Unquote

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Christian_VII_1772_by_Roslin.jpg

“It has been said, not truly, but with a possible approximation to truth, that in 1802 every hereditary monarch was insane.” — Walter Bagehot

Bright Idea

https://www.google.com/patents/US273074

Robert Heath thought we should all wear luminous hats. Confronted with the resounding question Why?, he offered this poetic paragraph:

Among the advantages of the invention are, the facility of seeing and finding the hat, &c., in closets and dark rooms and places, the presentation of a hat, &c., of different shades during day and night, the beautiful appearance of the article when worn at night, and the provision of distinguishing or indicating the localities of those who may wear the hats, &c., whose occupations are dangerous, such as miners, mariners, &c. For persons who are exposed to weather, sea, &c., the head-wear will be suitably waterproofed, so that the self-luminous nature thereof will not be injured by water.

Simple enough. His patent was granted on Feb. 27, 1883.

Portions of Pi

A quickie submitted by John Astolfi to MIT Technology Review’s Puzzle Corner, July/August 2013:

Consider the expansion of π (3.14159 …) in base 2. Does it contain more 0s than 1s, more 1s than 0s, or an equal number of both? Or is it impossible to tell?

Click for Answer

A Rising Profile

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gustav_Mahler_1909_3.jpg

One characteristic incident of his fearlessness occurred when friends of Mahler recommended the Berlin Royal Opera to engage him just before he had signed to go to Hamburg. The intendant at the German capital, who was said to be anti-Semitic, is reported to have replied, ‘We cannot engage Mahler here, as we do not like the shape of his nose.’ When in 1897 Vienna offered Mahler the directorial and managerial control of its opera, Berlin suddenly awoke to the importance of the artist who was leaving Germany, and made him a proposition financially better than the one from Vienna. Mahler at once signed the contract to go to the banks of the Danube and telegraphed Berlin: ‘Regret that I cannot accept. My nose still the same shape.’

Musical Courier, quoted in Current Literature, July 1911

See Late Acceptance.

Huffman’s Pyramid

huffman's pyramid

Here’s a subtly impossible figure devised by UC-Santa Cruz computer scientist David Huffman. If it’s a three-sided pyramid, then its edges define the intersections of three planes and should meet in a single point. But they don’t:

huffman's pyramid impossibility

This is intriguing because the figure doesn’t immediately look impossible. In Vagueness and Contradiction, philosopher Roy Sorensen writes, “The impossibility of an appearance is sometimes concealed without overloading our critical capacities.”

Possibly this is because we sense that other solutions are possible that can reconcile the error. Zenon Kulpa points out that the pyramid becomes intelligible if we imagine that the farther side hides a fourth edge, giving the figure four sides rather than three. He describes two families of such solutions in “Are Impossible Figures Possible?”, Signal Processing, May 1983.

The Fenn Treasure

In March 2013, New Mexico art dealer Forrest Fenn announced that he had hidden a bronze treasure chest in the Rocky Mountains north of Santa Fe. In the chest, he says, are gold coins, artifacts, and jewelry worth more than $1 million.

Fenn said he’d conceived the idea when diagnosed with cancer in 1988, planning to bury the treasure as a legacy. The cancer went into remission, but he decided to bury the chest anyway. In a self-published memoir he offered the following poem, which he says contains nine clues:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.

Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.

From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.

If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.

So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired and now I’m weak.

So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Fenn has been releasing further clues periodically as he follows the search (“No need to dig up the old outhouses, the treasure is not associated with any structure”). A number of people claim to have found the chest, but none has provided evidence, and Fenn says that to the best of his knowledge it remains undiscovered. There’s much background and discussion about the treasure at ttotc.com.

If you find it, I figure you owe me 75%.

Podcast Episode 48: The Shark Arm Affair

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Tiger_shark.png

In 1935 a shark in an Australian aquarium vomited up a human forearm, a bizarre turn of events that sparked a confused murder investigation. This week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast presents two cases in which a shark supplied key evidence of a human crime.

We’ll also learn about the Paris Herald’s obsession with centigrade temperature, revisit the scary travel writings of Victorian children’s author Favell Lee Mortimer, and puzzle over an unavenged killing at a sporting event.

Sources for our feature on the shark arm affair:

Andrew Tink, Australia 1901-2001: A Narrative History, 2014.

Dictionary of Sydney, “Shark Arm murder 1935,” accessed March 5, 2015.

“Arm-Eating Shark Bares Weird Killing,” Pittsburgh Press, July 9, 1935.

“Shark Gives Up Clue to Murder,” Milwaukee Journal, July 9, 1935.

“‘Shark Arm’ Murder Mystery Still Baffles Australian Police,” Toledo Blade, Dec. 14, 1952.

The 1799 episode of the Nancy’s forged papers appears in (of all places!) Allan McLane Hamilton’s 1910 biography The Intimate Life of Alexander Hamilton (Hamilton appeared for the United Insurance Company in the case). It’s confirmed in Xavier Maniguet’s 2007 book The Jaws of Death: Sharks as Predator, Man as Prey. Apparently both the “shark papers” and the shark’s jaws were put on public display afterward and are now in the keeping of the Institute of Jamaica; I gather the case made a sensation at the time but has largely been forgotten.

Sources for our feature on James Gordon Bennett and the “Old Philadelphia Lady”:

The International New York Times, “Oct. 5, 1947: Old Philadelphia Lady Said It 6,718 Times,” Oct. 14, 2013.

James B. Townsend, “J.Gordon Bennett, Editor by Cable,” New York Times, May 19, 1918.

Mark Tungate, Media Monoliths, 2005.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was submitted by listener Lily Geller, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle!).

This episode is sponsored by our patrons and by Loot Crate — go to http://www.lootcrate.com/CLOSET and enter code CLOSET to save $3 on any new subscription.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. And you can finally follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for listening!

Falling Gravity

A water jug is empty, and its center of gravity is above the inside bottom of the jug. Water is poured into the jug until the center of gravity of the jug and water (considered together) is as low as possible. Explain why this center of gravity must lie at the surface of the water.

Click for Answer

Getting Personal

https://www.flickr.com/photos/denverjeffrey/2502522077/

Image: Flickr

Avon, Colorado, has a bridge called Bob. The four-lane, 150-foot span, built in 1992, connects Avon with the Beaver Creek ski resort across the Eagle River. The town council held a naming contest and received 85 suggestions, including Avon Crossing and Del Mayre Bridge. It was 32-year-old construction worker Louie Sullivan who said, “Oh, heck, just name it Bob,” a suggestion that set city manager Bill James “laughing so hard he had to leave the room.”

Sullivan said he was surprised at the town’s vote; previously he had considered Avon a bit stuffy. “It raises my faith in their sense of humor,” he said.

A Universal Language

The Swedish pop group Caramba has an odd claim to fame — their eponymous 1981 album consists entirely of nonsense lyrics. No one’s even sure who was in the band — the album sleeve lists 13 members, all using pseudonyms. It was produced by Michael B. Tretow, who engineered ABBA’s records, and singer Ted Gärdestad contributed some vocals, but these are the only two participants who have been named.

The band broke up (apparently) after the first album, so we’ll never get more of this. Here are the lyrics to the single “Hubba Hubba Zoot Zoot”:

Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Num
Deba uba zat zat
Num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Num
Deba uba zat zat
Num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa
HAH
A-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa
HAH
A-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
A-huh zoot a-huh
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
Num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
Deba uba zat zat
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
a-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
deba uba zat zat
HAH
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Duuh
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
HAH
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
HAH
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
HOH
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Hubba hubba mo-re mo-re
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

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