In the 1967 Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” a small furry alien species is introduced on board the Enterprise and after three days grows to 1,771,561 individuals. In 2019 University of Leicester physics undergraduate Rosie Hodnett and her colleagues wondered how long it would take for the creatures to fill the whole starship. Using Mr. Spock’s estimate that each tribble produces 10 offspring every 12 hours and assuming that each tribble occupies 3.23 × 10-3 m3 and that the volume of the Enterprise is 5.94 × 106 m3, they found that the ship would reach its limit of 18.4 × 109 tribbles in 4.5 days.

A separate inquiry found that after 5.16 days the accumulated tribbles would be generating enough thermal energy to power the warp drive for 1 second.

(Rosie Hodnett et al., “Tribbling Times,” Journal of Physics Special Topics, Nov. 18, 2019.)


  • Liza Minnelli, daughter of Judy Garland, married Jack Haley Jr., son of the Tin Man.
  • The Netherlands still sends 20,000 tulip bulbs to Canada each year.
  • Every positive integer is a sum of distinct terms in the Fibonacci sequence.
  • HIDEOUS and HIDEOUT have no vowel sounds in common.
  • “Death is only a larger kind of going abroad.” — Samuel Butler

(Thanks, Colin and Joseph.)

No Play Zone

In an April 3, 1971, letter to the editor of the Saturday Review, reader K. Jason Sitewell reported some alarming news: A congressman named A.F. Day had introduced a bill that would abolish all private parks of more than 50 acres and all public recreation areas that were used by fewer than 150 people a day. The practical effect would be to abolish the nation’s golf courses.

Sitewell said he understood Day’s motive because he’d grown up with him. The congressman’s grandfather had “perished in a sand trap,” and his father had died of a coronary after hitting 19 balls into a pond.

An uproar followed. Country clubs vowed to fight the bill, constituents besieged their representatives, and editorials decried the measure, which Golf World called “as ominous a threat to golf as anything that has come along.”

But eventually it became clear that there was no such bill and readers saw the link between the purported congressman’s name and the date of Sitewell’s letter. It turned out that the whole thing had been a jape cooked up by Review editor and inveterate prankster Norman Cousins.

“I wrote apologies to each subscriber who had been offended or angered,” Cousins wrote. “I begged my golfing friends, who threatened to have me barred from every course in the nation, to forgive me for my joke. I suffered enough every time I played, I told them, and penance was awaiting me on each tee.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Obscure but entertaining: In 1123 David I of Scotland established that the Saint Andrews Links was common land that belonged to the townspeople of St Andrews.

David was the grandson of Duncan I, who’d been murdered by Macbeth — the man who was determined to “fight the course.”

See Out, Out!

In a Word
Image: Wikimedia Commons

n. an unexpected view of something that startles one; a sudden fear

n. the act of sneering or laughing derisively; mockery; derision

adj. bringing or producing death

adj. inciting, animating, or inspiring

Photographer Philippe Halsman took three hours to pose seven women in the shape of a skull for his surrealistic portrait In Voluptas Mors, after a sketch by Salvador Dalí, who’s seen in the foreground. Director Jonathan Demme borrowed the idea for the one-sheet poster for his 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs — the skull image on the “death’s head moth” is a miniature version of the same tableau.

“A Mind-Bogglingly Slow Job”

Released in 1978, The Campaign for North Africa has been called “the most complicated board game ever released.” On each turn a player must:

  • Plan strategic air missions
  • Raid Malta
  • Plan Axis convoys
  • Raid convoys
  • Distribute stores and consume stores
  • Calculate spillage/evaporation of water and adjust all supply dumps
  • Determine initiative
  • Determine weather (hot weather = more evaporation of water)
  • Distribute water
  • Reorganize units
  • Calculate attrition of units short of water and stores
  • Begin building construction
  • Begin training
  • Rearrange supplies
  • Transport cargo between African ports
  • Bring convoys ashore
  • Deploy Commonwealth fleet
  • Ship repair
  • Plan tactical air mission if airplanes are fueled
  • Begin air mission
    • Fight air-to-air combat
    • Fire flak
    • Carry out mission, return to base, airplane maintenance
  • Place land units on reserve
  • Movement:
    • Move units, tracking fuel expenditure and breakdown points vis-a-vis weather
    • Enemy reaction
    • Move more units
  • Combat:
    • Designate each tank and gun as deployed forward or back
    • Plot and fire barrages
    • Retreat before assault
    • Secretly assign all units to anti-armor or close-assault roles
    • Anti-armor fire
    • Adjust ammunition
    • Deploy destroyed tank markers and update unit records to reflect losses
    • Carry out probes and close assaults
  • Release reserves
  • Move rear trucks
  • Begin repair of breakdowns
  • Make patrols
  • Repeat all movement and combat steps a second time
  • Repeat all movement and combat steps a third time

His opponent then completes the same sequence, and that constitutes just one game turn.

Reviewer Luke Winkie estimated that “If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.” Reviewer Nicholas Palmer added, “No doubt the first ten years are the hardest.”


  • Fletcher Christian’s first son was named Thursday October Christian.
  • 16384 = 163 × (8 – 4)
  • Of the 46 U.S. presidents to date, 16 have had no middle name.
  • “It is ill arguing against the use of anything from its abuse.” — Elizabeth I, in Walter Scott’s Kenilworth

Star Trek costume designer William Ware Theiss offered the Theiss Theory of Titillation: “The degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be.”

(Thanks, Michael.)

Two for One

Tod Browning’s iconic 1931 production of Dracula actually resulted in two films. Bela Lugosi shot his scenes during the day, and at night a Spanish-speaking cast performed a separate version, creating a parallel film for the foreign market.

“We shot all night long till next morning because we used exactly the same sets,” actor Lupita Tovar told NPR. “As a matter of fact, we had the same marks the English cast got, we stepped in the same place.”

The Spanish version has a somewhat different plot, with Renfield visiting Castle Dracula at the start. It opened in Havana in March 1931 and in Los Angeles two months later, but its box-office performance was disappointing and it was largely forgotten until a copy was discovered in a New Jersey warehouse in the 1970s. Since then it’s won a new life on DVD.

(Thanks, Abi.)