Suppose the earth were a perfect sphere and you fitted a belt around its equator.

The belt would be 40 million meters long. If you now increased its length by a mere 5 meters, how high would it ride above the earth’s surface?

The answer, surprisingly, is 0.8 meters — well above the current limbo record.


Curiously, St. Teresa of Ávila died on the same night that the Catholic world switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

The switch occasioned a 10-day correction — so Teresa died on Thursday, Oct. 4, 1582, and the next day was Friday, Oct. 15.

In a Word

n. having yellow teeth

“A River of Ink”

In Algeria there is a river of genuine ink. It is formed by the union of two streams, one coming from a region of ferruginous soil, the other draining a peat swamp. The water of the former is strongly impregnated with iron, that of the latter with gallic acid. When the two waters mingle, the acid of the one unites with the iron of the other, forming a true ink. We are familiar with a stream called Black Brook, in the northern part of New York, the inky color of whose water is evidently due to like conditions.

— Frank H. Stauffer, The Queer, the Quaint and the Quizzical, 1882

Nowhere Man

welbeck abbey

Only the poor are crazy — rich people are “eccentric.” William Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck certainly fit that bill. When he inherited the dukedom of Portland in 1854, he retired to his estate in Nottinghamshire, holed up in the west wing, and had all the other rooms painted pink.

That was just the beginning. Apparently struck with a pathological shyness, the duke had all his doors fitted with letterboxes and would let not even a doctor in. His tenants were instructed not to acknowledge his presence, and only one valet could see him in person.

He wouldn’t go out, but he did go down, employing hundreds of workmen to create a vast underground complex with a library, an observatory, a billiards room and 15 miles of tunnels, one of which was wide enough to accommodate two carriages.

No one knows what he did down there — the ballroom had a hydraulic lift that could carry 20 people, but he never invited anyone to see it. He left the house only at night, preceded by a servant who was ordered to carry a lantern 40 yards ahead of him. He died in 1879, departing a lonely world of his own making.

Waste Not, Want Not


Here’s Wordsworth’s “Upon Westminster Bridge”:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Why start over? Wayne Carlson rearranged the words to make a new poem:

A city is lying still, asleep in the dull morning;
A steep hill towers more unto the smokeless sky,
Touching the heart and soul of God.
Bare fields doth lie in the valley,
Like ships that glideth, all silent in the river.
I saw all His own houses, now temples to the sun;
Sight at first has never felt more dear.
Who would not wear His gament, open to the calm air?
Could anything be so beautifully bright and glittering?
He will never show its theatres and domes;
Or pass by this fair Earth; a mighty rock,
Of very deep beauty, splendour, and majesty
Ne’er did seem so sweet!

Square Deal

Look! Canceling exponents works even in algebra:

canceling exponents in algebra


No letter appears twice in AMBIDEXTROUSLY.


History’s shortest-reigning king served for 20 minutes. When Charles X abdicated the French crown after the July Revolution of 1830, rule passed to his son, Louis XIX, who immediately resigned as well, over his wife’s entreaties.

The longest-reigning king is the pharaoh Pepi II, who ascended the Egyptian throne in 2278 B.C. at age 6. He ruled for 94 years.

The Eltanin Antenna


What is this? The oceanographic research ship USNS Eltanin discovered it off the Antarctic coast in 1964, at a depth of 13,500 feet — that’s 2.5 miles down.

It could be an alien ship buried under the seafloor. It could be ancient technology left by a forgotten civilization. It could be a well-hidden gift left by time travelers from the remote future.

Or it could be a sponge, Cladorhiza concrescens. You decide.