Long Way Home


Born in 1818, Yamamoto Otokichi was only 14 when a storm carried his transport ship away from his native Japan. The trip home took him literally around the world.

The ship drifted for more than a year across the Pacific while the crew drank desalinated water and slowly devoured the cargo of rice. By the time it reached the United States, all but three had died of scurvy, and the survivors were enslaved by Indians and then delivered to the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Their patron there sent them to London and then on to Macao in hopes they might help to open trade with the East. But Tokyo met their overtures with cannonfire, and Otokichi spent most of his remaining years as a seaman and translator.

He died in 1867 in Singapore, but his story has a belated resolution: In 2005, half of Otokichi’s remains were returned to his hometown in Japan — 187 years after he left.

Math Notes

9 × 9 + 7 = 88
98 × 9 + 6 = 888
987 × 9 + 5 = 8888
9876 × 9 + 4 = 88888
98765 × 9 + 3 = 888888
987654 × 9 + 2 = 8888888
9876543 × 9 + 1 = 88888888
98765432 × 9 + 0 = 888888888


In the Cathedral of Girgenti, in Sicily, the slightest whisper is borne with perfect distinctness from the great western door to the cornice behind the high altar, — a distance of two hundred and fifty feet. By a most unlucky coincidence, the precise focus of divergence at the former station was chosen for the place of the confessional. Secrets never intended for the public ear thus became known, to the dismay of the confessors, and the scandal of the people, by the resort of the curious to the opposite point, (which seems to have been discovered accidentally,) till at length, one listener having had his curiosity somewhat over-gratified by hearing his wife’s avowal of her own infidelity, this tell-tale peculiarity became generally known, and the confessional was removed.

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


In 1925 New York poet Eli Siegel composed the shortest poem in the English language. He called it “One Question”:


The former record holder was an anonymous verse titled “On the Condition of the United States After Several Years of Prohibition”:


Relative Logic

You say that you have a dog.

Yes, and a villain of a one, said Ctesippus.

And he has puppies?

Yes, and they are very like himself.

And the dog is the father of them?

Yes, he said, I certainly saw him and the mother of the puppies come together.

And is he not yours?

To be sure he is.

Then he is a father, and he is yours; ergo he is your father, and the puppies are your brothers.

Let me ask you one little question more, said Dionysodorus, quickly interposing, in order that Ctesippus might not get in his word: You beat this dog?

Ctesippus said, laughing: Indeed I do; and I only wish that I could beat you instead of him.

Then you beat your father, he said.

— Plato, Euthydemus


A Lusitanian physician had a patient who insisted upon it he was perpetually frozen, and would sit before a great fire even in the dog-days. The Portuguese Esculapius procured him a dress of rough sheep skins, saturated with aqua vita, and set him on fire. The patient then declared he was quite warm, rather too much so, and was cured.

Cabinet of Curiosities, Natural, Artificial, and Historical, 1822

Zoo Cliques

Image: Wikimedia Commons

More nouns of assemblage:

  • a business of ferrets
  • a cartload of chimpanzees
  • a coalition of cheetahs
  • a congress of baboons
  • a gang of elk
  • a huddle of penguins
  • a kaleidoscope of butterflies
  • a labour of moles
  • a prickle of porcupines
  • a quarrel of sparrows
  • a romp of otters
  • a tiding of magpies
  • a tower of giraffes
  • a ubiquity of sparrows
  • a whiteness of swans
  • a zeal of zebras

My sources insist that a group of gnus is called an implausibility. Should I believe them?