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A Rodent Condo

The largest known beaver dam was discovered near Three Forks, Mont.

It was 2,140 feet long, 14 feet high, and 23 feet thick at the base.

A Hot Town

The cemeteries in Centralia, Pa., are more populous than the town itself. In 1962, a local trash fire ignited an eight-mile seam of underground coal, and the resulting sinkholes and carbon monoxide eventually forced the state to condemn every building in the borough. Centralia doesn’t even have a zip code anymore — the Postal Service revoked it in 2002.

Former residents might return to open a time capsule in 2016, but they won’t stay — the underground fire is expected to burn for at least another century.



Since 1883 there have been more than 240 reported sightings of “Champ,” the purported monster of Lake Champlain in New England.

For a figment, Champ is pretty popular. Vermont has put him on its endangered species list, and Burlington’s minor league baseball team is called the Vermont Lake Monsters.

The Poe Cryptographic Challenge

Edgar Allan Poe was fascinated by cryptograms. He once offered a free magazine subscription to any reader who could stump him, and he claimed to have solved all 100 ciphers that were sent in.

That mania ultimately created a mystery that lasted 150 years after the writer’s death. In 1840 Poe published two ciphers sent in by a “Mr. W.B. Tyler” and challenged readers to solve them. No readers succeeded, and in fact the first cipher wasn’t cracked until 1992, when University of Illinois English professor Terence Whalen decoded a passage from Joseph Addison’s 1713 play Cato.

The second puzzle was even harder, a polyalphabetic substitution cipher using several different symbols for each English letter — and containing several mistakes. It was finally solved in 2000 by Toronto software engineer Gil Broza:

It was early spring, warm and sultry glowed the afternoon. The very breezes seemed to share the delicious langour of universal nature, are laden the various and mingled perfumes of the rose and the –essaerne (?), the woodbine and its wildflower. They slowly wafted their fragrant offering to the open window where sat the lovers. The ardent sun shoot fell upon her blushing face and its gentle beauty was more like the creation of romance or the fair inspiration of a dream than the actual reality on earth. Tenderly her lover gazed upon her as the clusterous ringlets were edged (?) by amorous and sportive zephyrs and when he perceived (?) the rude intrusion of the sunlight he sprang to draw the curtain but softly she stayed him. “No, no, dear Charles,” she softly said, “much rather you’ld I have a little sun than no air at all.”

Probably it’s a quote from a novel of the time.

Interestingly, some scholars think Poe himself composed the ciphers, as city directories show no W.B. Tyler in that period. We’ll never know for sure, but Poe himself once wrote:

Ye who read are still among the living; but I who write shall have long since gone my way into the region of shadows. For indeed strange things shall happen, and secret things be known, and many centuries shall pass away, ere these memorials be seen of men. And, when seen, there will be some to disbelieve, and some to doubt, and yet a few who will find much to ponder upon in the characters here graven with a stylus of iron.

All in the Family


Testimony given by James Device against his grandmother, Elizabeth Sothernes, in a trial for witchcraft, Lancaster, England, April 27, 1612:

THE sayd Examinate Iames Deuice sayth, that about a month agoe, as this Examinate was comming towards his Mothers house, and at day-gate of the same night, Euening. this Examinate mette a browne Dogge comming from his Graund-mothers house, about tenne Roodes distant from the same house: and about two or three nights after, that this Examinate heard a voyce of a great number of Children screiking and crying pittifully, about day-light gate; and likewise, about ten Roodes distant of this Examinates sayd Graund-mothers house. And about fiue nights then next following, presently after daylight, within 20. Roodes of the sayd Elizabeth Sowtherns house, he heard a foule yelling like vnto a great number of Cattes: but what they were, this Examinate cannot tell. And he further sayth, that about three nights after that, about midnight of the same, there came a thing, and lay vpon him very heauily about an houre, and went then from him out of his Chamber window, coloured blacke, and about the bignesse of a Hare or Catte. And he further sayth, that about S. Peter’s day last, one Henry Bullocke came to the sayd Elizabeth Sowtherns house, and sayd, that her Graund-child Alizon Deuice, had bewitched a Child of his, and desired her that she would goe with him to his house; which accordingly she did: And therevpon she the said Alizon fell downe on her knees, & asked the said Bullocke forgiuenes, and confessed to him, that she had bewitched the said child, as this Examinate heard his said sister confesse vnto him this Examinate.

Sothernes died in prison as her trial approached, but her family barely outlived her. James, his mother, and his sister also confessed to witchcraft and were executed on Aug. 18.


Tupac Shakur died on Friday the 13th.

The Monty Hall Problem

Suppose you’re a contestant on Let’s Make a Deal. Monty Hall shows you three doors. One hides a sports car; the other two hide goats. You choose Door #1.

Before opening Door #1, though, Monty opens Door #3, revealing a goat. Now you can stick with Door #1 or switch to Door #2. Which should you do?

Click for Answer

No Band-Aids Needed


Image: Wikipedia

Eager to see Stonehenge but afraid of bruising yourself on the hard, hard stones?

Visit Foamhenge, a replica made of polystyrene, 10 miles southwest of the original.


“Maybe this world is another planet’s hell.” — Aldous Huxley

“Human Timepiece”

“J.D. Chevalley, a native of Switzerland, has arrived at an astonishing degree of perfection in reckoning time by an internal movement. In his youth he was accustomed to pay great attention to the ringing of bells and vibrations of pendulums, and by degrees he acquired the power of continuing a succession of intervals exactly equal to those which the vibrations or sounds produced.–Being on board a vessel, on the Lake of Geneva, he engaged to indicate to the crowd about him the lapse of a quarter of an hour, or as many minutes and seconds as any one chose to name, and this during a conversation the most diversified with those standing by; and farther, to indicate by the voice the moment when the hand passed over the quarter minutes, or half minutes, or any other sub-division previously stipulated, during the whole course of the experiment. This he did without mistake, notwithstanding the exertions of those about him to distract his attention, and clapped his hands at the conclusion of the time fixed. His own account of it is thus given:–’I have acquired, by imitation, labour, and patience, a movement which neither thoughts, nor labour, nor any thing can stop: it is similar to that of a pendulum, which at each motion of going and returning gives me the space of three seconds, so that twenty of them make a minute–and these I add to others continually.’”

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Jan. 15, 1831