Oral Exam


Math prodigy George Bidder was born to a Devonshire stonemason in 1806. In a public appearance at age 11, he answered each of these questions in less than a minute:

  • What is the cube root of 673,373,097,125? “Answer, 8,765.”
  • If a mouse can draw one ounce and a half, how many mice can draw 50,000 tons? “Answer, 1,194,666,666, and one ounce over.”
  • If a coach travels from Exeter to Plymouth, 44 miles, every day in a year, how often does a wheel turn round that is 2 feet 9 inches? “Answer, 30,835,200.”
  • If a fan of a windmill goes round 15 times in a minute, how many times will it go round in 7 years, 4 months, 1 week, 2 hours, 3 minutes — 365 days 6 hours to the year, and 28 days to the month? “Answer, 57,897,245.”
  • If the ministers have taken of the income tax 12 millions of money in 1-pound notes, how many miles would they cover a road 30 feet wide, each note being 8 inches by 4 and a half? “He directly answered, 18 miles, 1,653 yards, and one foot.”
  • Suppose the earth to consist of 971 million of inhabitants, and suppose they die in 33 years and four months, how many have returned to dust since the time of Adam, computing it to be 5,850 years? “Answer, 170,410,500,000.” Multiply it again by 99. “Answer, 16,870,639,500,000.”

(Reported in Kirby’s Wonderful and Scientific Museum, 1820)


“There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum.” — Arthur C. Clarke

“Monkeys Demanding Their Dead”

Mr. Forbes tells a story of a female monkey (the Semnopithecus Entellus) who was shot by a friend of his, and carried to his tent. Forty or fifty of her tribe advanced with menacing gestures, but stood still when the gentleman presented his gun at them. One, however, who appeared to be the chief of the tribe, came forward, chattering and threatening in a furious manner. Nothing short of firing at him seemed likely to drive him away; but at length he approached the tent door with every sign of grief and supplication, as if he were begging for the body. It was given to him, he took it in his arms, carried it away, with actions expressive of affection, to his companions, and with them disappeared. It was not to be wondered at that the sportsman vowed never to shoot another monkey.

— Edmund Fillingham King, Ten Thousand Wonderful Things, 1860

A Chilly Reception

Once exclusive to Europe, the ice hotel jumped to Quebec City in 2000. With 22 beds, this Canadian establishment is smaller than its Swedish cousin, but it does have room for two art galleries, a bar, a movie theater and a chapel. Room service serves cold cuts on ice plates.

Oh Well


“That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.” — Scientific American, Jan. 2, 1909

Ghost Ship

When the Swedish cargo steamer Baychimo became trapped in pack ice in 1931, the crew abandoned her and assumed that she sank in a subsequent blizzard. So they were surprised to hear that a local seal hunter had spotted her 45 miles away. They found the ship and retrieved the most valuable cargo, but still she did not sink. In fact, the Baychimo would be sighted numerous times throughout the next 38 years, most recently in the Beaufort Sea in 1969. For all anyone knows, she’s still up there.

The Rich Are Different

In March 2004, 35-year-old Alice Regina Pike entered a Wal-Mart in Covington, Ga., gathered $1,671.55 in goods, and paid with a $1,000,000 bill.

The clerk called her manager, and Pike was arrested for forgery. She told the sheriff that her husband had given her the bill, but police found two more of them in her purse.



Sorry about the photo. It’s a dog’s head, kept alive in the 1940s by an experimental Soviet device called an autojector, which pumped oxygenated blood through it. Reportedly this kept the head alive for hours — it would cock its ears at sounds and lick its chops when citric acid was smeared on them.

That ain’t all. If you believe the 1940 film Experiments in the Revival of Organisms, Soviet scientist Sergei S. Bryukhonenko drained the blood from a dog until it reached clinical death, left it in that state for 15 minutes, then connected it to the autojector. In the film, the heart and lungs resume functioning, and 12 hours later the dog is reported to be on its feet, barking and wagging its tail.

Is all this for real? The film’s authenticity is debated — some say it may show re-enactments rather than authentic experiments — but the research itself was well documented, leading eventually to modern heart-lung machines and a posthumous Lenin Prize for Bryukhonenko.

In a Word

v. to cover with excrement

A Pyramid of Palindromes

12 = 1
112 = 121
1112 = 12321
11112 = 1234321
111112 = 123454321
1111112 = 12345654321
11111112 = 1234567654321
111111112 = 123456787654321
1111111112 = 12345678987654321