Thrills and Intrigue

In 2005, Chinese novelist Hu Wenliang offered 140,000 yuan ($16,900 U.S.) to the reader who could decipher his novel «?», which consists entirely of punctuation marks:

:?

:!

“‘……’”

(?)·«,»

;——

Hu claimed that the symbols represent a touching love story that took him a year to write, but he told the Beijing Daily Messenger that none of the 20 interpretations that readers had so far offered had satisfied him.

“I have my own answer, which is around 100 Chinese characters,” he said. “The interpretation should cover the description of characters and the plot of the story. I will reward someone who can guess 80 percent the hidden story correct.”

That was in July 2005. If anyone has offered a successful solution, I haven’t been able to discover it.

Bath Buddy

https://www.google.com/patents/USD173979

In 1955, James D. Crenshaw patented the greatest shower head in the history of human civilization.

Unless you’re hung over.

Clan Handled

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean-Baptiste_Greuze_-_The_Father%27s_Curse_-_The_Ungrateful_Son_-_WGA10661.jpg

“Why does one never hear of a blessing thundering down the years and pursuing a certain family while pouring the gifts of the gods into their laps?” — Lady Norah Ida Emily Noel Bentinck, My Wanderings and Memories, 1924

The “Polish Schindler”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eugene_(Eugeniusz)_Lazowski,_Poland.jpg

Physician Eugene Lazowski was practicing medicine in the Polish town of Rozwadów when he discovered that injecting healthy patients with dead bacteria could cause them to test positive for epidemic typhus without experiencing any symptoms.

Working secretly with his friend Stanislaw Matulewicz, Lazowski began injecting thousands of Poles in the surrounding villages, deliberately creating the appearance of an epidemic. Fearful of a contagious illness, the Nazis quarantined the affected villages rather than sending their residents on to concentration camps.

Lazowski’s efforts saved an estimated 8,000 men, women, and children who would otherwise have been sent to prisons, slave labor camps, or death camps. He survived the war and moved to the United States in 1958, where he taught medicine in Illinois.

“He’s why I became a doctor,” one of the spared villagers, Jan Hryniewiezki, told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2000. “He was a patriotic hero because he wasn’t afraid to do what he did during very bad times.”

“The basic duty of a physician is to preserve life,” Lazowski explained, “and this was a way of saving lives.”

Misc

  • WEALTH is an anagram of THE LAW.
  • U.S. Navy submarines observe an 18-hour day.
  • Joaquín Rodrigo wrote his compositions in Braille.
  • 45632 = –45 + 63×2
  • “Thy modesty’s a candle to thy merit.” — Henry Fielding

Thanks

Many thanks to everyone who took the survey about the first Futility Closet book. Most people seem to prefer a paperback, so I’ll work on that first, and I’ll also pursue an ebook. I haven’t yet found an efficient way to produce and distribute a hardcover book at a reasonable price, but I’ll keep looking.

I’ll organize the book as a miscellany, but I plan to include an index to help you find particular items. I’ll fill it with a representative sampling of the site’s best content, and I’ll include all the recurring features except probably for chess puzzles, which probably belong in a separate book — I’m hoping to produce specialized collections of unusual words, odd inventions, etc., in addition to broad miscellanies.

I think I may need some help with the ebook — if you have experience designing illustrated nonfiction ebooks in multiple formats, or can recommend someone who does, please contact me at gregblog@gmail.com. Thanks.

Dread Sovereign

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

After-dinner conversation with the young Queen Victoria, 1838, from Lytton Strachey’s 1921 biography:

‘Have you been riding to-day, Mr. Greville?’ asked the Queen. ‘No, Madam, I have not,’ replied Mr. Greville. ‘It was a fine day,’ continued the Queen. ‘Yes, Madam, a very fine day,’ said Mr. Greville. ‘It was rather cold, though,’ said the Queen. ‘It was rather cold, Madam,’ said Mr. Greville. ‘Your sister, Lady Frances Egerton, rides, I think, doesn’t she?’ said the Queen. ‘She does ride sometimes, Madam,’ said Mr. Greville. There was a pause, after which Mr. Greville ventured to take the lead, though he did not venture to change the subject. ‘Has your Majesty been riding today?’ asked Mr. Greville. ‘Oh yes, a very long ride,’ answered the Queen with animation. ‘Has your Majesty got a nice horse?’ said Mr. Greville. ‘Oh, a very nice horse,’ said the Queen.

“It was over. Her Majesty gave a smile and an inclination of the head, Mr. Greville a profound bow, and the next conversation began with the next gentleman.”

Unquote

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parreiras-fim-de-romance-pi.jpg

“The mode of death is sadder than death itself.” — Martial

Confirmed

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crew_Cut,_Jack_Kerouac,_1943.jpg

Jack Kerouac typed the first draft of On the Road in three weeks on a 120-foot scroll of paper.

Truman Capote famously dismissed it, saying, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

In 2008, conceptual artist Simon Morris typed it again, publishing 400 words a day as a blog.

“One would hope for some truly profound response, but really there is none,” he said. “I don’t feel anything at all.”

All God’s Creatures

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:McCormack-MaryEllen_001a.jpg

In 1873, Methodist mission worker Etta Angell Wheeler learned that a 9-year-old girl was being confined by her adopted parents in the inner room of a New York tenement, alternately neglected and whipped, and that neither the landlord nor the city would respond to the neighbors’ pleas for help.

Wheeler was debating what to do when her niece suggested she appeal to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, saying, “She is a little animal, surely.” Wheeler mastered her fear of “what seemed absurd” and approached the organization’s founder, Henry Bergh, who took an immediate interest in the case and within 48 hours had gathered enough evidence to justify the girl’s removal.

At a trial at the New York State Supreme Court in 1874, the child, Mary Ellen Wilson, testified:

My father and mother are both dead. I don’t know how old I am. I have no recollection of a time when I did not live with the Connollys. Mamma has been in the habit of whipping and beating me almost every day. She used to whip me with a twisted whip — a rawhide. The whip always left a black and blue mark on my body. I have now the black and blue marks on my head which were made by mamma, and also a cut on the left side of my forehead which was made by a pair of scissors. She struck me with the scissors and cut me; I have no recollection of ever having been kissed by any one — have never been kissed by mamma. I have never been taken on my mamma’s lap and caressed or petted. I never dared to speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped. I do not know for what I was whipped — mamma never said anything to me when she whipped me. I do not want to go back to live with mamma, because she beats me so. I have no recollection ever being on the street in my life.

Her adopted mother, Mary Connolly, was sentenced to a year in jail, and the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded the same year.