Anthropocentrism

http://books.google.com/books?id=-cgOAAAAQAAJ

Large word squares are dramatically harder to make than small ones. To date the largest anyone has managed to find are composed of 9-letter words:

ACHALASIA word square

Finding a perfect 10×10 word square has been a central goal for wordplay fans for more than 100 years. The task was looking impossible when in 1972 Dmitri Borgmann found an unexpected resource in the African journal of David Livingstone, whose entry for Sept. 26, 1872, reads:

Through forest, along the side of a sedgy valley. Cross its head-water, which has rust of iron in it, then west and by south. The forest has very many tsetse. Zebras calling loudly, and Senegal long claw in our camp at dawn, with its cry, ‘O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.’

This is exactly what was needed. Given a pen, the yellow-bellied longclaw, Macronyx flavigaster, could have drawn for Livingstone a perfect 10×10 word square:

longclaw word square

We ought to consult other species more often. Any longclaw could have given us this contribution — indeed, this is the only word square the bird is capable of making!

Down

Sorry about that downtime — we hit some database trouble. Should be okay now …

Back from the Klondike

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Back_from_the_klondike.svg

Sam Loyd devised this puzzle in 1898. Begin at the heart in the center and move three squares in any of the eight directions, north, south, east, west, northeast, northwest, southeast, or southwest. You’ll land on a number; take this as the length of your next “march,” which again can go in any of the eight directions. “Continue on in this manner until you come upon a square with a number which will carry you just one step beyond the border, thus solving the puzzle.”

Interestingly, Loyd devised this puzzle expressly to defeat Leonhard Euler’s method of solving mazes. “Euler, the great mathematician, discovered a rule for solving all manner of maze puzzles, which, as all good puzzlists know, depends chiefly upon working backwards. This puzzle, however, was built purposely to defeat Euler’s rule and out of many attempts is probably the only one which thwarts his method.” The original puzzle, as published in the New York Journal and Advertiser, contained a flaw that permitted multiple solutions. That’s been corrected here — there’s only one way out.

Click for Answer

Unquote

“I don’t believe in playing down to children, either in life or in motion pictures. I didn’t treat my own youngsters like fragile flowers, and I think no parent should. Children are people, and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things, just as adults have to reach if they want to grow in mental stature. Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows. Most things are good, and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too, and you are not doing a child a favor by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil, and that is what our pictures attempt to do.” — Walt Disney

Behind Schedule

Predictions from British journalist John Langdon-Davies’ A Short History of the Future, 1936:

  • “Democracy will be dead by 1950.”
  • “There will be no war in western Europe for the next five years (from 1935).”
  • “By 1960 work will be limited to three hours a day.”
  • “Abundant new raw materials will [by 1960] make food, clothing and other necessities universally obtainable.”
  • “By 1975 parents will have ceased to bring up their children in family units.”
  • “By 1975 sexual feeling and marriage will have nothing to do with one another.”
  • “Crime will be considered a disease after 1985 and will cease to exist by A.D. 2000.”
  • “The high-brow art of our day will have no future save as a historic curiosity, since it has sacrificed everything to a misguided individualism.”
  • “By A.D. 2000 every community will have adopted a planned birth-rate and population will be kept at a fixed level by state-controlled contraception, abortion and sterilization.”
  • “England will have a population one-tenth of its present size.”
  • “Large tracts of America will go back to the primeval wilderness.”
  • “Mankind, like the social insects, will be divided into four or five different sexual types and will forget the he and the she in the needs of physiological and social division of labour.”

“The present can have no meaning unless it is to be found in the future,” he wrote, “so that our happiness and our efficiency as thinking beings depends upon the clarity with which we see what the future holds.”

Timing

The second movement of Bruckner’s seventh symphony climaxes in a famous cymbal crash; legend has it that Bruckner added the symbolic note on hearing of Wagner’s death.

This is the only cymbal note in the whole symphony, so the player has plenty of time to worry about it.

“This note becomes the occasion of indescribable anguish to almost every cymbal player responsible for its delivery,” noted Jens Rossel of Denmark’s Århus Symphony. “It must come at precisely the right instant, or it simply ruins everything. A few minutes before, you always see the fellow begin to turn in his chair, start to rub his hands and wipe his palms on his trousers. When he stands up he plants his feet, just so, like a baseball catcher bracing himself for a fast pitch. The moment comes and the cymbals crash. It’s a matter of just a few milliseconds, but what it represents to the music is either life or death.”

But maybe that’s the essence of the job. Someone once asked Sir Malcolm Sargent, “What do you have to know to play the cymbals?” He said, “Nothing — just when.”

(Frank R. Wilson, “Music and the Neurology of Time,” Music Educators Journal 77:5, January 1991.)

Double Trouble

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/684715

Two-move chess is just like regular chess except that each side makes two moves at a time. Prove that White, who goes first, can be sure of at least a draw.

Click for Answer

Deal’s a Deal

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BurmaShaveSigns_Route66.jpg

Between 1925 and 1963, Burma-Shave billboards were ubiquitous on American highways. Over the course of 18 seconds a motorist would pass six successive red and white signs that formed a rhymed verse:

SAID JULIET
TO ROMEO
IF YOU
WON’T SHAVE
GO HOMEO
BURMA-SHAVE

THE WOLF
IS SHAVED
SO NEAT AND TRIM
RED RIDING HOOD
IS CHASING HIM
BURMA-SHAVE

At its peak the campaign had 40,000 signs posted between Maine and Texas. The jingles were clearly whimsical, but anything that popular invites some smart-alecks:

FREE OFFER! FREE OFFER!!
RIP A FENDER
OFF YOUR CAR
MAIL IT IN FOR
A HALF-POUND JAR
BURMA-SHAVE

When this poem was posted, “scores of fenders of notable decrepitude arrived at the plant by parcel post and express,” noted Frank Rowsome Jr. in his 1965 history of the campaign, The Verse by the Side of the Road. “Many enterprising people scavenged Minnesota junkyards, triumphantly bearing off rusty horrors that they lugged to the Burma-Shave offices.” Each was gamely honored with a free jar of shaving cream, but this only made things worse:

FREE — FREE
A TRIP
TO MARS
FOR 900
EMPTY JARS
BURMA-SHAVE

At this Arliss “Frenchy” French, manager of a Red Owl supermarket in Appleton, Wis., produced 900 empty containers and demanded to be sent to Mars. Burma-Shave sent general manager Ralph Getchman to Appleton, where he found that French had heaped the jars in a huge pile in his store and taken out a full-page newspaper ad reading SEND FRENCHY TO MARS! After some bewildered havering, the company struck a deal with Red Owl’s publicist — they sent French and his wife to Moers, Germany. “The Frenches had a marvelous time,” remembered Burma-Shave president Leonard Odell. “We still get Christmas cards from them.”

Goodreads

FYI, I’ve set up a presence on Goodreads, for anyone who wants to follow me there. I’ve begun posting the reading I’m doing in research for this site, and I’d be happy to get recommendations from other readers, and to discuss books there generally.

I’m also running a book giveaway on Goodreads — you can enter to win one of three signed copies of the Futility Closet book. Winners will be announced on February 9.

And I’ll be hosting a Q&A session on Goodreads all day on January 31 — you can ask me anything about the site, the book, future plans, or anything else you like.

I spend so much time in libraries doing research for this site that I thought it might be interesting to discuss books with you. I’m thinking Goodreads might become a place where we can recommend books to each other and discuss reading in general. See you there!

Seasons, Greetings

Oliver Herford opened his Christmas cards in July.

“When other people’s friends have gone away for the summer and neglect them,” he said, “it certainly is gratifying and exciting to be cheerily greeted by everyone you know.”

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