A Dark and Stormy Night

If you hear the words “castle thunder,” you probably think of a particular sound effect. That’s not surprising — recorded originally for the 1931 version of Frankenstein, that sound been reused in numerous Disney and Hanna-Barbera cartoons, Scooby-Doo, Gilligan’s Island, and countless movies, including Citizen Kane, Cleopatra, The Hindenburg, Ghostbusters, Airplane!, Murder by Death, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Clue, Back to the Future, Big Trouble in Little China, Trading Places, Short Circuit, Star Wars, The Monster Squad, Death Becomes Her, and Young Frankenstein. You can even hear it in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion.

See Wilhelm Scream for another famous effect.

Bad News for Counterfeiters


If you’ve tried to photocopy banknotes since about 1996, you may have found that your copier won’t cooperate — many machines will balk if they detect a pattern of symbols like the one on the left. Eight such patterns are marked on the U.S. $20 bill at right.

The authorities have been understandably mum about the details, but the pattern has been discovered on more than 30 world currencies. It’s known as the EURion constellation.

“Bees Found in a Stone”


An extraordinary discovery in Natural History was made at Liverpool about a fortnight ago. As one of the stonemasons in the employ of the Dock Trustees, was dressing, on the sea wall of the Regent’s Dock, a huge stone, brought from the Western Point Quarry, and after he had broken a considerable thickness from its outside, he discovered, in a hole of small diameter, which was partially filled with clay, and a loamy sand, three bees, in a state of animation, to the inexpressible astonishment of himself and fellow-workmen, many of whom were witnesses of this strange phenomenon. The foreman of the works put them into his handkerchief, where they remained for several hours afterwards; but, while exhibiting his newly resuscitated strangers, two of them flew away, and he voluntarily gave the third its liberty.

Liverpool Advertiser, Nov. 24, 1817

The Tree That Owns Itself


In 1832, Col. William Henry Jackson of Athens, Ga., made an unusual bequest:

I, W. H. Jackson, of the county of Clarke, of the one part, and the oak tree … of the county of Clarke, of the other part: Witnesseth, That the said W. H. Jackson for and in consideration of the great affection which he bears said tree, and his great desire to see it protected has conveyed, and by these presents do convey unto the said oak tree entire possession of itself and of all land within eight feet of it on all sides.

So goes the legend. Legally the land is probably part of the right-of-way along Finley Street, but Jackson’s wishes have been honored in spirit: When the original tree fell in 1942, the townspeople grew a replacement from one of its acorns.


Why should not a chicken cross the road?
It would be a fowl proceeding.

Potter’s American Monthly, 1892

Yamamoto Meets Wile E. Coyote


In early 1945, Americans in western states began to notice something odd. Explosions were heard from Alaska to California, and some people reported seeing parachutes and balloons in the sky.

Newsweek ran an article titled “Balloon Mystery” but was soon contacted by the U.S. Office of Censorship, which was trying to keep the story quiet. It seems the Japanese were using balloons to float bombs over the continental United States. At first it was thought the balloons were being launched from North American beaches, but scientists who studied the sand in their sandbags eventually determined they had been launched from Japan itself. The jet stream could carry a high-altitude balloon across the Pacific in three days.

Japan, it turned out, had launched more than 900 such balloons, and 300 have been found in America. The censorship prevented any word of success from reaching Japan, so the project was soon discontinued. But there was, sadly, some success: On May 5, 1945, a 13-year-old girl tried to pull a balloon from a tree during a church picnic. It exploded, killing a woman and five children.

Math Notes

371 = 33 + 73 + 13

Holiday for Vowels

“In an old church in Westchester county, N.Y., the following consonants are written beside the altar, under the Ten Commandments. What vowel is to be placed between them, to make sense and rhyme of the couplet?”


— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860

Click for Answer

“Account of Persons Whose Hair Suddenly Fell Off”

March 20, 1759, Mr. Haynes, a carpenter, in St John’s-street, was seized with a giddiness. While his wife was employed in rubbing the part affected, his hair came off from his head and his eye-brows. The same accident happened some years before to Mr. Stanley, of St. Andrew’s, Holborn.

Annual Register, 1759

Rumors of My Death …

Physicist James Van Allen outlived his own obituary writer.

As Van Allen approached old age, the Associated Press assigned writer Walter Sullivan to prepare a story that could be published on his death. Sullivan did so and died in 1996, but his story sat in the file for 10 more years before Van Allen finally passed away at 91.