“Spider Barometers”

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If the weather is likely to become rainy, windy or in other respects disagreeable, spiders fix the terminating filaments, on which the whole web is sustained, unusually short. If the terminating filaments are made uncommonly long, the weather will be serene, and continue so, at least for ten or twelve days. If spiders be totally indolent, rain generally succeeds; their activity during rain is certain proof that it will be of short duration, and followed by fair and constant weather. Spiders usually make some alteration in their webs every twenty-four hours; if these changes take place between the hours of six and seven in the evening, they indicate a clear and pleasant night.

‘The clouds grow heavier over head —
The spider strengtheneth his web.’

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Easy as Pi

Isaac Asimov proposed this mnemonic for a famous constant:

How I want a drink, alcoholic, of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics!

Count the letters in each word and you’ll get 3.14159265358979.

“Topographical”

An old couple living in Gloucester
Had a beautiful girl, but they loucester;
She fell from a yacht,
And never the spacht
Could be found where the cold waves had toucester.

An old lady living in Worcester
Had a gift of a handsome young rorcester;
But the way that it crough,
As ‘twould never get through,
Was more than the lady was uorcester.

At the bar in the old inn at Leicester
Was a beautiful bar-maid named Heicester;
She gave to each guest
Only what was the buest,
And they all, with one accord, bleicester.

— Anonymous, cited in Carolyn Wells, A Whimsey Anthology, 1906

Pop Fly

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In August 1960, the submarine U.S.S. Seadragon surfaced at the North Pole. During their visit, the crew laid out a softball diamond with the pitcher’s mound at the pole.

“If you hit a home run you circumnavigated the globe,” recalled crew member Alfred S. McLaren. “If you hit the ball into right field, it was across the international date line into tomorrow, and if the right fielder caught it, he threw it back into yesterday.”

Captain George P. Steele later claimed he hit a fly ball at 4 p.m. Wednesday that wasn’t caught until 4 a.m. Thursday.

See also A Freak of Navigation.

Unquote

“It will be gone by June.” — Variety, writing off rock ‘n’ roll, 1955

Wake-Up Call

Ann Hodges was napping on her living room couch on Nov. 30, 1954, when a meteoroid crashed through the ceiling and smashed her radio. It struck her on the arm and hip, leaving her bruised but able to walk.

The meteor, it turned out, had made a fireball visible from three states as it descended on her Sylacauga, Ala., home. It’s now on display at the University of Alabama — it’s about the size of a grapefruit and weighs 12 pounds.

Concentrated Yuck

The bitterest thing in the world is denatonium, a compound discovered by Scottish researchers in 1958. Most people find its taste unbearable even in dilutions of 10 parts per million.

A New York chemist once went home with a trace of denatonium saccharide on his lip. He kissed his wife and she almost threw up.

The Missouri Bellwether

Missouri has voted for the winner in every U.S. presidential election since 1904.

The only exception is 1956, when Eisenhower lost there by 0.2 percent.

“Toad Embedded in a Block of Stone”

Lately some workmen employed in a quarry at Byker Hill, on splitting a huge block of free stone, nearly three tons weight, found a living toad in the middle of it; the cavity that contained the animal, to which there was no apparent passage from the outside, was the exact model of its figure, and was lined with a black substance suffused with moisture.

Monthly Magazine, April 1812

(See also Entombed Animals.)

The Agony of Defeat

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Italian marathoner Dorando Pietri was exhausted and dehydrated as he neared the finish line in the 1908 Olympic Games, and when he entered the stadium he took a wrong turn and collapsed. The umpires helped him up, but he stumbled further and collapsed again. 75,000 agonized spectators watched him fall three more times before he found the finish line; of his total time of 2:54:46, he spent fully 10 minutes on the last 350 meters.

Unbelievably, they disqualified him. The American team complained that he’d received help from the umpires, and he was removed from the final standings. But Queen Alexandra gave him a silver cup, at the suggestion of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Irving Berlin wrote a song for him. He died in 1942 at age 56.