Phony Pony

Early automobiles tended to frighten horses, so in 1904 Henry Hayes proposed attaching a life-size fake horse to the front of each car, to give the illusion that they were ordinary carriages.

The horse’s head would be fitted with a lensed lamp, its mouth would hold a horn, and its hollow interior could store fuel, tools, and extra tires. The saddle could even bear a rider.

It’s not too late to implement this.

Literary Complaints

Charles Dickens to London clockmaker John Bennett:

My Dear Sir — Since my hall clock was sent to your establishment to be cleaned it has gone (as indeed it always has) perfectly well, but has struck the hours with great reluctance; and, after enduring internal agonies of a most distressing nature, it has now ceased striking altogether. Though a happy release for the clock, this is not convenient to the household. If you can send down any confidential person with whom the clock can confer, I think it may have something on its works that it would be glad to make a clean breast of.

W.S. Gilbert to the Times:

Sir, — Allow me to corroborate Dean Gregory’s statement as to the degeneration that has overtaken a company [the London and Northwestern Railway] which, until recently, was justly regarded as a pattern to all other lines in the matter of punctuality and rapidity of despatch. … In the face of Saturday the officials of the company stand helpless and appalled. This day, which recurs at stated and well-ascertained intervals, is treated as a phenomenon entirely outside the ordinary operations of nature, and, as a consequence, no attempt whatever is made to grapple with its inherent difficulties. To the question, ‘What has caused the train to be so late?’ the officials reply, ‘It is Saturday’ — as who should say, ‘It is an earthquake.’

Mark Twain to a gas and electric lighting company in Hartford, Conn.:

Gentlemen, — There are but two places in our whole street where lights could be of any value, by any accident, and you have measured and appointed your intervals so ingeniously as to leave each of those places in the centre of a couple of hundred yards of solid darkness. When I noticed that you were setting one of your lights in such a way that I could almost see how to get into my gate at night, I suspected that it was a piece of carelessness on the part of the workmen, and would be corrected as soon as you should go around inspecting and find it out. My judgment was right; it is always right, when you are concerned. For fifteen years, in spite of my prayers and tears, you persistently kept a gas lamp exactly half way between my gates, so that I couldn’t find either of them after dark; and then furnished such execrable gas that I had to hang a danger signal on the lamp post to keep teams from running into it, nights. Now I suppose your present idea is, to leave us a little more in the dark.

Don’t mind us — out our way; we possess but one vote apiece, and no rights which you are in any way bound to respect. Please take your electric light and go to — but never mind, it is not for me to suggest; you will probably find the way; and any way you can reasonably count on divine assistance if you lose your bearings.

S.L. Clemens.

Fowl Play

My grandfather’s papers included an old invoice:

72 turkeys $-67.9-

The first and last digits are illegible. What are the missing digits, and what was the price of one turkey?

Click for Answer

Looking-Glass Art

That’s Rembrandt’s engraving The Three Trees on the left, and its mirror image.

Art historian Heinrich Wölfflin found that reversing the image produces a distinctly different aesthetic effect. In the first image, “the group of trees at the right gives an impression of energy”; in the second, “the trees are devaluated and emphasis now seems to rest on the flat, extended plain.”

But curiously, writes Chris McManus in Right Hand, Left Hand, “although ordinary viewers say [such reversals] look different, they cannot reliably decide which is the original and which the mirror-image, unless they have seen the picture before.” Whom can we credit for the second composition?

Sense and Sensibility

We detect that a rhododendron flower is odorless by smelling it. But do we smell its odorlessness? We detect that tofu is flavorless by tasting it. But do we taste its flavorlessness?

— Roy Sorensen, Seeing Dark Things, 2008


In central Panama, the sun rises in the Pacific and sets in the Atlantic.

What Dreams May Come

Hallucinations reported in a 1955 study of alcohol withdrawal in which subjects were allowed to drink heavily for up to 87 days, then abruptly cut off:

  • “During the first night he saw a disembodied head which was shrunken and had the appearance of heads prepared by a tribe of South American Indians. The eyes of this head followed the patient as he moved in bed. On closing his eyes, he saw a dwarf who would disappear whenever he opened his eyes.”
  • “During the second night he began to hear men’s and women’s voices outside his window but was unable to distinguish what these voices were saying. He heard baseball games on the radio and television, although these instruments were not turned on.”
  • “When it became dark, on the evening of the fourth day, the patient became extremely agitated and screamed at other patients: ‘Get out of the way! You are standing where they are coming up!’ On being questioned he stated that snakes were coming up out of the floor and attempting to attack him.”
  • “Also, during the fifth night, he gave a dramatic description of his bed flying through the air, going through dark tunnels, and so forth. … During the following morning he was still hallucinating and at times appeared to think he was in Brooklyn. He described being attacked by an imaginary animal which spat acid in his face. He would strike at the animal with his pillow and said that he had caught it several times.”
  • “He thought he heard a man screaming and that the man was being killed. He jumped up and ran out into the hallway to see about this event. When it was suggested that he had misinterpreted the sound of a cow lowing, he accepted this explanation and went back to bed.”
  • “He felt that members of a Sicilian gang were trying to kill him with guns that could shoot curves around corners. He insisted that he had been cut with knives and he was constantly attempting to escape from his pursuers.”

Somewhat related — from a sleep-deprivation study in 1965:

  • “During the fourth day he became irritable and uncooperative; he developed memory lapses, difficulty concentrating, the feeling of a tight band around his head, and saw fog around the street lights. About 0300 that night he experienced the illusion that a street sign was a person. A short time later he imagined he was a great Negro football player and resented statements made about his ability and the Negro race. By the fifth day his equilibrium was normal, but he had intermittent hypnogogic reveries, such as seeing a path running through a quiet forest and plants in a garden.”

Isbell, H., et al. “An Experimental Study of the Etiology of Rum Fits and Delirium Tremens.” Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol 16, no. 1 (March 1955): 1-33.

Ross, John J. “Neurological Findings After Prolonged Sleep Deprivation.” Archives of Neurology 12, no. 4 (April 1, 1965): 399–403.

(Thanks, Bob and Patrick.)


“I wouldn’t say when you’ve seen one western you’ve seen the lot, but when you’ve seen the lot you get the feeling you’ve seen one.” — Katharine Whitehorn


I drove this car 20,000 miles and used five tires equally in accumulating the mileage. How many miles’ wear did each tire sustain?

Click for Answer

Pen Pals

franklin pierce adams

“Guess whose birthday it is today?” Franklin Pierce Adams asked Beatrice Kaufman.

“Yours?” she guessed.

“No, but you’re getting warm,” he said. “It’s Shakespeare’s!”