Eric Clapton grew up believing that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his sister. His real father had deserted the family, and they had adopted this fiction in order to spare him the stigma of illegitimacy.
“It occurs to me that the family had no real idea of how to explain my own existence to me,” he wrote in his 2007 autobiography, Clapton. “The guilt attached to that made them very aware of their own shortcomings, which would go a long way in explaining the anger and awkwardness that my presence aroused in almost everybody.”
One other striking detail from that book: He mentions that buying a yacht at age 60 was “the first time in my life I had to borrow money to pay for something.” This seems to mean that, ever since stardom had found him at age 18, he could simply acquire anything he wanted.
Niels Bohr liked westerns but found them exasperating. After one feature he told his friends, “I did not like that picture, it was too improbable. That the scoundrel runs off with the beautiful girl is logical, it always happens. That the bridge collapses under their carriage is unlikely but I am willing to accept it. That the heroine remains suspended in midair over a precipice is even more unlikely, but again I accept it. I am even willing to accept that at that very moment Tom Mix is coming by on his horse. But that at that very moment there should be a fellow with a motion picture camera to film the whole business — that is more than I am willing to believe.”
He did approve of movie gunfights, where the villain always draws first and yet the hero always wins. Bohr reasoned that the man who draws first in a gunfight is using conscious volition, where his opponent is relying on reflex, a much faster response. Hence the second man should win.
“We disagreed with this theory,” wrote George Gamow, “and the next day I went to a toy store and bought two guns in Western holders. We shot it out with Bohr, he playing the hero, and he ‘killed’ all his students.”
Abie’s Irish Rose became a fixture on Broadway in the 1920s, running for more than five years. That was bad news for Robert Benchley, who had to think up a new capsule review of the play each week for Life magazine:
“People laugh at this every night, which explains why democracy can never be a success.”
“In another two or three years, we’ll have this play driven out of town.”
“Where do people come from who keep this going? You don’t see them out in the daytime.”
“A-ha-ha-ha-ha! Oh, well, all right.”
“All right if you never went beyond the fourth grade.”
“The Phoenicians were among the earliest settlers of Britain.”
“There is no letter ‘w’ in the French language.”
“Flying fish are sometimes seen at as great a height as fifteen feet.”
In despair he finally wrote, “See Hebrews 13:8.”
That verse reads “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.”
“If scientific theories are correct it is more of an honor to lose at chess than win,” mused Edgar Rice Burroughs in his diary on Jan. 3, 1921. “I do not recall ever having lost a chess game — though I have played but few times.”
Perhaps inspired, he invented a Martian variant of the game, Jetan, for his novel The Chessmen of Mars, published the following spring. Played with alien pieces on a 10×10 board, the game underlies a climactic scene in which living players fight to the death on an oversize board.
A few months after the novel’s appearance, Burroughs received a letter from Elston B. Sweet, a convict at Leavenworth, who with a fellow prisoner had carved a full set of pieces for Jetan. “We have not only played dozens of games between us,” he wrote, “but have succeeded in making the game a favorite among several other prisoners.” When other readers expressed similar interest, Burroughs summarized the rules of the game in an appendix to the novel.
In a 1968 collection of chess variations, John Gollon praises Jetan as “quite good — very playable and entertaining.” He includes this sample game between himself (orange) and J. Miller (black):
New Jersey magician Karl Fulves invented this ESP trick. Hand a friend an ordinary die and turn your back. Ask her to place the die on a table. Now ask her to give the die a quarter turn: If the top number is even, she must turn it to the east (to her right), and if the top number is odd, she must turn it north (away from her). This exposes a new top number, and she can turn the die again according to the same rule, turning it east if the number is even and north if it’s odd. After she has continued in this way for several turns, you ask her to stop when the top number is 1, then to give the die one final turn and to concentrate on the top number. It would seem as though the final number might be any one of four possibilities, but you can name it correctly with your back turned. How?
After at most three moves, the die enters a recurring loop: 1 4 5 6 3 2. So after the first few turns, it’s safe to predict that 4 will follow 1. Because the whole cycle is predictable, the trick can be repeated a few times to produce various “final” numbers.