On Time

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Japanese puzzle maven Kobon Fujimura devised this mind-reading trick. Ask a friend to look at his analog watch and mentally choose one of the hour numbers. Tell him, “I’m going to point to various numbers on the face of your watch with a pencil. As I do so, count silently, starting with the number after the one you’ve chosen. For example, if you’ve chosen 7, start counting with 8. When we reach 20, say, ‘Stop.’”

Point to any seven numbers at random, pretending to concentrate deeply. Then point to 12, then 11, 10, and so on counterclockwise around the dial. When your friend tells you to stop, you’ll be pointing to the number he had chosen.

Gold Nuggets

The first 10 digits of the golden ratio φ can be rearranged to give the first 10 digits of 1/π:

φ = 1.618033988 …

1/π = .3183098861 …

And the first nine digits of 1/φ can be rearranged to give the first 9 digits of 1/π:

1/φ = .618033988 …

1/π = .318309886 …

In 1983 amateur mathematician George Odom discovered that if points A and B are the midpoints of sides EF and DE of an equilateral triangle, and line AB meets the circumscribing circle at C, then AB/BC = AC/AB = φ. Odom used this fact to construct a pentagon, which H.S.M. Coxeter published in the American Mathematical Monthly with the single word “Behold!”

Moving Drama

In May 1869, Lewis Carroll and 13-year-old Isabel Seymour traveled together by train from Oxford to Reading, where they parted, he to go on to Guildford and she to Paddington, London. After they had separated, he realized that he had forgotten to give her her ticket. He wrote to her:

My dear Isabel,

I was so sorry to hear from Miss Lloyd of your not being well, and I hope you will not think of writing to me about ‘Alice’ till you are well enough to do so. I only write this on the chance of your being in the humour to read it, or to have it read to you. When you are in that state, I should like you to know the real reason of my having carried off your railway-ticket. … Well, you told me, you know, that it was your first railway-journey alone: naturally that set me thinking, ‘Now what can I do to give her a really exciting adventure?’

Now three plans occurred to me. The first was to wait till the train had started from Reading, and then fire a pistol through your carriage-window, so that the bullet might go near your head and startle you a little. But there were two objections to this plan — one, that I hadn’t got a loaded pistol with me, the other, that the bullet might have gone in at a wrong window, and some people are so stupid, they might not have taken it as a joke.

The second plan was to give you, just as the train left Reading, what should look like a Banbury-cake, but should afterwards turn out to be a rattlesnake. The only objection to this plan was, that they didn’t keep that kind at Reading. They had only common Banbury-cakes, which wouldn’t have done at all.

The third plan was to keep the ticket, so that you might be alarmed when you got to London. Of course I arranged thoroughly with the Guard that the thing was not to be overdone. He was to look a little stern at first, and then gradually to let his expressive features kindle into a smile of benevolence. I was very particular on this point and almost my last words to him were, ‘Are you sure you can manage the benevolence?’ and I made him practice it several times on the platform before I would let him go.

Now you know my whole plan for making your journey a real Adventure. I only hope it succeeded. So, hoping much to hear you are better again, I remain very truly yours,

C.L. Dodgson

Tale Types

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In 1916, after extensive study, French writer Georges Polti announced that all the stories in classical and modern literature could be reduced to 36 essential situations:

  1. Supplication. The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgment against the Suppliant.
  2. Deliverance. The Unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the Threatener is to carry out justice, but the Rescuer saves the Unfortunate.
  3. Crime pursued by vengeance. The Criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the Avenger seeks justice by punishing the Criminal.
  4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin. Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both.
  5. Pursuit. The Fugitive flees Punishment for a misunderstood conflict.
  6. Disaster. The Power falls from their place after being defeated by the Victorious Enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the Messenger.
  7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune. The Unfortunate suffers from Misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master.
  8. Revolt. The Tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the Conspirator.
  9. Daring enterprise. The Bold Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering the Adversary.
  10. Abduction. The Abductor takes the Abducted from the Guardian.
  11. The enigma. The Interrogator poses a Problem to the Seeker and gives a Seeker better ability to reach the Seeker’s goals.
  12. Obtaining. The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor what they Object in the possession of the Adversary, or an Arbitrator decides who gets the Object desired by Opposing Parties (the Solicitor and the Adversary).
  13. Enmity of kin. The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together.
  14. Rivalry of kin. The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman.
  15. Murderous adultery. Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse.
  16. Madness. The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim.
  17. Fatal imprudence. The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.
  18. Involuntary crimes of love. The Revealer betrays the trust of either the Lover or the Beloved.
  19. Slaying of kin unrecognized. The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim.
  20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal. The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.
  21. Self-sacrifice for kin. The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.
  22. All sacrificed for passion. A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones. The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.
  24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior. A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.
  25. Adultery. Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
  26. Crimes of love. A Lover and the Beloved enter a conflict.
  27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one. The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
  28. Obstacles to love. Two Lovers face an Obstacle together.
  29. An enemy loved. The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
  30. Ambition. The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.
  31. Conflict with a god. The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
  32. Mistaken jealousy. The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
  33. Erroneous judgment. The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause of the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
  34. Remorse. The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
  35. Recovery of a lost one. The Seeker finds the One Found.
  36. Loss of loved ones. The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman Spectator.

For example, the Sherlock Holmes stories are an example of situation 3; Madame Bovary of situation 25; Romeo and Juliet of situation 29; and Crime and Punishment of situation 34. (The full text is here.) Correspondingly, he claimed, in life there are only 36 emotions, whose “unceasing ebb and flow … fills human history like the tides of the sea.”

Though he found that 36 categories were enough “to distribute fitly among them the innumerable dramas awaiting classification,” Polti felt that his system shouldn’t inhibit the creativity of future writers. “Any writer may have here a starting-point for observation and creation, outside the world of paper and print, a starting-point personal to himself.”

The Bellamy Salute

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When minister Francis Bellamy published the American Pledge of Allegiance in Youth’s Companion in 1892, his colleague James Upham devised a salute to go along with it, snapping the heels together and extending the right arm toward the flag:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.’ At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

This worked fine until the 1920s, when Italian fascists and then German Nazis adopted similar salutes. Congress delicately changed the American salute to the hand-on-heart gesture in 1942.

Black and White

larsen chess problem

By Peder Andreas Larsen. White to mate in two moves.

(I’ve added a guide to chess notation.)

Click for Answer

Think Piece

In 1953 Robert Rauschenberg obtained a drawing from Willem de Kooning, erased it, and presented the blank paper in a gilded frame titled Erased de Kooning Drawing, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953.

“I wanted to create a work of art by [erasing],” he said. “Using my own work wasn’t satisfactory. … I realized that it had to be something by someone who everybody agreed was great, and the most logical person for that was de Kooning.”

Rauschenberg said de Kooning was annoyed at first by the request, but “would not have wanted to hinder me in my work, if that’s what I wanted to do.” But he chose a particularly dark drawing in charcoal, ink, pencil, and crayon, saying, “We might as well make it harder for you.”

Cat and Mouse

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Rats have pretty well overrun the globe, but there’s one exception: Alberta, Canada, which has waged a successful war against the critters for 50 years. Owning rats is forbidden to Alberta residents; they can be kept only by zoos and research institutions. The province maintains a rat control zone 600 kilometers long along its eastern border, staffed by eight professionals, and any rats they find are poisoned, gassed, or shot.

“Alberta is the only province with rat-free status, and we take this very seriously,” Verlyn Olson, minister of agriculture and rural development, said in an August statement. “We have lived without the menace of rats since 1950, when our control program began.”

But it’s a constant battle. In 2003 pest specialist John B. Bourne told National Geographic that he worries the wily creatures will hitch a ride to the interior aboard a truck or train. “They are so adaptive, so intelligent, so successful and physically capable … that it would not surprise me if they show up in a place where you’d least expect a rat to show up. I have the greatest respect for this rodent’s resourcefulness, and [its] capabilities scare the hell out of me.”

Fry Another Day

In the U.S. edition of Thrilling Cities, his 1963 collection of travel pieces written for the Sunday Times, Ian Fleming included a brief section describing a visit to New York by James Bond, who visits the Edwardian Room at the Plaza and orders a dry martini, smoked salmon, and “the particular scrambled eggs he had once instructed them how to make.” And in a footnote, Fleming gives the precise recipe for 007′s scrambled eggs:

Scrambled Eggs “James Bond”

12 fresh eggs
Salt and pepper
5-6 oz. of fresh butter

Break the eggs into a bowl. Beat thoroughly with a fork and season well. In a small copper (or heavy-bottomed) saucepan melt four oz. of the butter. When melted, pour in the eggs and cook over a very low heat, whisking continuously with a small egg whisk.

While the eggs are slightly more moist than you would wish for eating, remove pan from heat, add rest of butter and continue whisking for half a minute, adding the while finely chopped chives or fines herbes. Serve on hot buttered toast in individual copper dishes (for appearance only) with pink champagne (Taittainger) and low music.

It serves “four individualists.”

Making Luck

The audience was stunned when contestant Michael Larson won $110,237 on Press Your Luck in 1984, easily the largest one-day total ever won on a game show to that date. As lights flashed randomly on the Big Board, somehow Larson was consistently able to stop on squares that led to cash and additional play, and avoid the “whammy” that would bankrupt him.

It turned out that the light indicator wasn’t random. In studying the game at home, Larson had discovered that it followed five recognizable patterns; after memorizing these he could always be sure of landing on winning squares.

CBS producers divined the scheme, but they could find no cause to disqualify Larson, as he had broken no rules. They paid him his money, fixed the board, and established a maximum sum that future contestants could win.

Larson may have congratulated himself, but he didn’t get to enjoy his winnings — he lost the money in bad real estate investments and died of throat cancer at age 49.

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