in that leetle Purse!’

The Verdict

The 1990 antitrust case United States v. Syufy Enterprises settled a dispute regarding monopoly among Las Vegas movie exhibitors. But it became famous for another reason: It appears that Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski hid more than 200 movie titles in his opinion. Here’s a sample (italics mine):

“Absent structural constraints that keep competition from performing its levelling function, few businesses can dictate terms to customers or suppliers with impunity. It’s risky business even to try. As Syufy learned in dealing with Orion and his other suppliers, a larger company often is more vulnerable to a squeeze play than a smaller one. It is for that reason that neither size nor market share alone suffice to establish a monopoly. Without the power to exclude competition, large companies that try to throw their weight around may find themselves sitting ducks for leaner, hungrier competitors. Or, as Syufy saw, the tactic may boomerang, causing big trouble with suppliers.”

It’s a bit hard to tell how many of these are deliberate, as they appear natural in context, and Kozinski won’t say. But working with Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies and Video Guide, the Brigham Young University Law Review found 215 titles in the opinion. You can try your own hand at it — the full text is here.

Strictly Speaking

Six logicians finish dinner. The waitress asks, “Do you all want coffee?”

First logician: “I don’t know.”

Second logician: “I don’t know.”

Third logician: “I don’t know.”

Fourth logician: “I don’t know.”

Fifth logician: “I don’t know.”

Sixth logician: “No.”

Who gets coffee and why?

Click for Answer

A Third Valiant Ass

From an account by Spanish priest Pedro Simón of an expedition led by Luis Alonso de Lugo against the Tairona Indians of Colombia, 1535:

At dawn, as they lay hidden in the cornfields which surrounded the village, awaiting the moment to attack, they heard an ass bray. They knew that the Indians did not possess such animals, and did not believe that an ass could have climbed the high crags which barred the way from the coast. … When the place had been pacified and looted, they enquired about the ass … The Indians said that it had come in a ship, which had been wrecked on the coast. … They had killed those of the ship’s company who got ashore, but had kept the ass, and had carried it up into the mountains, trussed with ropes and slung between two poles, along with all the other loot they found in the ship. … So our soldiers, deeming it inappropriate and contrary to native custom that such articles should be in the hands of Indians, collected them all up, along with everything else that took their fancy, including the ass, and took it back to the coast. But the trails were rough, more suited to cats than men, and the descent was as hard as the ascent had been, so they made the Indians carry the donkey down just as they had brought it up; and very useful it turned out to be. Surely, as the first of its race to penetrate those mountains, it deserved to be numbered among the conquistadores. It served in other entradas later, and finally in the expedition which Hernando de Quesada, brother and deputy of Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada the discoverer, led in search of El Dorado. It was ridden by Fray Vicente Requejada of the Order of Saint Augustine. … The ass served the friar well until, on the return march, they all ran out of food and, in the extremities of hunger, killed it for food. They left not a scrap of it. They collected its blood, made sausages of its guts, and even devoured its hide, well boiled. It had served them well in life, and served them better still in death, by its timely rescue from starvation; a salutary reminder of the hardships which in those days were the daily lot of discoverers.

See An Ass Cast Away and Hoof Positive.