Spoon River

“Lines by an Oxford Don,” from the Globe, June 1805:

My brain was filled with rests of thought,
No more by currying wares distraught,
As lazing dreamily I lay
In my Canoodian canay.

Ah me, methought, how leef were swite
If men could neither wreak nor spite;
No erring bloomers, no more slang,
No tungles then to trip the tang!

No more the undergraddering tits
Would exercise their woolish fits
With tidal ales (and false, I wis)
Of my fame-farred tamethesis!

A sentence that makes equal sense when spoonerized: “I must brush my hat, for it is pouring with rain.”

When George S. Kaufman’s daughter told him a friend had eloped from Vassar, he said, “Ah! She put her heart before the course.”

The Beaker Paradox

See this beaker? It contains 1 to 2 liters of water and 1 liter of wine. That means that the ratio of water to wine (call it r) is between 1 and 2. Thus there’s a 50 percent chance that r is between 1 and 3/2. Right?

But now consider the ratio of wine to water, or 1/r. That’s between 1/2 and 1, so there’s a 50 percent chance that 1/r is between 3/4 and 1.

Taking the reciprocal, that means there’s a 50 percent chance that r is between 1 and 4/3, which contradicts our earlier result. Where is the error?

Cat Snap


Harry Whittier Frees did a booming business in novelty postcards in the early 20th century, posing animals in human situations, including props and sets.

“I take occasion to give my personal assurance that all pictures appearing in this book are photographed from life,” he wrote in 1915’s The Little Folks of Animal Land. “The difficulties encountered in posing kittens and puppies for pictures of this kind have been overcome only by the exercise of great patience and invariable kindness.”

The Bedford Level Experiment


In 1838, Samuel Rowbotham waded into a drainage canal in Norfolk and sighted along its length with a telescope. Six miles away, an assistant held a flag three feet above the water. If the earth were round, its curvature should hide the flag from him. But he decided he could see it clearly. “It follows,” he wrote, “that the surface of standing water is not convex, and therefore that the Earth IS NOT A GLOBE!”

Rowbotham’s triumphant result stood until 1870, when naturalist, surveyor, and obvious crackpot Alfred Russel Wallace attempted to disprove the result. His endeavor ended only in a heated argument — and eventually a libel suit against the “planists.” (Round-earthers are clearly desperate men.)

In fairness, we must note that not all observations have agreed with Rowbotham’s. In 1896 a newspaper editor conducted a similar experiment in Illinois and discovered that the earth is concave. Clearly more work is needed.

“A Ride on the Wind”

In the afternoon of Monday, July 25th, 1768, an extraordinary gust of wind near Cleobury Mortimer, in Shropshire, not only unroofed the dwelling-house, barns, stables, and out-buildings belonging to a farmer named Bishop (levelling one of the buildings with the ground, and tearing up and rending more than sixty apple and pear trees), but also took up his son, a youth of sixteen, and carried him at a height of four or five yards from the ground to a distance of about eight yards, over a stone wall, fish-pond, and a hedge, depositing him in a great state of terror, but otherwise unhurt, in a field of hay.

The World of Wonders, 1883

Far From Home

The world’s largest population of feral camels is in … Australia.

Thousands were imported between 1840 and 1907 to help explore the continent’s arid interior — it’s said that the first piano in Alice Springs arrived on a camel’s back. (A world away, the same thing was happening in the United States.)

The animals were gradually obviated by automobiles, but as many as a million still wander the country in herds — so many, ironically, that Australia has begun exporting camels to Saudi Arabia.