Figure and Ground

An island is a body of land surrounded by water, and a lake is a body of water surrounded by land.

Now suppose the northern hemisphere were all land, and the southern hemisphere water. Is one an island, or is the other a lake?

An Early Vintage

What’s special about this 1882 Danish birth record?

Its owner, Christian Mortensen, was still alive in 1997.

He was looking forward to being declared the world’s most ancient person when he was told that a slightly older woman had been discovered in Canada.

“They just did that to spoil my birthday,” he said.


Denmark, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Bristol, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Monmouth, Newcastle, Oxford, Plymouth, Wales, Athens, Belfast, Belgrade, Bremen, Calais, Dresden, Frankfort, Hanover, Lisbon, Madrid, Moscow, Naples, Palermo, Paris, Rome, Sorrento, Stockholm, and Vienna …

… are all towns in Maine.

No Spin Zone

If the Earth did move at a tremendous speed, how could we keep a grip on it with our feet? We could walk only very, very slowly; and should find it slipping rapidly under our footsteps. Then, which way is it turning? If we walked in the direction of its tremendous speed, it would push us on terribly rapidly. But if we tried to walk against its revolving–? Either way we should be terribly giddy, and our digestive processes impossible.

— Margaret Missen, The Sun Goes Round the Earth, quoted in Patrick Moore, Can You Speak Venusian?, 1972

The Blitz Previewed

E. Douglas Fawcett’s 1893 story “Hartmann the Anarchist” described an aerial bombardment of London — 47 years before World War II:

With eyes riveted now to the massacre, I saw frantic women trodden down by men; huge clearings made by the shells and instantly filled up; house-fronts crushing horses and vehicles as they fell; fires bursting out on all sides, to devour what they listed, and terrified police struggling wildly and helplessly in the heart of the press.

Hartmann rains dynamite bombs, shells, and blazing petroleum from his airship before a mutiny brings him down. “It has not been my aim to write history,” writes the narrator. “I have sought to throw light only on one of its more romantic corners.”

See also Wreck of the Titan and A Blindfold Bullseye.

“A Good Catch”

The following is a good catch: lay a wager with a person that to three observations you will put to him, he will not reply ‘a bottle of wine.’ Then begin with some common-place remark, such as, ‘We have had a fine, or wet, day to-day,’ as it may be; he will answer, of course, ‘a bottle of wine.’ You then make another remark of the same kind, as, ‘I hope we shall have as fine or finer to-morrow,’ to which he will reply, as before, ‘a bottle of wine.’ You must then catch him very sharply, and say, ‘Ah! there, sir! you’ve lost your wager;’ and the probability is, if he be not aware of the trick, he will say ‘Why, how can you make that out?’ or something similar, forgetting that, though a strange one, it is the third observation you have made.

— Samuel Williams, The Boy’s Treasury of Sports, Pastimes, and Recreations, 1847