By J. Keeble. White to mate in two moves.
By J. Keeble. White to mate in two moves.
Rod Serling’s original opening narration for The Twilight Zone read, “There is a sixth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man’s fear and the sunlight of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that might be called The Twilight Zone.”
Producer Bill Self questioned the line There is a sixth dimension … “I said, ‘Rod, what is the fifth one?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know. Aren’t there five?’ I said, ‘I can only think of four.’ So we rewrote it and rerecorded it and said, ‘There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man …'”
Asked how he came up with the title The Twilight Zone, Serling said, “I thought I’d made it up, but I’ve heard since that there is an Air Force term relating to a moment when a plane is coming down on approach and it cannot see the horizon. It’s called the twilight zone, but it’s an obscure term which I had not heard before.”
(From Marc Scott Zicree, The Twilight Zone Companion, 1982.)
Let us begin by saying we have nothing but the deepest aversion
Against casting an aspersion
On the beautiful works of Ogden Nash.
In fact we might say we go for his stuff like a vegetarian goes for his succotash.
But the thing that swerves us
From downright admiration is the length of his lines which sometimes look more like paragraphs than lines — frankly it unnerves us.
In fact we have it from unreliable sources
That several people have narrowly missed death by asphyxiation while attempting to read aloud one of these book-length sentences in one breath, all of which forces
Us to request that Mr. Nash please stick to a line that can be written entirely on one page, for when we see one of these endless lines looming up over the edge of the next stanza, we have been known to turn the page and start something else; while on the other hand, when Mr. Nash sticks to a briefer line with definite rhythm,
— An unnamed college humor magazine, quoted in Richard Koppe et al., A Treasury of College Humor, 1950
Founded in the 1880s by Manhattan rationalists, the 13 Club held a regular dinner on the 13th of each month, seating 13 members at each table deliberately to laugh at superstition.
“I have given some attention to popular superstitions, and let me tell you that argument is powerless against them,” founding member Daniel Wolff told journalist Philip Hubert in 1890. “They have a grip upon the imagination that nothing but ridicule will lessen.” As an example he cited the tradition that the mirrors must be removed from a room in which a corpse is lying. “Make the experiment yourself, and the next time you are called upon to sit up with a corpse, notice how uncomfortable a mirror will make you feel,” he said. “Of course it is a matter of the imagination, but you can’t reason against it. All the ingrained terrors of six thousand years are in your bones. You walk across the floor and catch a glimpse of yourself in the glass. You start; was there not a spectral something behind you? So you cover it up.”
As honorary members the club recruited 16 U.S. senators, 12 governors, and six Army generals. Robert Green Ingersoll ended one 1886 toast by declaring, “We have had enough mediocrity, enough policy, enough superstition, enough prejudice, enough provincialism, and the time has come for the American citizen to say: ‘Hereafter I will be represented by men who are worthy, not only of the great Republic, but of the Nineteenth Century.'”
But Oscar Wilde, for one, turned them down. “I love superstitions,” he wrote. “They are the colour element of thought and imagination. They are the opponents of common sense. Common sense is the enemy of romance. The aim of your society seems to be dreadful. Leave us some unreality. Don’t make us too offensively sane.”
Many thanks to everyone who’s contributed ideas or support since my New Year’s plea. Our traffic is still dwindling, but I have at least the beginnings of a plan to address it. The first step is to establish a presence in social media, which I’ve been neglecting entirely.
To start, it seems wise to consolidate the existing accounts that people have established in our name. There are accounts using the name Futility Closet on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ — if you control one of these and would be willing to transfer it to us or to take it down, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. When we have the “official” accounts up and running, I’ll post the details here. Thanks.
adj. having yellow hair
adj. having smooth hair
adj. having wavy hair
adj. caring for the condition or appearance of the hair
adj. having the head adorned with flowers
As a young man, Benjamin Franklin drew up a “plan for attaining moral perfection” based on a list of 13 virtues. Half a century later he credited the plan for much of his success in life. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore Franklin’s self-improvement plan and find out which vices gave him the most trouble.
We’ll also learn how activist Natan Sharansky used chess to stay sane in Soviet prisons and puzzle over why the Pentagon has so many bathrooms.
Sources for our segment on Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues:
Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, 1791.
Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, 2005.
Dinah Birch, ed., The Oxford Companion to English Literature, 2009.
Here’s Franklin’s list of virtues:
And here’s a sample page from his “little book”:
Related: As an exercise in penmanship, the teenage George Washington copied out “110 rules of civility and decent behavior in company and conversation,” and Thomas Jefferson once sent a “decalogue of canons for observation in practical life” to the new father of a baby boy.
Listener mail: Human rights activist Natan Sharansky’s use of mental chess to keep himself sane in Soviet prisons is detailed in his 1988 memoir Fear No Evil and in this BBC News Magazine article.
Greg’s research queries:
The authority on jumping up steps at Trinity College, Cambridge, seems to be G.M. Trevelyan, who became Master there in 1940. In his Trinity College: An Historical Sketch (1972), he writes:
It is a well-authenticated Trinity tradition that Whewell, when Master, jumped up the hall steps at one leap, a feat that is very seldom accomplished even by youthful athletes. Sir George Young told his son Geoffrey Young that he had actually witnessed this performance; Sir George said that the master, in cap and gown, found some undergraduates trying in vain to accomplish the feat. He clapped his cap firmly on his head, took the run, and reached the top of the steps at one bound.
In a letter to the Times on March 16, 1944, he writes, “On a recent visit to Cambridge, General Montgomery, on entering the Great Court at this college, pointed to the hall steps and said to me, ‘Those were the steps my father jumped up at one bound.’ The general’s father, Henry Hutchinson Montgomery, afterwards Bishop, was an undergraduate at Trinity from 1866 to 1870. He came here from Dr Butler’s Harrow with a great reputation as a runner and jumper.”
He adds, “Now we have a fully authenticated case of which I had not heard. Bishop Montgomery himself told his son the general, and the story was often told in the family. The general has asked me to send the facts to you in the hope that publication may elicit further facts.” I don’t know whether he ever received any.
As far as I can tell, Swiss criminologist Karl-Ludwig Kunz’s essay “Criminal Policy in Duckburg” was published only in a 2009 collection titled Images of Crime 3: Representations of Crime and the Criminal, which I can’t seem to get my hands on. The fullest discussion I’ve been able to find in English is this brief 1998 article from the Independent.
The program to distribute bananas to Icelandic children in 1952 is mentioned in science writer Willy Ley’s 1954 book Engineers’ Dreams.
The credit “Diversions by Irving Schwartz” in the 1966 movie The Sand Pebbles is mentioned (but not really explained) in this 2007 Telegram obituary of character actor Joseph di Reda.
MIT historian T.F. Peterson’s 2003 book Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT says that the legend IHTFP (“I hate this fucking place”) “has been unofficially documented in both the U.S. Air Force and at MIT as far back as the 1950s.” This MIT page traces it as far back as 1960 and gives dozens of euphemistic variants.
This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was submitted by listener Paul Kapp.
Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.
You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.
Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at email@example.com. Thanks for listening!
Three children return home after playing outside, and their father tells them that at least one of them has a muddy face. He repeats the phrase “Step forward if you have a muddy face” until all and only the children with muddy faces have stepped forward.
If there’s only one child with a muddy face, then she’ll step forward immediately — she can see that no other children have muddy faces, so her father must be talking about her. Each of the other children will see her muddy face and stand fast, since they have no way of knowing whether their own faces are muddy.
If there are two children with muddy faces, then no one will step forward after the first request, since each might think the father is addressing the other one. But when no one steps forward after the first request, each will realize that there must be two children with muddy faces, and that she herself must be one of them. So both will step forward after the second request, and the rest will stand fast.
A pattern emerges: If there are n children with muddy faces, then n will step forward after the nth request.
But now imagine a scenario in which more than one of the children has a muddy face, but the father does not tell them that at least one of them has a muddy face. Now no one steps forward after the first request, for the same reason as before. But no one steps forward at the second request either, because the fact that no one stepped forward after the first request no longer means that there is more than one child with a muddy face.
This is perplexing. In the second scenario all the children can see that at least one of them has a muddy face, so it seems needless for the father to tell them so. But without his statement the argument never gets going; despite his repeated requests, no child will ever step forward. What’s missing?
(From Michael Clark, Paradoxes From A to Z, 2007.)
Ernest Hemingway published this “blank verse” in his high school literary magazine in 1916:
Get it? David Morice followed up with this “punctuation poem” in Word Ways in February 2012:
% , & —
+ . ? /
+ $ [ \
It’s a limerick:
Percent comma ampersand dash
Plus period question mark slash
Quotation mark colon
Plus dollar sign bracket backslash
Draw an arbitrary triangle and build an equilateral triangle on each of its sides, as shown.
Now show that AP = BQ = CR.