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“Bees Invited to Funerals”

At Bradfield, a primitive village on the edge of the moors, in the parish of Ecclesfield, I was informed by a person of much intelligence, that a custom as obtained in the district from time immemorial — ‘for hundreds of years’ was the expression used — of inviting bees to funerals; and that an instance could be produced of the superstition having been practised even within the last year. What is done is this. When a death occurs, a person is appointed to call the neighbours to the funeral, who delivers the invitations in one form of words: ‘You are invited to the funeral of A.B., which is to take place at such an hour, on such a day; and there will be dinner on table at — o’clock.’ And if it should happen that bees were kept in the garden of the house where the corpse lies (not an unlikely thing near moors), the messenger is instructed to address the same invitation to the bees in their hives; because it is considered that, if this compliment be omitted, the bees will die.

– Alfred Gatty, Notes & Queries, Oct. 25, 1851



By Lee Sallows: Assign the letters JHMLCNVTURISEYAPO to the integers -8 to 8 and you get:

sallows planets alignment

And a reader points out that ERIS gives 10.

The Ballot Box Problem

ballot box lattice diagram

In 1878 W. A. Whitworth imagined an election between two candidates. A receives m votes, B receives n votes, and A wins (m>n). If the ballots are cast one at a time, what is the probability that A will lead throughout the voting?

The answer, it turns out, is given by the pleasingly simple formula

ballot box formula

Howard Grossman offered the proof above in 1946. We start at O, where no votes have been cast. Each vote for A moves us one point east and each vote for B moves us one point north until we arrive at E, the final count, (m, n). If A is to lead throughout the contest, then our path must steer consistently east of the diagonal line OD, which represents a tie score. Any path that starts by going north, through (0,1), must cut OD on its way to E.

If any path does touch OD, let it be at C. The group of such paths can be paired off as p and q, reflections of each other in the line OD that meet at C and continue on a common track to E.

This means that the total number of paths that touch OD is twice the number of paths p that start their journey to E by going north. Now, the first segment of any path might be up to m units east or up to n units north, so the proportion of paths that start by going north is n/(m + n), and twice this number is 2n/(m + n). The complementary probability — the probability of a path not touching OD — is (mn)/(m + n).

(It’s interesting to consider what this means. If m = 2n then p = 1/3 — even if A receives twice as many votes as B, it’s still twice as likely that B ties him at some point as that A leads throughout.)


“I found one day in school a boy of medium size ill-treating a smaller boy. I expostulated, but he replied: ‘The bigs hit me, so I hit the babies; that’s fair.’ In these words he epitomized the history of the human race.” — Bertrand Russell

Cold Faith


Apropos of Eskimo, I once heard a missionary describe the extraordinary difficulty he had found in translating the Bible into Eskimo. It was useless to talk of corn or wine to a people who did not know even what they meant, so he had to use equivalents within their powers of comprehension. Thus in the Eskimo version of the Scriptures the miracle of Cana of Galilee is described as turning the water into blubber; the 8th verse of the 5th chapter of the First Epistle of St. Peter ran: ‘Your adversary the devil, as a roaring Polar bear walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.’ In the same way ‘A land flowing with milk and honey’ became ‘A land flowing with whale’s blubber,’ and throughout the New Testament the words ‘Lamb of God’ had to be translated ‘little Seal of God,’ as the nearest possible equivalent. The missionary added that his converts had the lowest opinion of Jonah for not having utilised his exceptional opportunities by killing and eating the whale.

– Lord Frederic Hamiliton, The Days Before Yesterday, 1920


If you choose an answer to this question at random, what’s the chance that you’ll be correct?

(a) 25% (b) 50% (c) 0% (d) 25%

Trouble Above


I have fully considered the project of these our modern Dædalists, and am resolved so far to discourage it, as to prevent any person from flying in my time. It would fill the world with innumerable immoralities, and give such occasions for intrigues as people cannot meet with who have nothing but legs to carry them. You should have a couple of lovers make a midnight assignation upon the top of the monument, and see the cupola of St. Paul’s covered with both sexes like the outside of a pigeon-house. Nothing would be more frequent than to see a beau flying in at a garret window, or a gallant giving chaos to his mistress, like a hawk after a lark. There would be no walking in a shady wood without springing a covey of toasts. The poor husband could not dream what was doing over his head. If he were jealous, indeed, he might clip his wife’s wings, but what would this avail when there were flocks of whore-masters perpetually hovering over his house? What concern would the father of a family be in all the time his daughter was upon the wing?

– Joseph Addison, Guardian, July 20, 1713


sensuousnesses palindrome

SENSUOUSNESSES is a circular palindrome — when written in a circle, it can be read both clockwise and counterclockwise.

Marching Orders

A Gentleman ought not to run or walk too fast in the Streets, lest he be suspected to be going [delivering] a Message; nor ought his pace to be too slow; nor must he take large Steps, nor too stiff and stately, nor lift his Legs too high, nor stamp hard on the Ground; neither must he swing his Arms backward and forward, nor must he carry his knees too close, nor must he go wagging his Breech, nor with his feet in a straight Line, but with the Inside of his Feet a little out; nor with his Eyes looking down, nor too much elevated, nor looking hither and thither, but with a sedate Countenance.

– Adam Petrie, Rules of Good Deportment, 1720


Michael Craig-Martin’s 1973 conceptual artwork An Oak Tree presents a glass of water with a plaque explaining that it’s a tree — not symbolically but literally: “The actual oak tree is physically present but in the form of the glass of water.”

This is a comment on transubstantiation and, by extension, on the patron’s faith in an artist’s presentation of his work, but it backfired: When the National Gallery of Australia bought the piece in 1977, customs officials barred it as “vegetation.”