Self-Help

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Russian spell to invoke a werewolf, cited in The Book of Werewolves (1865) by Sabine Baring-Gould:

He who desires to become an oboroten, let him seek in the forest a hewn-down tree; let him stab it with a small copper knife, and walk round the tree, repeating the following incantation:

On the sea, on the ocean, on the island, on Bujan,
On the empty pasture gleams the moon, on an ashstock lying
In a green wood, in a gloomy vale.
Towards the stock wandereth a shaggy wolf,
Horned cattle seeking for his sharp white fangs;
But the wolf enters not the forest,
But the wolf dives not into the shadowy vale,
Moon, moon, gold-horned moon,
Check the flight of bullets, blunt the hunters’ knives,
Break the shepherds’ cudgels,
Cast wild fear upon all cattle,
On men, all creeping things,
That they may not catch the grey wolf,
That they may not rend his warm skin!
My word is binding, more binding than sleep,
More binding than the promise of a hero!

Then he springs thrice over the tree and runs into the forest, transformed into a wolf.

“A gentleman,” said Lana Turner, “is simply a patient wolf.”

The Haberdasher’s Problem

Can you make three cuts in a square of cloth and rearrange the pieces to form an equilateral triangle?

Water Music

The Great Bell of Dhammazedi may have been the largest bell ever made, reportedly weighing 300 metric tons.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to confirm its size — after the Portuguese removed it from a Myanmar temple in 1608, it was lost in a river.

The Gävle Goats

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There are good Swedes and bad Swedes. The good ones build a three-ton straw goat every Christmas, and the bad ones try to burn it down. This has happened almost every year since 1966, when the first goat went up in flames on New Year’s Eve. The forces of good have brought in police guards, webcams, soldiers, volunteers, and dogs, but the bad guys have usually won. In 1976 the goat was even run over by a car.

What all this means is a question for sociologists, but it’s become a local industry. In 1988 English bookmakers began laying odds on the goat’s prospects, and now “goat committees” stock up on flame retardant and extra straw. They’re up against a tough foe, though: In 40 years of struggle, only four arsonists have been caught.

“Two Young Women Want Washing”

Unfortunately worded advertisements of the 19th century, collected in English as She Is Wrote (1884):

  • “Teeth extracted with great pains.”
  • “Babies taken and finished in ten minutes by a country photographer.”
  • “For sale, a handsome piano, the property of a young lady who is leaving Scotland in a walnut case with turned legs.”
  • “Wanted, a young man to take charge of horses of a religious turn of mind.”
  • “Wanted, a young man to look after a horse of the Methodist persuasion.”
  • “A steamboat-captain, in advertising for an excursion, closes thus: ‘Tickets, 25 cents; children half price, to be had at the captain’s office.'”
  • “Among carriages to be disposed of, mention is made of ‘a mail phaeton, the property of a gentleman with a moveable head as good as new.'”
  • “A landlady, innocent of grammatical knowledge, advertises that she has ‘a fine, airy, well-furnished bedroom for a gentleman twelve feet square'; another has ‘a cheap and desirable suit of rooms for a respectable family in good repair'; still another has ‘a hall bedroom for a single woman 8 x 12.'”

Finding the Holy Grail

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There’s no chalice on the table in Leonardo’s Last Supper

… but there is one on Bartholemew’s head (far left).

In a Word

acersecomic
n. a person whose hair has never been cut

“Preservation of a Pig”

May 30, 1811. The workmen, on removing the rubbish of part of the cliff, near Dover Castle, that fell down a few months before, by which a mother and her children were killed, and their bodies found the next day, discovered a hog that was buried in the ruins at the same time, and was supposed to have perished; but, strange as it may appear, he was found alive, making it exactly five months and nine days since the accident. At that time the animal weighed about seven score; when he was found, he was wasted to about 30 pounds; but is still likely to do well.

National Register, June 2, 1811

Wish You Were Here

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People were retouching photos long before PhotoShop. In 1938 Nikolai Yezhov, a leader of the Soviet secret police, fell out of favor with Stalin — and literally disappeared.

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Fallow and Fertile

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Albrecht Dürer’s Melencolia I might brood about thwarted creativity, but it contains one of the most brilliant magic squares in all of European art.

You can reach the sum of 34 by adding the numbers in any row, column, diagonal, or quadrant; the four center squares; the four corner squares; the four numbers clockwise from the corners; or the four counterclockwise.

As a bonus, the two numbers in the middle of the bottom row give the date of the engraving: 1514.