Eternal Repose

https://www.google.com/patents/US964439

Angelo Lerro hated the thought of a body mouldering in a traditional casket, so in 1910 he offered this tidy alternative: The body is embalmed and arranged in a natural posture in a hermetically sealed glass bell filled with a preservative gas. This way the survivors can view the deceased without distress, and entire graveyards can be filled with sealed bells to keep soil and watercourses clean. (I suppose it will also keep down the vampire population.)

An even more permanent solution.

Box Scores

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Family_watching_television_1958.jpg

“It is probable that television drama of high caliber and produced by first-rate artists will materially raise the level of dramatic taste of the nation.” — RCA president David Sarnoff, 1939

“Television? The word is half Greek and half Latin. No good can come of it.” — Manchester Guardian editor C.P. Scott, 1928

“Television won’t matter in your lifetime or mine.” — Rex Lambert, The Listener, 1936

“Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — movie producer Darryl Zanuck, 1946

“Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.” — BBC school broadcasting director Mary Somerville, 1948

“How can you put out a meaningful drama or documentary that is adult, incisive, probing, when every fifteen minutes the proceedings are interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits with toilet paper?” — Rod Serling, 1974

“I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.” — Orson Welles, 1956

The Kuleshov Effect

In the 1910s, Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov demonstrated the power of film editing with a telling experiment: He intercut the “inexpressive” face of actor Ivan Mosjoukine with images of a plate of soup, a child in a coffin, and an attractive woman. Though the footage of Mosjoukine was the same in each case, an audience “raved about the acting,” noted director Vsevolod Pudovkin. “[They admired] the heavy pensiveness of his mood over the forgotten soup, were touched and moved by the deep sorrow with which he looked on the dead child, and noted the lust with which he observed the woman. But we knew that in all three cases the face was exactly the same.”

This reveals the effectiveness of montage, Kuleshov said. An audience reacts not to a film’s elements but to their juxtaposition — the sequence of images suggests an emotion to them, and they project this onto the actors. Alfred Hitchcock demonstrates:

The Mummies of Guanajuato

In 1833 a cholera outbreak struck Guanajuato, Mexico, and the dead were buried in a local cemetery. Sixty-three years later, in 1896, city officials levied a fee on burial plots, and poor families had to agree to have their dead relatives disinterred. They were horrified to discover not skeletons but grotesquely preserved bodies, contorted into nightmarish postures and facial expressions. The region’s climate and soil conditions had combined to preserve the corpses.

The city has put 119 of the bodies, some still bearing hair, eyebrows, and folds of skin, on display. Author Tom Weil writes, “In the figures one sees both the living and the departed, death with a human face and humanity with the skull beneath the skin.”

Ray Bradbury, who visited the museum in the 1940s, wrote, “They looked as if they had leaped, snapped upright in their graves, clutched hands over their shriveled bosoms and screamed, jaws wide, tongues out, nostrils flared. And been frozen that way. All of them had open mouths. Theirs was a perpetual screaming.

“The experience so wounded and terrified me, I could hardly wait to flee Mexico. I had nightmares about dying and having to remain in the halls of the dead with those propped and wired bodies. In order to purge my terror, instantly, I wrote ‘The Next in Line.’ One of the few times that an experience yielded results almost on the spot.”

Blowin’ in the Wind

You’re taking care of a friend’s house while he’s on vacation. One hot day you pull the chain on a ceiling fan, and when it doesn’t respond you realize the house has temporarily lost power. Unfortunately, you have to leave now, and you’ll be away for several days.

You know that the fan was in the “off” position before you pulled the chain, and that pulling the chain successively will cycle it through its remaining settings (“off,” “high,” “medium,” etc.). You don’t know how many settings there are, but you’re sure there aren’t more than 4.

How can you ensure that the fan will be in the “off” position when power is restored? (Assume that you can’t simply cut the fan’s power.)

Click for Answer

Unquote

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” — G.K. Chesterton

Hat Check

One hundred people stand in a line, all facing in the same direction. Each is wearing a red or a blue hat, assigned at random. Each person can see all the hats before him in the line, but not his own or those of the people behind him. Starting at the back of the line, each person in turn must guess the color of his own hat. Each person can hear all the prior guesses. If the group are allowed to discuss strategy beforehand, how many can be sure of guessing correctly?

Click for Answer

Ill-Favored

harold ross

New Yorker founder Harold Ross was a brilliant magazine editor, but his personal appearance was distinctly unprepossessing. “His hair sticks straight up, his teeth stick straight out, his eyes slant, and his expression is always that of a man who had just swallowed a bug,” wrote Ogden Nash. Alexander Woollcott said he looked like a dishonest Abe Lincoln.

Staff member Janet Flanner remembered, “His face was homely, with a pendant lower lip; his teeth were far apart, and when I first knew him, after the First World War, he wore his butternut-colored thick hair in a high, stiff pompadour, like some gamecock’s crest.”

Indeed, Ross’ first wife said he was the homeliest man she’d ever met. “There was certainly a mismating of his head, his hands and his feet to his gaunt, angular body; his hands, though he learned to use them gracefully, were too large; so were his feet, and his ears and his mouth were also oversized; his tongue was a real problem and he was really more comfortable when he let it hang over his loose lower lip, as he did when he was relaxed or was thinking hard.”

At least it gave fodder to his friends. At a poker game, Franklin Pierce Adams announced that he’d just seen Harold Ross toboganning.

“For God’s sake — Ross toboganning!” said George S. Kaufman. “Did he look funny?”

“Well,” Adams said, “you know how he looks not toboganning.”

Ebook

FC book thumbnail

The electronic version of the Futility Closet book is now available on Amazon, and will be forthcoming in the Apple bookstore — I’ll post updates on the book page.

Many thanks to those who are supporting the book — that’s a great help in keeping this whole enterprise going.

I’m planning another big miscellany for next year, but I thought it might also be fun to do a specialty book of some kind. What would you like to see? A collection of obscure words? Quotations? Puzzles? Odd inventions? Let me know on the blog.

Ship of State

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HMS_Resolute.jpg

In 1855, American whaler James Buddington came across an abandoned vessel stuck in the ice off Baffin Island in northeastern Canada. It was HMS Resolute, a British exploration ship that had been abandoned two years earlier and drifted rudderless through 1200 miles of the Canadian Arctic.

The U.S. Congress returned the ship to Queen Victoria, and in 1879 its timbers were made into two desks with admirable pedigrees: One resides in Buckingham Palace … and the other is in the Oval Office, where it’s been used by almost every president since Rutherford B. Hayes.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barack_Obama_sitting_at_the_Resolute_desk_2009.jpg

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