Longplayer

In 1999, ex-Pogues banjoist Jem Finer composed a piece of music that will take 1,000 years to perform. It’s been playing continuously at Bow Creek Lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf on the north bank of the Thames since midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, and will continue until Dec. 31, 2999. (Shown here is an excerpt of 1,000 minutes performed live in 2009 at the Roundhouse in London.)

The piece is essentially a computer-administered series of variations on a core composition that’s 20 minutes and 20 seconds long; the current rendition is played on Tibetan singing bowls and gongs, but in principle it might be played on any instrument and indeed by any means; the conclusion of the piece might be mediated by technologies, and certainly will be by people, that don’t exist today.

It can be heard at various listening stations around the United Kingdom, and a mobile app is available that plays a version synchronized with the Trinity Buoy Wharf performance.

See Larghissimo.

Buried Treasure

After Cecil B. DeMille finished work on his 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments, he had the massive sets buried where they’d been built, in California’s Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. It’s not clear why — possibly he lacked the funds to remove them and didn’t want other filmmakers to use them. The sets included four Pharaoh statues 35 feet tall, 21 sphinxes, and gates 110 feet high, forming an ersatz Egyptian civilization for modern archaeologists to uncover.

Their time is limited. “It was like working with a hollow chocolate rabbit,” Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, told the Los Angeles Times of one dig in 2014. “These were built to last two months during filming in 1923, and these statues have been sitting out in the elements since then.”

False Fronts

Numbers 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens, London, are not the terraced houses they appear to be. Their façades match their neighbors’, with columned porches and windows and balustraded balconies, but the doors have no knobs or letter boxes.

In fact the whole expanse is false, only a façade 5 feet thick. Behind it is a section of uncovered railway track. When a tube line was built through the neighborhood in 1863, the steam engines that hauled the trains needed a section of uncovered track to let off smoke and steam. To preserve appearances for the surrounding residents, the railway company built these frontages, and they remain to this day.

Writes Stuart Barton in Monumental Follies, “It is unfortunate that more sham facades like this are not built to conceal some of the eye-sores that scar our cities today.”

Snug

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

There’s not much to say about this, but it’s wonderfully picturesque: Standing near the village of Plougrescant on the coast of Brittany is Castel Meur, “the house between the rocks.”

Constructed in 1861, it’s situated between granite rocks to protect it from storms.

The Minister’s Treehouse

In 1993, Tennessee minister Horace Burgess was praying when God told him, “If you build a treehouse, I’ll see that you never run out of material.” He set to work and spent the next 12 years building a house 97 feet tall, unofficially the largest in the world.

The house was closed in 2012 because it didn’t follow building and fire safety codes, and last October it burned to the ground. Burgess told the New York Times that in some ways this was a relief. Though it had been important to him for decades, “It’s always been a pain,” he said.

A Planned And

Martin Gardner offered this curiosity in the August 1998 issue of Word Ways: Roll two six-sided dice. If they show a total of 6 or 8, roll them again. Otherwise, go to the chapter of Genesis (the King James version) that corresponds to the total on the dice. Now turn both dice upside down and go to the verse whose number is now displayed. The first word of that verse will always be And.

(Martin Gardner, “Mysterious Precognitions,” Word Ways 31:3 [August 1998], 175-177.)

Turn, Turn, Turn

Austin game developer Frank Force has won the Neural Correlate Society’s 2019 Best Illusion of the Year Contest with this “dual axis illusion”:

“This spinning shape appears to defy logic by rotating around both the horizontal and vertical axis at the same time! To make things even more confusing, the direction of rotation is also ambiguous. Some visual cues in the video will help viewers change their perception.”

The top 10 finalists are here.

12/18/2019 UPDATE: Good heavens, people are making these things. Five years ago Bill Gosper created the Lissajoke ambiguous roller, which rolls in a perplexing way:

And reader Joe Kisenwether has rendered Force’s illusion in reality — here the shape on the left spins about a horizontal axis while the one on the right spins about the vertical one:

The same thing rendered more slowly:

(Thanks, Joe.)

The Friendly Floatees

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

During a storm in January 1992, a container was swept overboard from a ship in the North Pacific. As it happened, it contained 28,800 children’s bath toys, and oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer realized they offered the basis for a serendipitous study of surface currents. Working with his colleague James Ingraham, Ebbesmeyer began to track the toys as they drifted around the globe, accumulating reports from beachcombers, coastal workers, and local residents as they began to wash up on beaches. Using computer models, they were able to predict correctly that toys would make landfall in Washington state, Japan, and Alaska, and even become trapped in pack ice and spend years creeping across the top of the world before making an eventual reappearance in the North Atlantic. “Ultimately,” Ebbesmeyer wrote, “the toys will turn to dust, joining the scum of plastic powder which rides the global ocean.”

For some reason, media accounts of the story always carried the image of a solitary rubber duck, though the toys had also included beavers, turtles, and frogs. “Maybe it’s a kind of racism,” Ebbesmeyer speculated to journalist Donovan Hohn in 2007. “Speciesism.”

A Double Disaster

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The high-altitude glacial lake Roopkund, in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, contains a large number of human skeletons. Local legend tells of a royal party who were killed by a large hailstorm near here, and many of the skeletons show signs of blows by large round objects falling from above. Radiocarbon dating estimates that these people died around 850 CE.

But another set of victims seem to have succumbed much more recently, a group from the eastern Mediterranean who died only 200 years ago. So the casualties can’t all be attributed to a single catastrophic event, but the full truth is still emerging.