“From the Curiosities of Advertising”

To an Oppidan, a Ruricolist, or a Cosmopolitan, and may be entered upon immediately:

The House in STONE Row, lately possessed by CAPT. SIREE. To avoid Verbosity, the Proprietor with Compendiosity will give a Perfunctory description of the Premises, in the Compagination of which he has Sedulously studied the convenience of the Occupant. It is free from Opacity, Tenebrosity, Fumidity, and Injucundity, and no building can have greater Pellucidity or Translucency — in short, its Diaphaneity even in the Crepuscle makes it like a Pharos, and without laud, for its Agglutination and Amenity, it is a most Delectable Commorance; and whoever lives in it will find that the Neighbors have none of the Truculence, the Immanity, the Torvity, the Spinosity, the Putidness, the Pugnacity, nor the Fugacity observable in other parts of the town, but their Propinquity and Consanguinity occasion Jocundity and Pudicity — from which, and the Redolence of the place (even in the dog-days), they are remarkable for Longevity. For terms and particulars apply to JAMES HUTCHINSON, opposite the MARKET-HOUSE.

— “Dub. News.,” quoted in Charles Carroll Bombaugh, Gleanings for the Curious from the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1890



If there’s a trophy for the world’s best-traveled canine, it belongs to Owney, a mixed-breed terrier who wandered into the Albany post office in 1888. The workers found he was attracted to mail bags, following them onto wagons and eventually trains, so they adopted him as a mascot.

They gave him a collar (“Owney, Post Office, Albany, New York”) and sent him off through the system, where he became a sort of perpetual parcel. Each time he returned to Albany he bore a new assortment of tokens and tags from mail clerks around the country; eventually these numbered 1,017. In 1895 he traveled entirely around the world via train and steamship.

He retired in 1897, and his carefully preserved remains are on display in the U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

“The Poet and the Boy”

The Russian Poet Lomonossow was accustomed to read his plays to a rude young peasant, whom he had taken into his service for that purpose, to judge (in imitation of Moliere) the more certainly of their theatrical effect, by their impression on an uninformed and unprejudiced mind. One evening the little Huron, while holding the light as usual, suddenly began to weep and sob, in a most piteous way, to the delight of the poet, who cried out in a transport, ‘Waste not your tears before the time, my child; the scenes, in which you will most need them, come not till the fifth act.’ — ‘Oh, no,’ replied the boy, ‘it is not for that, but I want to ***.’

— William Oxberry, ed., The Flowers of Literature, 1822

Measured Steps

Twenty-five ants are placed randomly on a meter stick. Each faces east or west. At a signal they all start to march at 1 centimeter per second. Whenever two ants collide they reverse directions. How long must we wait to be sure that all the ants have left the stick?

This sounds immensely complicated, but with a simple insight the answer is immediately clear. What is it?

Click for Answer

Strange Meeting

During World War I, Wilfred Owen’s younger brother Harold was an officer on the British cruiser HMS Astraea. While anchored off West Africa shortly after the armistice, he claims he had “an extraordinary and inexplicable experience”:

I had gone down to my cabin thinking to write some letters. I drew aside the door curtain and stepped inside and to my amazement I saw Wilfred sitting in my chair. I felt shock run through me with appalling force and with it I could feel the blood draining away from my face. I did not rush towards him but walked jerkily into the cabin–all my limbs stiff and slow to respond. I did not sit down but looking at him I spoke quietly: ‘Wilfred, how did you get here?’ He did not rise and I saw that he was involuntarily immobile, but his eyes which had never left mine were alive with the familiar look of trying to make me understand; when I spoke his whole face broke into his sweetest and most endearing dark smile. I felt not fear–I had none when I first drew my door curtain and saw him there–only exquisite mental pleasure at thus beholding him. He was in uniform and I remember thinking how out of place the khaki looked amongst the cabin furnishings. With this thought I must have turned my eyes away from him; when I looked back my cabin chair was empty … I wondered if I had been dreaming but looking down I saw that I was still standing. Suddenly I felt terribly tired and moving to my bunk I lay down; instantly I went into a deep oblivious sleep. When I woke up I knew with absolute certainty that Wilfred was dead.

He later learned that his brother had been killed the preceding week.

See also A Sign and “That Apparition, Sole of Men”.

The Fear Liath


In 1891, mountaineer John Norman Collie was descending from the peak of Scotland’s Ben MacDhui when “I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps.”

“For every few steps I took I heard a crunch,” he told the Cairngorm Club in 1925, “and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.”

Collie could see nothing in the heavy mist, but “[as] the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me, I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.”

Reports of a “big gray man” on the mountain have never been substantiated, though other climbers have reported uncontrollable feelings of panic. Collie concluded only that there is “something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui.”

Sweet Dreams


If a conventional alarm clock doesn’t wake you, consider this Improved Device for Waking Persons from Sleep, patented in 1882 by Samuel Applegate.

It suspends a frame “directly over the head of the sleeper” from each of whose cords hangs “a small block of light wood, preferably cork.”

“When it falls it will strike a light blow, sufficient to awaken the sleeper, but not heavy enough to cause pain.”

If that’s not dangerous enough, “By a simple connection between the cord B and the key of a self-lighting gas-burner, provision may be made for turning on and lighting the gas in the room at the same time that the sleeper is awakened.”