A puzzle by Frank Morgan: The meaning of a common English word becomes plural when an A is added at its start. What is the word?
When Hirschau, Bavaria starting mining kaolinite a century ago, it faced a problem — one of the byproducts of kaolinite is quartz sand, which began piling up in enormous quantities. Fortunately sand itself has multiple uses — in the early 1950s an enterprising skier tried slaloming down the mountain, and soon the dune had its own ski club.
Today the 35-million-tonne “Monte Kaolino” even hosts the Sandboarding World Championships. And, unlike other ski resorts, it’s open in summer.
In 1999 the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern passed a law governing the labeling of beef; its short title was Rinderkennzeichnungs- und Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz (PDF). The hyphen indicates that the first word would have the same ending as the second; thus the two words are Rinderkennzeichnungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz and Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz. (The law’s formal long title is Gesetz zur Übertragung der Aufgaben für die Überwachung der Rinderkennzeichnung und Rindfleischetikettierung, or “Law on Delegation of Duties for Supervision of Cattle Marking and Beef Labeling.”)
Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz was nominated for Word of the Year by the German Language Society. Here it is sung by the Australian National University’s UniLodge Choir:
There’s more: In 2003 a decree was passed modifying real estate regulations; its short title was Grundstücksverkehrsgenehmigungszuständigkeitsübertragungsverordnung. Can someone sing that?
A puzzle by MIT mathematician Tanya Khovanova:
Three logicians walk into a bar. Each is wearing a hat that’s either red or blue. Each logician knows that the hats were drawn from a set of three red and two blue hats; she doesn’t know the color of her own hat but can see those of her companions.
The waiter asks, “Do you know the color of your own hat?”
The first logician answers, “I do not know.”
The second logician answers, “I do not know.”
The third logician answers, “Yes.”
What is the color of the third logician’s hat?
Since it’s deliberately constructed, Esperanto doesn’t have the complex history of a natural language. But we can invent one! Manuel Halvelik created “Arcaicam Esperantom,” a fictional early form of the language akin to Old English. Here’s the Lord’s Prayer in standard Esperanto:
Patro nia, kiu estas en Ĉielo,
Estu sanktigita Via Nomo.
Venu Via regno,
Plenumiĝu Via volo
Kiel en Ĉielo, tiel ankaŭ sur Tero.
Al ni donu hodiaŭ panon nian ĉiutagan,
Kaj al ni pardonu niajn pekojn
Kiel ankaŭ ni tiujn, kiuj kontraŭ ni pekas, pardonas.
Kaj nin ne konduku en tenton
Sed nin liberigu el malbono.
And here it is in Halvelik’s “archaic” form:
Patrom nosam, cuyu estas in Chielom,
Estu sanctiguitam Tuam Nomom.
Wenu Tuam Regnom,
Plenumizzu Tuam Wolom,
Cuyel in Chielom, ityel anquez sobrez Terom.
Nosid donu hodiez Panon nosan cheyutagan,
Ed nosid pardonu nosayn Pecoyn,
Cuyel anquez nos ityuyd cuyuy contrez nos pecait pardonaims.
Ed nosin ned conducu in Tentod,
Sed nosin liberigu ex Malbonom.
Here’s Halvelik’s full description (PDF, in Esperanto).
Stuck in an East African prison camp in 1943, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi needed a challenge to regain his sense of purpose. He made a plan that seemed crazy — to break out of the camp, climb Mount Kenya, and break back in. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Benuzzi and two companions as they try to climb the second-highest mountain in Africa using homemade equipment.
We’ll also consider whether mirages may have doomed the Titanic and puzzle over an ineffective oath.
Under the law of the United Kingdom, a sturgeon when caught becomes the personal property of the monarch.
On July 4, 1853, 32 people held a dance on the stump of a California sequoia.
Sources for our feature on Felice Benuzzi:
Felice Benuzzi, No Picnic on Mount Kenya, 1953.
Dave Pagel, “The Great Escape,” Climbing 215 (Sept. 15, 2002), 87.
Matthew Power and Keridwen Cornelius, “Escape to Mount Kenya,” National Geographic Adventure 9:7 (September 2007), 65-71.
Stephan Wilkinson, “10 Great POW Escapes,” Military History 28:4 (November 2011), 28-33.
Jon Mooallem, “In Search of Lost Ice,” New York Times Magazine, Dec. 21, 2014, 28-35.
“Because It Was There; Great Escapes,” Economist 417:8965 (Nov. 21, 2015), 78.
This is the package label that showed the prisoners the southern face of the mountain:
Tim Maltin and Andrew T. Young, “The Hidden Cause of the Titanic Disaster” (accessed March 24, 2017).
Smithsonian, “Did the Titanic Sink Because of an Optical Illusion?” (accessed March 24, 2017).
Telegraph, “Titanic Sank Due to ‘Mirage’ Caused by Freak Weather” (accessed March 24, 2017).
Matt Largey, “He Got a Bad Grade. So, He Got the Constitution Amended. Now He’s Getting the Credit He Deserves,” kut.org, March 21, 2017.
This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White.
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening!
During World War II one of the most surprising advocates of war bonds was Tommy Tucker, an Eastern gray squirrel who toured the nation in a humiliating wardrobe of 30 dainty costumes. (“THOUGH TOMMY IS A MALE SQUIRREL HE HAS TO WEAR FEMININE CLOTHES BECAUSE TAIL INTERFERES WITH HIS WEARING PANTS,” Life reported defensively.)
Tommy had been adopted in 1942 by the Bullis family of Washington D.C., who took him on the road in their Packard automobile, where he performed for schoolchildren, visited hospitals, and gave uninspiring radio interviews. Between appearances Zaidee Bullis would bathe him and place him in a specially made bed. At the height of his fame his fan club numbered 30,000 members.
Tommy retired after the war but gamely endured further travels with the family. When he died in 1949 he was stuffed and mounted “with his arms out so you could pull the clothes over him,” and his nightmarish fate pursued him even into the grave. He stands today in a display case in a Maryland law office — in a pink satin dress and pearls.
In 1948, Air Force general Hoyt Vandenberg and his wife Gladys were walking through Arlington National Cemetery when they saw a young airman being buried without any family members present — only the chaplain and military honor guard who attend every burial. Moved by the lonely ceremony, Gladys organized the Officers’ Wives Club so one of its members would attend every Air Force funeral. The other branches of the armed services have followed suit so that today an “Arlington lady” attends every funeral at the cemetery. No soldier is buried alone.
“It doesn’t matter whether we are burying a four-star general or a private,” Margaret Mensch, head of the Army ladies, told NBC. “They all deserve to have someone say thank you at their grave.”
On Aug. 15, 1961, during the third day of construction of the Berlin Wall, 19-year-old Communist German border guard Hans Conrad Schumann was standing on the corner of Ruppiner Straße and Bernauer Straße. A roll of concertina wire 3 feet high was strung before him; behind him cement slabs were being positioned to replace it. Opposite, in West Berlin, a group of protesters had gathered to denounce the building of the wall, which was intended to stop the exodus of young professionals from the East German state.
“The people were swearing at us,” he wrote later. “We felt we were simply doing our duty but we were getting scolded from all sides. The West Berliners yelled at us and the Eastern demonstrators yelled at us. We were standing there in the middle. There was the barbed wire, there was us guards, West Berliners, East Berliners. For a young person, it was terrible.”
West Berliners began to shout, “Come over! Come over!” A West Berlin police car pulled into sight, its engine running and its rear door open, inviting him to desert. For two hours Schumann debated, thinking about his parents and his sister. Then, at 4:00, he jumped over the wire and ran. “Then I was in the West and they received me with a great cheer. I was the first.”
Caught by photographer Peter Leibing, the image appeared in newspapers around the world. Within a month, 68 members of the East German special police had deserted to the West.
Schumann settled in Ingolstadt and worked in an Audi factory for 20 years. When the wall came down in 1989, he returned to his hometown and discovered he was a pariah, the “wall jumper,” a tool of the Western imperialists. Dismayed and depressed, he hanged himself in 1998 at the age of 56.
(From James E. Wise Jr. and Scott Baron, Dangerous Games, 2010.)
On May 20, 2005, to convey its size, Italian artist Gianni Motti walked the length of the nascent Large Hadron Collider, followed by a cameraman.
At an average speed of 5 kph, it took him 5 hours 50 minutes to walk all 27 kilometers of the underground ring. Today a proton covers the same distance 11,000 times in 1 second.
Motti dubbed his effort “Higgs: In Search of Anti-Motti.” I don’t think he found it.