The Bat Bomb

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Pennsylvania dentist Lytle S. Adams had a bright idea in 1942: Since Japanese cities were largely built of paper, bamboo, and other flammable materials, they could be disrupted effectively with fire. And a novel way to spread fire in public buildings would be to release bats bearing incendiary devices. Rigged bats dropped over an industrial city would roost in the buildings as living time bombs, and the resulting fires would spread chaos over a wide area.

Surprisingly, the government liked the idea, and it set about designing a bomblike canister in which a thousand bats could be dropped from an altitude of 5,000 feet. At 1,000 feet the container would open, releasing the bats over a wide area. Ten bombers carrying 100 canisters each could unleash a million intelligent bombs over the industrial cities of Osaka Bay.

Preliminary tests were encouraging, even setting a New Mexico air base accidentally ablaze, but the project evolved too slowly and was eventually eclipsed by the atom bomb. In a way that’s a shame: “Think of thousands of fires breaking out simultaneously over a circle of 40 miles in diameter for every bomb dropped,” Adams had said. “Japan could have been devastated, yet with small loss of life.”

Animal Behavior

A logic exercise by Lewis Carroll. What conclusion can be drawn from these premises?

  1. Animals are always mortally offended if I fail to notice them.
  2. The only animals that belong to me are in that field.
  3. No animal can guess a conundrum unless it has been properly trained in a Board-School.
  4. None of the animals in that field are badgers.
  5. When an animal is mortally offended, it rushes about wildly and howls.
  6. I never notice any animal unless it belongs to me.
  7. No animal that has been properly trained in a Board-School ever rushes about wildly and howls.
Click for Answer

Disappearing Act

Some amoebae, to be sure, do die. Sometimes an amoeba cannot get sufficient food or oxygen or moisture to sustain its life, and that kills it. But some amoebae do not get an opportunity to die … let us consider a well-fed, healthy amoeba alone in a drop of well-oxygenated pond water. I shall call it ‘Alvin.’ Alvin, let us suppose, lives happily through Tuesday and then, precisely at the stroke of midnight, Alvin divides, producing two offspring whom I shall call ‘Amos’ and ‘Ambrose.’ On Wednesday, we find two amoebae — Amos and Ambrose — swimming happily about in our drop of pond water. But what has become of Alvin? One thing is quite clear: Alvin is not an inhabitant of our drop of pond water on Wednesday. … His life, therefore, must have come to an end. But it is equally clear that Alvin did not die.

– Jay F. Rosenberg, Thinking Clearly About Death, 1983

Lost History

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Each year on the last Saturday in April, the citizens of Ocean Shores, Washington, celebrate “Undiscovery Day” to commemorate the night in 1792 when British explorer George Vancouver sailed right past their harbor without discovering it.

At midnight they gather on the shore and shout “Hey George — over here!”

Query

How are the following numbers arranged?

0, 2, 3, 6, 7, 1, 9, 4, 5, 8

Click for Answer

Unquote

“When lost in a forest go always down hill. When lost in a philosophy or doctrine go upward.” — Ambrose Bierce

Addition and Subtraction

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In Mathematical Applications of Political Science, University of Minnesota political scientist William Riker describes a worrisome voting paradox that unfolded in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956. At issue was a bill calling for federal aid for school construction; an amendment was proposed that would have offered this aid only to states whose schools were integrated. The House was divided into three interest groups:

  • Republicans opposed federal aid in general but supported integration. They would have preferred no bill at all but favored the amended bill to the original.
  • Northern Democrats wanted the amended bill but would accept the original bill rather than have no bill at all.
  • Southern Democrats, whose schools were segregated, favored the original bill but would prefer to have no bill rather than accept the amendment.

education bill bloc preferences

Clearly the original bill would have passed, as the Democrats as a group preferred it to having no bill at all. But, following procedure, the House voted first on whether to accept the amendment, and here the Republicans and the northern Democrats combined to support it, since both preferred the amended bill to the original bill. The second vote addressed whether to accept the now-amended bill, and now the Republicans and the southern Democrats united to kill it, since both preferred no bill to the amended bill.

So the original bill was popular, and the proposed amendment was popular, but combining them led to the bill’s defeat. “As if it were not enough that the choice may depend on the voting order, this fact can be used to twist the outcome of the legislative process,” Riker writes. “It may be possible to create a voting paradox such that no action is taken by the legislature even though a proposed bill would have passed prior to the creation of the paradox. A legislator could introduce an amendment to create such a paradox, and if the voting order were just right, the amended proposal would then be defeated.”

Back Again

ernest a. mills

In 1929 the schooner A. Ernest Mills sank after a collision off the coast of North Carolina.

Four days later it bobbed to the surface again. Its cargo of salt had dissolved.

Testament

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In July 1945, a former inhabitant of Poland’s Lódz ghetto, Avraham Benkel, returned to find his home in ruins. Lódz had been the last of 200 ghettos in German-occupied Poland, and as the war neared its conclusion tens of thousands of its inhabitants had been deported to death camps. When the Red Army reached it in January, only 877 survivors remained.

In the abandoned building next door to his own, Benkel found a book, François Coppée’s The Truly Rich, on whose endpages and margins an anonymous boy had kept a diary of his ordeal:

June 1, 1944: “I just finished my ‘loaf, which I had to have for eight days; today is the third. It may turn [out] to be lethal for me to behave in such a manner, but my will-power is so weakened and my ever increasing appetite so strong that I can’t help it. Is there no bread, dry unsavoury bread enough for me and my fellow-sufferers in this world?”

July 10, 1944: “I am exhausted, I have no more patience, my nerves are frayed. What I do have is an indescribable disgust toward the world and mankind, toward the masses and people, toward doctrines and dogmas. I do not believe, I do not believe in any change in the world, no! Anyone who can sink as low as the modern man has can be nothing more than an unsuccessful experiment of nature, which certainly regrets it!”

July 20, 1944: “I feel such a need to open my diary and to write in order to ease my bitter heart, about what hell we go through, how terribly we suffer. During the time when we had literally nothing to eat, we were willing to believe that the physical annihilation of men, women, and children of our nation had appeased the blond beast. But now it looks as if they have not had enough, and that they want to satisfy their thirst with the blood of the innocent.”

Almost nothing is known about the boy’s identity, age, background, schooling, or fate. Only the verb forms in his entries tell us that he was male. In all likelihood he was deported to Auschwitz as the Russians closed in.

“My God, why do you allow them to say that you are neutral?” he wrote in a final, undated entry. “Why will you not punish, with all your wrath, those who are destroying us? Are we the sinners and they the righteous? Is that the truth? Surely you are intelligent enough to understand that is it not so, that we are not the sinners and they are not the Messiah!”

(From Alexandra Zapruder, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust, 2002.)

Dog’s Mead

dog's mead puzzle

This puzzle was devised by W.T. Williams. The goal is to discover the age of Father Dunk’s mother-in-law (2 down), but the clues contain so much cross-reference and the grid so many interlocking solutions that practically the whole puzzle must be completed to find it.

The year is 1939. There are 20 shillings in a pound; 4840 square yards in an acre; a quarter of an acre in a rood; and 1760 yards in a mile.

ACROSS

1. Area in square yards of Dog’s Mead
5. Age of Martha, Father Dunk’s aunt
6. Difference in yards between length and breadth of Dog’s Mead
7. Number of roods in Dog’s Mead times 8 down
8. The year the Dunks acquired Dog’s Mead
10. Father Dunk’s age
11. Year of Mary’s birth
14. Perimeter in yards of Dog’s Mead
15. Cube of Father Dunk’s walking speed in miles per hour
16. 15 across minus 9 down

DOWN

1. Value in shillings per rood of Dog’s Mead
2. Square of the age of father Dunk’s mother-in-law
3. Age of Mary, father Dunk’s other daughter
4. Value in pounds of Dog’s Mead
6. Age of Ted, father Dunk’s son, who will be twice the age of his sister Mary in 1945
7. Square of the breadth of Dog’s Mead
8. Time in minutes it takes Father Dunk to walk 4/3 times round Dog’s Mead
9. The number which, when multiplied by 10 across, gives 10 down
10. See 9 down
12. Addition of the digits of 10 down plus 1
13. Number of years Dog’s Mead has been in the Dunk family

Hint: Start with 15 across, and keep your wits about you — most of the clues require some sort of insight or intelligent narrowing of the possible solutions; there’s very little mechanical plugging of numbers. With enough careful, dogged reasoning, it’s possible to complete the entire grid, but it’s stupendously hard.

Click for Answer
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