Reader Eliot Morrison, a protein biochemist, has been looking for the longest English word found in the human proteome — the full set of proteins that can be expressed by the human body. Proteins are chains composed of amino acids, and the most common 20 are represented by the letters A, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, and Y. “These amino acids have different chemical properties,” Eliot writes, “and the sequence influences how the whole chain folds in three dimensions, which in turn determines the structural and functional properties of the protein.”

The longest English word he’s found is TARGETEER, at nine letters, in the uncharacterized protein C12orf42. The whole sequence of C12orf42 is:


And there are more: “There are also a number of eight-letters words found: ASPARKLE (Uniprot code: Q86UW7), DATELESS (Q9ULP0-3), GALAGALA (Q86VD7), GRISETTE (Q969Y0), MISSPEAK (Q8WXH0), REELRALL (Q96FL8), RELASTER (Q8IVB5), REVERSAL (Q5TZA2), and SLAVERER (Q2TAC2).” I wonder if there’s a sentence in us somewhere.

(Thanks, Eliot.)

A Prose Maze

Max Beerbohm wrote two parodies of Henry James’ impenetrable style. The first, “The Mote in the Middle Distance,” appeared in The Saturday Review in 1906:

It was with the sense of a, for him, very memorable something that he peered now into the immediate future, and tried, not without compunction, to take that period up where he had, prospectively, left it. But just where the deuce had he left it? The consciousness of dubiety was, for our friend, not, this morning, quite yet clean-cut enough to outline the figures on what she had called his ‘horizon,’ between which and himself the twilight was indeed of a quality somewhat intimidating. He had run up, in the course of time, against a good number of ‘teasers;’ and the function of teasing them back — of, as it were, giving them, every now and then, “what for” — was in him so much a habit that he would have been at a loss had there been, on the face of it, nothing to lose.

He wrote the second, “The Guerdon,” when he learned that James was about to receive the Order of Merit:

That it hardly was, that it all bleakly and unbeguilingly wasn’t for “the likes” of him — poor decent Stamfordham — to rap out queries about the owner of the to him unknown and unsuggestive name that had, in these days, been thrust on him with such a wealth of commendatory gesture, was precisely what now, as he took, with his prepared list of New Year colifichets and whatever, his way to the great gaudy palace, fairly flicked his cheek with the sense of his having never before so let himself in, as he ruefully phrased it, without letting anything, by the same token, out.

He wasn’t alone. “It’s not that he bites off more than he can chaw,” Clover Adams once wrote of James, “but he chaws more than he bites off.”

The Bingo Paradox
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Surprisingly, when a large number of people play bingo, it’s much more likely that the winning play occupies a row on its card rather than a column.

The standard bingo card is a 5 × 5 square in which the columns are headed B-I-N-G-O. The columns are filled successively with numbers drawn at random from the intervals 1-15, 16-30, 31-45, 46-60, and 61-75. And it turns out that, during play, it’s very likely that at least one number from each column group will be called (enabling a horizontal win) before some five numbers are called that occupy a single column (enabling a vertical win). In fact it’s more than three times as likely.

The math is laid out rigorously in the article below. If a free space appears in the middle of the board, as is common, the effect still obtains — Joseph Kisenwether and Dick Hess found that the chance of a horizontal win is still 73.73 percent.

(Arthur Benjamin, Joseph Kisenwether, and Ben Weiss, “The BINGO Paradox,” Math Horizons 25:1 [2017], 18-21.)

Podcast Episode 268: The Great Impostor

Ferdinand Demara earned his reputation as the Great Impostor: For over 22 years he criss-crossed the country, posing as everything from an auditor to a zoologist and stealing a succession of identities to fool his employers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review Demara’s motivation, morality, and techniques — and the charismatic spell he seemed to cast over others.

We’ll also make Big Ben strike 13 and puzzle over a movie watcher’s cat.


In 1825, Thomas Steele proposed enclosing Isaac Newton’s residence in a pyramid surmounted by a stone globe.

In 1923 Arthur Guiterman found a rhyme for wasp.

Sources for our feature on Ferdinand Demara:

Robert Crichton, The Great Impostor, 1959.

Robert Crichton, The Rascal and the Road, 1961.

Frank E. Hagan, Introduction to Criminology: Theories, Methods, and Criminal Behavior, 2008.

Joe McCarthy, “The Master Imposter: An Incredible Tale,” Life, Jan. 28, 1952.

Susan Goldenberg, “Unmasked,” Canada’s History 91:1 (February/March 2011), 31-36.

Ray Cavanaugh, “Brother, Doctor, Soldier, Lies,” National Catholic Reporter 51:20 (July 17, 2015), 16.

David Goldman, “The Great Impostor,” Biography 4:8 (August 2000), 24.

“Ferdinand Waldo Demara, 60, An Impostor in Varied Fields,” Associated Press, June 9, 1982.

Tim Holmes, “Ferdinand Waldo Demara: One of the Greatest Imposters the World Has Ever Seen,” Independent, Aug. 29, 2019.

Kevin Loria, “The True Story of a Con Artist Who Conducted Surgeries, Ran a Prison, Taught College, and More,” Business Insider, Feb. 20, 2016.

“Americana: Ferdinand the Bull Thrower,” Time, Feb. 25, 1957.

Samuel Thurston, “Champion Rascal,” New York Times, July 26, 1959.

“Top 10 Imposters,” Time, May 26, 2009.

“‘The Great Imposter’ Reportedly a Cleric,” Associated Press, Jan. 8, 1970.

Thomas M. Pryor, “Universal to Film ‘Great Impostor’; Career of Ferdinand Demara Jr. Will Be Traced — Lilli Palmer’s Pact Extended,” New York Times, March 12, 1959.

John Schwartz, “Ideas & Trends; James Gatz, Please Call Your Office,” New York Times, March 11, 2001.

Eric Pace, “Notes on People,” New York Times, April 6, 1978.

“Fake Surgeon a Success; Canada to Oust American Who Served Navy in Korea,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 1951.

“Navy Drops Bogus Surgeon,” New York Times, Jan. 30, 1952.

“Schoolmaster a Fraud; ‘Surgeon’ During Korea War Is Unmasked in Maine,” New York Times, Feb. 15, 1957.

Samuel T. Williamson, “Life Is a Masquerade,” New York Times, Dec. 3, 1961.

Glen Hallick, “Local Veteran Reflects on Service in the Korean War,” Stonewall Argus and Teulon Times [Manitoba], July 25, 2013, 14.

Glenn R. Lisle, “Waldo Demara Was a Daring Imposter,” Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 20, 2006, A15.

“The Original ‘Impostor’,” Newsday, Oct. 13, 1996, A.41.

“Korean War Veteran Wells Met the Great Imposter,” Scarborough [Ontario] Mirror, Nov. 12, 2012, 1.

Marty Gervais, “My Town,” Windsor [Ontario] Star, May 31, 2003, A5.

Darren Mcdonald, “The Great Imposter,” Chilliwack [B.C.] Times, Nov. 11, 2005, B2.

John F. Morrison, “‘The Great Imposter’: Jack Doe of All Trades,” Philadelphia Daily News, March 30, 1983, 22.

Pat MacAdam, “The Great Impostor’s Last Victim,” Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1999, A3.

John Affleck, “Bold Look Into Minds of Conmen,” Gold Coast [Southport, Queensland] Bulletin, June 18, 2016, 55.

Glen Hallick, “Stan Davis Reflects on His Service in the Korean War,” Interlake Spectator, July 25, 2013, 12.

“From Our Pages: 1951,” Kingston [Ontario] Whig, Dec. 27, 1999, 54.

Darrel Bristow-Bovey, “The Man With 50 Lives,” [Johannesburg] Times, Nov. 3, 2017.

When Demara appeared on You Bet Your Life in 1959, Groucho Marx called him “the most intelligent and charming and likable crook I’ve ever met”:

Listener mail:

“Hear Big Ben on the Radio Before You Hear It in Real Life,” Londonist, Sept. 26, 2014.

John O’Ceallaigh, “40 Amazing Facts About Big Ben – As Its Clock Takes on a New Colour,” Telegraph, March 22, 2019.

“The Great Bell – Big Ben,” (accessed Oct. 5, 2019).

Wikipedia, “Big Ben” (accessed Oct. 5, 2019).

“How to Make Big Ben Strike Thirteen?”, Secrets of the Universe, BBC, Nov. 1, 2010.

Wikipedia, “Big Ben Strikes Again” (accessed Oct. 3, 2019).

Jets Hunt, GPS Puzzles and the Sherlock Holmes Mystery: GPS (Global Positioning System) vs. Sherlock Holmes, 2010.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listeners Neil De Carteret and Nala.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page 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 Thanks for listening!

The 36 Officers Problem
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Suppose we have a group of officers in six regiments, each regiment consisting of the same six ranks (say, a colonel, a lieutenant colonel, a major, a captain, a first lieutenant, and a second lieutenant). Is it possible to arrange these 36 officers into a 6 × 6 square so that no rank or regiment is repeated in any row or column? That is, each row and column must contain an officer of each regiment and of each rank.

In 1782 Leonhard Euler wrote, “After we have put a lot of thought into finding a solution, we have to admit that such an arrangement is impossible, though we can’t give a rigorous demonstration of this.” He saw that the equivalent problem is impossible in a 2 × 2 square and surmised that it’s impossible in every case where the side of the square contains 4k + 2 cells.

It wasn’t until 1901 that French mathematician Gaston Terry proved that the 6 × 6 square has no solution, and it wasn’t until 1960 that Euler’s conjecture about the pattern of impossible squares was proven wrong: In fact, the task is impossible only in these two cases, 2 × 2 and 6 × 6.

Fair Enough
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies in the genus Diaethria are commonly called “eighty-eights” because their wings bear a pattern that resembles the number 88 or 89.

The Australian ringneck parrot has four subspecies, one of which is known as the 28 parrot for its triple-noted call, which sounds like “twentee-eight.”

W Hour

Each year on August 1 the city of Warsaw comes to a voluntary standstill for one minute at 5 p.m.

It’s done to honor those who fought for freedom during the Warsaw Uprising, which began at that hour on August 1, 1944.