Rehearsal

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carole_Lombard_in_Nothing_Sacred_1.jpg

In 1940, just before the release of her film They Knew What They Wanted, Carole Lombard’s press agent, Russell Birdwell, approached the filmmakers with a novel publicity scheme. Lombard would be scheduled to fly to New York for the opening, but they would arrange for the plane to “go down” en route and remain missing for 12 hours.

“And in those twelve hours, fellas, we’re going to be on every goddam front page in the United States of America,” Birdwell said. “Not only Carole Lombard’s name, but the name of the picture and the name of the theatre it’s going to open at and how would you like to foot the bill for that kind of advertising?” He planned that eventually Lombard and the pilot could wander out of the woods saying that the plane’s engines and radio had died.

In his 1967 memoir Hollywood, director Garson Kanin remembers that in the meeting Lombard began to slap her thigh, yelling, “I’ll die! I’ll die! Isn’t that something? I’ll die!”

Birdwell’s plan was considered seriously but finally canceled due to the cost. Two years later, Lombard died in a plane crash in Nevada. “I could hear Carole’s voice and the sound of her hand slapping her thigh, her voice yelling delightedly, ‘I’ll die! I’ll die!'” Kanin wrote. “I remembered Russell Birdwell’s notion of the fake crash for publicity. I stood there hoping against hope that perhaps this was a postponed version of his scheme. … Carole Lombard … could not be dead at thirty-five. But she was.”

(Thanks, Ted.)

Batter Up!

https://books.google.com/books?id=eURaAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA301

The first pitching machine was powered by gunpowder. Princeton mathematician Charles Hinton designed it for the school baseball team in 1897, hoping to spare human pitchers whose arms were giving out under the incessant demands of batting practice. At first he planned a catapult, but he found this too inaccurate. Then “it occurred to me that practically whenever men wished to impel a ball with velocity and precision, they drove it out of a tube with powder.”

The result, which he wrote up in Harper’s Weekly on March 20, was a shoulder-mounted cannon whose 4-foot barrel could send a ball across the home plate at 70 mph. With a fingerlike attachment it could even throw a curveball. That summer it pitched three innings in a game between two Princeton social clubs, allowing four hits, striking out eight batters, walking one, and throwing only one wild pitch.

The Washington Post predicted the end of the world (“There would be the base-burning, high-pressure, anti-friction catcher, and the shortstop made of aluminium and rivets and filled with cogs, cams, valves, shafts, and belting”), but Hinton praised the gun’s handiness: “It can be used so as to deliver ball after ball at the same speed in the same curve, or it can be varied from shot to shot, according to the wish or skill of the manipulator.” He took it with him to the University of Minnesota, where he worked until 1900.

All Roads

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/434247

A self-working card trick by New York magician Henry Christ:

Shuffle a deck thoroughly and deal out nine cards in a row, face down. Choose a card, look at it, and assemble the nine cards into a stack face down, with the chosen card at the top. Add this stack to the bottom of the deck.

Now deal cards one at a time from the top of the deck into a pile, face up, counting backward from 10 as you do so. If at some point the card’s rank matches the number said, then begin dealing into a new pile at that point, counting again backward from 10. If you reach 1 without a match occurring, then “close” that pile by dealing a face-down card onto it, and start a new pile.

Keep this up until you’ve created four piles. Now add the values of any face-up cards on top of the piles, count down through the remaining cards until you’ve reached this position, and you’ll find your chosen card.

This works because it always leads to the 44th card in the deck, but it takes some thinking to see this. You can put a sealed deck into a stranger’s hands and direct him to perform the trick himself, with mystifying results.

The Bird Cage

https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US200358.pdf

In the 1870s baseball catchers played bare-faced, routinely suffering broken noses and teeth; to protect themselves they stood two dozen feet behind the batter, which prevented the pitcher from throwing his best pitches. Finally Fred Winthrop Thayer, captain of Harvard’s team, invented a “Safety-Mask for Base-Ball Players” to minimize the damage.

“It is not an unfrequent occurrence in the game of base-ball for a player to be severely injured in the face by a ball thrown against it,” he wrote in the patent application. “With my face-guard such an accident cannot happen.”

When catcher Jim Tyng first wore Thayer’s mask on April 12, 1877, it was roundly derided. Spectators yelled “Mad dog!” and “Muzzle ’em!”, and opposing players greeted Tyng with “good natured though somewhat derisive pity.” The Portland, Maine, Sunday Telegram wrote, “There is a great deal of beastly humbug in contrivances to protect men from things which do not happen. There is about as much sense in putting a lightning rod on a catcher as there is a mask.”

Catchers finally submitted when sportwriter Henry Chadwick faulted their “moral courage.” “Plucky enough to face the dangerous fire of balls from the swift pitcher,” he wrote, “they tremble before the remarks of the small boys of the crowd of spectators, and prefer to run the risk of broken cheek bones, dislocated jaws, a smashed nose or blackened eyes, than stand the chaff of the fools in the assemblage.”

Today Thayer’s Harvard mask is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In a Word

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Death_star1.png

interfector
n. a death-bringing planet

mundicidious
adj. likely or able to destroy the world

In 2012 an online petition urged the Obama administration to build a Death Star like the one in Star Wars. The campaign amassed 25,000 signatures, enough to require an official response, and it fell to Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch at the Office of Management and Budget, to reject the project. He gave three reasons:

  • The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?

Three-Cornered Baseball

http://keymancollectibles.com/publications/images/wpe1.gif

In 1944, eager to help the war effort, a group of New York sportswriters arranged a three-way baseball game among the Brooklyn Dodgers, the New York Yankees, and the New York Giants. The teams took turns batting, fielding, and sitting so that each played a total of six innings, under a scheme concocted by Columbia University math professor Paul A. Smith:

three-cornered baseball

Leo Durocher managed the Dodgers, Joe McCarthy the Yankees, and Mel Ott the Giants. The Dodgers showed a strange talent for this sort of play, winning 5-1-0 and shutting out the Giants entirely. The game “drew a gathering of 50,000, which included 500 wounded service heroes,” reported the New York Times, whose Byzantine box score is reproduced here.

“It helped swell New York’s war bond quota by approximately $56,500,000, and it also demonstrated that no matter how much you may strive to complicate things, the Dodgers, who still insist on doing things in their own fashion, will invariably continue to find their way around.”

A Universal Language

The Swedish pop group Caramba has an odd claim to fame — their eponymous 1981 album consists entirely of nonsense lyrics. No one’s even sure who was in the band — the album sleeve lists 13 members, all using pseudonyms. It was produced by Michael B. Tretow, who engineered ABBA’s records, and singer Ted Gärdestad contributed some vocals, but these are the only two participants who have been named.

The band broke up (apparently) after the first album, so we’ll never get more of this. Here are the lyrics to the single “Hubba Hubba Zoot Zoot”:

Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Num
Deba uba zat zat
Num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Num
Deba uba zat zat
Num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa
HAH
A-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa
HAH
A-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
A-huh zoot a-huh
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
Num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
Deba uba zat zat
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
a-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
deba uba zat zat
HAH
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Duuh
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
HAH
A-num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
HAH
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
HOH
Hubba hubba zoot zoot
Hubba hubba mo-re mo-re
Deba uba zat zat a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-hoorepa hoorepa a-huh-hoorepa a-num num
A-num

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

Community Spirit

Louisiana State University law professor Christine Alice Corcos points out that Ghostbusters, apart from being an entertaining comedy, also offers “a thoughtful introduction to environmental law and policy, suitable for discussion in a law school class.” For example, the team has no license for the containment unit in the basement of their firehouse:

The LLRWA sets forth extremely specific terms under which sites must be proposed, evaluated, and chosen. It also mandates environmental impact statements, which the Ghostbusters could not have prepared since they did not notify any agency of their activities. Additionally, the LLRWA guidelines require that the waste being stored, and the disposal site, be structurally stable. Apparently the psychic waste being stored does not meet Class B or C waste guidelines, nor does it seem to have the minimum stability required by any other class. As we see on Peck’s second visit to the facility, it is neither liquid nor solid, and if released will likely ignite or emit toxic vapors. Furthermore, storage is likely to be advisable not for 100 years, as with Class A and B wastes, but forever. However, under RCRA, the government need only show that the waste is hazardous within the statutory definition. The EPA might prefer to exercise this option for this particular case.

On the other hand, it’s EPA lawyer Walter Peck who orders the unit to be shut down, over the team’s protests. “Peck’s unilateral action may leave the EPA liable for suit by New York City residents under the Federal Tort Claims Act,” Corcos writes. “A successful suit would have to fall outside one of two exceptions to the federal government’s waiver of immunity. The discretionary function exception, exempts the acts and omissions of a government employee ‘exercising due care in the execution of a statute or regulation,’ or specific intentional torts, such as assault, battery and false imprisonment. Peck’s behavior in forcing the release of the psychic waste arguably falls within the battery exception, as would Venkman’s claim of malicious prosecution.”

(Christine Alice Corcos, “‘Who Ya Gonna C(S)ite?’: Ghostbusters and the Environmental Regulation Debate,” Journal of Land Use & Environmental Law (1997): 231-272.) (Thanks, Mark.)

Cross Purposes

ferland crossword grid

The daily New York Times crossword puzzle fills a grid measuring 15×15. The smallest number of clues ever published in a Times puzzle is 52 (on Jan. 21, 2005), and the largest is 86 (on Dec. 23, 2008).

This set Bloomsburg University mathematician Kevin Ferland wondering: What are the theoretical limits? What are the shortest and longest clue lists that can inform a standard 15×15 crossword grid, using the standard structure rules (connectivity, symmetry, and 3-letter words minimum)?

The shortest is straightforward: A blank grid with no black squares will be filled with 30 15-letter words, 15 across and 15 down.

The longest is harder to determine, but after working out a nine-page proof Ferland found that the answer is 96: The largest number of clues that a Times-style crossword will admit is 96, using a grid such as the one above.

In honor of this result, he composed a puzzle using this grid — it appears in the June-July 2014 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly.

(Kevin K. Ferland, “Record Crossword Puzzles,” American Mathematical Monthly 121:6 [June-July 2014], 534-536.)

Fascinating Rhythm

The theme music for the British television series Inspector Morse starts with a motif based on the Morse code for the word Morse:

-- --- ·-· ··· ·

“It was just a little in-joke,” composer Barrington Pheloung told Essex Life & Countryside in 2001. “I put his name at the beginning and then it recurred all the way through.”

Encouraged, he carried the idea into subsequent episodes. “Sometimes I got a bit cheeky and spelled out the killer’s name in the episode. In the episode ‘WHOK,’ which was a bit of an enigma, the culprit was called Earle. So he got plastered all over the orchestra.” When viewers caught on to this, occasionally he’d insert another character’s name to fool them.

And sometimes he’d give them the slip entirely. When the episode aired in which the detective was due to reveal his first name, 20 million people tuned in to listen for clues in the music, and a national newspaper enlisted the Royal College of Signalling to decipher the notes. They found nothing. (The inspector’s name is Endeavour.)

(Thanks, Dave.)

UPDATE: In the same spirit, the theme to the 1970s British sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em (below) spells out the series’ title in Morse code (minus the apostrophes). (Thanks, Nick.)