London conjuror Chung Ling Soo was famous for his “bullet catch” illusion: Audience members would mark bullets that were loaded into a gun, which attendants then fired at Soo. He would appear to catch the bullets and drop them on a plate. In fact, Soo palmed the bullets during the marking, and alternate bullets were loaded into the gun, which was rigged to swallow them and fire a harmless gunpowder charge.

That worked fine until March 23, 1918, when the gun didn’t swallow. A live audience in the Wood Green Empire watched the attendant shoot Soo — who staggered and said, “My God, I’ve been shot” in English. Not only had he faked catching bullets, William Robinson had faked being Chinese for 19 years. He died the next day.

Reading Music

Philadelphia physician Arthur Lintgen can recognize classical phonograph records without hearing them. By studying the spacing and patterns of the grooves, the structure of the vinyl, and the number and length of the movements, he can identify most orchestral music composed since Beethoven’s time.

He’s been tested several times, once in the presence of two musicians from major American orchestras. Lintgen studied each record for 15 to 30 seconds, then correctly named Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Rachmaninoff’s The Bells and Second Symphony, and the Saint-Saëns “Organ” Symphony.

Singing Sand Dunes


Walk on Kazakhstan’s Dune of Altynemel and it will sing. The sound is described as a cross between a roar and a boom; a strong wind can produce the same effect.

Singing sand is found at about 35 sites around the world, including the Eureka Dunes in California, Sand Mountain in Nevada, and the Booming Dunes in the Namib Desert of Africa.

No one’s quite sure how it works. Scientists think it’s a reverberating resonance produced by the sliding of similarly sized grains of sand.

Fair Enough

[Felix Malleolus] relates at large the proceedings instituted against some mosquitoes in the thirteenth century in the Electorate of Mayence, when the judge before whom they were cited granted them, on account of the minuteness of their bodies and their extreme youth, a curator and counsel, who pleaded their cause and obtained for them a piece of land to which they were banished.

— Sabine Baring-Gould, Curiosities of Olden Times, 1896

Poetic License


Sam Loyd tells the story of a feud between two Cincinnati newspapers. One of them, the Star in the West, published the following poem by an anonymous contributor, praising its originality and beauty:


The genial spring once more with chaplets crowned
Has showered her choicest blessings all around.
Each silent valley and each verdant lawn
Enriched with flowers, looks smiling as the dawn
Demure and modest hued the violet grows;
In yonder garden blooms the blushing rose;
To these the lilac adds her fragrant dower
Of perfume cherished by the sun and shower.
Reviving Flora walks the world a queen
Of kingdoms peerless as a fairy scene.
Far o’er the hills, in many a graceful line,
The rainbow blossoms of the orchard shine.
How softly mingled all their tints unite,
Embalm the air and bless the grateful sight!
Sweet voices now are heard on every tree,
The breeze, the bird, the murmur of the bee.
And down the cliff, where rocks oppose in vain,
Runs the clear stream in music of the plain.
In noisy groups, far from their southern home,
Now round the lofty spire the swallows roam;
The fearless robin builds with glossy leaves
Her fragile nest beneath the farmer’s eaves;
Embowered in woods the partridge makes her bed
With silken moss o’er tender osiers spread;
Each happy bird expands his dappled wings,
Soars with his gentle mate and sweetly sings.
The sounds of early husbandry arise
In pleasing murmurs to the pale blue skies;
Shrill floats the ploughman’s whistle while he speeds
Along the yielding earth his patient steeds.
Joyous the life which tills the pregnant soil,
And sweet the profits of the farmer’s toil.
Content, as smiling as an angel face
Keeps peaceful vigil round his dwelling place,
And gentle Hope and Love, forever bright,
Smiling like seraphs in their bowers of light,
Salute his mornings and embalm each night.

His rival sweetly suggested he read the first letter of each line.