Season’s Greetings

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

Apparently bored in December 1936, the eccentric Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners, placed an advertisement in the personals column of the London Times:

“Lord Berners wishes to dispose of two elephants and one small rhinoceros (latter house-trained). Would make delightful Christmas presents.”

When a newspaperman telephoned, Berners took the call himself, pretending to be the butler. “Actually, I haven’t seen the rhino, myself, sir,” he said, “but it’s often about the house. It’s quite gentle, I’m told. The weather was getting too cold for the elephants, so I’m glad they’ve gone. They went on Saturday. I understand Mr. Harold Nicolson has bought one and Lady Colefax the other. I hope they have good homes.”

A bewildered Nicolson found himself insisting, “I have NOT bought an elephant! I do not intend to buy one! I do not want an elephant, and I have nowhere to put an elephant! This looks like a joke. I have known Lord Berners for twenty-five years, but I don’t feel friendly to him this morning. I do not want an elephant, have never wanted one, and I have not bought one.”

More Berners mischief.

“Baby Food”

http://www.julianbeever.net/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&view=category&id=2:3d-illusions&Itemid=7

The baby is real; the lobster and the bowl were drawn in chalk on a Hartlepool sidewalk by artist Julian Beever. Beever draws in anamorphic perspective, so his work appears distorted when viewed from most angles (below) but creates an illusion of three dimensions when seen from one privileged viewpoint.

“I expected more complaints when I posted this on my website of drawings,” he writes, “but surprisingly there have been very few. It shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”

http://www.julianbeever.net/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&view=category&id=2:3d-illusions&Itemid=7

Letters and Numbers

The first 10 letters of the alphabet, ABCDEFGHIJ, form a cipher that conceals the name of a number less than 100. What is the number?

Click for Answer

NYT

Futility Closet is featured on the New York Times’ Numberplay blog this week, with a discussion of the necktie paradox.

Fixing Dates

In 1899, British statistician Moses B. Cotsworth noted that recordkeeping could be greatly simplified if each month contained a uniform number of whole weeks. He proposed an “international fixed calendar” containing 13 months of 28 days each:

international fixed calendar

This makes everything easier. The 26th of every month falls reliably on a Thursday, for example, and statistical comparisons between months are made more accurate, as each month contains four tidy weeks with four weekends. (Unfortunately for the superstitious, every one of the 13 months contains a Friday the 13th.) A new month, called Sol, would be wedged between June and July, and an extra day, “Year Day,” would be added at the end of the year, but it would be independent of any month (as would Leap Day).

In 1922 the League of Nations chose Cotsworth’s plan as the most promising of 130 proposed calendar reforms, but the public, as always, resisted the unfamiliar, and by 1937 the International Fixed Calendar League had closed its doors. It left one curious legacy, though: George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak, was so pleased with Cotsworth’s scheme that he adopted it as his company’s official calendar — and it remained so until 1989.

Unquote

“The thoughts that come often unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are commonly the most valuable of any we have, and therefore should be secured, because they seldom return again.” — John Locke, letter to Samuel Bold, May 16, 1699

Parting Words

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edouard_Manet_059.jpg

Dear Betty:

I hate you.

Love,

George

— Suicide note quoted in Marc Etkind, Or Not to Be: A Collection of Suicide Notes, 1997

From the agony I have been through for no reason whatever I can only come to the logical conclusion that if there is a god that he is not so good as is made out.

— A young clerk’s suicide note, quoted in Olive Anderson, Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England, 1987

Kids, if there are any errors in this letter, I did not proof it carefully.

— From the 1985 suicide note of Cleveland superintendent of schools Frederick Holliday, who shot himself in a high school stairwell on learning that the school board planned to oust him

In 1930, San Quentin death row inmate William Kogut removed one of the hollow steel legs from his cot, stuffed it with red pips torn from from several packs of playing cards, and soaked them with water. Then he plugged one end of the pipe with a broom handle, rested it on a kerosene heater, and held the open end against his head. The red ink contained enough nitrocellulose to cause an explosion that drove the card fragments into Kogut’s head, killing him.

His note to the warden said that he was punishing himself for the murder of Mayme Guthrie. “Do not blame my death on any one because I fixed everything myself,” he wrote. “I never give up as long as I am living and have a chance, but this is the end.”

Groaners

  1. How does a deaf man indicate to a hardware clerk that he wants to buy a saw?
  2. How can you aim your car north on a straight road, drive for a hundred yards, and find yourself a hundred yards south of where you started?
  3. What runs fore to aft on one side of a ship and aft to fore on the other?
  4. A very fast train travels from City A to City B in an hour and a quarter. But the return trip, made under identical conditions, requires 75 minutes. Why?
  5. Does Canada have a 4th of July?
  6. Exhausted, you go to bed at 8 p.m., but you don’t want to miss an appointment at 10 a.m. the next day, so you set your alarm clock for 9. How many hours do you sleep?
Click for Answer

Misc

  • Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.
  • EMBARGO spelled backward is O GRAB ME.
  • The numbers on a roulette wheel add to 666.
  • The fourth root of 2143/22 is nearly pi (3.14159265258).
  • “A prosperous fool is a grievous burden.” — Aeschylus

Six countries have names that begin with the letter K, and each has a different vowel as the second letter: Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kosovo, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan.

(Thanks, Danny.)

Dreamed Up

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:FictionalAgloeNewYork.PNG

In composing a state map of New York in the 1930s, the General Drafting Company wanted to be sure that competing mapmakers would not simply copy its work. So the company’s founder, Otto G. Lindberg, and his assistant, Ernest Alpers, scrambled their initials and placed the fictional town of Agloe at the intersection of two dirt roads in the Catskills north of Roscoe.

Several years later, they discovered Agloe on a Rand McNally map and confronted their competitor. But Rand was innocent: It had got the name from the county government, which had taken it from the Agloe General Store, which now occupied the intersection. The store had taken the name from a map by Esso, which had (apparently) copied it from Lindberg’s map. Agloe had somehow clambered from imagination into reality.

Similarly, in 2001 editors placed a fake word in the New Oxford American Dictionary as a trap for other lexicographers who might steal their material. Fittingly, the word was esquivalience, “the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties.”

Sure enough, the word turned up at Dictionary.com (it’s since been taken down), citing Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary.

And as with Agloe, the invention has taken on a life of its own. NOAD editor Christine Lindberg, who coined esquivalience, told the Chicago Tribune that she finds herself using it regularly. “I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: ‘Those esquivalient little wretches.’ Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that.”

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