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“Humiliation and indifference, these are conditions every one of us finds unbearable — this is why the Coyote when falling is more concerned with the audience’s opinion of him than he is with the inevitable result of too much gravity.” — Chuck Jones

Better Safe

To give his “Infamy” speech on the day after Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt rode to the Capitol in a car owned by Al Capone.

The Secret Service was concerned about assassination attempts, and Roosevelt’s regular state car had no protective features. So the president made use of Capone’s heavily armored 1928 Cadillac 341A Town Sedan, which the Treasury Department had impounded after the gangster’s arrest.

(Thanks, Ron.)

“On Professor Freud”


The ignorant pronounce it Frood,
To cavil or applaud.
The well-informed pronounce it Froyd,
But I pronounce it Fraud.

– G.K. Chesterton

False Confessions


After the Great Fire of London, a French watchmaker named Robert Hubert confessed to having started the blaze in Westminster. When he learned that the fire had never reached Westminster, he claimed to have thrown a fire grenade into a bakery window in Pudding Lane. It turned out that the bakery had no windows, Hubert was too crippled to have thrown a grenade anyway, and in fact he hadn’t even arrived in London until two days after the fire had started. He was convicted and hanged anyway.

Related: In 1797, the crew of the frigate Hermione mutinied and killed the cruel captain Hugh Pigot. An Admiralty official later reported, “In my own experience I have known, on separate occasions, more than six sailors who voluntarily confessed to having struck the first blow at Captain Pigot. These men detailed all the horrid circumstances of the mutiny with extreme minuteness and perfect accuracy; nevertheless, not one of them had ever been in the ship, nor had so much as seen Captain Pigot in their lives. They had obtained, by tradition, from their messmates the particulars of the story. When long on a foreign station, hungering and thirsting for home, their minds became enfeebled; at length they actually believed themselves guilty of the crime over which they had so long brooded, and submitted, with a gloomy pleasure to being sent to England in irons for judgment. At the Admiralty we were always able to detect and establish their innocence, in defiance of their own solemn asseverations.”

From Southwood Smith, “Lectures on Forensic Medicine,” in the London Medical Gazette, Jan. 20, 1838. See also The Campden Wonder.

Family Plot

Some years ago, when Macready was performing in Chicago, he was unfortunate enough to offend one of the actors. This person, who was cast for the part of Claudius in ‘Hamlet,’ resolved to pay off the star for many supposed offenses. So, in the last scene, as Hamlet stabbed the usurper, that monarch reeled foward, and after a most spasmodic finish, stretched himself out precisely in the place Hamlet required for his own death. Macready, much annoyed, whispered:–

‘Die further up the stage, Sir!’

The monarch lay insensible. Upon which, in a still louder voice, Hamlet growled:–

‘Die further up the stage, Sir!’

Hereon Claudius, sitting up, observed:–

‘I bleeve I’m King here, and I’ll die where I please.’

– Olive Logan, Before the Footlights and Behind the Scenes, 1870

Black and White

havel chess problem

By Miroslav Havel. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

A Crowning Puzzle


There’s a hexagon of cloud at Saturn’s north pole. It surrounds the pole at 77 degrees north latitude, making it wider than two Earths. First discovered by Voyager in the early 1980s, it was still there in 2009, nearly 30 years later.

“The longevity of the hexagon makes this something special, given that weather on Earth lasts on the order of weeks,” said Caltech astronomer Kunio Sayanagi. “It’s a mystery on par with the strange weather conditions that give rise to the long-lived Great Red Spot of Jupiter.”

No one knows what causes the hexagon or how it has remained organized for so long. JPL atmospheric scientist Kevin Baines called it “one of the most bizarre things we’ve ever seen in the solar system.”

What Am I?

A riddle by Horatio Walpole:

Before my birth I had a name,
But soon as born I chang’d the same;
And when I’m laid within the tomb,
I shall my father’s name assume.
I change my name three days together
Yet live but one in any weather.

In a Word

n. one who denies the existence of the devil

n. demonic power or skill

Ronald Knox wrote, “It is stupid of modern civilization to have given up believing in the devil, when he is the only explanation of it.”

Ready Made

In 1923 the Acme Code Company published a list of “phrase codes” for use in telegrams — customers could save money by substituting a five-letter code for a longer phrase in their messages. The list of codes was charmingly comprehensive:

BIINC What appliances have you for lifting heavy machinery?

URPXO For what use was the mixing machine intended?

CHOOG lard, in bladders

GAHGU cod-liver oil

GNUEK rubber, slightly moldy

HEHST clammy condition

ZOKIX unhealthy trees

ARPUK The person is an adventurer …

BUKSI Avoid arrest if possible

NARVO Do not part with the documents

OBYNX Escape at once

CULKE Bad as possibly can be

LYADI Arrived here with decks swept … encountered a hurricane

PYTUO Collided with an iceberg

YBDIG Plundered by natives

Similarly, George Holland Ackers’ Universal Yacht Signals (1847) includes signals for “Can I have … quarts of turtle soup?”, “Marmalade — orange unless specified,” and “I can strongly recommend my washerwoman.”

In Film Facts (2001), Patrick Robertson notes that Central Casting installed a Hollerith computer in 1935 to help with the casting of extras in Hollywood films. This meant subdividing humanity into tidy categories — lawyers, for instance, were classed as Shrewd, Dixie, Hawk-faced, Inquisitor and Benevolent. “When the new system was unveiled before the press, the operator was asked to produce ten Englishmen, 6ft tall, blue-eyed, possessed of full evening dress, and able to play polo. The cards of all 600 male dress extras were run through the machine to reveal that there were only two such paragons on the books of Central Casting.”

See Enjoy Your Stay.

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