Autodidact

In Curiosities of Human Nature (1852), Samuel Griswold Goodrich records that the duke of Argyle discovered a Latin copy of Newton’s Principia on the grass one day during a walk on his grounds. The book was claimed by Edmund Stone, the 18-year-old son of a gardener, and the astonished duke discovered that the young man was conversant with geometry, Latin, and Newton.

Argyle asked how he had come to know these things, and the youth replied that a servant had taught him to read 10 years earlier, and that he had taught himself arithmetic and geometry from textbooks, and Latin and French from dictionaries.

“It seems to me,” he said, “that we may learn everything when we know the 26 letters of the alphabet.”

Vroom!

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The trouble with rocket-powered roller skates is that you can’t steer.

To remain on land as long as possible, we suggest you start in northern Siberia (99°1’30E 76°13’6N) and point yourself due south. That’ll take you through 4,717 miles of Russia, Mongolia, China, Burma, and Thailand before you splash into the South China Sea.

Or start at 48°24’53N 4°47’44W in northern France and head east. An unswerving course will take you through Europe, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and Russia, covering 6,665 miles before you hit the Sea of Okhotsk. Good luck.

See also Point Nemo.

Rimshot

A lady, some time back, on a visit to the British Museum, asked the person in attendance if they had a skull of Oliver Cromwell? Being answered in the negative, ‘Dear me,’ said she, ‘that’s very strange; they have one at Oxford.’

— T. Wallis, The Nic-Nac; or, Oracle of Knowledge, 1823

Lucky Numbers

In a typical Powerball lottery drawing, there are four or five second-place winners.

On March 30, 2005, there were 110.

Officials suspected fraud at first, but it turned out that most of the winners had received the same mass-produced fortune cookie, which listed five of the six winning numbers.

The coincidence cost the lottery association $19 million.

“A Curious Race”

A curious race was recently witnessed in Westphalia, the contest being between pigeons and a number of bees, the respective owners of which had wagered their favorites to win. The course was three miles and a half, and a dovecot which happened to be near a hive was selected as the winning post. It was found no easy matter to mark the bees so as to make their identity unmistakable, but the difficulty was at last surmounted by rolling them in flour previous to starting them on their journey. This, while making them easily recognized on their arrival, probably retarded their flight; but nevertheless, and though the pigeons were looked upon by those interested as the most likely winners, the race resulted in a victory for the bees; the first bee arriving at the post twenty-five seconds before the first pigeon, and three other bees before the second.

— Henry Williams, A Book of Curious Facts, 1903

Time Slip

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On Aug. 10, 1901, Charlotte Anne Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain were visiting Versailles when they were overcome by a feeling of oppression. They became lost and encountered a number of unusual people, including a man with a scarred face, a fair-haired lady sketching on the grounds, and a group of “very dignified officials, dressed in long greyish green coats with small three-cornered hats.”

Months later, in researching the history of the Trianon, they came to believe that they had somehow slipped back in time on that day to the 1770s and had there met the Comte de Vaudreuil and Marie Antoinette. Their account, published in 1911 as An Adventure, created a sensation but was ultimately dismissed. Moberly and Jourdain were respected academics, but their book simply offered no compelling evidence for their claim.

Nor have any French historians found a record of two bewildered women appearing at Versailles in the 18th century.

“Sea Serpent”

We are informed that the Sea Serpent was seen of Squam Bar on Wednesday last, and again on Thursday, in Sandy Bay harbour. At the latter place, he was visible for some time, within fifty yards of the shore, and was fired at a number of times with muskets; two balls were seen to strike him and rebound. He was distinctly seen by as many as fifty people; and is described as appearing perfectly calm, with his head about two feet out of water, and his body visible only in parts or humps, as he has been before described, with a space of about two feet between each. He was judged to be at least seventy or eighty feet long.

Salem Gazette, cited in The Cabinet of Curiosities, 1824