A Hidden Drama

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:98_rock,_Wake_Island.jpg

When Japanese forces took Wake Island in December 1941, they put 98 captured Americans to forced labor. When the American military threatened to retake the island in October 1943, the Japanese took these civilians to the north end of the island, blindfolded them, and executed them by machine gun.

One of the Americans somehow escaped this massacre and fled. We know this because he returned to the scene and carved the legend “98 US PW 5-10-43″ on a coral rock near the mass grave. He was subsequently captured and beheaded.

The rock remains a landmark on the island. The American’s identity has never been discovered.

A Blind Pirate

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TI-parrot.jpg

Several years after publishing Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson was abashed to discover that he had drawn much of the story from Washington Irving’s 1824 book Tales of a Traveller, which he had read many years earlier and forgotten.

“I believe plagiarism was rarely carried farther,” he wrote later. “The book flew up and struck me: Billy Bones, his chest, the company in the parlour, the whole inner spirit, and a good deal of the material detail of my first chapters — all were there, all were the property of Washington Irving. But I had no guess of it then as I sat writing by the fireside, in what seemed the spring-tides of a somewhat pedestrian inspiration; nor yet day by day, after lunch, as I read aloud my morning’s work to the family.”

This is an instance of cryptomnesia, the mistaking of a forgotten memory for an original idea. Stevenson charged himself with plagiarism, but he had honestly believed he was writing a new story: “It seemed to me original as sin; it seemed to belong to me like my right eye.” In reading Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra, Carl Jung was surprised to discover “almost word for word” an incident reported in a ship’s log in 1686. Jung recognized the passage from a book published around 1835, about 50 years before Nietzsche was writing. He contacted the philosopher’s sister, who confirmed that the two of them had read the book when Nietzsche was 11 years old.

“I think, from the context, it is inconceivable that Nietzsche had any idea that he was plagiarizing this story,” Jung wrote. “I believe that fifty years later it had unexpectedly slipped into focus in his conscious mind.”

Orderly

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Incircles.JPG

A Japanese geometry theorem from the Edo period: If the blue circles are equal, the green circles will be equal too.

This can be extended: Circles spanning three of these triangles will also be equal, and so on.

You Rang?

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

Write out the phrase “expect the devil.”

Extract the Roman numerals: eXpeCt the DeVIL

Add these: D (500) + C (100) + L (50) + X (10) + V (5) + I (1)

The total is 666.

Disc World

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_110607-N-XD935-191_Navy_Diver_2nd_Class_Ryan_Arnold,_assigned_to_Mobile_Diving_and_Salvage_Unit_2,_snorkels_on_the_surface_to_monitor_multi.jpg

Jump into the sea and look up. The surface above you is dark except for a bright circle that follows you around like a portable skylight. This is Snell’s window: Because light is refracted as it enters the water, the 180-degree world above you is compressed into a tight 97 degrees.

Physicist Robert W. Wood was thinking of this effect when he created a new wide-angle lens in 1906. Fittingly, he called it the fisheye.

Fools’ Play

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

In Top Hat, Ginger Rogers shuns the ardent Fred Astaire because she thinks he’s her best friend’s husband. How she could persist in this belief for any length of time is never explained — the misunderstanding drives the whole story.

This is an “idiot plot,” defined by Roger Ebert as “a plot which is kept in motion solely by virtue of the fact that everybody involved is an idiot.”

The term was coined by science fiction author James Blish, whose colleague Damon Knight added the second-order idiot plot, “in which not merely the principals, but everybody in the whole society has to be a grade-A idiot, or the story couldn’t happen.”

Such contrivances are annoying, but we’ll forgive a lot if we get to watch Fred Astaire dance. “How is it that Ginger has never met her best friend’s husband?” asks critic Alan Vanneman. “Well, Europe is a big place.”

Black and White

malmström chess problem

By Gustaf Emanuel Malmström. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Likeness

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Quincy_Adams_by_GPA_Healy,_1858.jpg

At left is the official White House portrait of John Quincy Adams, painted by George Peter Alexander Healy. At right is a daguerreotype of Adams in 1843, when he became the first president to be photographed.

In a diary entry for Aug. 1, 1843, Adams noted that four daguerreotypes had been taken and pronounced them “all hideous.” Three more were taken the following day, but he found them “no better than those of yesterday. They are all too true to the original.”

That raises an interesting question: Which of these images is the more revealing record of the man? In Puzzles About Art, philosopher Matthew Lipman asks, “Which would we rather have, a portrait of Socrates by Rembrandt or a photograph of Socrates?”

Man Bites Dog

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Physic-Brummy1.jpg

The New York Times carried an alarming item on July 28, 1874: “A Dog and Man Fight in England,” about a dwarf named Brummy who had undertaken to fight a bulldog on a wager, “without weapons and without clothes, except his trousers.” The fight took place in “a quiet house,” where the combatants were chained to opposite walls, and Brummy agreed to assume all fours throughout. The first to knock out the other for 60 seconds was to be declared the victor:

The man was on all fours when the words ‘Let go’ were uttered, and, making accurate allowance for the length of the dog’s chain, he arched his back, cat wise, so as just to escape its fangs, and fetched it a blow on the crown of its head that brought it almost to its knees. The dog’s recovery, however, was instantaneous; and before the dwarf could draw back, Physic made a second dart forward, and this time its teeth grazed, the biped’s arm, causing a slight red trickling. He grinned scornfully, and sucked the place; but there was tremendous excitement among the bull-dog’s backers, who clapped their hands with delight, rejoicing in the honour of first blood.

After 10 rounds of this “the bull-dog’s head was swelled much beyond its accustomed size; it had lost two teeth, and one of its eyes was entirely shut up; while as for the dwarf, his fists, as well as his arms, were reeking, and his hideous face was ghastly pale with rage and despair of victory.” But then “the dwarf dealt him a tremendous blow under the chin, and with such effect that the dog was dashed against the wall, where, despite all its master could do to revive it it continued to lie, and being unable to respond when ‘time’ was called, Brummy was declared to be victorious.”

The Times, which had picked up the story from the London Telegraph, noted that in the ensuing outrage the Home Secretary had directed the mayor of Hanley to investigate, and as no confirmation could be found, “there is a strong hope that, after all, the whole thing is a canard.” The Telegraph, however, “stands by its correspondent, and insists upon the truth of the report.”

In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kreul_Krankenbesuch_1832.jpg

lectual
adj. confining to the bed (“a lectual disease”)

bechic
n. a cough medicine

lambitive
n. a medicine to be licked, such as a cough drop

Page 59 of 821« First...10203040...5758596061...708090100...Last »