Johann Beringer

The trouble with arrogance is that you never know when to turn it off. By all accounts Johann Beringer was insufferable, so two of his colleagues on the University of Würtzburg faculty of medicine decided to teach him a lesson.

They carved lizards, frogs, and spiders from limestone, inscribed them with the Hebrew name of God, and planted them on Mount Eibelstadt, where Beringer frequently went to find fossils.

It worked — and, like Drake’s Plate of Brass, it worked a little too well. Beringer found the figures, took them seriously, and, to his colleagues’ horror, actually published a book about them. When critics pointed out visible chisel marks, he claimed they’d been left by the hand of God. When the hoaxers tried to talk him out of it, he sued them as “a pair of antagonists who tried to discredit the stones.”

When the truth came out, it ruined them all, haunting Beringer most of all. Legend tells that actually he went bankrupt trying to buy up all the books, and there was a final irony. He died in 1740 — and a second printing of his book was produced in 1767.


“From today painting is dead.” — Portraitist Paul Delaroche, on seeing an exhibition of daguerrotypes, 1839

Puzzling Brothers

Tom and Dick were born on the same day of the same year to same mother and father. They look almost exactly alike, yet they are not twins. How can this be?

Click for Answer

Say Good Night

Gracie Allen: On my way in, a man stopped me at the stage door and said, “Hiya, cutie, how about a bite tonight after the show?”

George Burns: And you said?

Gracie Allen: I said, “I’ll be busy after the show, but I’m not doing anything right now.” So I bit him.

“All I had to do was say, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?’ and she talked for 38 years,” Burns once remembered. “And sometimes I didn’t even have to remember to say, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother?’”


Ground zero after the first test of a nuclear weapon, July 16, 1945. Observers set up betting pools on the outcome, including these possibilities:

  • It would be a dud
  • It would destroy the state of New Mexico
  • It would ignite the atmosphere and incinerate the planet

Physicist I.I. Rabi won — he predicted a blast equivalent to 18 kilotons of TNT.

All Clear

Lloyd’s of London does not charge higher insurance rates for ships passing through the Bermuda Triangle. It says the area is no more dangerous than any other high-traffic piece of ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard agrees.

“Cover With the Moon”

Hobo lingo:

  • accommodation car – the caboose of a train
  • angelina – young inexperienced kid
  • banjo – a small portable frying pan
  • bindle stick – collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and tied around a stick
  • bone polisher – a mean dog
  • bull – a railroad officer
  • cannonball – a fast train
  • catch the westbound – to die
  • chuck a dummy – pretend to faint
  • cow crate – a railroad stock car
  • crums – lice
  • doggin’ it – traveling by bus
  • hot shot – a train with priority freight
  • jungle – an area near a railroad in which hoboes camp and congregate
  • knowledge bus – a schoolbus used for shelter
  • road kid – a young hobo who apprentices himself to an older hobo in order to learn the ways of the road
  • rum dum – a drunkard
  • soup bowl- a palce to get soup, bread and drinks
  • yegg – a traveling professional thief

Some Secrets Last Forever

This conical tower, part of the Great Zimbabwe ruins of sub-Saharan Africa, has stood for a thousand years, and we may never learn what lies inside: The tower is 30 feet tall and has no windows or doors.

In a Word

adj. disfigured by weeping

Much Ado About Nothing

You can fool some of the people all of the time.

Perhaps inspired by Thomas Chatterton, the teenage Samuel William Henry Ireland (1777-1835) “found” an old deed with Shakespeare’s signature.

His father, a collector, was overjoyed, so Ireland went on finding more Shakespeareana — a promissory note, a declaration of Protestant faith, letters to Anne Hathaway and to Queen Elizabeth, books with notes in the margins and “original” manuscripts for Hamlet and King Lear.

Amazingly, these were all authenticated by experts of the day. Ireland wasn’t caught until at age 18 he wrote an entire “lost” play, which was mounted at Drury Lane Theatre. As a playwright, he couldn’t match the Bard, and Vortigern and Rowena closed after a single performance on April 2, 1796.

Sadly, his father took the blame, as no one could believe such a young man could pull off such a forgery. His son fled to France and died in obscurity.