Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed applies surreal distortions to traditional Islamic rugs: They seem to melt, warp, and pixelate, though they’re all created using traditional weaving techniques.

“I love being a hostage [to tradition], because it’s a quiz and you have to take it to set yourself free,” he told Art Radar. “I think we are never completely free anyway, but you should exactly know where your own cage ends.”

More at his website.

Art and Artifice


Crockett Johnson, author of the 1955 children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, was trained as an engineer and produced more than 100 paintings based on diagrams used in the proofs of classical theorems. This one, Polar Line of a Point and a Circle (Apollonius), appears to have been inspired by a figure in Nathan A. Court’s 1966 College Geometry. The two circles are orthogonal: They cut one another at right angles. And as the square of the line connecting their centers equals the sum of the squares of their radii, these three segments form a right triangle.

Johnson was inspired to this work by his admiration of classical Greek architecture. Sitting in a restaurant in Syracuse in 1973, he managed to construct a heptagon using seven toothpicks and the edges of a menu and a wine list, a construction that had eluded the Greeks. (He found later that Archibald Finlay had illustrated similar constructions in 1959.)

(Stephanie Cawthorne and Judy Green, “Harold and the Purple Heptagon,” Math Horizons 17:1 [2009], 5-9.)


stuttgart rail network

This transit map of Stuttgart’s rail network, adopted around 2000, was unique: By omitting horizontal and vertical lines and setting all diagonals at 30 degrees, the designers produced the appearance of three dimensions.

“This diagram is the only one of its type in the world,” wrote Mark Ovenden in Transit Maps of the World, “although Harry Beck did experiment briefly with a 60/120-degree variation of the London map in 1940.” Alas, it’s since been superseded.

The Stairs of Reconciliation

Image: Flickr

The Burg, the official headquarters of the regional government in Graz, Austria, contains a double spiral staircase, two flights of stairs spiraling in opposite directions that “reunite” at each floor, a masterpiece of architecture designed in 1499.

Bonus: Interestingly, several facades of the building bear the inscription A.E.I.O.U., a motto coined by Frederick III in 1437, when he was Duke of Styria. It’s not clear what this means, and over the ensuing centuries heraldists have offered more than 300 interpretations:

  • “All the world is subject to Austria” (Alles Erdreich ist Österreich untertan or Austriae est imperare orbi universo)
  • “I am loved by the elect” (from the Latin amor electis, iniustis ordinor ultor)
  • “Austria is best united by the Empire” (Austria est imperio optime unita)
  • “Austria will be the last (surviving) in the world” (Austria erit in orbe ultima)
  • “It is Austria’s destiny to rule the whole world” (Austriae est imperare orbi universo)

At the time Styria was not yet part of Austria, so here it would refer to the House of Austria, or the Habsburg dynasty — which historically adopted the curious motto itself.

The Moses Bridge

Image: Flickr

Visitors to the Fort de Roovere in the Netherlands cross a moat using a sunken bridge designed by Ro & AD Architects.

To sustain the effect, the stairways on either bank are also sunk into the earth, so that the whole passage is invisible from a distance.

Image: Flickr

Local Fauna

Image: My Modern Met

French street artist Braga Last One used spray paint to transform a gas tank outside Marseilles into a Sphynx cat.

The piece must be viewed from a certain perspective, but it blends into the landscape to make the illusion more compelling.

See more of the artist’s work at My Modern Met.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Anthem Veterans Memorial, in Anthem, Arizona, consists of five white pillars representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Each pillar contains a slanted elliptical opening, and the five are arranged so that at 11:11 a.m. on Veterans Day, November 11, the sun’s light passes through all five and illuminates the Great Seal of the United States, which is inlaid among 750 red paving stones engraved with the names of veterans.

Podcast Episode 298: The Theft of the Mona Lisa


In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. After an extensive investigation it made a surprising reappearance that inspired headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the painting’s abduction, which has been called the greatest art theft of the 20th century.

We’ll also shake Seattle and puzzle over a fortunate lack of work.

See full show notes …