“Curious Wagers”

There have been travelling wagers, and one of the least singular of such was that of Mr. Whalley, an Irish gentleman (and who we believe edited Ben Johnson’s works), who, for a very considerable wager (twenty thousand pounds, it was said,) set out on Monday the 22nd of September, 1788, to walk to Constantinople and back again in one year. This wager, however whimsical, is not without a precedent. Some years ago a baronet of good fortune (Sir Henry Liddel) laid a considerable wager that he would go to Lapland, bring home two females of that country, and two rein-deer, in a given time. He performed the journey, and effected his purpose in every respect. The Lapland women lived with him about a year, but desiring to go back to their own country, the baronet furnished them with means and money.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

The Somerton Man


On Dec. 1, 1948, a bather discovered a body on the beach near Adelaide, Australia. The man appeared to be European, about 45 years old, well dressed, and in excellent physical condition. Indeed, the coroner could not determine a cause of death. Still more strangely, it seemed the man had carried no money, and all identifying marks had been removed from his clothes. Apparently he had left a suitcase at the Adelaide railway station, but it contained no useful clues. Photos and fingerprints were circulated throughout the English-speaking world, but no one identified him.

And the body bore one last strange clue: In a trouser fob pocket, one of the investigators found a tiny piece of paper bearing the words “Taman Shud.” Those are the final words in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam; they mean “The End.” A local doctor came forward with a copy of that book, from which the words had been clipped. He had found it tossed on the front seat of his car the day before the body was found.

But even that clue went nowhere. To this day, no one knows who the man was or how he died. He’s known only as the Somerton man.

Math Notes

37 = 32 + 72 – 3 × 7 = (33 + 73)/(3 + 7)


Nothing is better than eternal happiness.

Eating a hamburger is better than nothing.

Therefore, eating a hamburger is better than eternal happiness.

Cosmic Irony


In 1961, astronaut Gus Grissom nearly drowned after a splashdown when his Mercury capsule opened prematurely. He recommended making the hatch more secure.

Eight years later he died when Apollo 1 caught fire. The hatch had prevented his escape.

“Ingenious Subterfuge”

“A young lady, newly married, being obliged to show her Husband all the Letters she wrote, sent the following to an intimate friend.”

Reveal the Secret

I cannot be satisfied, my dearest Friend,
blest as I am in the matrimonial state,
unless I pour into your friendly bosom,
which has ever beat in unison with mine,
the various sensations which swell
with the liveliest emotion of pleasure,
my almost bursting heart. I tell you my dear
husband is the most amiable of men,
I have now been married seven weeks, and
never have found the least reason to
repent the day that joined us. My husband is
both in person and manners far from resembling
ugly, cross, old, disagreeable, and jealous
monsters, who think by confining to secure —
a wife, it is his maxim to treat as a
bosom friend and confidant, and not as a
plaything, or menial slave, the woman
chosen to be his companion. Neither party
he says, should always obey implicitly;
but each yield to the other by turns.
An ancient maiden aunt, near seventy,
a cheerful, venerable, and pleasant old lady,
lives in the house with us; she is the de-
light of both young and old; she is ci-
vil to all the neighborhood round,
generous and charitable to the poor.
I am convinced my husband loves nothing more
than he does me; he flatters me more
than a glass; and his intoxication
(for so I must call the excess of his love)
often makes me blush for the unworthiness
of its object, and wish I could be more deserving
of the man whose name I bear. To
say all in one word, my dear, and to
crown the whole — my former gallant lover
is now my indulgent husband; my husband
is returned, and I might have had
a prince without the felicity I find in
him. Adieu! may you be as blest as I am un-
able to wish that I could be more

“The key is to read the first and then every alternate line only.”

— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1860



Okay, the new shop has to promote our duck farm somehow! Everybody, think!

Martin Maurer’s painfully literal solution has graced Long Island since 1931. To this day, buildings shaped like recognizable objects are called “ducks.”

In a Word

adj. badly written or spelled

Wait a Minute …

When you my friends are passing by,
And this inform you where I lie,
Remember you ere long must have,
Like me, a mansion in the grave,
Also 3 infants, 2 sons and a daughter.

— Tombstone in Pittsfied, Mass., cited in English as She Is Wrote, 1884

Occupational Handicaps


Monet lost his vision, but not his hearing.

Beethoven lost his hearing, but not his vision.