As down the street he took his stroll,
He cursed, for all he is a saint.
He saw a sign atop a pole,
As down the street he took a stroll,
And climbed it up (near-sighted soul),
So he could read–and read “FRESH PAINT,” …
As down the street he took a stroll,
He cursed, for all he is a saint.

— Wallace Rice

“Literary Ingenuity”


[Odo, holding Master Doctor’s mule, and Anne with her tablecloth]

The above line is said, in an old book, to have ‘cost the inventor much foolish labor, for it is perfect verse, and every word is the very same both backward and forward.’

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882


In early 1912, writer Mayn Clew Garnett submitted a story to Popular Magazine. “The White Ghost of Disaster” told the story of the Admiral, an 800-foot ocean liner that strikes an iceberg at 22.5 knots in the North Atlantic and sinks, killing more than a thousand passengers, largely due to a scarcity of lifeboats.

On April 14, while the story was in press, the 882-foot Titanic struck an iceberg at 22.5 knots in the North Atlantic and sank, killing 1,517, largely due to a scarcity of lifeboats.

The story appeared in May.



If Martians are observing us, how can we show them we’re intelligent?

Carl Friedrich Gauss proposed marking a huge right triangle on the Siberian plain; Austrian astronomer Joseph von Littrow suggested carving a perfect circle in the Sahara and filling it with burning kerosene.

Joseph Pulitzer favored a more direct approach: He wanted to build a huge billboard in New Jersey recommending his newspaper to inquiring Martians.

He pressed the idea until an assistant asked, “What language shall we print it in?”

All Greek

Readers of Punch were perplexed to find a classical verse in its pages:


It’s faux Greek; the author had simply replaced Latin letters with Greek ones:

To the Leading Periodical

This compliment, great sir, o take,
You’re a brick and no mistake.
Enemy to cant and fudge,
Time to thee I ne’er begrudge.
And I hope to see your name
Foremost in the lists of fame.

— Tom Smith, Grub Street

Perron’s Paradox

Let N be the largest positive integer. Then either N = 1 or N > 1.

If N > 1 then N2 > N, which breaks our definition of N as the largest integer. Therefore N = 1.

“The implications of this paradox are devastating,” writes Laurence Chisholm Young. “In seeking the solution to a problem, we can no longer assume that this solution exists. Yet this assumption has been made from time immemorial, right back in the beginnings of elementary algebra, where problems are solved by starting off with the phrase: ‘Let x be the desired quantity.'”



This is the only confirmed photo of Abe Lincoln at Gettysburg, taken about three hours before he gave his address. Not everyone loved the speech:

  • Chicago Times: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”
  • Harrisburg Patriot and Union: “We pass over the silly remarks of the President; for the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them and that they shall no more be repeated or thought of.”
  • London Times: “Anything more dull and commonplace it would not be easy to produce.”

Lincoln delivered the 10-sentence, 3-minute speech only after a 2-hour, 13,607-word oration by former secretary of state Edward Everett. When Everett sent Lincoln his compliments the next day, the president replied, “I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.”

“A Frozen Crew”

In 1774 a deserted ship of an uncouth form was discovered in the arctic region strangely encumbered with ice and snow. … The discoverer was the captain of a Greenland whaling-vessel named Warrens, who, on boarding her, found in one of the cabins … the corpse of a man perfectly preserved by the frost, with the exception of a slight greenish mould which appeared about the eyes and on the forehead. The body was seated in a chair and leaning back, a pen was still in its right hand, and before it was the open logbook, in which the dead man had been writing when he ceased to breathe. The last complete sentence of the unfinished entry ran as follows:–

‘November 11th, 1762. We have now been enclosed in the ice seventeen days. The fire went out yesterday, and our master has been trying ever since to kindle it again, but without success. His wife died this morning. There is no relief.’

… Captain Warrens and his men retired in solemn silence, and on entering the principal cabin found on a bed the dead body of a woman, with all the freshness of seeming life in her attitude and expression; and seated on the floor, holding in his hands the flint and steel, which he seemed to be in the act of striking, the corpse of a young man. Neither provision nor fuel could be anywhere discovered.

The World of Wonders, 1883