First Person

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Scotland_Forever!.jpg

When Elizabeth Thompson married Maj. Sir William Butler in 1877, she was already a respected painter of military subjects. But becoming Lady Butler gave her a unique opportunity: She could now watch maneuvers in person and even stand in front of charging cavalry to study the momentum of the horses.

The startling result, Scotland for Ever, depicts a head-on charge of the Royal Scots Greys, the cavalry regiment that Napoleon had hailed as “those terrible men on grey horses” at Waterloo.

The painting was an enormous success and became a symbol of British military heroism. The scene is a bit exaggerated — in their famous charge the advancing horses had never reached a full gallop due to the broken ground. But then most of the painting’s admirers would never have guessed that the artist had never witnessed a battle.

A Separate Peace

After 30 years of searching, acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton thinks he’s found the “quietest square inch in the United States.” It’s marked by a red pebble that he placed on a log at 47°51’57.5″N, 123°52’13.3″W, in a corner of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in western Washington state. The area is actually full of sounds, but the sounds are natural — by quietest, Hempton means that this point is subject to less human-made noise pollution than any other spot in the American wilderness.

Hempton hopes to protect the space by creating a law that would prohibit air traffic overhead. “From a quiet place, you can really feel the impact of even a single jet in the sky,” he told the BBC. “It’s the loudest sound going. The cone of noise it drags behind it expands to fill more than 1,000 square miles. We wanted to see if a point of silence could ripple out in the same way.”

His website, One Square Inch, has more information about his campaign. “Unless something is done,” he told Outside Online, “we’ll see the complete extinction of quiet in the U.S. in our lifetime.”

Podcast Episode 114: The Desperation of Donald Crowhurst

donald crowhurst

In 1968 British engineer Donald Crowhurst entered a round-the-world yacht race, hoping to use the prize money to save his failing electronics business. Woefully unprepared and falling behind, he resorted to falsifying a journey around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the desperate measures that Crowhurst turned to as events spiraled out of his control.

We’ll also get some updates on Japanese fire balloons and puzzle over a computer that turns on the radio.

See full show notes …

A Quick Fix

REMEDIABLENESSES word square

Coil the word REMEDIABLENESSES into a spiral and, surprisingly, you get a word square.

All eight words, four across and four down, appear in the Oxford English Dictionary.

(“Colloquy,” Word Ways 16:1 [February 1983], 26. Discovered by Jeff Grant.)

Road Work

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/crace/l/largeimage88508.html

Fed up with endless traffic detours in 1830, London printer Charles Ingrey published a pointed puzzle, Labyrinthus Londoninensis, or The Equestrian Perplexed.

“The object is to find a way from the Strand [lower left] to St. Paul’s [center], without crossing any of the Bars in the Streets supposed to be under repair.”

Mending our Ways, our ways doth oft-times mar,
So thinks the Traveller by Horse or Car,
But he who scans with calm and patient skill
This ‘Labyrinthine Chart of London’, will
One Track discover, open and unbarred,
That leads at length to famed St. Pauls Church Yard.

The image above is a bit too small to navigate, but the British Library has an interactive zoomable version (requires Flash).

I don’t have the solution, but The Court Journal of Dec. 14, 1833, hints that “the farthest way round is the nearest way home.”

Footwork

A poser from Penn State mathematician Mark Levi’s Why Cats Land on Their Feet (2012):

Using only a stopwatch and a sneaker, how can you find an approximate value for \sqrt{2}?

Click for Answer

Figures

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Portrait_of_John_Wilkes._Wellcome_L0011084.jpg

A foolish young man said to John Wilkes (1725-1797), “Isn’t it strange that I was born on the first of January?”

“Not strange at all,” said Wilkes. “You could only have been conceived on the first of April.”

“On the Question of Choice”

https://pixabay.com/en/maple-leaf-outline-tree-nature-296613/

A leaf was riven from a tree,
“I mean to fall to earth,” said he.

The west wind, rising, made him veer.
“Eastward,” said he, “I now shall steer.”

The east wind rose with greater force.
Said he, “‘Twere wise to change my course.”

With equal power they contend.
He said, “My judgment I suspend.”

Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,
Cried: “I’ve decided to fall straight.”

“First thoughts are best?” That’s not the moral;
Just choose your own and we’ll not quarrel.

Howe’er your choice may chance to fall,
You’ll have no hand in it at all.

— Ambrose Bierce