# Impromptu

Poet Brendan Behan began his career as a housepainter. While in Paris, he was asked to paint a sign on the window of a café to attract English-speaking tourists. He painted:

Come in, you Anglo-Saxon swine
And drink of my Algerian wine.
‘Twill turn your eyeballs black and blue
And damn well good enough for you.

“At least I got paid for it,” he said later. “But I ran out of the place before the patron could get my handiwork translated.”

(From his wife Beatrice’s My Life With Brendan, 1973.)

# Mind’s Eye #3

Here’s this month’s piece from designer Von Glitschka — each month he composes an engraved artwork to accompany a Futility Closet quotation.

He’s provided a high-resolution PDF (2 MB) suitable to collect, print, and hang.

We’re releasing a new image each month, here and on social media — as with the wallpaper, I’ll put the links on the About page as well. Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Von!

# Safety First

In 1936, J.E. Torbert patented a taillight for horses:

When a person is riding a horse along a road at night and an automobile approaches the horse from the rear, the signals will be illuminated by reflecting light from the headlights of the automobile and thus permit the driver of the automobile to see that there is a horse ahead of him and eliminate danger of the automobile striking and injuring the horse.

# Too Late

For 500 years it was thought that Geoffrey Chaucer had written The Testament of Love, a medieval dialogue between a prisoner and a lady.

But in the late 1800s, British philologists Walter Skeat and Henry Bradshaw discovered that the initial letters of the poem’s sections form an acrostic, spelling “MARGARET OF VIRTU HAVE MERCI ON THINUSK” [“thine Usk”].

It’s now thought that the poem’s true author was Thomas Usk, a contemporary of Chaucer who was accused of conspiring against the duke of Gloucester. Apparently he had written the Testament in prison in an attempt to seek aid — Margaret may have been Margaret Berkeley, wife of Thomas Berkeley, a literary patron of the time.

If it’s aid that Usk was seeking, he never found it: He was hanged at Tyburn in March 1388.

# Perimeter Check

A puzzle by Matt Parker of standupmaths:

The standard paper size A4 has dimensions in the ratio $1:\sqrt{2}$. Hold a piece of A4 paper horizontally, as shown, and fold down the top left corner to meet the other side, creating fold AB, as if you were going to make a paper square. Then fold down the top right corner to meet the edge of this 1 × 1 square (making fold BC).

The perimeter of the original sheet was $\left ( 2 \times \sqrt{2} \right ) + \left ( 2 \times 1 \right )$. What is the perimeter of the folded shape (the quadrilateral ABCD above)?

I’ll honor Matt’s request not to reveal the answer, but here’s a clue: The shape ABCD is a kite. See Matt’s video for a more visual explanation and a non-spoilery way to tell whether you have the right answer.

(Thanks to Dave Lawrence for the tip and the diagram.)

# Love Maps

Here’s why your relationships keep falling apart — finding the right course is almost impossible. The French noblewoman Madeleine de Scudéry devised this map of the “Land of Tenderness” in 1653, for her romance Clelia. A couple starting at New Friendship, at the bottom, can take any of four roads. Two of them stay safely near the River of Inclination: One of these passes through Complacency, Submission, Small Cares, Assiduity, Empressment, Great Services, Sensibility, Tenderness, Obedience, and Constant Friendship to reach “Tender Upon Recognisance”; the other passes through Great Spirit, Pleasing Verses, A Gallant Letter, An Amorous Letter, Sincerity, A Great Heart, Honesty, Generosity, Exactness, Respect, and Goodness to reach “Tender Upon Esteem.” But there are two more dangerous outer roads: One passes through Indiscretion, Perfidiousness, Obloquy, and Mischief to end in the Sea of Enmity; the other through Negligence, Inequality, Lukewarmness, Lightness, and Forgetfulness to reach the Lake of Indifference. And even lovers who reach a happy outcome may go too far, passing into the Dangerous Sea and perhaps beyond it into Countreys Undiscovered.

Even worse is this vision, a “Map or Chart of the Road of Love, and Harbour of Marriage” published by “T.P. Hydrographer, to his Majesty Hymen, and Prince Cupid” in 1772. The traveler has to find the way from the Sea of Common Life at left to Felicity Harbour and the Land of Promise at right, and the only way to get there is by the Harbour of Marriage, in which lurk Henpecked Sand and the disastrous Whirlpool of Adultery. The explanation at the bottom describes the treacherous course:

From the Sea of Common Life, we enter the Road of Love thro’ Blindmans Straits, between two noted Capes or Headlands; steering first for Money, Lust, and sometimes Virtue, but many Vessels endeavouring to make the latter are lost in the Whirlpool of Beauty; from this Road are many outlets, yet some Mariners neither steer through these, nor continue their Voyage but come to their Moorings at Fastasleep Creek. Those who proceed reach Cape Ceremony, pass into the Harbour of Marriage through Fruition Straits and touch at Cape Extasy; care must be taken to keep still to the Starboard, lest we run upon sunken Rocks which lye about Cape Repentance; a good Pilot will also keep clear of the Rocks of Jealousy & Cuckoldom Bay and at least get into that of Content, some have past pleasant Straits and have arrived safe at Felicity Harbour, a Monsoon constantly blows from Fruition Straits quite up the Road, which renders a Passage back impracticable; a Tornado also arises sooner or later in those Parts and drives all Shipping tho moor’d at Content & even Felicity itself, thro the Gulf of Death, the only Outlet, terminating in the Lake of Rest.

(From Ashley Baynton-Williams, The Curious Map Book, 2015.)

# Crime and Punishment

German playwright Ernst Toller was arrested for socialist activities in 1919. His 1937 collection of letters from prison, Look Through the Bars, includes this memory:

Dear ——,

We are a hundred men here in prison, separated from our wives for months. Every conversation between any two men always ends in the same way — women.

The high walls prevent any view. Within the walls is a small hut. It was, we heard, some sort of wash-house, which was not used. One day one of us saw that the shutters of the hut were opened. He saw two women at work. One stayed in the wash-house, the other went away and locked the door. Soon we knew all. The two women were a wardress and a prisoner, who was to be released in a short time. She had been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for child-murder. She had already served five years; in a few weeks’ time she was to be pardoned.

It would be too complicated to tell you how we contrived to exchange notes with the girl. First playful and harmless ones, then feverish, passionate and confused ones. Everything which, in that closed-in existence, had come in dreams, wishes and fantasies went out to that woman. One morning she gave us a signal. We were to stand near the window at a certain hour.

Impossible to describe what happened. The woman opened her dress and stood naked at the window. She was surprised and taken away. We never saw her again. But we learned that the pardon had been annulled.

Never has a woman moved me so much as that little prisoner, who, in order to make men happy for a few seconds (in a very questionable way) suffered with unsophisticated wisdom three more years in prison.

# Customer Service

The German papers reported that at Carlsruhe, toward the close of the late war, an aged mother came to the telegraph office carrying a dish full of sauerkraut, which she desired to have telegraphed to Rastadt. Her son must receive the kraut by Sunday. The operator could not convince her that the telegraph was not capable of such a performance. ‘How could so many soldiers have been sent to France by telegraph?’ she asked, and finally departed grumbling.

— “The Telegraph,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August 1873

# Mixing Day

A puzzle from P.M.H. Kendall and G.M. Thomas’ Mathematical Puzzles for the Connoisseur (1962):

Start with two containers, one holding green paint and the other an equal quantity of red paint.

1. Pour one pint of green paint into the red.
2. Pour two pints of this mixture back into the green.
3. Pour half the mixture in the green paint pot into the red pot.

Assume the paints are mixed thoroughly after each operation. If the two containers are now leveled off, without pouring any paint away, so that they both contain an equal quantity of paint, which pot is now more pure, the “green” paint or the “red”?

# One Way

“‘Tis further from London to Highgate than from Highgate to London.” — James Howell, Proverbs, 1659

In his 1991 Dictionary of Scientific Quotations, Alan L. Mackay calls this “an example of a non-commutative metric.” Highgate is at the top of a hill.