Death Scene


Sarah Bernhardt slept in a coffin. “I found it quite natural to sleep every night in this little bed of white satin which was to be my last couch,” she said — until her sister’s death led to a “tragic-comic incident”:

When the undertaker’s men came to the room to take away the body they found themselves confronted with two coffins, and losing his wits, the master of ceremonies sent in haste for a second hearse. I was at that moment with my mother, who had lost consciousness, and I got back just in time to prevent the black-clothed men taking away my coffin.

“The second hearse was sent back, but the papers got hold of this incident,” she adds wearily. “I was blamed, criticised, etc.”

“The Prisoners’ Release Puzzle”

Take two pieces of string or tape, and round the wrists of two persons tie the string, as shown in Fig. 19. It adds to the amusement of the puzzle if one of the persons is a lady and the other a gentleman. The puzzle is for them to liberate themselves, or for any one else to release them without untying the string. To do this, B makes a loop of his string pass under either of A’s manacles, slips it over A’s hands, and both will be free. Reverse the proceeding, and the manacles are again as before.

Cassell’s Complete Book of Sports and Pastimes, 1896


When Dr. Franklin went to France on his revolutionary mission, his eminence as a philosopher, his venerable appearance, and the cause on which he was sent, rendered him extremely popular — for all ranks and conditions of men there entered warmly into the American interest. He was, therefore, feasted and invited to all the court parties. At these he sometimes met the old Duchess of Bourbon, who being a chess-player of about his force, they were very generally played together. Happening once to put her king into prise, the Doctor took it. ‘Ah,’ says she, ‘we do not take kings so.’ ‘We do in America,’ said the Doctor.

— Sarah Randolph, The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson, 1871

First Things First

In 1963, Giants pitcher Gaylord Perry joked, “They’ll put a man on the moon before I hit a home run.”

On July 20, 1969, just minutes after Apollo 11 made its lunar landing, he hit the first home run of his career.

Screen King

Humphrey Bogart was an expert chess player. Here’s a 1951 game he played with Lauren Bacall — she had black:

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 g6 4. d3 d5 5. exd5 Qxd5 6. c4 Bb4+ 7. Nc3 Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Qd6 9. a4 Bd7 10. Ba3 Qf6 11. Qe2 Nge7 12. Bxe7 Qxe7 13. Bxc6 Bxc6 14. Nxe5 Bxg2 15. Rg1 Bh3 16. Rg3 Be6 17. d4 c6 18. d5 cxd5 19. cxd5 Bxd5 20. c4 Be6 21. Re3 f6 22. Nd3 Kf7 23. Nf4 Rae8 24. Nxe6 Qb4+ 25. Kf1 Re7 26. Re1 Rhe8

bogart chess

27. Nd8+ Kf8 28. Rxe7 Rxe7 29. Qxe7+ Qxe7 30. Rxe7 Kxe7 31. Nxb7 1-0

There’s no record of her reaction.


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.)