Memorable corrections in the New York Times:

  • “An article about decorative cooking incorrectly described a presentation of Muscovy duck by Michel Fitoussi, a New York chef. In preparing it, Mr. Fitoussi uses a duck that has been killed.” (April 5, 1981)
  • “An article about the collapse of the Long Island oyster harvest misstated the traditional rule about oyster-eating. In any month without an ‘r’ in its name, oysters are to be avoided, not eaten.” (Dec. 20, 1998)
  • “A picture caption about a Star Trek Federation Science exhibit misidentified the figure on a viewing screen. It was a Klingon, not a Ferengi.” (July 25, 1993)
  • “A summary about primates and video games incorrectly described an aspect of monkey anatomy. Monkeys do have opposable thumbs.” (Aug. 4, 1999)

“A caption, showing a clown sitting in a subway car, misstated the location. It was an E train in the Lexington Avenue station in Manhattan, not a G train in the Bergen Street station in Brooklyn.” (Feb. 20, 2000)

Horse Races

In December 1937, Jesse Owens outran a racehorse over a hundred-yard course in Havana. That’s an old carnival trick — a man can reach his top speed much more quickly than a horse.

But the following September, Olympic hurdler Forrest Towns outpaced a prize cavalry horse over a 120-yard course of five hurdles in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.

Towns won by a nose in 13 seconds. “I’ll take two-footed racers in the future,” he said.

“A Dog That Climbed Mont Blanc Alone”

From The Strand, January 1910:

This is a portrait of a dog living at Les Praz, near Chamonix, who, in the summer of 1908, distinguished himself by climbing Mont Blanc. His master, a workman, was employed on repairs to the observatory on the summit, and one morning, after having been seen by his owner’s wife at eight o’clock, the dog disappeared. He must have rapidly tracked his master by scent, for he arrived at the summit at half-past two in the afternoon, having accomplished in six and a half hours what usually is estimated to require thirteen hours for a man. The presence of some tourists at the top ensured this fact being properly attested, and Mont Blanc, as the dog is now called, is quite a hero in his village. — Miss Morgan, Hotel Masson, Veytaux, Montreux, Switzerland

See The Dog of Helvellyn.

A New Deal

Playing cards were used as currency in early Canada. In 1685 the intendant of the French garrison in Quebec found that he had no money to pay his troops, “and not knowing to what saint to make my vows, the idea occurred to me of putting in circulation notes made of cards, each cut into four pieces; and I have issued an ordinance commanding the inhabitants to receive them in payment.”

This worked surprisingly well, so when funds ran short the following year they tried it again. The system continued intermittently for 70 years, collapsing finally only with the chaos of the Seven Years’ War.

Performance Note

This is bar 66 of Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 5. The red F is noteworthy because it’s the only point in the whole composition where the right hand touches a white key — apart from that, it plays black keys exclusively.

Jascha Heifetz once asked Ayke Agus to close her eyes while he played the piece for her. “It sounded strange,” she wrote, “and when I peeked I saw that he was playing it with an orange.”

“An Unsuspected Fact”

If down his throat a man should choose,
In fun, to jump or slide,
He’d scrape his shoes against his teeth,
Before he went inside.
But if his teeth were lost or gone,
And not a stump to scrape upon,
He’d see at once how very pat
His tongue lay there by way of mat,
And he would wipe his feet on that!

— Edward Cannon

Seeing and Believing

John Dalton was a tornado of English science, exploring atomic theory, meteorology, perception, and the physics of gases with equal avidity.

But he was a Quaker, and when in 1834 he was invited to be presented to William IV, the question arose whether he could properly appear in the scarlet robes of an Oxford doctor of laws, as the color was forbidden to him.

Dalton solved this neatly: He pointed out that he was color-blind. “You call it scarlet,” he said. “To me its color is that of nature — the color of green leaves.”

Borrowed Thunder

Two letters written by Mark Twain in 1907:

To the New York Times:

Sir to you, I would like to know what kind of a goddam govment this is that discriminates between two common carriers and makes a goddam railroad charge everybody equal & lets a goddam man charge any goddam price he wants to for his goddam opera box.

W.D. Howells
Tuxedo Park Oct 4

To William Dean Howells:

Howells it is an outrage the way the govment is acting so I sent this complaint to N. Y. Times with your name signed because it would have more weight.


He wrote elsewhere: “When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

Free Falling

Published in 1869, Edward Everett Hale’s story “The Brick Moon” described the launch of an artificial satellite nearly a century before Sputnik:

If from the surface of the earth, by a gigantic peashooter, you could shoot a pea upward from Greenwich, aimed northward as well as upward; if you drove it so fast and far that when its power of ascent was exhausted, and it began to fall, it should clear the earth, and pass outside the North Pole; if you had given it sufficient power to get it half round the earth without touching, that pea would clear the earth forever. It would continue to rotate above the North Pole, above the Feejee Island place, above the South Pole and Greenwich, forever, with the impulse with which it had first cleared our atmosphere and attraction. If only we could see that pea as it revolved in that convenient orbit, then we could measure the longitude from that, as soon as we knew how high the orbit was, as well as if it were the ring of Saturn.

Because the 200-foot brick sphere is accidentally launched with human occupants, Hale perhaps also deserves credit for anticipating the space station.