Sanctuary

Oxfordshire’s annual stag hunt took a strange turn in 1819:

Dec. 21, being St. Thomas’s Day, as usual, a stag was turned out from Blenheim Park, the property of his Grace, the Duke of Marlborough. It directed its course towards Wickham; from thence it took the high road and proceeded to Oxford; and then formed one of the most beautiful and picturesque sights that can be imagined. The stag, and dogs in close pursuit, followed by a great number of well-known and experienced sportsmen, proceeded up the High-street, as far as Brazenose College; when, to the no small astonishment of hundreds of spectators, the stag took refuge in the chapel, during divine service; where it was killed, sans ceremonie, by the eager dogs.

From The Gentleman’s Magazine, January 1820.

The Paradox of Suspense

anthony perkins - psycho

Psycho is certainly suspenseful on the first viewing. But why does it remain so on the second?

“How can there be suspense if we already know how things will turn out?” asks University of Michigan philosopher Kendall Walton. “Why, for example, should Tom and Becky’s plight concern or even interest a reader who knows, from reading the novel previously, that eventually they will escape from the cave? One might have supposed that, once we have experienced a work often enough to learn thoroughly the relevant features of the plot, it would lose its capacity to create suspense, and that future readings or viewings of it would lack the excitement of the first one. But this frequently is not what happens.”

The paradox extends to music. Why does a crescendo continue to “work” on repeated listenings? Why does it still move us?

(Kendall Walton, “Fearing Fictions,” The Journal of Philosophy 75:1 [January 1978], 26)

Black and White

holst chess problem

By Viktor Holst. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Dog Tired

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Canal_de_Panam%C3%A1_Construcci%C3%B3n_003.jpg

Maybe figures can’t lie, but liars can certainly figure, and that is why statistics can be made to ‘prove’ almost anything. Consider a group of ten girls, nine of them virgins, one pregnant. On the ‘average’ each of the nine virgins is ten per cent pregnant, while the girl who is about to have a baby is ninety per cent a virgin. Or, assuming that a fox terrier two feet long, with a tail an inch and a half high, can dig a hole three feet deep in ten minutes, to dig the Panama Canal in a single year would require only one fox terrier fifteen miles long, with a tail a mile and a half high.

— Stuart Cloete, The Third Way, 1947

Homework

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Joyce_in_1915.jpg

James Joyce took extraordinary pains in composing Ulysses. By his estimate the book cost him 20,000 hours of labor over eight years, and he told a friend that the resulting research “filled a small valise.” On Nov. 2, 1921, just weeks before the novel went to press, he wrote to his aunt, Josephine Murray:

Is it possible for an ordinary person to climb over the area railings of no 7 Eccles street, either from the path or the steps, lower himself from the lowest part of the railings till his feet are within 2 feet or 3 of the ground and drop unhurt. I saw it done myself but by a man of rather athletic build. I require this information in detail in order to determine the wording of a paragraph.

Sure enough, this passage appears in “Ithaca,” the book’s 17th episode, when Leopold Bloom realizes he has forgotten his key:

A stratagem. Resting his feet on the dwarf wall, he climbed over the area railings, compressed his hat on his head, grasped two points at the lower union of rails and stiles, lowered his body gradually by its length of five feet nine inches and a half to within two feet ten inches of the area pavement, and allowed his body to move freely in space by separating himself from the railings and crouching in preparation for the impact of the fall.

But time was always pressing. On Oct. 12 he begged Josephine for her recollections of some Dublin acquaintances: “Get an ordinary sheet of foolscap and a pencil,” he wrote, “and scribble any God damn drivel you may remember about these people.”

In a Word

manzil
n. the distance between two stopping places

Another puzzle by Sam Loyd: Two ferry boats ply the same route between ports on opposite sides of a river. They set out simultaneously from opposite ports, but one is faster than the other, so they meet at a point 720 yards from the nearest shore. When each boat reaches its destination, it waits 10 minutes to change passengers, then begins its return trip. Now the boats meet at a point 400 yards from the other shore. How wide is the river?

“The problem shows how the average person, who follows the cut-and-dried rules of mathematics, will be puzzled by a simple problem that requires only a slight knowledge of elementary arithmetic. It can be explained to a child, yet I hazard the opinion that ninety-nine out of every hundred of our shrewdest businessmen would fail to solve it in a week. So much for learning mathematics by rule instead of common sense which teaches the reason why!”

Click for Answer

Sub Zapper

https://www.google.com/patents/US1143233

Here’s a simple way to deal with enemy submarines — hang giant electromagnets over the sides of your ship:

The magnets being projected outwardly from the ship’s sides, a submarine within the fields of the magnets is attracted and drawn thereto until the glass caps are struck by the submarine and broken. The contacts will now be against the submarine which will close the circuit through the submarine, lighting the lamp and ringing the signal bell, thus notifying the crew of the ship of the capture of the submarine. The submarine will also be electrified, shocking the crew thereof and killing or rendering them temporarily helpless.

Inventor Louis Schramm offered the scheme in 1914. I don’t know whether anyone tried it out. Let’s hope not.

Roy, Am I Mayor?

Palindromes:

  • Sue, dice, do, to decide us.
  • Do Good’s deeds live on? No, Evil’s deeds do, O God.
  • Marge let a moody baby doom a telegram.
  • No, it can assess an action.
  • Poor Dan is in a droop.
  • Repel evil as a live leper.
  • See few owe fees.
  • Niagara, O roar again!
  • No, set a maple here, help a mate, son.
  • Too far, Edna, we wander afoot.
  • “Reviled did I live,” said I, “as evil I did deliver.”
  • No, it is opposition.
  • Revered now, I live on. O, did I do no evil, I wonder, ever?
  • Madame, not one man is selfless; I name not one, madam.
  • Draw no dray a yard onward.
  • Yawn a more Roman way.
  • Doom an evil deed, liven a mood.
  • See, slave, I demonstrate yet arts no medieval sees.

J.A. Lindon devised this vignette, which is one long palindrome if words, rather than letters, are taken as the unit: “On radios with noisy speakers everywhere glass and china rattles; waiters, many of one race, move forks and knives, while knives and forks move, race; one of many waiters rattles china and glass, everywhere speakers noisy, with radios on …”

Humility

From a letter from Benjamin Franklin to Samuel Mather, May 12, 1784:

You mention your being in your seventy-eighth year; I am in my seventy-ninth; we are grown old together. It is now more than sixty years since I left Boston, but I remember well both your father and grandfather, having heard them both in the pulpit and seen them in their houses. The last time I saw your father [Cotton Mather] was in the beginning of 1724, when I visited him after my first trip to Pennsylvania. He received me in his library, and on my taking leave showed me a shorter way out of the house through a narrow passage, which was crossed by a beam overhead. We were still talking as I withdrew, he accompanying me behind, and I turning partly towards him, when he said hastily, ‘Stoop, stoop!’ I did not understand him, till I felt my head hit against the beam. He was a man that never missed any occasion of giving instruction, and upon this he said to me, ‘You are young, and have the world before you; STOOP as you go through it, and you will miss many hard thumps.’ This advice, thus beat into my head, has frequently been of use to me; and I often think of it, when I see pride mortified, and misfortunes brought upon people by their carrying their heads too high.

B. Franklin.

Anthropocentrism

http://books.google.com/books?id=-cgOAAAAQAAJ

Large word squares are dramatically harder to make than small ones. To date the largest anyone has managed to find are composed of 9-letter words:

ACHALASIA word square

Finding a perfect 10×10 word square has been a central goal for wordplay fans for more than 100 years. The task was looking impossible when in 1972 Dmitri Borgmann found an unexpected resource in the African journal of David Livingstone, whose entry for Sept. 26, 1872, reads:

Through forest, along the side of a sedgy valley. Cross its head-water, which has rust of iron in it, then west and by south. The forest has very many tsetse. Zebras calling loudly, and Senegal long claw in our camp at dawn, with its cry, ‘O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o.’

This is exactly what was needed. Given a pen, the yellow-bellied longclaw, Macronyx flavigaster, could have drawn for Livingstone a perfect 10×10 word square:

longclaw word square

We ought to consult other species more often. Any longclaw could have given us this contribution — indeed, this is the only word square the bird is capable of making!

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