Cast Away

Here’s a paragraph from Robinson Crusoe. It contains a remarkable error — can you spot it?

A little after noon, I found the sea very calm, and the tide ebbed so far out, that I could come within a quarter of a mile of the ship; and here I found a fresh renewing of my grief: for I saw evidently, that if we had kept on board, we had been all safe–that is to say, we had all got safe on shore, and I had not been so miserable as to be left entirely destitute of all comfort and company, as I now was. This forced tears from my eyes again; but as there was little relief in that, I resolved, if possible, to get to the ship–so I pulled off my clothes, for the weather was hot to extremity, and took the water. But when I came to the ship, my difficulty was still greater to know how to get on board; for, as she lay aground and high out of the water, there was nothing within my reach to lay hold of. I swam round her twice, and the second time I spied a small piece of rope, which I wondered I did not see at first, hang down by the fore-chains, so low as that with great difficulty I got hold of it, and, by the help of that rope, got up into the forecastle of the ship. Here I found that the ship was bulged, and had a great deal of water in her hold, but that she lay so on the side of a bank of hard sand, or rather earth, and her stern lay lifted up upon the bank, and her head low almost to the water: by this means all her quarter was free, and all that was in that part was dry; for you may be sure my first work was to search and to see what was spoiled, and what was free, and first I found that all the ship’s provisions were dry and untouched by the water: and being very well disposed to eat, I went to the bread-room and filled my pockets with biscuit, and ate it as I went about other things, for I had no time to lose. I also found some rum in the great cabin, of which I took a large dram, and which I had indeed need enough of to spirit me for what was before me. Now I wanted nothing but a boat, to furnish myself with many things which I foresaw would be very necessary to me.

Math Notes

2187 = (2 + 18)7

Bacon Testimony

Among trials of individual animals for special acts of turpitude, one of the most amusing was that of a sow and her six young ones, at Lavegny, in 1457, on a charge of their having murdered and partly eaten a child. … The sow was found guilty and condemned to death; but the pigs were acquitted on account of their youth, the bad example of their mother, and the absence of direct proof as to their having been concerned in the eating of the child.

— Robert Chambers, The Book of Days, 1864


Half of the harm that is done in this world
Is due to people who want to feel important.

— T.S. Eliot


Massachusetts’ Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg has the longest place name in the United States.

Locals call it Webster Lake.

The Clairvoyant Penny,_obverse,_2002.jpg

Mathematician Thomas Storer offers a foolproof way to foretell the future: Flip a penny and ask it a yes-or-no question. Heads means yes, tails means no.

How can you be sure the answer is accurate? Simple: Flip it again and ask, “Will your present answer have the same truth value as your previous answer?”

  • Suppose the answer is yes. This is either true or false. If it’s true, then the original response was true. If it’s false, then the truth value of the original response is not false, i.e., it’s true.
  • If the answer to the second question is no, this too is either true or false. If it’s true, then the original response was true. If it’s false, then the original response was not false, i.e., true.

Since all the outcomes agree, the penny’s original response is guaranteed to be correct.

The Woodsman’s Surprise

‘In the foot of an elm, of the bigness of a pretty corpulent man, three or four feet above the root, and exactly in the centre, has been found a live toad, middle-sized, but lean, and filling up the whole vacant space: no sooner was a passage opened, by splitting the wood, than it scuttled away very hastily: a more firm and sound elm never grew; so that the toad cannot be supposed to have got into it. …’ This is attested by M. Hubert, professor of philosophy at Caen.

The London Encyclopaedia, 1839


Raymond Smullyan doesn’t believe in astrology.

When asked why, he says, “I’m a Gemini.”

The Red Barn Murder

In April 1828, Ann Marten was growing increasingly worried about her daughter, Maria. The girl had eloped recently from Suffolk with her lover, William Corder, but Ann had not heard from her since. Corder gave various explanations: A letter had been lost, he said, or Maria was ill or had hurt her hand.

One night Ann awoke her husband in great agitation: She had had a vivid dream, she said, that their daughter’s body was buried under the “right-hand bay of the further side of Corder’s red barn,” where the couple had met to begin their journey. She persuaded her husband to investigate, and to their horror he discovered their daughter’s body buried in a sack just where her dream had indicated.

The case made a sensation. Corder was retrieved and tried and eventually confessed: He had shot Maria in the eye during an argument in the barn. He was hanged in August and his body left for medical students, and the rope was sold at a guinea an inch to the morbid throng. The dream was never explained.

A Cosmic Coincidence

Light travels 186,000 miles per second. The average diameter of Earth’s orbit is 186 million miles.

So, on average, sunlight reaches us in a neat 500 seconds.