“I am tired of all this thing called science. … We have spent millions in that sort of thing for the last few years, and it is time it should be stopped.”

— Pennsylvania senator Simon Cameron, opposing funding for the Smithsonian Institution, 1861

“I would like to know of what this Institution consists. I would like the gentleman from New York or the gentleman from Vermont to tell us how many of his constituents ever saw this Institution or ever will see it or ever want to see it? It is enough to make any man or woman sick to visit that Institution. No one can expect to get any benefit from it.”

— New York representative Lewis Selye, 1868

Stuff and Nonsense

Full text of a letter from Edward Lear to Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, 1862:

Thrippy Pilliwinx, —

Inkly tinky pobblebockle able-squabs? Flosky! Beebul trimble flosky! Okulscratch abibblebongibo, viddle squibble tog-atog, ferry moyassity amsky flamsky damsky crocklefether squiggs.

Flinky wisty pomm,


“I was much distressed by next door people who had twin babies and played the violin,” Lear once wrote, “but one of the twins died, and the other has eaten the fiddle–so all is peace.”



In 1981, wildlife photographer Carl McCunn paid a bush pilot to drop him near the Coleen River in northern Alaska. He thought he’d arranged for the pilot to pick him up again.

He hadn’t.

State troopers found his body the following year. He had tried to winterize his tent, then shot himself in the head. A 100-page diary read, “I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure.”

The Wealth Puzzle

A beggar asks a wealthy man for a penny. He says he wants to be a wealthy man himself someday.

“Well, consider,” says the wealthy man. “A single penny will not make you wealthy. And a second penny will not make you wealthy either.

“Indeed, there is no point at which an additional penny will make you a wealthy man. So I’m sorry, my friend, but your dream is impossible.”

Sound Sense

A favorite kind of school-boy humor is that which takes the form of evolving sentences like the following: Forte dux fel flat in gutture, which is good Latin for ‘By chance the leader inhales poison in his throat,’ but which read off rapidly sounds like the English ‘Forty ducks fell flat in the gutter.’ A French example is Pas de lieu Rhône que nous, which it is hardly necessary to explain makes no sense in French at all, though every word be true Gallic, but by a similar process of reading reveals the proverbial advice, ‘Paddle your own canoe.’

— William Shepard Walsh, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, 1909

See also “It Means Just What I Choose It to Mean.”

Ice Rings


What’s 2.5 miles wide, perfectly circular, and warm enough to melt ice?

I don’t know either, but there are at least two of them in Russia’s Lake Baikal.

They were spotted in April from the international space station.

09/26/2013 Resolved. (Thanks, Drew.)


Byron wasn’t shy with his political opinions — he proposed this epitaph for Lord Castlereagh, who died in 1822:

Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.

A Point to Make


In 1945, Dutch designer Arnold Henske realized that his body was “invulnerable” and took to swallowing glass and razor blades as a fakir in Amsterdam.

That’s a real rapier transfixing his thorax at left.

His dream was to use his ability to spread a message of love and peace, but Dutch officials would license him only to perform his act, not to preach against materialism, as he’d hoped.

A voice told him to swallow a steel needle in 1948, and he died of an aortic rupture — a broken heart.

Smullyan’s Paradox

At a desert oasis, A and B decide independently to murder C. A poisons C’s canteen, and later B punches a hole in it. C dies of thirst. Who killed him?

A argues that C never drank the poison. B claims that he only deprived C of poisoned water. They’re both right, but still C is dead. Who’s guilty?