Syllogisms offered in Lewis Carroll’s 1896 textbook in symbolic logic:

1. Babies are illogical.
2. Nobody is despised who can manage a crocodile.
3. Illogical persons are despised.
Therefore babies cannot manage crocodiles.

1. No interesting poems are unpopular among people of real taste.
2. No modern poetry is free from affectation.
3. All your poems are on the subject of soap bubbles.
4. No affected poetry is popular among people of taste.
5. Only a modern poem would be on the subject of soap bubbles.
Therefore all your poems are uninteresting.

“A Watch Melted by Lightning”

Mr. E.N. Sponce, of Windhouse, in the island of Yell, relates, that about the beginning of the present century, during a violent thunderstorm off the Shetland Islands, a fishing-boat belonging to Mr. Midyell was struck by lightning, which came down the mast, tearing it in shivers, and melted into a mass a watch in the pocket of a man (the skipper) who was sitting close by the mast, and considerably scorched him, as well as materially injured the boat, and, more or less, the other five men in it. This account of the occurrence was received by Mr. Spence from the skipper himself.

— John Timbs, Things Not Generally Known, Familiarly Explained, 1859


Raymond Smullyan proposes a scene in which two men are regarding a blackboard. On the board is written ONLY AN IDIOT WOULD BELIEVE THIS SENTENCE.

The first man says, “Do you believe that sentence?”

The second says, “Of course not. Only an idiot would believe that sentence.”

“He clearly does believe it, yet he says he doesn’t believe it,” Smullyan says. “So he’s in the curious position of believing something and also believing that he doesn’t believe it.”

“To Take a Man’s Waistcoat Off Without Removing His Coat”

The waistcoat should first be unbuttoned in the front, and then the buckle at the back must be unloosed. The operator, standing in front of the person operated upon, should then place his hands underneath the coat at the back, taking hold of the bottom of the waistcoat, at the same time requesting the wearer to extend his arms at full length over his head. Now raise the bottom part of the waistcoat over the head of the wearer (if the waistcoat be tight it will be necessary to force it a little, but this must not be minded so long as the waistcoat is not torn); the waistcoat then will have been brought to the front of the wearer, across his chest. Take the right side bottom-end of the waistcoat, and put it into the arm-hole of the coat at the shoulder, at the same time putting the hand up the sleeve, seizing the end, and drawing it down the sleeve; this action will release one arm-hole of the garment to be removed. The next thing to be done is to pull the waistcoat back again out of the sleeve of the coat, and put the same end of the waistcoat into the left arm-hole of the coat, again putting the hand up the sleeve of the coat as before, and seizing the end of the garment. It may then be drawn quite through the sleeve, and the puzzle is accomplished.

Cassell’s Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes, 1896



In 1610, thinking he had discovered two moons orbiting Saturn, Galileo composed a message:

ALTISSIMUM PLANETAM TERGEMINUM OBSERVAVI (“I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form”)

… and sent it to Kepler as an anagram:


Remarkably, Kepler managed to “solve” this as a message about Mars, not Saturn:

SALVE UMBISTENEUM GEMINATUM MARTIA PROLES (“Hail, twin companionship, children of Mars”)

The German astronomer had predicted that the Red Planet had two moons, and imagined that Galileo was confirming his belief.

There’s a message in this, somewhere.

Voice Box


In 1769, after completing his robotic chess player, Wolfgang von Kempelen began a 20-year effort to a build a machine that could speak.

His first crude undertaking involved a bellows, bagpipe, and clarinet, and it could produce only vowels. A second was operated from a keyboard, but this permitted an unnatural overlapping of sounds.

But von Kempelen began to study the human vocal tract more intensively, and this led to a winning third design, which had a “mouth,” a “throat,” a “nasal cavity,” and “nostrils.” It wasn’t perfect, but he trusted that listeners would forgive its errors because it sounded like a small child.

The finished machine could pronounce monotone phrases in French, Italian, English, Latin, and limited German, including Constantinopolis, vous êtes mon ami, je vous aime de tout mon coeur, venez avec moi à Paris, Leopoldus secundus, and Romanorum imperator semper Augustus.

His work wasn’t wasted. Before his death in 1804, Von Kempelen published a comprehensive account of his researches, and in 1837 Sir Charles Wheatstone took up the project. His efforts in turn inspired Alexander Graham Bell — and, eventually, the telephone.