The Sourdough Expedition

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In 1910, four years after Frederick Cook claimed falsely to have reached the peak of Mount McKinley, an unlikely quartet of Alaskan gold miners — Tom Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Billy Taylor, and Charles McGonagall — announced they had planted a spruce pole on the mountain’s 19,470-foot north summit. Though using rudimentary equipment and not acclimated to the altitude, they claimed to have made the final 8,000-foot climb and descent in only 18 hours, carrying the heavy pole and fueled only by hot chocolate and doughnuts.

President Taft congratulated them on the feat, which the New York Times said “was undertaken not for the enlightenment of the world, but to prove the pluck and endurance of the members of the party.” But Lloyd’s exaggerated accounts began to draw skepticism (he claimed to have joined his companions on the summit when it appears he had remained in camp), and these only grew when the party could produce no photographs taken above 11,000 feet.

But three years later Hudson Stuck conquered the main summit and reported that, using binoculars, he had seen a large pole near the north peak. The pole has since been lost, but today it’s generally believed that the Sourdough expedition did succeed in reaching its goal. In 1914 Stuck wrote, “To Pete Anderson and Billy Taylor, two of the strongest men, physically, in all the North, and to none other, belongs the honor of the first ascent of the North Peak and the planting of what must assuredly be the highest flagstaff in the world.”

Black and White

møller chess problem

By Jørgen Thorvald Møller. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Sporting Timber

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

I may relate an odd incident in the life of Dr. [Thomas] Birch. He was very fond of angling, and devoted much time to that amusement. In order to deceive the fish, he had a dress constructed, which, when he put it on, made him appear like an old tree. His arms he conceived would appear like branches, and the line like a long spray. In this sylvan attire he used to take root by the side of a favourite stream, and imagined that his motions might seem to the fish to be the effect of the wind. He pursued this amusement for some years in the same habit, till he was ridiculed out of it by his friends.

— John Taylor, Records of My Life, 1832

Honorable Prisoners

After John II of France was captured by the English in 1356, he paid 1 million gold crowns for his ransom and promised to pay 2 million more. As a guarantee he offered his son Louis as a hostage. When word came that Louis had escaped, John voluntarily returned to captivity in England, citing reasons of “good faith and honor.” He died there in 1364.

In 1916, after two years in a German prisoner-of-war camp, British Army captain Robert Campbell received word that his mother was dying of cancer. He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II asking permission to visit her, and was given two weeks’ leave on condition that he return afterward. Campbell went to England, spent a week with his dying mother, then returned to confinement in Germany, where he remained until the war ended.

“Captain Campbell was an officer, and he made a promise on his honor to go back,” said historian Richard Van Emden, who uncovered the episode while researching his book Meeting the Enemy. “Had he not turned up there would not have been any retribution on any other prisoners. What I think is more amazing is that the British Army let him go back to Germany.”

In a Word

noctuary
n. an account of what happens during a particular night

For the Inexpressive

http://www.google.com/patents/US4666148

Johnathan Crawford’s “facial muscles exercise mask,” patented in 1987, is a plastic face mask with an inflatable lining “which provides the resistive force for the facial muscles to work against.”

Strap the mask to your face, inflate it to the desired pressure, and exercise your face against the mask’s resistance. When the timer goes off you can gauge your progress using the attached “calorie-estimating device.” (The patent abstract includes instructions for exercising the brow, eyebrow, eye, nose, lip and mouth.) Just don’t answer the door while you’re doing it.

Interestingly, in discussing prior art Crawford notes that someone had patented an earlier facial exercise mask that contained weights to provide resistance. He notes that one disadvantage of this scheme is “the potential for causing bruises to the wearer’s facial tissues with the weights smashed against them for effectiveness.” Fair point.

Happy Landings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matekane_Air_Strip

Travel + Leisure named Lesotho’s Matekane Air Strip one of the world’s scariest runways. The tarmac is only 1,312 feet long, and it ends abruptly at the edge of a couloir at 7,550 feet.

If you run out of runway before getting airborne, explained bush pilot Tom Claytor, “you shoot off the end of the airstrip, then drop down the 2,000-foot cliff face until you start flying. … It’s a little bit hard to do the first time.”

Stick Fight

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The Rod of Asclepius, left, with a single snake, is the symbol of medicine. Unfortunately, a large number of commercial American medical organizations instead use the caduceus, right, which has two snakes. Asclepius was the Greek god of healing, but the caduceus was wielded by Hermes and connotes commerce, negotiation, and trickery.

The confusion began when the American military began using the caduceus in the late 19th century, and it persists today. In a survey of 242 healthcare logos (reported in his 1992 book The Golden Wand of Medicine), Walter Friedlander found that 62 percent of professional associations used the rod of Asclepius, while 76 percent of commercial organizations used the caduceus.

“If it’s got wings on it, it’s not really the symbol of medicine,” the communications director of the Minnesota Medical Association told author Robert Taylor. “Some may find it hard to believe, but it’s true. It’s something like using the logo for the National Rifle Association when referring to the Audubon Society.”

Self-Destroying Art

Jean Tinguely presented Homage to New York in the sculpture garden at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960. New York governor Nelson Rockefeller and three television crews watched as the machine played a piano, produced an abstract painting, and inflated a weather balloon, then set itself afire. Tinguely summoned a firefighter to extinguish the blaze and then finished the destruction with an ax.

He followed this up with Study for the End of the World No. 2, a sculpture assembled from odds and ends collected from Las Vegas scrapyards and blown up in the Nevada desert to invoke the testing of atomic bombs:

As a comment on the ephemeral nature of text, in 1992 William Gibson wrote a 300-line poem titled Agrippa (a book of the dead) and published it on a 3.5″ floppy disk in a book of art by abstract painter Dennis Ashbaugh. The disk was programmed to encrypt itself after a single use, and the book’s pages were chemically treated to fade on exposure to light. Ironically, the text was pirated at its first performance and is now extensively archived at the UCSB English department.

Sitting Protest

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German shipyard worker August Landmesser openly loved a Jewish woman under the gathering cloud of Nazism in the 1930s. He had joined the party hoping it would help him to find a job, but was expelled when he became engaged to Irma Eckler in 1935. Unwilling to renounce their love, the two were forbidden to marry, prevented from fleeing to Denmark in 1937, and eventually sent to concentration camps.

The photograph above was taken at the launch of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel on June 13, 1936, a year after their engagement. The man in the center, the only one not giving the Nazi salute, is believed to be Landmesser.