Cold Case

A son of William the Conqueror, William II of England is remembered mostly for the curious manner of his death. In August 1100, William organized a hunting expedition in the New Forest. In sharing arrows with the Anglo-Norman nobleman Walter Tirel, he said, “It is only right that the sharpest be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots.” That was tempting fate, apparently: The king did not return after the hunt, and his body was discovered the next day with an arrow piercing his lungs.

Walter fled to France, but chroniclers generally don’t consider him a murderer. He was a skilled bowman, unlikely to fire impetuously, and the abbot who sheltered him in France heard him swear repeatedly that he had not been in the part of the forest where the king was hunting. On the other hand, William’s brother Henry was also in the hunting party, and he stood to gain (and did) from William’s death.

So what really happened? We’ll never know.

Tit for Tat

What’s unusual about this position?

leathem chess puzzle - 28 checks

Twenty-eight consecutive checks:

1. c7+ N(8)xc7+ 2. bxc7+ Nxc7+ 3. dxc7+ Ke7+ 4. g8(=N)+ Rxg8+ 5. hxg8(=N)+ Qxg8+ 6. f8(=B)+ Qxf8+ 7. Qe8+ Qxe8+ 8. d8(=Q)+ Qxd8+ 9. c8(=N)+ Rxc8+ 10. bxc8(=N)+ Qxc8+ 11. Bb8+ Bxe4+ 12. Nd5+ Bxd5+ 13. Nc6+ Bxc6+ 14. Rb7+ Qxb7 mate

(Composed by Leathem.)


Mr. Hardwood had two daughters by his first wife, the eldest of whom was married to John Coshick: this Coshick had a daughter by his first wife whom old Hardwood married, and by her had a son; therefore John Coshick’s second wife could say:

My father is my son, and I’m my mother’s mother;
My sister is my daughter, and I’m grandmother to my brother.

The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824

A Universal Solution

In 1965, Dmitri Borgmann noted that this expression:

11 + 2 – 1 = 12

… is valid also when interpreted as a set of characters:

11 “+ 2” = 112; 112 “- 1” = 12

… as a set of Roman numerals:


… and even as a set of letters:


The Musical Stones of Skiddaw

In 1827, Keswick stonemason Joseph Richardson noticed that certain rocks in Britain’s Lake District gave a pure, ringing tone. After 13 years of effort he produced a lithophone, an arrangement of tiered rocks that one struck with mallets, and he took it on a three-year concert tour through Northern England.

It’s not clear what it sounded like: Richardson and his three sons played Mozart, Beethoven, and Handel, reportedly achieving different effects by striking the stones in different ways. An 1846 newspaper account says the tone varied from the warble of a lark to the bass of a funeral bell. Richardson called it “the resource of a shipwrecked Mozart.”

By 1848 they were performing for the queen and traveling to France, Germany, and Italy. On the eve of a trip to America, though, the youngest son died of pneumonia, and the band retired. Richardson’s great-grandson donated the instrument to a museum in 1917.

Pele’s Hair

A singular product of vitreous lavas is called in Hawaii ‘Pélé’s Hair.’ This silky, filamentous substance is described by Miss Gordon Cummings, in her latest book of travels, as ‘of a nigh olive-green or yellowish-brown color, and glossy, like the byssus of certain shells, but very brittle to handle.’ It is said to be produced by the wind catching the fiery spray thrown up from the crater, but the extreme fineness of its texture seems rather to suggest the action of escaping vapors within the lava itself. This view is strengthened by the circumstance that a perfect counterfeit is fabricated at ironworks by passing jets of steam through molten slag, when a material resembling vitreous cotton-wool, admirably adapted for packing fragile articles, results. The chief seat of its natural production is the great Hawaiian crater of Kilauea (personified as the fire-goddess Pélé), and it is found well adapted for nest-building by some inventive Hawaiian birds.

Edinburgh Review, quoted in Bizarre Notes & Queries, May 1886


Bob Hope once told an audience, “The hotel room where I’m staying is so small that the rats are round-shouldered.”

The hotel manager threatened to sue, so Hope promised to take back the remark.

The next night he announced, “I’m sorry I said that the rats in that hotel were round-shouldered. They’re not.”

A Warm Question

A puzzle from Henry Dudeney’s Amusements in Mathematics (1917):

There is a certain village in Japan, situated in a very low valley, and yet the sun is nearer to the inhabitants every noon, by 3,000 miles and upwards, than when he either rises or sets to these people. In what part of the country is the village situated?

Click for Answer