In a Word

n. forceful tickling

Flowers Would Have Done

Noël Coward was never one for simple congratulations. He sent this telegram to actress Gertrude Lawrence on her debut:


He sent another when she married Richard Aldrich:



1817 saw a rash of sea-monster sightings off the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts. So strong was the craze that in August the New England Linnaean Society announced it had acquired a young sea serpent, which it dubbed Scoliophis atlanticus.

As it turned out, the specimen was a deformed terrestrial snake. Skeptics say this proves that the Gloucester monster didn’t exist. In fact, it only confirms that snakes aren’t sea serpents.

More Magic

If this magic square worked upside down, this one works when reversed, “mirrorwise”:

96 64 37 45
39 43 98 62
84 76 25 57
23 59 82 78
54 73 46 69
26 89 34 93
75 52 67 48
87 28 95 32

Here’s Looking At …

In 1982, writer Chuck Ross transcribed the screenplay of Casablanca. He changed the title to Everybody Comes to Rick’s, and he changed the piano player’s name to Dooley Wilson. Then he submitted it to 217 Hollywood agencies.

Only 85 read it. Of those, 38 rejected it outright, 33 recognized it (but only eight specifically as Casablanca), and only three declared it commercially viable.

One suggested turning it into a novel.

See also The Steps Experiment.


Protagoras, an Athenian rhetorician, had agreed to instruct Evalthus in rhetoric, on condition that the latter should pay him a certain sum of money if he gained his first cause. Evalthus when instructed in all the precepts of the art, refused to pay Protagoras, who consequently brought him before the Areopagus, and said to the Judges — ‘Any verdict that you may give is in my favour: if it is on my side, it carries the condemnation of Evalthus; if against me, he must pay me, because he gains his first cause.’ ‘I confess,’ replied Evalthus, ‘that the verdict will be pronounced either for or against me; in either case I shall be equally acquitted: if the Judges pronounce in my favour, you are condemned; if they pronounce for you, according to our agreement, I owe you nothing, for I lose my first cause.’ The Judges being unable to reconcile the pleaders, ordered them to re-appear before the Court a hundred years afterwards.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

A New Observatory

Tourists marvel at the architects of Stonehenge, which apparently was built to align with the midsummer sunrise and the midwinter sunset.

Many then innocently return to New York — where on Dec. 5 and Jan. 8 each year the setting sun aligns perfectly with the east-west streets in Manhattan’s main grid.

Apple-Pie Order

ABSTEMIOUS, ADVENTITIOUS, and FACETIOUS contain all the vowels in alphabetical order.

SUBCONTINENTAL and UNCOMPLIMENTARY contain them in reverse order.

Calamari to Go

Newfoundland naturalist Moses Harvey collected the first complete specimen of a giant squid in December 1873.

He kept it in his bathtub.

Night Exercises

A curious circumstance occurred at the Bush Tavern, Bristol, on Monday night, May the 4th, about eleven o’clock. A young man, who has since been discovered to be a sailor, belonging to the Union ship of war, lying at Plymouth, went to bed apparently composed; but before the servant had left the room five minutes, the house was alarmed by his cries of ‘Help me out,’ and by the breaking of glass, occasioned by his bursting through the sash. Though asleep, he continued walking from one roof to the other, and along the narrowest ridges, and at length jumped from the surprising height of thirty feet, without receiving any material injury. He was conveyed to bed, and left the inn the following morning on his journey for Plymouth.

Oxford Herald, May 9, 1812