Bard Capers

According to Oliver Goldsmith, Thomas Parnell once overheard Alexander Pope reading a draft of The Rape of the Lock to Jonathan Swift, memorized the description of the Toilet, and translated it into monkish Latin. The next day he confronted Pope with the counterfeit verse and accused him of plagiarism, “and it was not till after some time that Pope was delivered from the confusion which it at first produced.”

Also: “Mr. Harte told me that Dryden had been imposed on by a similar little stratagem. One of his friends translated into Latin verse, printed, and pasted on the bottom of an old hat-box, that celebrated passage, ‘To die is landing on some silent shore,’ &c. and that Dryden, on opening the box, was alarmed and amazed.”

Odd Duck

This is the opening of Chapter 4 of Mark Twain’s A Double Barrelled Detective Story:

It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October. The lilacs and laburnums, lit with the glory-fires of autumn, hung burning and flashing in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind nature for the wingless wild things that have their home in the tree-tops and would visit together; the larch and the pomegranate flung their purple and yellow flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of woodland, the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose upon the swooning atmosphere, far in the empty sky a solitary oesophagus slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of God.

Twain later recalled that few readers noticed anything wrong with it.


London conjuror Chung Ling Soo was famous for his “bullet catch” illusion: Audience members would mark bullets that were loaded into a gun, which attendants then fired at Soo. He would appear to catch the bullets and drop them on a plate. In fact, Soo palmed the bullets during the marking, and alternate bullets were loaded into the gun, which was rigged to swallow them and fire a harmless gunpowder charge.

That worked fine until March 23, 1918, when the gun didn’t swallow. A live audience in the Wood Green Empire watched the attendant shoot Soo — who staggered and said, “My God, I’ve been shot” in English. Not only had he faked catching bullets, William Robinson had faked being Chinese for 19 years. He died the next day.

Reading Music

Philadelphia physician Arthur Lintgen can recognize classical phonograph records without hearing them. By studying the spacing and patterns of the grooves, the structure of the vinyl, and the number and length of the movements, he can identify most orchestral music composed since Beethoven’s time.

He’s been tested several times, once in the presence of two musicians from major American orchestras. Lintgen studied each record for 15 to 30 seconds, then correctly named Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Rachmaninoff’s The Bells and Second Symphony, and the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony.

Singing Sand Dunes

Walk on Kazakhstan’s Dune of Altynemel and it will sing. The sound is described as a cross between a roar and a boom; a strong wind can produce the same effect.

Singing sand is found at about 35 sites around the world, including the Eureka Dunes in California, Sand Mountain in Nevada, and the Booming Dunes in the Namib Desert of Africa.

No one’s quite sure how it works. Scientists think it’s a reverberating resonance produced by the sliding of similarly sized grains of sand.