Okay Then

Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 feature The Great Train Robbery was distributed with a special segment that the projectionist could insert at the beginning or end of the film. In it, actor George Barnes fires his pistol directly at the audience.

The shot was labeled “REALISM.”

Small World

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:All_Red_Line.jpg

A striking example of the strength of the British Empire in the early 20th century: In 1911 Britain completed the “All Red Line,” a network of telegraphs that linked its possessions. The system was so redundant that an enemy would have had to cut 49 cables to isolate the United Kingdom, 15 to isolate Canada, or 5 to isolate South Africa. As a result, British communications remained uninterrupted throughout World War I.

Sir Sandford Fleming described the network as “the cerebro-spinal axis of our political system … through which would freely pass the sensory impressions and the motor impulses of the British people in every longitude.”

Related: In Air Facts and Problems (1927), Secretary of State for Air Christopher Thomson noted that the whole empire might be visited by an aircraft capable of “long hops”:

For the purposes of the immediate future a ‘long hop’ may be taken as 1,500 miles in length. One such hop would cover the distance from the south coast of England to Malta, a second would reach Egypt, a third Bushire (on the Persian Gulf), a fourth India, at Karachi or Bombay, a fifth Ceylon, a sixth the Straits Settlements, a seventh Port Darwin in Northern Australia; three more would reach New Zealand.

“Thus, in ten ‘long hops,’ or ten days and nights, the traveller and the mailbag out of England would arrive in the most distant of our dominions without landing at an air station which was not either British or under British control.”

Wallpaper

futility closet wallpaper

Thanks again to the world-bestriding Von Glitschka for our new logo. At Von’s suggestion we’re calling the penguin Mr. Curious.

Von has also thoughtfully created wallpaper files for iPhone, iPad, and desktops, which are free for the downloading:

iPhone 4, iPhone 5, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus

iPad Air, Mini, Pro

Desktop: 1920 × 1080, 2560 × 1440, 3410 × 1918

I’ll add these links to the About page as well.

As we get organized we’ll announce other offerings here and in the Patreon feeds, and Von will be creating custom promo graphics to download, print out, and collect. A million thanks again to him for all his contributions, and to you for your kind words about the redesign.

Not So Fast

José Paluzie offered this chess poser in 1910. White is to move and mate in 1:

paluzie chess puzzle

The key is to notice that the position is illegal: There’s no legal way for the black king to have arrived at a2. Black, desperate to avoid mate, must have put it there when White wasn’t looking.

Where did it come from? It doesn’t matter: White can place the black king on any legal square and mate in 1.

(From Burt Hochberg’s Chess Braintwisters, 1999.)

Podcast Episode 106: The Popgun War

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USArmy_M114_howitzer.jpg

During wargames in Louisiana in September 1941, the U.S. Army found itself drawn into a tense firefight with an unseen enemy across the Cane River. The attacker turned out to be three boys with a toy cannon. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll revisit the Battle of Bermuda Bridge and the Prudhomme brothers’ account of their historic engagement.

We’ll also rhapsodize on guinea pigs and puzzle over some praiseworthy incompetence.

See full show notes …

Followup

During World War I, cable censors would sometimes change a word here and there in a telegram, preserving the meaning but hoping to interfere with any enemy codes the messages might contain.

‘Father is dead,’ ran a cablegram from Sweden to New York which passed through the British censorship.

For some inexplicable reason the censor didn’t like the word ‘dead.’ He changed it to ‘deceased.’

Within a short time this question, sent from New York to Sweden, passed through the hands of the same censor: ‘Is father dead or deceased?’

“What did that word ‘dead’ mean? It might have covered a whole volume of enemy news; it might have provoked a disaster on land or sea. And yet the censor had no better reason for cutting it out than a certain ‘hunch’ which came over him that the word ought to be changed.”

(“Our Dear Friend, the Censor,” American Printer, June 5, 1917.)

Balance

balance puzzle

Point P lies within acute angle XOY. How can we find a point A on OX and a point B on OY such that P is the midpoint of a segment drawn between them?

Click for Answer

Elements

https://www.pexels.com/photo/sky-blue-sun-cloud-9236/

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, the events of Bloomsday are so carefully worked out that even incidents of weather can be recognized across the various episodes. Episode 1, at the tower:

A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly, shadowing the bay in deeper green.

In Episode 4, Bloom notices the same thing as he walks home from Dlugacz’s shop:

A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.

Four paragraphs later the cloud has passed:

Quick warm sunlight came running from Berkeley road, swiftly, in slim sandals, along the brightening footpath.

And back at the tower it passes as well:

Stephen, still trembling at his soul’s cry, heard warm running sunlight and in the air behind him friendly words.

“The breeze is therefore approximately from the west, that being the prevailing direction of winds in the British Isles,” observes Ian Gunn in James Joyce’s Dublin (2004).

Principle

A Quaker objector in the Civil War:

I was ordered out and required to fall in line with the company and drill, but I refused. They tried to make me and I sat down on the ground. They reminded me of the orders to shoot me, but I told them my God said to fear them not that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather to fear him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. The company was then ordered to fall back eight paces, leaving me in front of them. They were then ordered by Colonel Kirkland to ‘Load; Present arms; Aim,’ and their guns were pointed directly at my breast. I raised my arms and prayed: ‘Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.’ Not a gun was fired. They lowered them without orders, and some of them were heard to say that they ‘could not shoot such a man.’ The order was then given, ‘Ground arms.’

After weeks of such punishment, William Hockett was captured at Gettysburg and released to live in Philadelphia. He remained there until the end of the war.