The Wizard of Mauritius

Jean-Paul Marat’s correspondence mentions one Bottineau, born in France around 1740, who founded a science he called nauscopie, “the art of discovering vessels and lands at a considerable distance.” Stationed on the Isle of France, reportedly he was soon winning wagers by predicting arrivals up to three days in advance.

The commissary-general of the navy swore that “he has announced to us within six months, one hundred and nine vessels, one, two, three, or four days before the signals were made from the mountains, and in this number he only was twice mistaken.” The island’s governor affirmed: “What we can certify is, that M. Bottineau was almost always right.”

Bottineau explained that he observed an effect in the atmosphere, but he refused to sell his method, claiming the offers were too low. Unfortunately, Europe was distracted by the political upheaval in France, and in 1802 he was reported to have “died lately in great misery at Pondicherry.” His secret, if he had one, went with him.

“A Cube Paradox”

dudeney cube puzzle

A puzzle from Henry Dudeney:

I had two solid cubes of lead, one very slightly larger than the other, just as shown in the illustration. Through one of them I cut a hole (without destroying the continuity of its four sides) so that the other cube could be passed right through it. On weighing them afterwards it was found that the larger cube was still the heavier of the two! How was this possible?

Click for Answer

“Riddles for the Post Office”

The following is an exact copy of the direction of a letter mailed a few years ago by a German living in Lancaster County, Pa.:—

Tis is fur old Mr. Willy wot brinds de Baber in Lang Kaster ware ti gal is gist rede him assume as it cums to ti Pushtufous.


This is for old Mr. Willy, what prints the paper in Lancaster, where the jail is. Just read him as soon as it comes to the Post Office.

Inclosed was an essay against public schools.

— Robert Conger Pell, Milledulcia, 1857

Roll Call

A pangrammatic anagrammatic verse composed by Edwin Fitzpatrick — each line contains each of the 20 consonants once and each of the six vowels twice:

Why jog exquisite bulk, fond crazy vamp,
Daft buxom jonquil, zephyr’s gawky vice?
Guy fed by work, quiz Jove’s xanthic lamp —
Zow! Qualms by deja vu gyp fox-kin thrice.

And it rhymes!


M. Ofilius Hilarus, an actor of comedies, after he had highly pleased the people upon his birth-day, kept a feast at home in his own house; and when supper was upon the table, he called for a mess of hot broth, and casting his eye upon the visor he had worn that day in the play, he fitted it again to his face, and taking off the garland which he wore upon his bare head, he set it thereupon: in this posture disguised as he sat, he died, and became cold before any person in the company knew any thing of the matter.

— Nathaniel Wanley, The Wonders of the Little World, 1806