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Surf and Turf

The coelacanth, a prehistoric fish, was thought to have died out 65 million years ago — until a museum curator noticed one in a South African fish catch in 1938.

When a second specimen appeared in 1952, prime minister Daniel François Malan exclaimed, “Why, it’s ugly! Is this where we come from?”

To Boldly Go

Captain Kirk never actually said “Beam me up, Scotty” in any Star Trek episode or movie.

Semordnilaps

A palindrome is a word or phrase that is spelled the same backward and forward. A semordnilap (“palindromes” spelled backward) produces a different word when reversed:

flog — golf
edit — tide
knits — stink
leper — repel
lager — regal
pupils — slipup
drawer — reward
diaper — repaid

Pssst

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Nat_stat_hall_2.jpg

The National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol is a “whispering gallery” — because of the room’s shape, whispers at one end of the room can be heard clearly at the other.

In a Word

leiotrichy
n. straight-hairedness

Gil Perez

On Oct. 24, 1593, a man suddenly appeared in the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City. He was wearing the uniform of the guards of Malacanang Palace in the Philippines, and he claimed he had no idea how he had arrived in Mexico.

The man said that his name was Gil Perez and that was a Spanish soldier of the Filipino Guardia Civil. Moments earlier, he said, he had been on sentry duty at the governor’s palace in Manila. He said the governor, Don Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, had been assassinated.

Perez refused to believe he was in Mexico City, as he had received his orders in Manila on the morning of Oct. 25, which now lay in the future. The Inquisition questioned Perez, but he could only repeat that he had traveled from Manila to Mexico “in less time than it takes a cock to crow.”

Two months later, news arrived by a Filipino ship that Manila’s governor had indeed been assassinated on Oct. 23, and witnesses confirmed that Gil Perez had indeed been on duty in Manila. One of the ship’s passengers said he recognized Perez and swore that he had seen him in the Philippines on the day of the assassination. Perez eventually returned to the Philippines and took up his former position as a palace guard.

Historians point out that this story didn’t appear in writing until a century after it supposedly happened, and no records of Perez’s imprisonment or interrogation have been found, so there’s no way to know what the truth is.

Low Expectations

The first Harry Potter book was given a print run of only 1,000 copies.

Today, these copies are valued at between £16,000 and £25,000 each.

Vox Piscis

On June 23, 1626, a fishmonger in Cambridge, England, gutted a large cod and found a book inside. Wrapped in sailcloth, it turned out to be a discourse on the sacraments written by Protestant priest John Frith. Before being burned at the stake in 1533, Frith had been detained in an Oxford fish cellar.

A Mr. Mead, fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, wrote, “I saw all with mine own eyes, the fish, the maw, the piece of sailcloth, the book … only I saw not the opening of the fish, which not many did, being upon the fish-woman’s stall in the market, who first cut off his head, to which the maw was hanging, and seeming much stuffed with somewhat, it was searched, and all found as aforesaid.”

If that sounds, well, fishy, Mead says, “He that had his nose as near as I yester morning, would have been persuaded there was no imposture here.”

Impressed, Cambridge reprinted the volume as Vox Piscis — “The Voice of the Fish.”

The Black Dog of Bungay

On Aug. 4, 1577, a great storm broke over the English town of Bungay. According to an account by Abraham Fleming, a huge black dog appeared in the local church, “running all along down the body of the church … passed between two persons, as they were kneeling uppon their knees, and … wrung the necks of them bothe at one instant.” The dog fell upon another man and “gave him such a gripe on the back, that … he was … shrunk up, as it were a peece of lether scorched in a hot fire.”

According to the legend, the black dog terrorized another church on the same day, leaving spectral claw marks in the door.

It makes a good story, but it turns out that Fleming was a propagandist for the Puritant church, which taught that storms were divine punishment. Parish records reflect the storm, but there’s no mention of the dog. Still, there are those claw marks …

Passchendaele

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Passchendaele_aerial_view.jpg

The Belgian village of Passchendaele before and after the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917. Aerial photography showed 1 million shell holes in one square mile.

After the battle, the following notice was found in a dugout full of dead British soldiers. It was signed by their Australian commander:

  1. This position will be held and section will remain here until relieved.
  2. The enemy cannot be allowed to interfere with this program.
  3. If the section cannot remain here alive it will remain here dead.
  4. Should any man through shell shock or such cause attempt to surrender he will remain here dead.
  5. Finally the position, as stated, will be held.

Clemenceau said, “War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory.”