“To Celia”

Ping to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pong with mine;
We twain may win the Challenge cup,
If ping with pong combine:
The craze, that in my soul doth rise,
Is doubtless keen in thine;
I’ll take the rôle of pinger up,
If thou’lt be pongstress mine.

A Little Book of Ping-Pong Verse, 1902

The Christmas War

In 1964, Larry Kunkel’s mother gave him a pair of moleskin pants for Christmas. He found that they froze stiff during the Minnesota winters, so the following Christmas he wrapped them up and gave them to his brother-in-law, Roy Collette. Collette returned them to Kunkel the next year, and the pants began oscillating between the two as a yearly joke. This was fun until it escalated:

  • One year Collette twisted the pants into a tight roll and stuffed them into an inch-wide pipe 3 feet long and gave them to Kunkel.
  • Not to be outdone, Kunkel returned them the following year compressed into a 7-inch cube and baled in wire.
  • So Collette gave them back immured in a 2-foot crate full of stones and banded with steel.
  • Collette next had them mounted inside an insulated window with a 20-year guarantee.
  • Kunkel soldered them into a 5-inch coffee can and sealed that in a 5-gallon container filled with concrete and reinforcing rods.
  • Kunkel locked them in a 225-pound homemade steel ashtray made of 8-inch steel casings.
  • Collette returned them welded inside a 600-pound safe decorated with red and green stripes.
  • Kunkel put them in the glove compartment of a 2,000-pound 1974 Gremlin crushed into a 3-foot cube.
  • Collette put them inside a tire 8 feet high and 2 feet wide and filled it with 6,000 pounds of cement.
  • Kunkel hid them inside one of 15 identical concrete-filled canisters, which he loaded into a 17.5-foot rocket ship filled with concrete and weighing 6 tons.
  • Collette put them in a 4-ton Rubik’s cube fashioned from kiln-baked concrete and covered with 2,000 board-feet of lumber.
  • Kunkel put them into a station wagon filled with 170 steel generators welded together.
  • Collette returned them inside a cement-truck tank delivered by a flatbed truck and accompanied by a crane.

Here it ended. In 1989 Collette planned to encase the pants in 10,000 pounds of glass and leave them in Kunkel’s front yard. “It would have been a great one,” Kunkel admitted. “Really messy.” But the insulated container failed during pouring and the molten glass reduced the pants to ashes. They reside today in an urn on Kunkel’s mantel.

Unquote

“If villains understood the advantages of being virtuous, they would turn honest out of villainy.” — Ben Franklin

Storm Surge

Victor Hugo’s 1829 poem Djinns is a syllabic snowball — its lines grow progressively longer, then shorter, to reflect the passing of a storm of demons:

Murs, ville,
Et port,
Asile
De mort,
Mer grise
Où brise
La brise,
Tout dort.

Dans la plaine
Naît un bruit.
C’est l’haleine
De la nuit.
Elle brame
Comme une âme
Qu’une flamme
Toujours suit!

La voix plus haute
Semble un grelot.
D’un nain qui saute
C’est le galop.
Il fuit, s’élance,
Puis en cadence
Sur un pied danse
Au bout d’un flot.

La rumeur approche.
L’écho la redit.
C’est comme la cloche
D’un couvent maudit;
Comme un bruit de foule,
Qui tonne et qui roule,
Et tantôt s’écroule,
Et tantôt grandit,

Dieu! la voix sépulcrale
Des Djinns! … Quel bruit ils font!
Fuyons sous la spirale
De l’escalier profond.
Déjà s’éteint ma lampe,
Et l’ombre de la rampe,
Qui le long du mur rampe,
Monte jusqu’au plafond.

C’est l’essaim des Djinns qui passe,
Et tourbillonne en sifflant!
Les ifs, que leur vol fracasse,
Craquent comme un pin brûlant.
Leur troupeau, lourd et rapide,
Volant dans l’espace vide,
Semble un nuage livide
Qui porte un éclair au flanc.

Ils sont tout près! – Tenons fermée
Cette salle, où nous les narguons.
Quel bruit dehors! Hideuse armée
De vampires et de dragons!
La poutre du toit descellée
Ploie ainsi qu’une herbe mouillée,
Et la vieille porte rouillée
Tremble, à déraciner ses gonds!

Cris de l’enfer! voix qui hurle et qui pleure!
L’horrible essaim, poussé par l’aquilon,
Sans doute, ô ciel! s’abat sur ma demeure.
Le mur fléchit sous le noir bataillon.
La maison crie et chancelle penchée,
Et l’on dirait que, du sol arrachée,
Ainsi qu’il chasse une feuille séchée,
Le vent la roule avec leur tourbillon!

Prophète! si ta main me sauve
De ces impurs démons des soirs,
J’irai prosterner mon front chauve
Devant tes sacrés encensoirs!
Fais que sur ces portes fidèles
Meure leur souffle d’étincelles,
Et qu’en vain l’ongle de leurs ailes
Grince et crie à ces vitraux noirs!

Ils sont passés! – Leur cohorte
S’envole, et fuit, et leurs pieds
Cessent de battre ma porte
De leurs coups multipliés.
L’air est plein d’un bruit de chaînes,
Et dans les forêts prochaines
Frissonnent tous les grands chênes,
Sous leur vol de feu pliés!

De leurs ailes lointaines
Le battement décroît,
Si confus dans les plaines,
Si faible, que l’on croit
Ouïr la sauterelle
Crier d’une voix grêle,
Ou pétiller la grêle
Sur le plomb d’un vieux toit.

D’étranges syllabes
Nous viennent encor;
Ainsi, des arabes
Quand sonne le cor,
Un chant sur la grève
Par instants s’élève,
Et l’enfant qui rêve
Fait des rêves d’or.

Les Djinns funèbres,
Fils du trépas,
Dans les ténèbres
Pressent leurs pas;
Leur essaim gronde:
Ainsi, profonde,
Murmure une onde
Qu’on ne voit pas.

Ce bruit vague
Qui s’endort,
C’est la vague
Sur le bord;
C’est la plainte,
Presque éteinte,
D’une sainte
Pour un mort.

On doute
La nuit …
J’écoute: –
Tout fuit,
Tout passe
L’espace
Efface
Le bruit.

On Time

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Calatrava1.jpg

Japanese puzzle maven Kobon Fujimura devised this mind-reading trick. Ask a friend to look at his analog watch and mentally choose one of the hour numbers. Tell him, “I’m going to point to various numbers on the face of your watch with a pencil. As I do so, count silently, starting with the number after the one you’ve chosen. For example, if you’ve chosen 7, start counting with 8. When we reach 20, say, ‘Stop.'”

Point to any seven numbers at random, pretending to concentrate deeply. Then point to 12, then 11, 10, and so on counterclockwise around the dial. When your friend tells you to stop, you’ll be pointing to the number he had chosen.

Gold Nuggets

The first 10 digits of the golden ratio φ can be rearranged to give the first 10 digits of 1/π:

φ = 1.618033988 …

1/π = .3183098861 …

And the first nine digits of 1/φ can be rearranged to give the first 9 digits of 1/π:

1/φ = .618033988 …

1/π = .318309886 …

In 1983 amateur mathematician George Odom discovered that if points A and B are the midpoints of sides EF and DE of an equilateral triangle, and line AB meets the circumscribing circle at C, then AB/BC = AC/AB = φ. Odom used this fact to construct a pentagon, which H.S.M. Coxeter published in the American Mathematical Monthly with the single word “Behold!”

Moving Drama

In May 1869, Lewis Carroll and 13-year-old Isabel Seymour traveled together by train from Oxford to Reading, where they parted, he to go on to Guildford and she to Paddington, London. After they had separated, he realized that he had forgotten to give her her ticket. He wrote to her:

My dear Isabel,

I was so sorry to hear from Miss Lloyd of your not being well, and I hope you will not think of writing to me about ‘Alice’ till you are well enough to do so. I only write this on the chance of your being in the humour to read it, or to have it read to you. When you are in that state, I should like you to know the real reason of my having carried off your railway-ticket. … Well, you told me, you know, that it was your first railway-journey alone: naturally that set me thinking, ‘Now what can I do to give her a really exciting adventure?’

Now three plans occurred to me. The first was to wait till the train had started from Reading, and then fire a pistol through your carriage-window, so that the bullet might go near your head and startle you a little. But there were two objections to this plan — one, that I hadn’t got a loaded pistol with me, the other, that the bullet might have gone in at a wrong window, and some people are so stupid, they might not have taken it as a joke.

The second plan was to give you, just as the train left Reading, what should look like a Banbury-cake, but should afterwards turn out to be a rattlesnake. The only objection to this plan was, that they didn’t keep that kind at Reading. They had only common Banbury-cakes, which wouldn’t have done at all.

The third plan was to keep the ticket, so that you might be alarmed when you got to London. Of course I arranged thoroughly with the Guard that the thing was not to be overdone. He was to look a little stern at first, and then gradually to let his expressive features kindle into a smile of benevolence. I was very particular on this point and almost my last words to him were, ‘Are you sure you can manage the benevolence?’ and I made him practice it several times on the platform before I would let him go.

Now you know my whole plan for making your journey a real Adventure. I only hope it succeeded. So, hoping much to hear you are better again, I remain very truly yours,

C.L. Dodgson

Tale Types

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Benjamin_West_King_Lear_Act_III_scene_4.jpg

In 1916, after extensive study, French writer Georges Polti announced that all the stories in classical and modern literature could be reduced to 36 essential situations:

  1. Supplication. The Persecutor accuses the Suppliant of wrongdoing, and the Power makes a judgment against the Suppliant.
  2. Deliverance. The Unfortunate has caused a conflict, and the Threatener is to carry out justice, but the Rescuer saves the Unfortunate.
  3. Crime pursued by vengeance. The Criminal commits a crime that will not see justice, so the Avenger seeks justice by punishing the Criminal.
  4. Vengeance taken for kin upon kin. Two entities, the Guilty and the Avenging Kinsmen, are put into conflict over wrongdoing to the Victim, who is allied to both.
  5. Pursuit. The Fugitive flees Punishment for a misunderstood conflict.
  6. Disaster. The Power falls from their place after being defeated by the Victorious Enemy or being informed of such a defeat by the Messenger.
  7. Falling prey to cruelty/misfortune. The Unfortunate suffers from Misfortune and/or at the hands of the Master.
  8. Revolt. The Tyrant, a cruel power, is plotted against by the Conspirator.
  9. Daring enterprise. The Bold Leader takes the Object from the Adversary by overpowering the Adversary.
  10. Abduction. The Abductor takes the Abducted from the Guardian.
  11. The enigma. The Interrogator poses a Problem to the Seeker and gives a Seeker better ability to reach the Seeker’s goals.
  12. Obtaining. The Solicitor is at odds with the Adversary who refuses to give the Solicitor what they Object in the possession of the Adversary, or an Arbitrator decides who gets the Object desired by Opposing Parties (the Solicitor and the Adversary).
  13. Enmity of kin. The Malevolent Kinsman and the Hated or a second Malevolent Kinsman conspire together.
  14. Rivalry of kin. The Object of Rivalry chooses the Preferred Kinsman over the Rejected Kinsman.
  15. Murderous adultery. Two Adulterers conspire to kill the Betrayed Spouse.
  16. Madness. The Madman goes insane and wrongs the Victim.
  17. Fatal imprudence. The Imprudent, by neglect or ignorance, loses the Object Lost or wrongs the Victim.
  18. Involuntary crimes of love. The Revealer betrays the trust of either the Lover or the Beloved.
  19. Slaying of kin unrecognized. The Slayer kills the Unrecognized Victim.
  20. Self-sacrifice for an ideal. The Hero sacrifices the Person or Thing for their Ideal, which is then taken by the Creditor.
  21. Self-sacrifice for kin. The Hero sacrifices a Person or Thing for their Kinsman, which is then taken by the Creditor.
  22. All sacrificed for passion. A Lover sacrifices a Person or Thing for the Object of their Passion, which is then lost forever.
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones. The Hero wrongs the Beloved Victim because of the Necessity for their Sacrifice.
  24. Rivalry of superior vs. inferior. A Superior Rival bests an Inferior Rival and wins the Object of Rivalry.
  25. Adultery. Two Adulterers conspire against the Deceived Spouse.
  26. Crimes of love. A Lover and the Beloved enter a conflict.
  27. Discovery of the dishonour of a loved one. The Discoverer discovers the wrongdoing committed by the Guilty One.
  28. Obstacles to love. Two Lovers face an Obstacle together.
  29. An enemy loved. The allied Lover and Hater have diametrically opposed attitudes towards the Beloved Enemy.
  30. Ambition. The Ambitious Person seeks the Thing Coveted and is opposed by the Adversary.
  31. Conflict with a god. The Mortal and the Immortal enter a conflict.
  32. Mistaken jealousy. The Jealous One falls victim to the Cause or the Author of the Mistake and becomes jealous of the Object and becomes conflicted with the Supposed Accomplice.
  33. Erroneous judgment. The Mistaken One falls victim to the Cause of the Author of the Mistake and passes judgment against the Victim of the Mistake when it should be passed against the Guilty One instead.
  34. Remorse. The Culprit wrongs the Victim or commits the Sin, and is at odds with the Interrogator who seeks to understand the situation.
  35. Recovery of a lost one. The Seeker finds the One Found.
  36. Loss of loved ones. The killing of the Kinsman Slain by the Executioner is witnessed by the Kinsman Spectator.

For example, the Sherlock Holmes stories are an example of situation 3; Madame Bovary of situation 25; Romeo and Juliet of situation 29; and Crime and Punishment of situation 34. (The full text is here.) Correspondingly, he claimed, in life there are only 36 emotions, whose “unceasing ebb and flow … fills human history like the tides of the sea.”

Though he found that 36 categories were enough “to distribute fitly among them the innumerable dramas awaiting classification,” Polti felt that his system shouldn’t inhibit the creativity of future writers. “Any writer may have here a starting-point for observation and creation, outside the world of paper and print, a starting-point personal to himself.”

The Bellamy Salute

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute.jpg

When minister Francis Bellamy published the American Pledge of Allegiance in Youth’s Companion in 1892, his colleague James Upham devised a salute to go along with it, snapping the heels together and extending the right arm toward the flag:

At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.’ At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

This worked fine until the 1920s, when Italian fascists and then German Nazis adopted similar salutes. Congress delicately changed the American salute to the hand-on-heart gesture in 1942.

Black and White

larsen chess problem

By Peder Andreas Larsen. White to mate in two moves.

(I’ve added a guide to chess notation.)

Click for Answer