Lightning Addition

A (probably apocryphal) story tells that, as a 10-year-old schoolboy, Carl Friedrich Gauss was asked to find the sum of the first 100 integers. The tyrannical schoolmaster, who had intended this task to occupy the boy for some time, was astonished when Gauss presented the correct answer, 5050, almost immediately.

How did Gauss find it?

Click for Answer

A Phantom City

In The Atmosphere (1873), Camille Flammarion quotes a M. Grellois, who was traveling in northern Algeria in the summer of 1847:

I was proceeding one very hot day on horseback, at a walking pace, between Ghelma and Bône, in company with a young friend who has since died. When we had arrived within about two leagues of Bône, toward one in the afternoon, we were suddenly brought to a halt at a turn in the road by the appearance of a marvelous picture unfolded before our eyes. To the east of Bône, upon a sandy stretch of ground which a few days before we had seen arid and bare, there rose at this moment, upon a gently sloping hill running down to the sea, a vast and beautiful city, adorned with monuments, domes, and steeples.

That sounds like a mirage, but Grellois says the travelers observed the city for nearly half an hour, and that “reason refused to admit that this was only a vision.” “Whence came this apparition? There was no resemblance to Bône, still less to La Calle or Ghelma, both distant twenty leagues at least. Are we to suppose it was the reflected image of some large city on the Sicilian coast? That seems to me very improbable.”

Long Distance

Over water, or a surface of ice, sound is propagated with remarkable clearness and strength. … Lieut. Foster, in the third Polar expedition of Capt. Parry, found that he could hold conversation with a man across the harbor of Port Bowen, a distance of six thousand six hundred and ninety-six feet, or about a mile and a quarter. This, however, falls short of what is asserted by Derham and Dr. Young, — viz., that at Gibraltar the human voice has been heard at the distance of ten miles, the distance across the strait.

— Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890


“To the memory of Miss Ellen Gee, of Kew, who died in consequence of being stung in the eye by a bee.”

Peerless, yet hapless, maid of Q!
Accomplish’d LN G!
Never again shall I and U
Together sip our T.

For, ah! the Fates! I know not Y,
Sent ‘midst the flowers a B,
Which ven’mous stung her in the I,
So that she could not C.

LN exclaim’d, “Vile spiteful B!
If ever I catch U
On jess’mine, rosebud, or sweet P,
I’ll change your stinging Q.”

“I’ll send you, like a lamb or U,
Across th’ Atlantic C,
From our delightful village Q,
To distant OYE.”

A stream runs from my wounded I,
Salt as the briny C,
As rapid as the X or Y,
The OIO, or D.”

Then fare thee ill, insensate B!
Which stung, nor yet knew Y;
Since not for wealthy Durham’s C
Would I have lost my I.”

They bear with tears fair LN G
In funeral RA,
A clay-cold corpse now doom’d to B,
Whilst I mourn her DK.

Ye nymphs of Q, then shun each B,
List to the reason Y!
For should A B C U at T,
He’ll surely sting your I.

Now in a grave L deep in Q,
She’s cold as cold can B;
Whilst robins sing upon A U
Her dirge and LEG.

New Monthly Magazine, reprinted in A Collection of Newspaper Extracts, 1842

In-Flight Meal

In March 1876, Scientific American reported that witnesses in northeast Kentucky had observed “flakes of meat” drifting down from a clear sky. The flakes, which were “perfectly fresh,” measured up to 3-4 inches square and were confined to an oblong field.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that a local butcher roasted a slice and pronounced it “palatable.” Presumably he did this before hearing the prevailing theories: that lightning had roasted a flock of ducks–and that a flight of buzzards had disgorged its latest meal.