Henry Ford was a big deal in the United States, and for a time he was a big deal in Brazil, too. In the 1920s the auto tycoon bought 10,000 square kilometers of land near the mouth of the Amazon. Rubber came from the tropics, he figured, so he’d cut out the middleman and gather it himself.

That’s big thinking, but “Fordlândia” didn’t really work out. The land was rough and unfamiliar, bugs and blight ate the plants, and the natives eventually threw aside their hamburgers and drove the managers into the jungle.

Ford tried again, but by 1945 synthetic rubber had made the whole project look silly, and in the end he took a $20 million loss. That was okay with Ford, for whom active failure was better than passive dreaming. “You can’t build a reputation,” he’d say, “on what you are going to do.”

Wrong Number

Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer, once obtained the phone number 888-888-8888.

He found it was unusable — he received more than 100 calls a day from children playing with phones.

Water Music

If you live near the Liverpool coast, don’t be alarmed to see human figures slowly disappearing beneath the waves. They’re part of a modern sculpture, called Another Place, designed by Antony Gormley. There are 100 cast-iron figures in all, spread over a 2-mile stretch of beach.

They’re coming to New York in November.

In a Word

n. rumbling noise in the intestines


American superstitions, collected by folklorist Fanny Bergen in 1896:

  • If you sneeze at table with the mouth full, an acquaintance will die soon. (Virginia)
  • If your shoe comes untied, your sweetheart is talking about you. (Alabama)
  • To go back into the house for something after starting on a journey is unpropitious. To have it brought out is all right. (Iowa)
  • To dream of bread is good luck. (Boston)
  • If you drop the tea-towel, it is a sign of company. (Pennsylvania)
  • Pass a baby through a window and it will never grow. (South Carolina)
  • Dimple in chin, devil within. (Maryland)
  • If you are a bridesmaid three times you will never stand in the middle. (New York)


Beware of that man,
Be he friend or brother,
Whose hair is one color
And moustache another.

(Portland, Maine)

The “Temple of Justice”

The U.S. Supreme Court building is pretty spiffy. It has its own cafeteria, a 450,000-book library and a basketball court on the fifth floor (which staffers call “the highest court in the land”).

It’s so spiffy that when it opened in 1935, some justices were embarrassed. Harlan Fiske Stone called it “almost bombastically pretentious … wholly inappropriate for a quiet group of old boys such as the Supreme Court.” Others called it “the Temple of Karnak” and suggested that justices ought to enter the courtroom riding on elephants.

One worrying note: The building’s frieze depicts Moses delivering the Ten Commandments, but his beard obscures some of the Hebrew, so the visible text reads:

Commit Adultery

But let that pass.

(Top image: Wikimedia Commons)


“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” — G.K. Chesterton

It Binds the Galaxy Together

In April 2005, Grabowiec, a village near Torun, Poland, named one of its streets after Obi-Wan Kenobi.

No word on property values.

Diophantus’ Age

No one knows much about Diophantus, the Greek mathematician, but in the sixth century a math puzzle purported to give his epitaph:

“This tomb holds Diophantus. Ah, what a marvel! And the tomb tells scientifically the measure of his life. God vouchsafed that he should be a boy for the sixth part of his life; when a twelfth was added, his cheeks acquired a beard; He kindled for him the light of marriage after a seventh, and in the fifth year after his marriage He granted him a son. Alas! late-begotten and miserable child, when he had reached the measure of half his father’s [total] life, the chill grave took him. After consoling his grief by this science of numbers for four years, he reached the end of his life.”

At what age did he die?

Click for Answer

Ebbinghaus Illusion

An optical illusion. Circles A and B are the same size.