Chartres Labyrinth

Medieval worshipers who followed the labyrinth in France’s Chartres Cathedral had a surprisingly long ordeal — the path to the center is 150 meters long. Penitents sometimes walked it on their knees.

In a Word

batology
n. the study of brambles

The Chaocipher

Somewhere, J.F. Byrne is laughing at all of us.

A friend of James Joyce (he was the basis for Cranley in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Byrne announced in 1918 that he had devised a simple and unbreakable code system, called the “Chaocipher,” that would fit into a cigar box:

I had, and still have in mind, the universal use of my machine and method by husband, wife, or lover. My machine would be on hire, as typewriter machines now are, in hotels, steamships, and, maybe even on trains and airlines, available for anyone anywhere and at any time. And I believe, too, the time will come — and come soon — when my system will be used in the publication of pamphlets and books written in cipher which will be unreadable except by those who are specially initiated.

Unfortunately, no one was interested. The U.S. Signal Corps, the State Department, the Department of the Navy, AT&T — all turned him down.

Finally, Byrne published a lengthy coded message in his autobiography, offering $5,000 to anyone who could decipher it. A few years later, he quietly died, taking the secret with him.

The cipher has never been solved.

01/29/2014 UPDATE: In 2010 Byrne’s family donated his papers to the National Cryptological Museum, so the algorithm is now known. (Thanks, Peter.)

Great Serpent Mound

Created by Native Americans at least 1,000 years ago, Ohio’s Serpent Mound is a double mystery.

First, while there are several burial mounds nearby, the serpent itself doesn’t contain any human remains. It’s just a giant earthen snake, 1,330 feet long.

Second, the site on which it’s built shows faulted and folded bedrock, meaning that a huge cataclysm, a meteorite or a volcanic explosion, happened here in the ancient past.

Is that why the serpent was built there? We may never know.

Ozzy’s Top 10

Ozzy Osbourne’s all-time top 10 favorite rock albums, as told to the British newspaper The Observer in June 2004:

  1. Revolver – The Beatles
  2. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – The Beatles
  3. Band on the Run – Paul McCartney & Wings
  4. So – Peter Gabriel
  5. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
  6. Abbey Road – The Beatles
  7. Imagine – John Lennon
  8. Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads
  9. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin
  10. Machine Head – Deep Purple

The Mars Effect

When French psychologist Michel Gauquelin set out to determine whether astrology was valid, he found a curious anomaly.

His analysis showed that sports champions are more likely to be born when Mars is in the fourth quadrant. Examples include Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods and Venus Williams.

It’s called “the Mars effect.”

Pluck O’ the Irish

An Irishman, an Englishman, and a Scotsman are out walking when they capture a leprechaun. It agrees to give each of them one wish.

The Scot says, “My grandfather was a fisherman, my father’s a fisherman, I’m a fisherman, and my son will be a fisherman. I want the oceans full of fish for all eternity.” The leprechaun winks and instantly the oceans are teeming with fish.

Amazed, the Englishman says, “All right. I want a wall around England, protecting her, so that no one will get in for all eternity.”

Again the leprechaun winks, and suddenly there’s a huge wall around England.

The Irishman says, “I’m curious — please tell me more about this wall.”

“Well,” says the leprechaun, “it’s 150 feet high and 50 feet thick, protecting England so that nothing can get in or out.”

The Irishman says, “Fill it up with water.”

Seeing Double

“Dear Abby” and Ann Landers were identical twins.

They even had a joint wedding ceremony in 1939.

Caveat Emptor

French forger Vrain Denis-Lucas must have had a golden touch. His customers bought “manuscripts” from all of the following authors:

  • Robert Boyle
  • Isaac Newton
  • Blaise Pascal
  • Cleopatra
  • Judas Iscariot
  • Pontius Pilate
  • Joan of Arc
  • Cicero
  • Dante Alighieri

… even though all of them were written in contemporary French. All told, Denis-Lucas sold 27,000 manuscripts before the French Academy of Science realized something was wrong. He spent two years in prison and then disappeared.

“Guillotine”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Guillotine.jpeg

Account of an execution by guillotine, recorded in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, July 7, 1827:

Arrived near the fatal machine, the unhappy man stepped out of the vehicle, knelt at the feet of his confessor, received the priestly benediction, kissed some individuals who accompanied him, and was hurried by the officers of justice up the steps of the cube-form structure of wood, painted of a blood-red, on which stood the dreadful apparatus of death.

To reach the top of the platform, to be fast bound to a board, to be placed horizontally under the axe, and deprived of life by its unerring blow, was, in the case of this miserable offender, the work literally of a moment. It was indeed an awfully sudden transit from time to eternity. He could only cry out, ‘Adieu, mes amis,’ and he was gone. The severed head, passing through a red-coloured bag fixed under, fell to the ground-the blood spouted forth from the neck like water from a fountain-the body, lifted up without delay, was flung down through a trap-door in the platform.

Never did capital punishment more quickly take effect on a human being; and whilst the executioner was coolly taking out the axe from the groove of the machine, and placing it, covered as it was with gore, in a box, the remains of the culprit, deposited in a shell, were hoisted into a wagon, and conveyed to the prison. In twenty minutes all was over, and the Grande Place nearly cleared of its thousands, on whom the dreadful scene seemed to have made, as usual, the slightest possible impression.