Mind Games

https://pixabay.com/photos/happiness-lucky-number-roulette-839037/

Card expert John Scarne tells the story of an elderly, distinguished gentleman, apparently slightly inebriated, who one night began observing the play at a Houston roulette table. Presently he began to complain about how unlucky he was.

“What do you mean, unlucky?” the croupier asked.

“Number 32 just won, didn’t it?” the man said.

“Yes, but you didn’t have a bet down,” said the croupier. “What’s unlucky about that?”

“Oh, yes, I did,” the man said. “I made a $10 mind bet on 26 and lost!” He gave the croupier a $10 bill. “I always pay my losses,” he said, “even on mind bets.”

The croupier tried to return the money, but the old man wouldn’t take it, so the croupier rolled his eyes and shoved the bill into the money box.

The old man disappeared in the direction of the bar, but returned just as the croupier was spinning the wheel. When the ball dropped he shouted excitedly, “That’s me! I bet ten bucks on number 20, and I won!”

The croupier tried to continue the play, but the man, who suddenly seemed much more sober, demanded to be paid the $350 he had won in his mind bet.

“He kept this up until the casino manager was called,” Scarne writes. “After hearing what had happened, he ruled that since the croupier had accepted a $10 losing mental bet, he must pay off on the winning mind bet. You can be quite sure that this was the last mental bet which that croupier or any other in that casino ever accepted.”

(From J. Scarne’s New Complete Guide to Gambling, 1974.)

Rotating Office

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ilka_Chase.jpg

Actress Ilka Chase married Louis Calhern in 1926, but he divorced her the following year to marry Julia Hoyt.

Sorting through her possessions afterward, she discovered a set of engraved calling cards that she’d had printed with the name Mrs. Louis Calhern.

“They were the best cards — thin, flexible parchment, highly embossed — and it seemed a pity to waste them, and so I mailed the box to my successor,” she wrote later.

“But aware of Lou’s mercurial marital habits, I wrote on the top one, ‘Dear Julia, I hope these reach you in time.’

“I received no acknowledgment.”

(From Chase’s 1945 autobiography Past Imperfect.)

In a Word

res angusta domi
n. straitened financial circumstances

appaumé
adj. having the hand opened out so as to display the palm

mammering
n. a state of hesitation or doubt

manuduction
n. careful guidance

dactylonomy
n. the art of counting on the fingers

belve
v. to roar or bellow

Stage Whiskers

In 1854 Robert Barnabas Brough wrote a one-act farce that centers on mustaches:

LOUISA. (looking at his moustache rapturously) And yours are such loves! (caressing them)

SOSKINS. (putting his hand up nervously) D—don’t pull ’em about.

LOUISA. (passionately) I wouldn’t injure a hair of them for worlds! — For they are the load-star of my existence!

SOSKINS. (aside) Ahem! (seriously, taking her hand, walking her up and down) Louisa, I fear it is the moustache and not the man you love.

LOUISA. Oh! don’t say that, Anthony — though I own it was they first won me, two months ago, when we met at the Eagle …

In the end she tells the audience, “I charge you, O women, for the love you bear to moustaches, to like this play as an advocate for their growing — and I charge you, O men, for the anxiety you have to grow moustaches … that on the hundredth night I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, moustaches that liked me, and whiskers that were dyed not.”

Good Luck!

https://patents.google.com/patent/US1152183A/en?oq=US1152183

In 1915, Abel Kiansten and John Nelson patented an alarming precursor to the roller coaster in which a victim on roller skates zooms down a ramp and through a loop-the-loop. This is made safe, the inventors assure us, because the skate wheels are secured to the track and the rider is given a little handle to cling to. “Such a support is necessary because the various positions assumed by the performer during his trip would invariably throw the most active athlete from his upright position if some means were not offered him to remain in a standing position.”

It’s not known whether it was ever built. “Many patents were sound and far-reaching, but as many ideas were simply treacherous,” writes Robert Cartmell in The Incredible Scream Machine, his 1987 history of the roller coaster. “It is a blessing some never left the drawing boards or, when built, were closed by lawsuits. Every deviation with tracks was attempted and the eventual safety codes or inspections by insurances companies became beneficial restraints.”

Cavalry

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This is beautifully simple: The strategy game Jeson Mor, from Mongolia, is essentially a chess variant played on a 9×9 board. Each player gets nine knights, arranged as shown, and the winner is the first player who can occupy the central square and then leave that square on a subsequent turn. (Alternatively you can win by capturing all the opponent’s pieces.)

That’s it. It sounds straightforward, but with good play it becomes a delicate dance in which each side tries to prepare an attack of his own while compromising his opponent’s, and because the knights are short-range pieces, it tends to create a complex scrimmage in which an unexpected move will win the day.

You can play it online here; here’s a video of two new players trying it out.

Looking the Part

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As he was preparing King Kong for his 1933 screen debut, producer Merian C. Cooper was continually dissatisfied with sculptor Marcel Delgado’s sensitive models of the giant ape. “I want Kong to be the fiercest, most brutal, monstrous damned thing that has ever been seen,” he insisted. Animator Willis O’Brien objected that the audience wouldn’t sympathize with a monster that lacked human qualities, but Cooper was adamant: “I’ll have women crying over him before I’m through, and the more brutal he is the more they’ll cry at the end.”

He called the American Museum of Natural History and asked for the exact dimensions of a large male gorilla. On the afternoon of December 22, 1931, he gave O’Brien a telegram from the curator of zoology:

DIMENSIONS LARGE MALE GORILLAS HEIGHT HEEL TO CROWN SIXTY SEVEN INCHES SPAN OUTSTRETCHED ARMS HUNDRED TWO INCHES CHEST OVER NIPPLES SIXTY CIRCUMFERENCE AROUND BELLY SEVENTY TWO STOP PHOTOGRAPH OF ADULT HUMAN AND GORILLA SKELETONS COMPARED SEE HAECKEL E NINETEEN THREE ANTHROPOGENIE VOLUME TWO PAGE SEVEN NINETY EIGHT FOR OTHER DATA YERKES NINETEEN TWENTY NINE THE GREAT APES AND DUCHAILLU EIGHTEEN SIXTY TWO ADVENTURES IN EQUATORIAL AFRICA — HARRY C RAVEN

“Now that’s what I want,” he said. O’Brien quit on the spot and walked out of the studio, but after a few drinks together the two returned to work. Eventually they agreed on a compromise. In The Making of King Kong, Orville Goldner writes, “The scene would be repeated several times during the year to come.”

Armageddon

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TaikyokuShogiSente.svg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1997 researchers rediscovered a 16th-century variant of Japanese chess called taikyoku shōgi, perhaps the largest and most challenging chesslike game ever devised. Played with 804 pieces of 209 types on a board of 1,296 squares, a single game might require a thousand moves played over several long sessions.

“The first difficulty lies in deciphering the minuscule characters identifying a nearly endless crowd of pieces,” write Jean-Louis Cazaux and Rick Knowlton in A World of Chess. “The players must have long arms, tiny fingers, microscopic vision and a huge memory.”

Only two sets of pieces have been restored, and the known rules sets disagree and have yet to be reconciled, but even Wikipedia’s summary of the rules reflects the jaw-dropping complexity of the game.

Table Talents

Born in 1870, George H. Sutton lost both arms below the elbows in a sawmill accident at age 8, but he rose to become one of the foremost billiards players in the nation. In reporting on a Brooklyn tournament in 1903, the New York Times wrote:

Sutton’s handicap in having lost both hands and forearms about three inches below the elbows, gave a novelty to the game, and the ease and rapidity with which he executed the difficult shots was astonishing. His strongest forte seemed to be in the hard massés and draw shots. In all his cue work, Sutton uses no artificial device, and the stick rests either upon the hollow of the left arm at the elbow, the ‘bridge,’ or table rail, the ‘bridge’ being supported by holding the handle on the right knee slightly elevated. The force of propulsion when shooting with one arm comes from the flexible muscles below the elbow joint at the stump of the arm.

He kept this up for 35 years. “Many armless men and women have learned by painstaking practice to make use of their feet for writing, piano-playing, etc.,” marveled Popular Science Monthly in 1918, “but there are probably no parallel instances on record where a man deprived of both arms has become an expert billiard-player by the use of his arm stumps.”

In 1930, he made a run of 3,000 points at straight billiards, which billiards author Robert Byrne calls “one of the most astounding records in any game or sport.” He died of a heart attack at age 68, still on tour.