Government Work

Andy is a lazy census taker. He sits in the doorway of his house and counts each pedestrian who walks by.

“That’s no way to do it,” says Bill. He leaves the house and walks up and down the street, counting each person he passes.

After an hour he returns to the house and the two compare totals. Was Bill right? Assume all pedestrians walk at the same speed.

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One Foot in the Grave

When a surgeon took off Lord Uxbridge’s leg after the Battle of Waterloo, a local resident asked permission to bury the limb in his garden in a sort of shrine. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but it turned gruesomely bathetic: Visitors were shown the bloody chair on which Uxbridge had sat during the amputation, the boot he had worn, and finally a tombstone that read “Here lies the Leg of the illustrious and valiant Earl Uxbridge … who, by his heroism, assisted in the triumph of the cause of mankind, gloriously decided by the resounding victory [in 1815].”

By 1862 the grave was being mocked openly; a poem by Thomas Gaspey included this verse:

A leg and foot to speak more plain
Lie here, of one commanding;
Who, though his wits he might retain,
Lost half his understanding.

Get it? Things went downhill from there. A steady stream of paying customers visited the tomb, including the king of Prussia and the Prince of Orange, but in 1878 Uxbridge’s son discovered that the family were displaying only the naked bones, which had been exposed in a storm. Rather than rebury them as ordered, the proprietors merely hid them, and in 1934 a widow finally burned them ignominiously in her furnace. C’est la guerre.

Duck Soup

T.S. Eliot was a fan of Groucho Marx. The two maintained a correspondence through the early 1960s, when Groucho accepted a long-offered dinner with the poet.

Eliot wrote: “The picture of you in the newspapers saying that, amongst other reasons, you have come to London to see me has greatly enhanced my credit in the neighborhood, and particularly with the greengrocer across the street. Obviously I am now someone of importance.”

Above the Law

For an omnibenevolent being, God has a lot of legal trouble. Nebraska legislator Ernie Chambers sought an injunction against the deity in 2007, asserting that He had caused “widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants.” And in 2008 a Romanian prisoner claimed that his baptism had been a contract that God had broken by failing to protect him from evil.

God escaped both suits on technicalities. Chambers’ action was dismissed because God has no address and thus couldn’t be notified, and the Romanian suit was deemed to be beyond the court’s jurisdiction because God is not an individual or a company. So that settles that.

The “Blowing Oak”

One of the natural curiosities of Hernando County, Florida, is an immense live-oak, situated near Brooksville, which seven feet from the ground measures thirty-five and one half feet in circumference; from this height to the top it has but two large limbs spreading out, and at the top measures eighty yards across. On one side of this singular work of nature is a small orifice from which issues a continual stream of cold air, showing some subterranean connection that is unaffected by what is going on above ground. No matter whether the wind blows east, west, north, or south, there is a constant current of cold air from this mysterious cavity.

— Albert Plympton Southwick, Handy Helps, No. 1, 1886

Head Count

On Dec. 30, 1888, Joseph Néel killed a Mr. Coupard on the tiny island of Île Aux Chiens off the Newfoundland coast.

France, which owns the island, shipped a guillotine from Martinique so that Néel could be beheaded on Aug. 24, 1889.

He is the only person ever executed by guillotine in North America.