The Tsavo Man-Eaters

If you wanted a sucky job in 1898, you couldn’t do much worse than the Tsavo River project in Kenya. The work crew was assembled to build a railway bridge, but it quickly turned into a lion smorgasbord.

Men were regularly dragged out of their tents at night and devoured. The predators evaded traps, ambushes and even thorn fences, but after 10 months engineer John Henry Patterson managed to kill these two enormous maneless lions. By that time they had killed nearly 140 men between them.

And why? Apparently the flesh of railroad workers has a particular savor. The pair had got a taste for it in raiding shallow graves; when they ran out of graves they started going after live game.

In a Word

a fight or quarrel between priests

August Reading

A capitonym is a word that changes meaning when it’s capitalized:

A herb store owner, name of Herb,
Moved to a rainier Mount Rainier.
It would have been so nice in Nice,
And even tangier in Tangier.

Lluvia de Peces

In the Honduran province of Yoro, it rains fish. Each year between May and July there’s a heavy rainstorm that leaves hundreds of live fish on the ground, which local villagers cook and eat.

No one knows how this happens, but it’s been going on for more than a century. One town has even started an annual festival.


An isogram is a word in which no letter is repeated:


Theoretically the limit is 26 letters, but that’s an Everest that no one has scaled. Dmitri Borgmann has conquered some lesser peaks with THUMBSCREW-JAPINGLY (18 letters, “as if mocking a thumbscrew”) and PUBVEXINGFJORD-SCHMALTZY (23 letters, “as if in the manner of the extreme sentimentalism generated in some individuals by the sight of a majestic fjord, which sentimentalism is annoying to the clientele of an English inn”). Maybe what we lack is imagination.

Great Expectations

Orville Wright over Huffman Prairie, Ohio, Nov. 16, 1904.

Humans advanced from Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years.

Quite a Pension

Top 10 longest-lived U.S. presidents:

  1. Ronald Reagan: 93 years, 120 days
  2. Gerald Ford: (still living, age 93)
  3. John Adams: 90 years, 247 days
  4. Herbert Hoover: 90 years, 71 days
  5. Harry Truman: 88 years, 232 days
  6. James Madison: 85 years, 104 days
  7. Thomas Jefferson: 83 years, 82 days
  8. George H.W. Bush: (still living, age 82)
  9. Jimmy Carter: (still living, age 81)
  10. Richard Nixon: 81 years, 103 days

If Ford is still alive on Nov. 12 this year, he’ll take the record.

Rechtub Klat

It’s not only 007 who communicates in code. Butchers in Australia speak a secret language called Rechtub Klat (“butcher talk”), in which words are pronounced backward.

Why should butchers need a secret language? So they can talk about the customers:

  • Kool, toh lrig = Look, hot girl
  • Doog tsub = Good bust
  • Doog esra = Good arse
  • On doog cuf ecaf = No-good fuckface

Keep your ears open.

Airmail Before Airplanes

The world’s first airmail stamps were issued for the Great Barrier Pigeon-Gram Service, which carried messages from New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island to the mainland between 1898 and 1908.

It was pretty good: The fastest pigeon, aptly named Velocity, made the trip to Auckland in only 50 minutes, averaging an astounding 125 kph. That’s only 40 per cent slower than modern aircraft.

Just So You Know

Snuffleupagus’ grandmother lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.