In Patterns of Poetry (1986), Miller Williams writes, “Fourteen words have rarely done such duty as in the following sonnet, which differs from the traditional form only in not having ten syllables per line and in the combining of the Italian octave and the Shakespearean sestet”:
If you opened a box of Quaker Oats in 1955, you’d find a deed to one square inch of land in northwestern Canada. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story behind the Klondike Big Inch land giveaway, whose bizarre consequences are still being felt today.
We’ll also hear about a time traveler who visited the British Museum in 1997 and puzzle over why a prizewinning farmer gives away his best seed to his competitors.
Sources for our feature on the Klondike Big Inch land promotion:
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
Raymond Richards had a peculiar notion of safety — his fire alarm, patented in 1966, consisted of a string of firecrackers:
[I]t is proposed to provide an elongated tube having a plurality of spaced firecrackers disposed in its bore, each firecracker having its own fuse located in proximity to a main fuse, the latter extending longitudinally through the bore of the tube, with its opposite ends being exposed for being ignited by an adjacent fire.
The tube of firecrackers would be pinned to a drape, and caps on the tube would discourage children from playing with it. What could go wrong?
1. A convex regular polyhedron can stand stably on any face, because its center of gravity is at the center. It’s easy to construct an irregular polyhedron that’s unstable on certain faces, so that it topples over. Is it possible to make a model of an irregular polyhedron that’s unstable on every face?
2. The center of a regular tetrahedron lies in the same plane with any two of its corner points. Is this also true of all irregular tetrahedrons?
3. An equilateral triangle and a regular hexagon have perimeters of the same length. If the area of the triangle is 2 square units, what is the area of the hexagon?
After Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Ulysses Grant in the parlor of Virginia grocer Wilmer McLean, relic hunters descended on the house. “Large sums were offered Major Wilmer S. McLean for the chairs in which the generals sat during the meeting — for the tables on which the writing was done — for substantially every article of furniture,” wrote correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader. Many souvenirs were taken without McLean’s permission — including the rag doll belonging to his 8-year-old daughter, Lula, “which the younger officers tossed from one to the other, and called the ‘silent witness.'”
In a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, “The Lost Rag Doll of Appomattox,” Dorothy Kunhardt wrote, “Eighty-six years ago a little girl lost her rag doll. It was a very much hugged and slept with and beloved rag doll, homemade; no china head and kid-glove fingers and lacy dress, but stumpy burlap arms and legs, clothes assembled from the family rag bag and a small, potato-shaped head with not much stuffing on it.”
Philip Sheridan’s aide-de-camp Thomas William Channing Moore took the doll home with him to New York, and it was passed down within his family for 128 years. Finally, in 1993, when Moore’s grandson Richard died, his wife called the Appomattox park authorities to say that they were ready to return it. “The men in our family never wanted to give her up,” Marjorie Moore said. “The women thought Appomattox would be the best place for her.”
The doll resides today in the Appomattox visitors’ center, but perhaps that’s too late to redress the harm. Years earlier, after ranger Cynda Carpenter had told the story to one group of visitors, an older woman approached her and identified herself as Lula McLean’s great-granddaughter. “She said that Lula never got over the hurt caused by the loss of her doll,” she said. “She said that Lula told her, ‘The Yankees stole my doll.'”
∠WAY = 40° (because each interior angle of ABW is 60° and the interior angles of triangle XAY must total 180°)
p = p (because triangle ATY is isosceles)
q = q (because AB = AW = XY = p + q)
∠AWY = 40° (because triangles ATX and YTW are similar)
r = r (because triangle AYW is isosceles)
This shows that ABWY is a kite, a quadrilateral with two pairs of equal-length sides, each pair adjacent. The diagonals of a kite are perpendicular, so the triangle that contains angle z also contains interior angles measuring 90° and 80°. Angle z is 10°.
New Yorker Kam Brock was sedated and placed in a mental hospital last September because police thought she might be delusional — for one thing, she insisted that Barack Obama was one of her Twitter followers. The hospital set this as an objective for her release: “Patient will verbalize the importance of education for employment and will state that Obama is not following her on Twitter.”
In 1980, 25-year-old Alfred Lawrence Patterson was admitted to Michigan’s Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital. He said that the Secret Service and Sen. Edward Kennedy had conspired to place him there.
When Martha Mitchell, the wife of Nixon attorney general John Mitchell, began to claim that the White House was engaged in illegal activities, she was rumored to be mentally ill. But events proved her right. Nixon later told David Frost, “If it hadn’t been for Martha Mitchell, there’d have been no Watergate.”
Psychologists remember this as the “Martha Mitchell effect” — when a client insists that she’s being chased by the mob, or that the police have been spying on her, she’s not necessarily delusional. In the words of psychotherapist Joseph Berke, “even paranoids have enemies.”