The Sentinelese

The Stone Age isn’t quite over — not everywhere. On North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal lives a tribe of about 250 people, the Sentinelese, who have remained so hostile to contact with outsiders that their society is almost entirely free of modern influences.

They have no agriculture, subsisting through hunting, fishing and gathering plants. It’s not even clear whether they can produce fire without an external source like lightning.

The Indian government has made overtures by leaving gifts, but the warlike Sentinelese drove them off. Earlier this year, Sentinelese archers killed two fishermen who came too close to the island. Their bodies still haven’t been recovered — even a helicopter sent to retrieve them was driven off by arrows.


Older than the pyramids, Ireland’s Newgrange lay lost for millennia until workers uncovered it while looking for building stone in the late 1600s.

No one knows who built it or why, but each year at the winter solstice the sun shines directly along a special passage into a chamber at its heart.

Oscar Wilde wrote, “The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.”

Hotel Puzzle

Three men stop at a hotel and agree to share a room for $30. Each gives the desk clerk $10.

Later, the clerk realizes he’s overcharged them for the room by $5. He gives the bellboy five $1 bills and tells him to return the money to the three men. The unscrupulous bellboy keeps $2 for himself and gives $1 to each of the three men.

So the men paid $9 each for the room, for a total of $27. The bellboy has $2. What happened to the other dollar?

Click for Answer

The Valentich Disappearance

On Oct. 21, 1978, 20-year-old Frederick Valentich was piloting a Cessna 182 airplane off King Island, Australia. About 45 minutes after taking off, he radioed air traffic control to report a large aircraft with four lights at about his altitude.

He said the craft had passed about 1,000 feet above him at very high speed. He described it as “a long shape” with “a green light” and said it was “metallic,” as though it were “shiny all over.”

“It seems to me that he’s playing some sort of game,” he said. “He’s flying over me two … three times at speeds I could not identify.” He reported that the object “vanished,” then said it was approaching again from the southwest.

A few minutes later he said, “Melbourne, that strange aircraft is hovering on top of me again. … It is hovering, and it’s not an aircraft.” Valentich’s radio microphone stayed open for another 17 seconds, during which air traffic controller Steve Robey heard “metallic scraping sounds” before the signal died.

No trace of Valentich or his plane was ever found.

Sator Square

Found in the ruins of Pompeii, the Latin inscription SATOR AREPO TENET OPERA ROTAS (“The sower Arepo holds the wheels with effort”) may be the most symmetrical sentence ever composed. If it’s written conventionally, it’s a palindrome, reading the same forward and backward. And if it’s written into a square:

… it reads the same left to right, top to bottom, right to left, or bottom to top.

Point Nemo

If you want to be really, really alone, head for 48°52.6’S 123°23.6’W in the South Pacific Ocean. That’s “Point Nemo,” the point in the ocean farthest from any land. You’ll be in the middle of 22,405,411 square kilometers of ocean, an area larger than the entire former Soviet Union.

The point on land farthest from any ocean is at 46°16.8’N 86°40.2’E, outside the Chinese city of Urumqi, in the Dzoosotoyn Elisen Desert. It’s 1,645 miles from the nearest coastline.

A Verbal Palindrome

Most palindromes are spelled symmetrically, so their letters produce the same phrase whether read backward or forward:

Able was I ere I saw Elba.

But it’s also possible to do this at the level of words, as in this example:

You can cage a swallow, can’t you, but you can’t swallow a cage, can you?

When this is read backward, word by word, it produces the same sentence as when read forward. And it’s true!

Welcome to America

Here’s a symbol of American unity: the driving of the “golden spike” to complete the world’s first transcontinental railroad, Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, American unity is kind of a relative thing. The Central Pacific’s Chinese laborers were specifically excluded from the festivities. Most had received between one and three dollars a day.


“One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough.” — James Thurber

“The Beech Tree. — A Nonconductor of Lightning.”

Dr. Beeton, in a letter to Dr. Mitchill of New York, dated 19th of July, 1824, states, that the beech tree (that is, the broad leaved or American variety of Fagus sylvatiea,) is never known to be assailed by atmospheric electricity. So notorious, he says, is this fact, that in Tennessee, it is considered almost an impossibility to be struck by lightning, if protection be sought under the branches of a beech tree. Whenever the sky puts on a threatening aspect, and the thunder begins to roll, the Indians leave their pursuit, and betake themselves to the shelter of the nearest beech tree, till the storm pass over; observation having taught these sagacious children of nature, that, while other trees are often shivered to splinters, the electric fluid is not attracted by the beech. Should farther observation establish the fact of the non-conducting quality of the American beech, great advantage may evidently be derived from planting hedge rows of such trees around the extensive barn yards in which cattle are kept, and also in disposing groups and single trees in ornamental plantations in the neighbourhood of the dwelling houses of the owners.

New Monthly Magazine, quoted in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, July 14, 1827