“The New Vestments”

There lived an old man in the Kingdom of Tess,
Who invented a purely original dress;
And when it was perfectly made and complete,
He opened the door and walked into the street.

By way of a hat he’d a loaf of Brown Bread,
In the middle of which he inserted his head;
His Shirt was made up of no end of dead Mice,
The warmth of whose skins was quite fluffy and nice;
His Drawers were of Rabbit-skins, so were his Shoes;
His Stockings were skins, but it is not known whose;
His Waistcoat and Trowsers were made of Pork Chops;
His Buttons were Jujubes and Chocolate Drops;
His Coat was all Pancakes, with Jam for a border,
And a girdle of Biscuits to keep it in order.
And he wore over all, as a screen from bad weather,
A Cloak of green Cabbage-leaves stitched all together.

He had walked a short way, when he heard a great noise
Of all sorts of Beasticles, Birdlings, and Boys;
And from every long street and dark lane in the town
Beasts, Birdles, and Boys in a tumult rushed down.
Two Cows and a Calf ate his Cabbage-leaf Cloak;
Four Apes seized his Girdle, which vanished like smoke;
Three Kids ate up half of his Pancaky Coat,
And the tails were devoured by an ancient He-Goat;
An army of Dogs in a twinkling tore up his
Pork Waistcoat and Trowsers to give to their Puppies;
And while they were growling and mumbling the Chops,
Ten Boys prigged the Jujubes and Chocolate Drops.
He tried to run back to his house, but in vain,
For scores of fat Pigs came again and again;
They rushed out of stables and hovels and doors;
They tore off his Stockings, his Shoes, and his Drawers.
And now from the housetops with screechings descend
Striped, spotted, white, black, and grey Cats without end;
They jumped on his shoulders and knocked off his hat,
When Crows, Ducks, and Hens made a mincemeat of that:
They speedily flew at his sleeves in a trice
And utterly tore up his Shirt of dead Mice;
They swallowed the last of his Shirt with a squall,–
Whereon he ran home with no clothes on at all.

And he said to himself as he bolted the door,
“I will not wear a similar dress any more,
“Any more, any more, any more, nevermore!”

— Edward Lear

Arms Race

Four missiles are located in the corners of a square 20 miles on each side. All are launched simultaneously, and each homes in on the one on its left at 1 mile per second. How much time will pass before they meet?

Click for Answer

Low Tech


This is inspiring: In 2005 the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted the cardboard box.

“I think every adult has had that disillusioning experience of picking what they think is a wonderful toy for a child, and then finding the kid playing with the box,” said chief curator Christopher Bensch. “It’s that empty box full of possibilities that the kids can sense and the adults don’t always see.”

In the same spirit, the museum honors alphabet blocks, rocking horses, teddy bears, and jump rope alongside Monopoly, Etch A Sketch, and other registered trademarks.

Among the 44 toys in the hall of fame, the most sophisticated is the Nintendo Game Boy. The simplest, charmingly, is “the stick.”

International Relations

Indeed this tendency to shift the responsibility for the disease on others by giving it their name, appears all through the early references to it. The Italians called it the Spanish or the French disease; the French called it the Italian disease; the English called it the French disease; the Russians called it the Polish disease; the Turks called it the French disease; the Indians and the Japanese called it the Portuguese disease. And, as we shall see, the first Spaniards who recognized the disease called it the disease of Española, which meant at that time the disease of Haiti.

— W.A. Pusey, “The Beginning of Syphilis,” Journal of the American Medical Association, June 12, 1915

Huth’s Moving Star


In late 1801, Johann Bode, director of the Berlin Observatory, received a curious series of letters from astronomer Hofrath Huth in Frankfort-on-the-Oder. On Dec. 2 Huth had seen something new in the sky, “a star with faint reddish light, round, and admitting of being magnified.” But it wasn’t a star: On subsequent nights he watched it drift slowly to the southwest, growing gradually fainter, and by Jan. 6 it had disappeared. Huth concluded that he was watching an object recede from Earth.

Unfortunately, Bode was busy with other things, and the weather was too cloudy for him to confirm Huth’s observations. Also, the positional data that Huth had provided were somewhat poor.

Huth wasn’t a nut: Among other things, he co-discovered Comet Encke in 1805. And Nature noted later that he had alerted Bode to the object in time for the director to witness it himself if the skies had been clear. But as it happened, Huth was the only one to witness the curious object, whatever it was. And, whatever it was, it has not returned.

Bent Lines

Slips of the tongue are often made on the stage, even by the most prominent actors and actresses. Mrs. Langtry at one performance said to her stage lover, ‘Let us retire and seek a nosey cook.’

An actor at the Queen’s Theatre, Manchester, turned ‘Stand back, my lord, and let the coffin pass’ into, ‘Stand back, my lord, and let the parson cough.’ …

A well-known actor who has often been applauded by New York theater-goers, in one of his speeches intended to say, ‘Royal bold Caesar,’ but forgot himself in his excitement and said, ‘Boiled rolled Caesar, I present thee with my sword.’

— John De Morgan, In Lighter Vein, 1907



Plain and slouchy? You need a pair of posture earrings, patented by Peter Badovinac in 1972.

Each earring contains a small ball in a horizontal chamber. If you’re sitting up straight, the ball rests at the rear end of the chamber. If your “posture becomes slumped,” the ball rolls to the front, “thus giving a sharp clicking sound so to warn the wearer to hold her head erect.”

“Much simpler and easier to use for maintaining and attaining good posture than the old bothersome method of carrying a heavy book upon the person’s head.”

The Pudding Guy

In 1999, UC-Davis civil engineer David Phillips was grocery shopping when he noticed something peculiar. Healthy Choice Foods was offering frequent-flyer miles to customers who bought its products. But a 25-cent pudding would bring 100 miles — the reward was worth more than the product itself.

Recognizing a good thing, Phillips bought 12,150 servings of pudding for $3,140, claiming he was stocking up for Y2K. Then he enlisted the Salvation Army to help him peel off the UPC codes, in exchange for donating the pudding.

He mailed his submission to Healthy Choice, and to their credit they awarded him 1.25 million frequent-flyer miles, enough for 31 round trips to Europe, 42 to Hawaii, 21 to Australia, or 50 anywhere in the United States.

There’s no downside. Phillips also got Aadvantage Gold status for life with American Airlines, which brings a special reservations number, priority boarding, upgrades, and bonus miles. And he got an $815 tax writeoff for donating the pudding.

(Thanks, Brendan.)


Line items in a bill received by an English lord from an artist in 1865, for repairs and retouchings to a gallery of paintings:

  • To filling up the chink in the Red Sea and repairing the damages of Pharaoh’s host.
  • To cleaning six of the Apostles and adding an entirely new Judas Iscariot.
  • To a pair of new hands for Daniel in the lions’ den and a set of teeth for the lioness.
  • To an alteration in the Belief, mending the Commandments, and making a new Lord’s Prayer.
  • To new varnishing Moses’s rod.
  • To repairing Nebuchadnezzar’s beard.
  • To mending the pitcher of Rebecca.
  • To a pair of ears for Balaam and a new tongue for the ass.
  • To planting a new city in the land of Nod.

From William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1892.