“A Mind-Bogglingly Slow Job”


Released in 1978, The Campaign for North Africa has been called “the most complicated board game ever released.” On each turn a player must:

  • Plan strategic air missions
  • Raid Malta
  • Plan Axis convoys
  • Raid convoys
  • Distribute stores and consume stores
  • Calculate spillage/evaporation of water and adjust all supply dumps
  • Determine initiative
  • Determine weather (hot weather = more evaporation of water)
  • Distribute water
  • Reorganize units
  • Calculate attrition of units short of water and stores
  • Begin building construction
  • Begin training
  • Rearrange supplies
  • Transport cargo between African ports
  • Bring convoys ashore
  • Deploy Commonwealth fleet
  • Ship repair
  • Plan tactical air mission if airplanes are fueled
  • Begin air mission
    • Fight air-to-air combat
    • Fire flak
    • Carry out mission, return to base, airplane maintenance
  • Place land units on reserve
  • Movement:
    • Move units, tracking fuel expenditure and breakdown points vis-a-vis weather
    • Enemy reaction
    • Move more units
  • Combat:
    • Designate each tank and gun as deployed forward or back
    • Plot and fire barrages
    • Retreat before assault
    • Secretly assign all units to anti-armor or close-assault roles
    • Anti-armor fire
    • Adjust ammunition
    • Deploy destroyed tank markers and update unit records to reflect losses
    • Carry out probes and close assaults
  • Release reserves
  • Move rear trucks
  • Begin repair of breakdowns
  • Make patrols
  • Repeat all movement and combat steps a second time
  • Repeat all movement and combat steps a third time

His opponent then completes the same sequence, and that constitutes just one game turn.

Reviewer Luke Winkie estimated that “If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.” Reviewer Nicholas Palmer added, “No doubt the first ten years are the hardest.”



The Rainhill trials, held in October 1829 to test the suitability of locomotives to run on the new Liverpool and Manchester Railway, brought a surprising entrant: Mathematician Thomas Shaw Brandreth offered Cycloped, a car powered by a horse on a treadmill.

It was no match for the other competitors, all of which were steam locomotives. Engineer George Stephenson’s Rocket won the day — and an important place in transportation history.

Getting There


English mapmaker John Ogilby completed a startling project in 1675: a road atlas of 17th-century Britain, offering strip maps of most of the major routes in England and Wales. He wrote to Charles II:

I have Attempted to Improve Our Commerce and Correspondency at Home, by Registring and Illustrating Your Majesty’s High-Ways, Directly and Transversely, as from Shoare to Shoare, so to the Prescrib’d Limts of the Circumambient Ocean, from the Great Emporium and Prime Center of the Kingdom, Your Royal Metropolis.

It used a consistent scale of one inch per mile, with each mile comprising 1760 yards, a standard that later mapmakers would follow. You can see the whole atlas here.

Looking On

Some say “If God sees everything before
It happens — and deceived He cannot be —
Then everything must happen, though you swore
The contrary, for He has seen it, He.”
And so I say, if from eternity
God has foreknowledge of our thought and deed,
We’ve no free choice, whatever books we read.

— Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde

War and Peace


The swans of Ypres were well known to practically nearly every battalion which tasted the fighting in the Ypres salient. In June 1915 the shelling of this area was particularly severe, but the small family of swans, which lived in the moat below the ramparts of the stricken city, glided placidly on the water and survived this and the terrible bombardments of the subsequent three years. Great was the excitement among our troops when, in 1917, the swans began nesting operations. On one occasion a German shell fell within a short distance of the nest, but the bird which was then sitting took no notice, except that, for a moment, she fluttered from the concussion. The triumph of the parent birds came when, during the fearful fighting of the third battle for the city, two cygnets were hatched.

— Hugh Steuart Gladstone, Birds and the War, 1919

Einstein’s Sink

Image: Wikimedia Commons

This antique sink has been in use by the physics faculty of Leiden University since 1920, the year that Albert Einstein was made professor by special appointment.

It stood originally in the large lecture room of the old Kamerlingh Onnes Laboratory, and it accompanied the department to the Leiden Bioscience park in 1977.

In more than a century of use, it’s earned its renown: Its users also include Paul Ehrenfest, Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, Albert Fert, and Brian Schmidt.

In 2015, when it became clear that sink would not accompany the department to a new science campus in 2025, a petition to “save the sink” received 197 signatures in a month. The faculty board agreed to move it to a lecture room in the new Oort building.

See Something Else.

Second Thoughts


[I]magine the proud possessor of the aeroplane darting through the air at a speed of several hundred feet per second! It is the speed alone that sustains him. How is he ever going to stop? Once he slackens his speed, down he begins to fall. He may, indeed, increase the inclination of his aeroplane. Then he increases the resistance necessary to move it. Once he stops he falls a dead mass. How shall he reach the ground without destroying his delicate machinery? I do not think the most imaginative inventor has yet even put upon paper a demonstrative, successful way of meeting this difficulty.

— Simon Newcomb, “The Outlook for the Flying Machine,” Independent, Oct. 22, 1903


On the afternoon of June 28, 1914, Stefan Zweig was on holiday in Baden, reading an essay in the Kurpark, while

the wind in the trees, the twittering of the birds and the music floating across from the park were at the same time part of my consciousness. I could clearly hear the melodies without being distracted, for the ear is so adaptable that a continuous noise, a roaring street, a rushing stream are quickly assimilated into one’s awareness; only an unexpected pause in the rhythm makes us prick our ears … Suddenly the music stopped in the middle of a bar. I didn’t know what piece they had played. I just sensed that the music had suddenly stopped. Instinctively, I looked up from my book. The crowd, too, which was strolling through the trees in a single flowing mass, seemed to change; it, too, paused abruptly in its motion to and fro. Something must have happened.

Word had just arrived that the archduke of Austria had been assassinated in Sarajevo.

(Quoted in Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers, 2013.)



Charles Bertram built his reputation as a historian on The Description of Britain, a 15th-century manuscript that he’d discovered at age 24 and that provided important new insights into British history, including an ancient map; more than a hundred names of cities, roads, and people; and information from a lost contemporary account by a Roman general. For more than a century Bertram’s discovery served as a touchstone of scholarship on Roman Britain — it was cited in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, among many other works.

After Bertram’s death in 1765 doubts began to mount, and by 1846 it was clear that The Description of Britain had been a forgery. Bertram had managed to convince a few influential librarians, and on the strength of their endorsement other historians had been willing to take the claim seriously. Bertram had never let anyone see the original manuscript, always inventing reasons why he couldn’t share it and sending instead facsimiles of the original.

The effects of the hoax took decades to eradicate — as late as 1911 the Encyclopædia Britannica was still referring to a fictitious naval base on the strength of the Description‘s account.



A year ago my older son brought home a program printed by his school; on the second page was an illustration of the ‘First Thanksgiving,’ with a caption which read in part: ‘They served pumpkins and turkeys and corn and squash. The Indians had never seen such a feast!’

On the contrary! The Pilgrims had literally never seen ‘such a feast,’ since all foods mentioned are exclusively indigenous to the Americas and had been provided by [or with the aid of] the local tribe.

— Michael Dorris, “Why I’m Not Thankful for Thanksgiving,” in Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson, eds., Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years, 1998