Unquote

“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” — Samuel Butler

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein

“Life is not having been told that the man has just waxed the floor.” — Ogden Nash

“You cannot learn to skate without making yourself ridiculous — the ice of life is slippery.” — George Bernard Shaw (quoting the motto of the Cambridge Fabian Society)

A Horrid Coincidence

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_sea_by_Ivan_Aivazovsky.jpg

In April 1819 the French slave ship Rodeur set sail for Guadeloupe from the Bight of Biafra with a crew of 22 men and 162 slaves. After 15 days, a disease of the eyes appeared among the slaves in the hold. The heartless captain threw 36 slaves overboard, but the illness soon spread to the crew, and eventually everyone on board except for a single man was blind.

And then came one of the most remarkable incidents in the history of sea commerce. As the Rodeur was crawling along with this one man at the helm, another ship, with all sails set, was seen. That was a glad moment on the Rodeur, and she was quickly headed for the stranger, hoping to get men who could navigate the ship. Drawing near, the Rodeur’s lone helmsman observed that the stranger was steering wildly, and that no one could be seen on board. But the moment the Rodeur had arrived within hailing distance men came to the stranger’s rail, and in frantic tones said that every one on board had become blind, and begged for the help that the Rodeur had come to secure. The stranger was the Spanish slaver Leon.

That’s from journalist John Randolph Spears, who wrote a history of the American slave trade at the turn of the century. This is such a horrible story that I hoped it was just folklore, but it’s borne out in the inquiries that followed and commemorated in John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem “The Slave-Ships”:

“Help us! for we are stricken
With blindness every one;
Ten days we’ve floated fearfully,
Unnoting star or sun.
Our ship’s the slaver Leon,–
We’ve but a score on board;
Our slaves are all gone over,–
Help, for the love of God!”

On livid brows of agony
The broad red lightning shone;
But the roar of wind and thunder
Stifled the answering groan;
Wailed from the broken waters
A last despairing cry,
As, kindling in the stormy light,
The stranger ship went by.

Unable to help one another, the two ships parted. On June 21 the Rodeur reached Guadaloupe, where the last man went blind. The Leon passed into the Atlantic and was never seen again.

Black and White

palitzsch chess problem

By Friedrich Martin Palitzsch. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

At a Stroke

1939 sheep kill

On Sept. 1, 1939, a flock of 850 sheep were bedded down for the night in Pine Canyon in the Raft River Mountains of northwestern Utah when a passing thunderstorm wet both the ground and the animals. A single stroke of lightning killed 835 sheep, 98 percent of the flock.

Similarly (below), two bolts of lightning killed 654 sheep on Mill Canyon Peak in the American Fork Canyon in north-central Utah on July 18, 1918.

1918 sheep kill

So avoid northern Utah. On the other hand:

A ploughman in a field, Reuben Stephenson, of Langtoft, England, was struck down by lightning, when both his horses were killed on the spot, and he was so much injured that his life was at first despaired of. In consequence of the accident, Dr. Allison of Birdlington, attended upon the man, and whilst doing so, found he was suffering from a malignant cancer of the lip. When Mr. Stephenson had sufficiently recovered from the effects of the lightning, an arrangement was entered into for the removal of the cancer by an operation; but, strange to say, just when this was on the point of being performed, a minute inspection was made of the cancer, when it was discovered that from the time of the accident, a healing process had been commenced in the lip; this being so evident, the operation was, of course, not attempted; and, in a moderate space of time, the man was completely cured.

Lancet, 1855, quoted in Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857

In a Word

periplus
n. a circumnavigation, an epic journey, an odyssey

In 1505 Ferdinand Magellan sailed east to Malaysia, where he acquired a slave named Enrique who accompanied him on his subsequent westward circumnavigation of the globe. When that expedition reached the Philippines, Enrique escaped, and his fate is lost to history. That’s intriguing: If he managed to travel the few hundred remaining miles to his homeland, then he was the first person in history to circumnavigate the earth.

Away

I’m away till Saturday. Many thanks to everyone who has bought the book — if you enjoy it, please consider recommending it to others. Thanks for your support, and happy Thanksgiving!

Short-Handed

Suppose we have a clock whose hour and minute hands are identical. How times times per day will we find it impossible to tell the time, provided we always know whether it’s a.m. or p.m.?

Click for Answer

Self-Regard

https://www.google.com/patents/US2598291

Edward O’Brien patented this “body-attached rearview mirror” in 1905 “to facilitate the dressing of the hair and the inspection of the back of the head and head dress.” Essentially it’s a harness that bears three mirrors and an illuminating bulb, replacing a bothersome hand mirror.

“By this means, both hands of the wearer are free to properly arrange the head dress, brush the hair and the like, without disturbing the adjustment of the mirror and illuminating means.”

Just remember to take it off afterward …

“Apex”

The lion tamers wrestle with the lions in a cage,
With but a fragile whip they dare their charges’ feral rage.
They put their heads in tigers’ mouths and do not flinch a grain,
But … they never tried to take a cat five hundred miles to Maine.

You hunters who bring back alive from Afric’s roaring shore
The nilghai and the elephant, the rhino and the boar;
Who load them on a steamer and evince no sign of strain —
Let’s see you drive a cat five hundred miles to Maine.

Go cope with your rhinoceros bare-handed and alone,
Or kick a famished grizzly if for harmless fun you hone,
Or aggravate a timber wolf with pokings of a cane,
But do NOT try to drive a cat five hundred mile to Maine.

There is no word, there is no tongue, there is no ink to tell
One tenth of what one cat can raise of concentrated hell,
When after two hours’ driving to mistaken qualms you yield
And take poor puss to stretch her limbs in some adjacent field.

And if you’ve done the things set forth in stanzas two and three,
You stand a chance, when Krazy from the leash has wriggled free
(Provided you are clad in steel with hat and gloves to match),
To get her back into the car without a bite or scratch.

Ye lion tamers, naturalists, and big-game hunters eke,
When I’m around be chary of your tendency to speak.
To hear you boast your petty deeds gives me a shooting pain
For I have driven Krazy — phew! — five hundred miles to Maine!

— Baron Ireland

Two Lists

Write out the positive powers of 10 in both base 2 and base 5:

powers of 10

Now for any integer n > 1, we’ll find exactly one number of length n somewhere on the two lists. They contain one 3-digit number, one 4-digit number, and so on forever — if n = 100 we find a 100-digit number in the 30th position on the base 2 list.

(This result first appeared in the 1994 Asian Pacific Mathematics Olympiad. I found it in Ravi Vakil’s A Mathematical Mosaic.)

Two further curious lists: If we write out the triangular numbers, those in positions 3, 33, etc. show a pattern:

T(3) = 6
T(33) = 561
T(333) = 55611
T(3,333) = 5556111
T(33,333) = 555561111
T(333,333) = 55555611111

Similarly:

T(6) = 21
T(66) = 2211
T(666) = 222111
T(6,666) = 22221111
T(66,666) = 2222211111
T(666,666) = 222222111111

(Thanks, Larry.)

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