The Champion

A group of us had gone to the pier to have dinner at a little fish restaurant, and while waiting to be served, Charlie Chaplin noticed a sign across the way that read, ‘Scientific Handwriting Analysis. Ten Cents.’ Charlie decided, as a joke, to try the expert out. Aldous [Huxley] stopped him. It would be too simple for a swami to ‘read’ for Charlie because his appearance was familiar to practically everyone in the world. On the other hand no one would recognize Aldous. So Charlie wrote a few words on a scrap of paper which Aldous took to the lady. He returned from his interview in a mood of deep concentration and reported what had happened. The lady had studied the writing a moment and then looked up at Aldous suspiciously. ‘Are you trying to make fun of me, sir?’ she asked. Aldous assured her he was not and wanted to know why she asked. She paused and studied Charlie’s writing more closely. Then, still suspicious, she asked, ‘Did you write this while you were in an unnatural or cramped position?’ Aldous then admitted that the writing was not his own but he assured the lady that it had been done quite normally. ‘Then,’ said the expert, ‘I don’t know what to say, because if what you tell me is true, the man who wrote this is a God-given genius.’

— Anita Loos in Aldous Huxley: A Memorial Volume, ed. Julian Huxley, 1965

Smoldering Chic

This should have caught on — Watson P. Aull’s “cigarette ring,” patented in 1938, clamps a cigarette in a ring worn on the left forefinger, so that the smoker has full use of her hands.

Here’s a related stunt from R.M. Abraham’s Diversions & Pastimes (1933):

“A cigarette may be lit quite easily by holding it 4 or 5 inches above the flame of the match.”

I haven’t tried it.


In the days before chess clocks, a player might wait for hours while his opponent decided on a move.

Morphy’s companion Frederick Milnes Edge remarked that “[József] Szén was so frightfully slow, even in ordinary games, that he would have worn out 200 francs’ worth of his opponent’s pantaloons before the match was half through.”

The most notorious slowpoke in England was Elijah “The Bristol Sloth” Williams: In the fourth game of his London match against Henry Thomas Buckle in 1851, Williams lavished such exquisite care on his 25th move that Buckle had time to write two chapters of his History of Civilization.

Buckle won. “The slowness of genius is hard to bear,” he said, “but the slowness of mediocrity is intolerable.”

Match Game

More proof that women are better than men:

Kneel and place your elbows, arms, and hands together as if praying. Bend over and place your arms against the floor, with your elbows touching your knees. Have someone stand a matchbox on end on the floor at your fingertips. Now clasp your hands behind your back and try to knock over the matchbox with your nose.

Women manage this pretty gracefully, but men tend to fall over. A man’s center of mass is closer to his head.


In 1964, two students at California’s Pomona College hypothesized that the number 47 appears with unusual frequency in the world. They began to amass examples, starting a campus tradition that continues to this day:

  • The Declaration of Independence consists of 47 sentences.
  • The New Testament credits Jesus with 47 miracles.
  • Tolstoy’s novel The Kreutzer Sonata is named after Beethoven’s Opus 47.
  • Pancho Villa was killed by a barrage of 47 bullets.
  • The Pythagorean Theorem is Proposition 47 of Euclid’s Elements.
  • The tropics of Cancer and Capricorn are located 47 degrees apart.
  • Cesar proclaimed “Veni, vidi, vici” in 47 B.C.

Now the hypothesis has produced its own reality: Pomona graduate Joe Menosky became a writer for Star Trek and helped to build a universe where 47 appears oddly often:

  • The Enterprise stops at Sub-Space Relay Station 47, a character shrinks to 47 centimeters, and the crew discovers element 247.
  • On Voyager, the emergency medical holographic channel is 47.
  • On Star Trek: Generations, Scotty beams up 47 El-Aurians before their ship is destroyed.
  • According to the 2009 film, the Enterprise was built in Sector 47 of the Riverside Shipyards, and Nero’s ship, the Narada, is said to have destroyed 47 Klingon ships.

Trek producer Brannon Braga has confirmed that Voyager‘s Harry Kim lives in Apartment 4-G because G is the seventh letter in the alphabet.

“Music Under Difficulties”

The Strand of January 1907 presents these photographs of Mr. Leslie Pogson of Anwick, Sleaford, as “an executant on the piano under various strange and trying conditions”:

When exhibiting his abilities for the entertainment of his friends Mr. Pogson begins, as the first six photographs make sufficiently clear, by performing a difficult piece of music in attitudes with which most pianists are quite unfamiliar, going even so far, in one instance, as to dispense with the keyboard altogether and, removing the piano front, to play direct upon the hammers. An assistant then enters, and pretending that he wishes to write a letter, and that he is greatly annoyed by the musical solos, he shouts to the performer to cease playing. This having no effect, he throws two pieces of stick at the player, who picks them up and goes on playing with them instead of with his fingers, even when a table-cloth is spread over the keys. A quilt used in the same way fails to diminish the variety of his attitudes, and even when his hands are handcuffed and he is placed with his back to the instrument the flood of music still flows forth as volubly as ever.

One night Mr. Pogson was passing unobserved through the crush of his late audience when he overheard the somewhat loudly expressed opinion that ‘The whole thing was a fake, my dear. The man never played a note in his life; the piano is an automatic one!’ The photographer did not succeed in portraying Mr. Pogson at that stage of the proceedings.

“Napoleon’s Retreat From Moscow”

napoleon's retreat from moscow

Russian champion Alexander Petrov composed this study in 1824. Galloping Cossacks chase Napoleon from Moscow (b1) across the Berezina (the long white diagonal) to Paris (h8), “where the Czar achieves his victory, by a ‘check by discovery’.”

White’s knights accomplish the task in 14 moves. All the black king’s moves are forced:

1. Nd2+ 2. Nc3+ 3. Nb1+ 4. Na2+ 5. Na3+ 6. Nb4+ 7. Nb5+ 8. Na6+ 9. Na7+ 10. Nb8+ 11. Nc8+ 12. Nd7+ 13. Ne7+ 14. Kg2#

napoleon's retreat from moscow - end

No Exceptions

In 1907, Wilson Mizner ran a theatrical hotel in New York.

He posted two rules:

“Carry Out Your Own Dead”

“No Opium Smoking in the Elevator”

“Be nice to people on the way up,” he once said, “because you’ll meet them on the way down.”