“Battle of the Bees”


In Africa, World War I dawned with a buzz and a howl. The British Indian Army was trying to sneak up on an eastern seaport held by the Germans when they disturbed huge hives of aggressive African bees, which drove them into the sea. “I would never have believed that grown-up men of any race could have been reduced to such shamelessness,” said a British officer. One engineer was stung 300 times.

The Times wrote that the bees had been sprung by the German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. When asked about this, he merely smiled and said, “Gott mitt uns.”


“What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?” — The Quarterly Review, March 1825

Better Safe


Johann Taberger designed this “safety coffin” in 1829, to preserve people who had been mistakenly buried alive. Strings were attached to the body’s head, hands, and feet, connected to a bell that would alert the cemetery’s nightwatchman, who could use a bellows to pump air into the coffin until it could be dug up.

Such devices were popular during the cholera epidemics of the 18th and 19th centuries — European graves were rigged variously with bells, flags, ladders, and escape hatches. There’s no evidence that they ever saved anyone, and they nearly killed some of their inventors: During a demonstration in 1897, a chamberlain to the tsar of Russia buried his assistant, waited, and finally realized that the signaling system had failed. The assistant was saved, but the marketing campaign was DOA.

Poetic Justice

Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausen-bergerdorffvoralternwarengewissenhaftschaferswessenschafewarenwohlgepflegeundsorgfaltigkeitbeschutzen- vonangreifendurchihrraubgierigfeindewelchevoralternzwolftausendjahresvorandieerscheinenwanderersteer- demenschderraumschiffgebrauchlichtalsseinursprungvonkraftgestartseinlangefahrthinzwischensternartigraum- aufdersuchenachdiesternwelchegehabtbewohnbarplanetenkreisedrehensichundwohinderneurassevonver- standigmenschlichkeitkonntefortplanzenundsicherfreuenanlebenslanglichfreudeundruhemitnichteinfurcht- vorangreifenvonandererintelligentgeschopfsvonhinzwischensternartigraum, Senior, was born in Hamburg in 1904.

It’s not known whether he worked at the Donaudampfschiffahrtselektrizittenhauptbetriebswerkbauunterbeam- tengesellschaft — an office that governed steamboat passage on the Danube — but he certainly should have.

What’s in a Name?


Condoleezza Rice’s name is derived from the Italian musical expression con dolcezza.

It means “with sweetness.”


nth has no vowel.

Neither does psst or tsk.

“Red Snow at Genoa”

On St. Joseph’s Day, 1678, on the mountains called La Langhe, there fell, on the white snow, that lay there before, a great quantity of red, or if you please, of bloody snow. From which, being squeezed, there came a water of the same colour. Communicated by Sig. Sarotti, the Venetian Resident there, to Mr. Boyle.

Philosophical Transactions, 1678

Juvenile Chemistry


This compound, C4H5As, is known as arsole.

When it’s fused to a benzene ring, it’s called benzarsole.

No, I’m not above pointing that out.

In a Word

n. the art of counting on one’s fingers

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.