The Skinhead Hamlet. Brace yourself.
“Twenty rules for writing detective stories,” by S.S. Van Dine, 1928:
“For the writing of detective stories there are very definite laws,” Van Dine wrote, “unwritten, perhaps, but none the less binding; and every respectable and self-respecting concocter of literary mysteries lives up to them.”
What Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) lacked in compositional talent he made up in imagination and a wry sense of humor. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1897), for example, is entirely blank.
Allais’ entries in Jules Lévy’s expositions of “Incoherent Art” — dedicated to the works of “people who do not know how to draw” — included a white rectangle titled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in a Snowstorm. He followed this with a red rectangle titled Tomato Harvest on the Shore of the Red Sea, by Apoplectic Cardinals.
“There was also ‘sculpture’ with the punning title ‘Terre cuite (Pomme de),” writes Steven Moore Whiting in Satie the Bohemian. “Terre cuite by itself means terracotta; with the parenthetical qualifier, the title becomes ‘Baked Potato.’”
A “poem for stutterers” by Harry Mathews:
Mimi, our hours so social shall secede;
And answer surlily tie-tidied deed.
Read it aloud.
Ever since ‘weather shooting,’ as it is called in Germany and Switzerland, met with such pronounced success in Styria, upper ltaly, Hungary, and France, meteorologists have been engaged in a very wordy battle as to the merits of the scheme. That something has been accomplished cannot be denied. Indeed, so successful have been the efforts in preventing hailstorms in upper Italy that since the experiments of 1898 some twenty thousand stations have been established. At the Agricultural Congress held in Padua last November by far the greater number of the members were in favor of the building of ‘weathershooting’ stations. The congress was very decidedly impressed by an account of one of last summer’s hailstorms in the vicinity of Vicenza. So violent was this particular storm, the story runs, that for miles the land was completely devastated. But in this ravaged section, one spot was spared, because there it is asserted a number of stations had been located which had warded off the danger.
The shooting apparatus hitherto used has been very primitive in construction. For a cannon, a mortar with a funnel-like barrel was often used. In some places the funnel is fixed vertically in masonry. This method of mounting the cannon is not only crude, but also dangerous, for often enough serious accidents have occurred. In order to avoid these dangers as well as to improve the apparatus in general a Hungarian editor named Kanitz has devised a simple form of cannon which is essentially a breech-loading mortar some thirty feet in length. The mortar is journaled in a rotatable carriage, so that it can be raised and lowered and swung from side to side. The charge is a metallic cartridge of blasting powder. After the discharge a loud, shrill whistling is heard, lasting for about fourteen or fifteen seconds. French and Italian wine-growers insist that by means of the gun clouds are torn asunder, so that rain instead of hail falls.
The grape growers of five departments of the French Alps have formed an alliance for buying cannon and powder for next summer. The Italian government has such faith in weather-shooting that it supplies wine-growers with powder at the rate of three cents a pound.
– Scientific American, April 27, 1901
v. to impale upon hooks
v. a sullen look
adj. much displeased
v. to trouble in sleep
This scale balances a cup of water with a certain weight. Will the balance be upset if you put your finger in the water, if you’re careful not to touch the glass?
A prisoner has a limited supply of paper and wants to conserve space by avoiding any letter that extends above or below the line (b, d, f, g, h, j, k, l, p, q, t, or y). How far can he get?
Pretty far, it turns out. Writer Ian Monk came up with this:
a russian con’s economic missive
we were once seven con men, we are now seven cons. as communism was over we saw easier success in american consumerism, i.e. crime. in a moscow inn, we swore: — seven is one, so one is seven … soon we came across a scam. our main man wove us a nice wee earner: — we own a zinc mine. since our russian economic crisis came in, our income’s never risen. we can cram ice in our mine’s veins, raise rumours re our ice mine’s immense resources, con morons we are mere zeros. as soon as career men see our ice, we win ‘em over. once we’ve won ‘em over, we receive numerous ecus or euros. as soon as we’ve our monies, we serve ‘em arsenic in wine. we can even recommence on numerous occasions. … our scam was a success. our asses never saw sense. we were euros in. we saw our main man serve our vicious wine mix … a near miss .. our arsenic was mere mouse venom. some asses were survivors: — summon a coroner, someone swore. — or a nurse. — or some rozzers. so we ran. we swam across a river. as soon as no one was near us, we wove our monies in wee canvas cases we wore in our arses. we ran on. in vain … someone saw us on vanavara’s main avenue. a commissioner, nine rozzers, seven airmen, six cia men overcame us. we were sworn in. we are now in moscow in irons in room nine. as soon as someone receives or sos, come … run … save us … since no one’s ever come across our economies, our ransoms are even now in our arses.
Letter to the Times, Nov. 28, 1980:
Mr Roger Lancelyn Green (25 November) asks whether it is known how Robert Louis Stevenson intended the name of Dr Jekyll should be pronounced. Fortunately a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner, who interviewed Stevenson in his hotel bedroom in San Francisco on 7 June 1888, asked him that very question:
‘There has been considerable discussion, Mr Stevenson, as to the pronunciation or Dr Jekyll’s name. Which do you consider to be correct?’
Stevenson (described as propped up in bed ‘wearing a white woollen nightdress and a tired look’) replied: ‘By all means let the name be pronounced as though it spelt “Jee-kill”, not “Jek-ill”. Jekyll is a very good family name in England, and over there it is pronounced in the manner stated.’
In 1990 François Caradec invented “poems for dogs.” A pet’s name is hidden phonetically in each verse; like a dog whistle, it goes unnoticed by the master but makes the dog sit up. Here’s a sample written for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel Flush:
My mistress never slights me
When taking outdoor tea.
She brings sweet cake
For her sweet sake,
Rough, luscious bones for me.
Flush was already a bit of a literary celebrity — Barrett Browning composed two poems about him, and Virginia Woolf made him the hero of a whole novel, Flush: A Biography, in 1933. In 1843, after Flush was briefly held for ransom, his mistress wrote, “Oh, and if you had seen him, when he came home & threw himself into my arms … in that dumb inarticulate ecstasy which is so affecting.”