Family Resemblance

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Children%E2%80%99s_Games_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

Consider for example the proceedings that we call ‘games.’ I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: ‘There must be something common, or they would not be called “games”‘ — but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. To repeat: don’t think, but look! — Look for example at board games, with their multifarious relationships. Board games, what are some? Consider chess, of course, but think also of Monopoly. Now pass to card-games; here you find many correspondences with the first group, but many common features drop out, and others appear. When we pass next to ball-games, much that is common is retained, but much is lost.– Are they all ‘amusing’? Compare chess with noughts and crosses. Or is there always winning and losing, or competition between players? Think of patience. In ball-games there is winning and losing; but when a child throws his ball at the wall and catches it again, this feature has disappeared. Look at the parts played by skill and luck; and at the difference between skill in chess and skill in tennis. Think now of games like ring-a-ring-a-roses; here is the element of amusement, but how many other characteristic features have disappeared! And we can go through the many, many other groups of games in the same way; can see how similarities crop up and disappear.

— Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953

Distinction

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plymouth_Montserrat_Heli.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1997 a series of eruptions by the nearby Soufrière Hills volcano buried most of Plymouth, Montserrat, making it uninhabitable.

The government was moved to the town of Brades, but nominally Plymouth remains the capital, making it the only ghost town that serves as the capital of a political territory.

Missing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Brandon_Swanson.jpg

On May 14, 2008, 19-year-old Brandon Swanson of Marshall, Minnesota, called his parents around 2 a.m. to say he’d driven his car into a ditch and asked them to pick him up. He said he wasn’t hurt and gave them his best estimate of his location.

His parents drove to meet him, keeping in touch by phone, but couldn’t find him. Each party flashed its headlights, but neither could see the other.

Finally Brandon told them he was going to walk toward some lights that he took to be the town of Lynd, 7 miles from Marshall. He named a bar there and asked his father to meet him in the parking lot, and his father began to drive there, talking to Brandon as he did.

Shortly after 2:30 a.m., 47 minutes into the call, Brandon suddenly interrupted himself with the words “Oh, shit!”, and the connection was lost. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Cell phone records showed that he’d been near Porter, 25 miles from the location he’d estimated. His car was found nearby, but years of searching have not found a body. The case remains unsolved.

Elephants and Locomotives

https://imgur.com/gallery/PLYhg

The elephant is no more wonderful than his biographers usually make him. It was to his lordly self that a railway accident was due on the Perak State Railway [Malaya] in September. The last train for the day was about three miles distant from its destination (Teluk Anson), and was running at about twenty miles an hour, when the fireman noticed something on the line. He called to the driver, who immediately shut off steam. Too late, however, for the train collided violently with a huge object, which proved to be a wild elephant that had strayed on to and was crossing the line at the time. The elephant had one of its legs broken, and half cut off; a part of the trunk was also cut off. The monster itself was thrown down the bank, where it soon died from loss of blood. The engine was also derailed.

The Sketch, Jan. 16, 1895

I can find two stories of subsequent “duels” between elephants and locomotives on the same line. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1926) describes one that took place in 1897, and Forest and Stream has an account of one in 1900. Neither mentions the other, though, so I think perhaps they’re describing the same encounter.

Reliable

https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4939739
Photo © David Tyers (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Yorkshire’s 4-mile Kiplingcotes Derby has been held every year since 1519, making it the oldest annual horse race in England. According to the ancient rules, if the race ever fails to take place, it must never be run again, so organizers make sure to arrange at least a nominal showing even in bad conditions. In 1947, 2001, and 2018 (harsh winter, foot-and-mouth crisis, heavy rain) the full race was not run but a single horse was led around the course to keep the tradition alive.

Another oddity: Under the rules the winner gets 50 pounds but the second-place finisher gets the remainder of the entry fees — so he may come out ahead.

Company

A curious detail from Ernest Shackleton’s 1919 memoir South — he and his companions have just crossed 800 miles of the icy Southern Ocean and traversed unexplored South Georgia Island to get help for their friends on Elephant Island:

When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, ‘Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.’ Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels ‘the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech’ in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.

T.S. Eliot picked up the image in The Waste Land:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
— But who is that on the other side of you?

Shackleton’s description encouraged other survivors of extreme hardship to share similar experiences — it appears to be most common among mountain climbers, solo sailors, and polar explorers. It’s called the Third Man factor.

Fact and Fiction

In 2012, the admissions department at the University of Chicago received a package addressed to Indiana Jones — or to Henry Walton Jones Jr., Indiana’s full name. “The package contained an incredibly detailed replica of ‘University of Chicago Professor’ Abner Ravenwood’s journal from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the university posted on its Tumblr page. It included photos, maps, and even handwritten text (“I was able to speak through an interpreter with the Guardian of Ark who told me that no other man beside himself could lay eyes on the Ark, that it was an absolutely holy object, and that the world would not pollute it by looking at it,” Ravenwood warns. “He added that he and the villagers would protect the Ark with their lives if necessary.”)

“This package was a little perplexing because we couldn’t find the staff member or the professor [it was intended for] in the directory,” undergraduate outreach Garrett Brinker told Wired.

The university set up an email tip line and inquired with Lucasfilm, which only responded, “We were just as surprised to see this package as you were!”

It turned out that the the replica was one of several that had been shipped from Guam to Italy; it had somehow fallen out of the package in Honolulu, and the post office had delivered it faithfully to the address it bore. “We believe that the post office wrote on our Zip code on the outside of the package and, believing the Egyptian postage was real, sent it our way. From Guam to Hawaii en route to Italy with a stopover in Chicago: truly an adventure befitting Indiana Jones.”

In exchange for some University of Chicago merchandise, the original “prop replicator” in Guam agreed to let the school keep the journal — it’s now on display in the main lobby of the Oriental Institute there.

See Afoot.

Thinking Big

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ReveleyThamesscheme1796.JPG

In 1796 English architect Willey Reveley proposed to straighten the Thames between Wapping and Woolwich Reach, arguing that the measure would reduce the river’s length, simplify navigation, and improve its flow, reducing pollution.

Parliament considered the plan but never implemented it. “Revely had rather an awkward way of letting loose his real opinions; and he habituated himself to a sarcastic mode of delivering them,” read his obituary. “It need not be added, that such qualities were not calculated to render him popular.”

Two in One

The “Loop” golf course at Michigan’s Forest Dunes Golf Club is reversible: Each of the 18 greens can be approached from either of two directions, so players can play the course clockwise on one day and counterclockwise the next.

There are no defined tee boxes, of the kind that modern golfers are accustomed to, because what serves as a tee area one day may be fairway when playing the opposite direction the next day.”

“Our biggest fear is that people like one course a lot more than the other course,” designer Tom Doak told Golf Advisor. “I’m very happy with what we’ve done. There are a few of the best holes on both courses. I think people will enjoy both of them, and that was a hard thing to do.”