Now, are not those still full of their old carnal nature who ask us: ‘What was God doing before he made heaven and earth? For if he was idle,’ they say, ‘and doing nothing, then why did he not continue in that state forever — doing nothing, as he had always done? If any new motion has arisen in God, and a new will to form a creature, which he had never before formed, how can that be a true eternity in which an act of will occurs that was not there before? For the will of God is not a created thing, but comes before the creation — and this is true because nothing could be created unless the will of the Creator came before it. The will of God, therefore, pertains to his very Essence. Yet if anything has arisen in the Essence of God that was not there before, then that Essence cannot truly be called eternal. But if it was the eternal will of God that the creation should come to be, why, then, is not the creation itself also from eternity?’

— Augustine, Confessions

Unusual Biological Names
Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • Herpetologist Mark Scherz named three tiny species of Malagasy frog Mini ature, Mini scule, and Mini mum.
  • Malacologist Alan Solem named a Fijian land snail Ba humbugi.
  • The name of each species in the African spider genus Palindroma is a palindrome: P. aleykyela, P. avonova, P. morogorom, P. obmoimiombo, P. sinis.
  • The binomial name of the crowned slaty flycatcher has 15 syllables: Griseotyrannus aurantioatrocristatus.
  • Malacologist John Stanisic named an Australian land snail Crikey steveirwini.
  • The Australian leafhopper genus Dziwneono, named by entomologist Irena Dworakowska, is Polish for “It is strange.”

In 1977, on receiving a package of insect specimens from a colleague, entomologist Arnold Menke exclaimed, “Aha, a new genus!” His colleague Eric Grissell responded “Ha” doubtfully. Menke was proven right and named the species, an Australian wasp, Aha ha. He ordered a custom registration plate for his car bearing the same phrase. Further odd names.

The Earth-Moon Problem

Suppose that each country on Earth has a colony on the moon and that we want to draw maps on which each nation’s territory receives a consistent color. How many colors would we need?

In 1980 Thom Sulanke showed that we might need as many as nine (above), but it’s possible that a particularly challenging map would require more than that. The problem remains unsolved.

The Broxburn Icicle

During the severe frost of February 1895, a stream of water overflowing Scotland’s Almond Aqueduct began to freeze to the River Almond 120 feet below. Over the course of three nights the mass grew upward until river and bridge were connected by a continuous pillar of ice, the largest such formation on record at the time.

“When the sun shone upon the giant mass,” observed the Strand, “the iridescence was beautiful, and people came from miles around to look at it.”

(Jeremy Broome, “Freaks of Frost,” Strand 12:12 [December 1896], 738-746.)

In a Word;_a_comprehensive_history,_extending_from_the_earliest_times_to_the_present,_founded_on_the_most_modern_authorities,_and_including_chronological_summaries_and_(14579767308).jpg

adj. difficult to deal with or settle

n. a verbal nicety, a subtle distinction

n. the act of bringing something up to date to meet current needs

adj. fitted or designed to promote peace

The survivors of the Titanic were picked up by the English passenger steamship Carpathia, which conveyed them to New York. This presented a delicate problem to the Social Register. “In those days the ship that people travelled on was an important yardstick in measuring their standing, and the Register dutifully kept track,” notes Walter Lord in A Night to Remember (1955). “To say that listed families crossed on the Titanic gave them their social due, but it wasn’t true. To say they arrived on the plodding Carpathia was true, but socially misleading. How to handle this dilemma? In the case of those lost, the Register dodged the problem — after their names it simply noted the words, ‘died at sea, 15 April 1912’. In the case of those living, the Register carefully ran the phrase, ‘Arrived Titan-Carpath, 18 April 1912’. The hyphen represented history’s greatest sea disaster.”

Return Engagement
Image: Wikimedia Commons

On Easter Saturday 1921, pharmacologist Otto Loewi dreamed of an experiment that would prove that the transmission of nerve impulses was chemical rather than electrical. He scribbled down the idea and went back to sleep, then discovered the next morning that he couldn’t read the note.

That day, he said, was the longest of his life. Fortunately, the dream returned to him that night, and this time he went immediately to the laboratory. Thirteen years later he received the Nobel Prize for discovering the role of acetylcholine as an endogenous neurotransmitter.

Art Appreciation

I had not then acquired the technique that I flatter myself now enables me to deal competently with the works of modern artists. If this were the place I could write a very neat little guide to enable the amateur of pictures to deal to the satisfaction of their painters with the most diverse manifestations of the creative instinct. There is the intense ‘By God!’ that acknowledges the power of the ruthless realist, the ‘It’s so awfully sincere’ that covers your embarrassment when you are shown the coloured photograph of an alderman’s widow, the low whistle that exhibits your admiration for the post-impressionist, the ‘Terribly amusing’ that expresses what you feel about the cubist, the ‘Oh!’ of one who is overcome, the ‘Ah!’ of him whose breath is taken away.

— Somerset Maugham, Cakes and Ale, 1930

Alice’s Number

Alice and Bob are two infinitely intelligent logicians. Each has a number drawn on their forehead. Each can see the other’s number but not their own. Each knows that both numbers are positive integers. An observer tells them that the number 50 is either the sum or the product of the two numbers. Alice says to Bob, “I do not know my number,” and Bob replies, “I do not know my number either.” What is Alice’s number?

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