Arriving home early one day, Yogi Berra asked his wife where she’d been that afternoon.

She said she’d taken their son to see Doctor Zhivago.

Berra said, “What the hell’s wrong with him now?”

Moe Berg

Catcher Moe Berg earned his reputation as “the brainiest guy in baseball.” At Princeton, where he studied seven languages, he communicated plays in Latin with the second baseman, and he later attended Columbia Law School and the Sorbonne while reading 10 newspapers a day. After 15 undistinguished seasons as a ballplayer, he went to work as a spy during World War II, parachuting into Yugoslavia for the Office of Strategic Services and interviewing Italian physicists about the German nuclear program. (He chose not to shoot Werner Heisenberg.) His is the only baseball card on display at CIA headquarters.

Berg was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1945, but he spent the last 20 years of his life living quietly with siblings. He declined to write a memoir, so much of his life is still a mystery. When asked why he had “wasted” his intellectual gifts on baseball, he said, “I’d rather be a ballplayer than a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.” His final words were “How did the Mets do today?”

Tit for Tat

What’s unusual about this position?

leathem chess puzzle - 28 checks

Twenty-eight consecutive checks:

1. c7+ N(8)xc7+ 2. bxc7+ Nxc7+ 3. dxc7+ Ke7+ 4. g8(=N)+ Rxg8+ 5. hxg8(=N)+ Qxg8+ 6. f8(=B)+ Qxf8+ 7. Qe8+ Qxe8+ 8. d8(=Q)+ Qxd8+ 9. c8(=N)+ Rxc8+ 10. bxc8(=N)+ Qxc8+ 11. Bb8+ Bxe4+ 12. Nd5+ Bxd5+ 13. Nc6+ Bxc6+ 14. Rb7+ Qxb7 mate

(Composed by Leathem.)

No Go

If two chessplayers cooperate, how quickly can they reach a stalemate without any captures? Working independently, Sam Loyd, E.N. Frankenstein, W.H. Thompson, and Henry Dudeney all produced the same position, which can be reached in 12 moves:

1. d4 e5 2. Qd3 Qh4 3. Qg3 Bb4+ 4. Nd2 a5 5. a4 d6 6. h3 Be6 7. Ra3 f5 8. Qh2 c5 9. Rg3 Bb3 10. c4 f4 11. f3 e4 12. d5 e3

Just Deserts

The image of a man playing chess with the devil for possession of his soul has appeared in many pieces of fiction, notably Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal (and later Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey). In one interesting twist that appears in some folk stories, the devil takes black (naturally), and play goes like this:

chess with death

1. … Nd4+ 2. Kd6 Qxd7+ 3. Nxd7 Rxd5+ 4. Nxd5 Re6

“Mate!” cries the fiend — but then he takes a second look at the board and disappears with a scream:

chess with death - solution


The annual Leonid meteor shower was unusually spectacular in November 1833, raining a hundred thousand meteors per hour over the eastern United States.

“[There were] thousands of luminous bodies shooting across the firmament in every direction,” wrote the Florence, Ala., Gazette. “There was little wind and not a trace of clouds, and the meteors succeeded each other in quick succession.”

That spectacle is remembered in a unique way — it’s the basis of the jazz standard “Stars Fell on Alabama”:

I never planned in my imagination
A situation so heavenly
A fairy land where no one else could enter
And in the center just you and me

We lived our little drama
We kissed in a field of white
And stars fell on Alabama last night.