You’re Welcome

You’d pay $1,000 to witness my mastery of the black arts, wouldn’t you? Of course you would.

  1. Buy a brand-new deck of cards.
  2. Discard the jokers, cut the deck 13 times, and deal it into 13 piles.
  3. Now stand back … Ph’nglui mglw’nafh C’thulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!
  4. Look at the cards. Presto! They have magically grouped themselves by value — all the aces are in one pile, kings in another, etc.

You owe me $1,000.

Playing Favorites

A tied football match in southern Congo came to an unexpected conclusion on Oct. 28, 1998, when a lightning bolt struck and killed all 11 members of the visiting team.

“The athletes from [home team] Basanga curiously came out of this catastrophe unscathed,” reported the Kinshasa newspaper L’Avenir.

“The exact nature of the lightning has divided the population in this region, which is known for its use of fetishes in football.”


The Earl of Yarborough offers you a wager. He’ll shuffle an ordinary deck and deal you 13 cards. If none of your cards ranks above 9, he’ll give you a thousand pounds. Otherwise you must give him one pound.

Should you accept?

Click for Answer

The Horizontorium

This clever anamorphic illusion was invented by W. Shires in 1821. Cut out the center piece, make a hole at A, fold it at B, and position it at D. (Here’s a larger version.)

Peer through the hole with one eye, preferably with a light source on your right, and you’ll see the tombstone in three dimensions, surrounded by a low palisade.

Here’s another scene using the same principle; position the eyepiece where the turrets’ lines would converge and “the whole view will appear in its just proportions, representing a castle at a considerable distance, the loftiest part of which appearing scarcely an inch high.”


This is the Roundhay Garden Scene, the earliest surviving motion picture, shot in 1888 in the Leeds garden of Joseph and Sarah Whitley.

The scene is only 2 seconds long, but it seems to have conveyed a queer curse. Sarah died only 10 days after the shoot; director Louis Le Prince vanished from a French train two years later; and actor Alphonse Le Prince was found dead of a gunshot in 1902. There’s a novel in here somewhere.

“The Magic Circle”

Assure the company that it is in your power, if any person will place himself in the middle of the room, to make a circle round him, out of which, although his limbs shall be quite at liberty, it will be impossible for him to jump without partially undressing himself, let him use as much exertion as he may. This statement will, without doubt, cause some little surprise; and one of the party will, in all probability, put your asseverations to the test. Request him to take his stand in the middle of the room, then blindfold him, button his coat, and next with a piece of chalk draw a circle round his waist. On withdrawing the bandage from his eyes and showing him the circle you have described, he must at once perceive that he cannot jump out of it without taking off his coat.

— Samuel Williams, The Boy’s Treasury of Sports, Pastimes, and Recreations, 1847

Diamond in the Rough

Irving Berlin composed more than 3,000 songs, including “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” but he could barely read music, and his own singing voice was nearly inaudible.

Worse, as a self-taught pianist he played everything in F# major, requiring a special piano to explore other tonalities. “The black keys are right there under your fingers,” he once said. “The key of C is for people who study music.”

He relied on assistants to arrange his ideas — but he still claimed credit for the ideas themselves. “You may not be able to type your own letter, but somebody else can do it for you,” he said. “But they can’t make it up for you.”

The Publius Enigma

In June 1994, shortly after Pink Floyd released the album The Division Bell, someone calling himself Publius posted two messages to the newsgroup

  • “My friends, You have heard the message Pink Floyd has delivered, but have you listened? Perhaps I can be your guide, but I will not solve the enigma for you.”
  • “The Division Bell is not like its predecessors. Although all great music is subject to multiple interpretations, in this case there is a central purpose and a designed solution. For the ingenious person (or group of persons) who recognizes this–and where this information points to–a unique prize has been secreted.”

When readers asked for proof of his authenticity, Publius wrote, “Monday, July 18, East Rutherford, New Jersey. Approximately 10:30pm. Flashing white lights. There is an enigma.” Sure enough, at the appointed time during a Floyd concert the words ENIGMA PUBLIUS appeared in white lights at the front of the stage.

Unfortunately, the clues then dwindled, no explanation was given, and no winner was ever announced. Rumors about the enigma have appeared ever since in fan circles and semi-cryptically from the band’s organization, but no one really knows what the enigma is. “It is important to note that neither I nor anyone involved with this zine will enter into any correspondence on this topic,” wrote Jeff Jensen, editor of the band’s fan magazine, in issue 34. “It’s a puzzle for you, devised by the one who loves you enough to drive you mad.”