Futility Closet book ad

Planning Big

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palace_Of_Soviets_6.JPG

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, it interrupted one of the most ambitious building projects in history. Situated near the Kremlin, the Palace of the Soviets would have commemorated the founding the U.S.S.R. with a 21,000-seat congress hall, 100 stories of administrative offices, and a crowning statue of Lenin 75 meters tall.

It would have been both the largest and the tallest building in the world. But only the foundation had been built when the war intervened, and the frame was disassembled for its steel. Construction never resumed, and in the 1960s the site was turned into an open-air swimming pool. This must symbolize something.

A Helping Hand

In 1978 a bottlenose dolphin at California’s Marine World swallowed a 3-inch bolt. When the frustrated veterinarian complained that his arms were too short to reach it, the park’s president, Mike Demetrios, had a brainstorm. He called 6’9″ Golden State Warriors center Clifford Ray, whose arms are 45 inches long.

Ray reached into the dolphin’s second stomach and retrieved the bolt while a Los Angeles vet instructed him via intercom (photos here).

“They are a very smart animal and I think he realized he was in trouble,” Ray told the Chicago Tribune. “He was pretty much cooperative through the whole thing.”

Demetrios rewarded Ray with the bolt mounted on a bronze plaque, plus lifetime passes to the park, and named a new tiger cub “Clifford Ray” in his honor. For his part, Ray was convinced the dolphin was grateful. “After that whole incident, whenever I would go to the park, he would always recognize me,” he told sportswriter Howard Beck in 2006. “He would come right up to me without being prompted.”

The Dumbbell Cipher

In 1777, British general Sir Henry Clinton sent this message to his fellow officer John Burgoyne, lamenting that he’d be unable to join him in a plan to divide the colonies along the Hudson River:

dumbbell cipher 1

This was a ruse — Clinton’s real meaning can be revealed by applying a mask:

dumbbell cipher 2

Historians aren’t certain whether the message reached Burgoyne or influenced his decisions. As it happened, Clinton didn’t participate in the conflict, and Burgoyne lost the Battle of Saratoga, the turning point of the war.

Plan B

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

As a boy Harry Truman practiced piano for two hours a day. “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician,” he said later. “And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.”

At age 12 he attended a concert by Paderewski. “And I was studying the Minuet by Paderewski. And when he got through with his concert — which was a wonder — he played that Chopin A-Flat Waltz, Opus 42, which has always been a favorite of mine. And he played the waltz rendition of the Blue Danube, and so on.”

“When we went back behind the scenes, [my teacher] took me with her, and it almost scared me to death. She told him I didn’t know how to make ‘the turn’ in the minuet, and he said, ‘Sit down,’ and he showed me how to do it. I played it at Postdam for old Stalin. I think he was quite impressed.”

He gave up piano because “it was a sissy thing to do. So I just stopped. And it was probably all for the best. I wouldn’t ever have been really first-rate. A good music-hall piano player is about the best I’d have ever been. So I went into politics and became president of the United States.”

Unquote

“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”

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sigmund_Freud_1926.jpg

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

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

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
Page 60 of 795« First...10203040...5859606162...708090100...Last »