Almost Home

A drunk man arrives at his doorstep and tries to unlock his door. There are 10 keys on his key ring, one of which will fit the lock. Being drunk, he doesn’t approach the problem systematically; if a given key fails to work, he returns it to the ring and then draws again from all 10 possibilities. He tries this over and over until he gets the door open. Which try is most likely to open the door?

Surprisingly, the first try is most likely. The probability of choosing the right key on the first try is 1/10. Succeeding in exactly two trials requires being wrong on the first trial and right on the second, which is less likely: 9/10 × 1/10. And succeeding in exactly three trials is even less likely, for the same reason. The probability diminishes with each trial.

“In other words, it is most likely that he will get the right key at the very first attempt, even if he is drunk,” writes Mark Chang in Paradoxology of Scientific Inference. “What a surprise!”

Black and White

ramsey chess problem

By Robert Henry Ramsey. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Private Exit

Elbert Hubbard died on the Lusitania. Ernest Cowper, a survivor of the sinking, described the writer’s last moments in a letter to Hubbard’s son the following year:

I can not say specifically where your father and Mrs. Hubbard were when the torpedoes hit, but I can tell you just what happened after that. They emerged from their room, which was on the port side of the vessel, and came on to the boat-deck.

Neither appeared perturbed in the least. Your father and Mrs. Hubbard linked arms — the fashion in which they always walked the deck — and stood apparently wondering what to do. I passed him with a baby which I was taking to a lifeboat when he said, ‘Well, Jack, they have got us. They are a damn sight worse than I ever thought they were.’

They did not move very far away from where they originally stood. As I moved to the other side of the ship, in preparation for a jump when the right moment came, I called to him, ‘What are you going to do?’ and he just shook his head, while Mrs. Hubbard smiled and said, ‘There does not seem to be anything to do.’

The expression seemed to produce action on the part of your father, for then he did one of the most dramatic things I ever saw done. He simply turned with Mrs. Hubbard and entered a room on the top deck, the door of which was open, and closed it behind him.

It was apparent that his idea was that they should die together, and not risk being parted on going into the water.

Typecast

In Platoon, Willem Dafoe plays Sgt. Elias, who complains about having to take inexperienced men on patrol.

One of the men says, “Guy’s in three years and he thinks he’s Jesus fucking Christ or something.”

Two years later, Dafoe played the lead in The Last Temptation of Christ.

In a Word

ruelle
n. the space between a bed and the wall

“A Tragic Story”

There lived a sage in days of yore,
And he a handsome pigtail wore;
But wondered much and sorrowed more,
Because it hung behind him.

He mused upon this curious case,
And swore he’d change the pigtail’s place,
And have it hanging at his face,
Not dangling there behind him.

Says he, “The mystery I’ve found!
I’ll turn me round,” — he turned him round;
But still it hung behind him.

Then round and round, and out and in,
All day the puzzled sage did spin;
In vain — it mattered not a pin –
The pigtail hung behind him.

And right and left and round about,
And up and down and in and out
He turned; but still the pigtail stout
Hung steadily behind him.

And though his efforts never slack,
And though he twist and twirl, and tack,
Alas! Still faithful to his back,
The pigtail hangs behind him.

– Thackeray

A New Collectible

In 1961 Italian artist Piero Manzoni offered art buyers 90 tins of his own excrement, signed and numbered, each sold by weight at gold’s daily market price.

That would have been a good investment. A tin that would have cost $37 in 1961 was auctioned by Sotheby’s for $67,000 in 1991 — outperforming gold more than seventyfold.

Happy Landings

https://www.google.com/patents/US4825469

Dan Kincheloe patented this “motorcycle safety apparel” in 1989. The rider wears an inflatable suit that’s connected by an umbilical cord to a container of compressed or liquefied gas. A much shorter pull cord connects the rider to the container’s valve. When the rider leaves the bike in a crash, the pull cord opens the valve and (hopefully) the gas inflates the suit before the umbilical cord separates.

“Thus it may seen that the jacket … expands upon separation of the rider from the motorcycle to essentially encase the rider within a protective cocoon to protect the rider from abrasion, to hold the body in a substantially rigid form, to minimize back and leg injury, to provide an air bag leg cushion around the body, to cushion impacts with hard objects and to grossly augment the protection provided by any other more conventional protective device worn by the rider such as gloves, helmet and boots.”

Nota Bene

In 1937 Wolcott Gibbs drew up a list of 31 rules for new fiction editors at the New Yorker. “The average contributor to this magazine is semi-literate,” he wrote. “That is, he is ornate to no purpose, full of senseless and elegant variations, and can be relied on to use three sentences where a word would do.” Some of his rules:

1. “Writers always use too damn many adverbs. On one page, recently, I found eleven modifying the verb ‘said’: ‘He said morosely, violently, eloquently,’ and so on. Editorial theory should probably be that a writer who can’t make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work. Anyway, it is impossible for a character to go through all these emotional states one after the other. Lon Chaney might be able to do it, but he is dead.”

2. “Word ‘said’ is O.K. Efforts to avoid repetition by inserting ‘grunted,’ ‘snorted,’ etc., are waste motion, and offend the pure in heart.”

3. “Our writers are full of clichés, just as old barns are full of bats. There is obviously no rule about this, except that anything that you suspect of being a cliché undoubtedly is one, and had better be removed.”

12. “[Style editor Hobie] Weekes said the other night, in a moment of desperation, that he didn’t believe he could stand any more triple adjectives. ‘A tall, florid and overbearing man called Jaeckel.’ Sometimes they’re necessary, but when every noun has three adjectives connected with it, Mr. Weekes suffers and quite rightly.”

20. “The more ‘as a matter of facts,’ ‘howevers,’ ‘for instances,’ etc., you can cut out, the nearer you are to the Kingdom of Heaven.”

“I would be delighted to go over the list of writers, explaining the peculiarities of each as they have appeared to me in more than ten years of exasperation on both sides,” he wrote. “By going over the list, I can give a general idea of how much nonsense each artist will stand for.”

Fitting

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tablecloth_2009.jpg

South Africa’s Table Mountain is sometimes overspread with a tablecloth of cloud.

William Webster, surgeon of the British sloop Chanticleer, described the phenomenon in 1834:

When a south-east wind, passing over the southern shores of the Cape, prevails sufficiently to surmount the Table Mountain, the first notice of the fact is a little mist floating as a cloud on a part of it about ten or eleven o’clock in the forenoon. By noon the mountain becomes fringed with dew; and half an hour after, a general obscuration takes place by the mist. In another half hour the little cleft between the Devil’s Berg and the Table Mountain pours over the cloudy vapour; and at two the Devil’s Berg is capped by the cloud. The table-cloth is now completely spread. … While the Table Mountain remains covered with the dense cloud, fragments of the vapour are torn from it by the force of the wind, and are hurried about the sides of the mountain, assuming a variety of fantastic shapes, and playing about the precipice according to the direction of the different currents of wind. This phenomenon lasts till about five in the afternoon, when a little clearing, which takes place on the western edge of the mountain, announces that the table-cloth is about to be folded up. By six or seven the clearance has considerably advanced; and by eight or nine every vestige of it is gone, and nothing is seen about the mountain but an ethereal sky and the twinkling stars.