“Singular Discovery at Aberdeen”

While in course of demolishing a block of old houses on the north side of Longacre, which requires to be removed for the extension of Marischal College buildings, the workmen made a curious discovery yesterday morning. About fifteen inches from the exterior of a wall composed of solid masonry they came across a couple of crabs, one being dead but still in a fresh state, and the other alive, although so attenuated as to be almost transparent. The crabs were handed over to Mr. Jones, assistant professor of chemistry at Marischal College. The live crab is preserved in a jar containing water. In size it is an inch long and a quarter broad, its dead companion being an inch and three-quarters in length and an inch in breadth. The house has been untenanted for six months, and it is a mystery how the creatures could have found their way into a mass of masonry twenty feet above the ground level of the outside, and three or four feet from the level of the floor.

— Newspaper paragraph quoted in Scottish Notes and Queries, February 1896

Nothing Doing

In 1979, Robert Barbour applied for a vanity license plate at the California Department of Motor Vehicles. He listed his preferences as SAILING, BOATING, and NO PLATE, meaning he didn’t want a vanity plate if his first two choices were taken.

Inevitably, the DMV sent Barbour plates reading NO PLATE. But that wasn’t the worst of it: In the months that followed he received 2,500 notices of unpaid parking violations from around the state. When a police officer anywhere in California cited a vehicle without plates and wrote NO PLATE on the ticket, the record was matched to Barbour.

Two years later, when the DMV wised up and asked officers to stop doing this, they began writing MISSING instead … and Andrew Burg of Marina del Rey started getting the tickets.

The same thing has befallen motorists sporting the tags VOID, UNKNOWN, NOTAG, and even XXXXXXX. It makes you wonder how the police could write up a tagless car.

Rigor Mortis

Image: Flickr

When Victor Noir died in a Paris duel in 1870, sculptor Jules Dalou reproduced the fallen journalist in bronze — a bronze that seems unusually hard in the trousers, if you see what I mean.

That feature has made the statue a sort of fertility shrine for Parisian women. It’s said that kissing Noir’s lips, leaving flowers in his hat, or rubbing his, um, press credentials will bring a husband, enhance one’s sex life, or ensure fertility.

Whether that’s true is open to question, of course — but when the cemetery installed a fence around the statue in 2004, local women reportedly protested until it was removed again.

A Moveable Feast


On March 28, 1903, industrialist and horse lover C.K.G. Billings hosted a one-of-a-kind dinner at Sherry’s Restaurant in New York. He covered the floor of the restaurant’s grand ballroom with turf and brought in 36 horses via the freight elevator. The diners passed the evening on horseback, eating from tables on their pommels and drinking champagne from chilled bottles in the saddlebags.

The bill for this came to $50,000, but that was nothing to Billings, who had just retired as president of the People’s Gas Light and Coke Company in Chicago and was celebrating the opening of a new stable in Manhattan. The horses got oats.

See Feeder of the Pack and Black Tie Optional.

Junk Food

When Ida, the famous ostrich at the London Zoological Gardens, died in 1927, a post-mortem showed that she’d eaten too many foreign objects offered by visitors. Her stomach contained:

  • three handkerchiefs
  • three gloves
  • three feet of cord
  • an empty film spool
  • a four-inch nail
  • an eight-inch nail
  • a four-inch lead pencil
  • four half-pennies
  • two farthings
  • a French coin
  • part of a celluloid comb
  • part of a rolled-gold necklace
  • a collar button
  • a bicycle tire valve
  • a brass winding key for an alarm clock
  • a dozen short bits of wire
  • metal staples
  • screws
  • small nails
  • copper rivets
  • a glove fastener
  • a piece of wood four inches long

“It seems to us that the Associated Press is very profligate with its cable tolls these days,” observed one New York newspaper that picked up the story. “Why didn’t the correspondent say the ostrich had swallowed a stray Ford and be done with it?”

A Nap Disturbed


In February 1857 a Dr. Biccard was visiting Green Point in Cape Town when the lighthouse keeper asked him to “come and see a sea monster.” Biccard followed him and was astonished to see the creature illustrated above (“No. 1”) at a distance of about 150 yards. He borrowed a rifle and fired twice; the second ball apparently startled the animal, which straightened and submerged, but it reappeared 10 minutes later at about 200 yards and swam back to its original location, where it assumed position No. 2.

Biccard estimates the animal was about 200 feet long, but he could not estimate its thickness. He thinks the protuberance at one end, which was maculated with white spots, is the upper part of the head. The creature swam into Table Bay shortly afterward and was lost to sight; whatever it was, eight people saw it that day.

Just FYI

Under the terms of an 1845 treaty, Texas has the right to divide itself at any time into five new states.

That was part of the deal when the Lone Star State was first annexed to the Union, and, according to University of Minnesota law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen, it’s still valid and constitutional.

Such a move would create eight new senators and four new governors — and it would add eight votes to the Electoral College.

Papered Over


‘That’s another thing we’ve learned from your Nation,’ said Mein Herr, ‘map-making. But we’ve carried it much further than you. What do you consider the largest map that would be really useful?’

‘About six inches to the mile.’

‘Only six inches!‘ exclaimed Mein Herr. ‘We very soon got to six yards to the mile. Then we tried a hundred yards to the mile. And then came the grandest idea of all! We actually made a map of the country, on the scale of a mile to the mile!

‘Have you used it much?’ I enquired.

‘It has never been spread out, yet,’ said Mein Herr: ‘the farmers objected: they said it would cover the whole country, and shut out the sunlight! So we now use the country itself, as its own map, and I assure you it does nearly as well.’

— Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno, 1889

Benardete’s Book Paradox


Here is a book lying on a table. Open it. Look at the first page. Measure its thickness. It is very thick indeed for a single sheet of paper — one half inch thick. Now turn to the second page of the book. How thick is this second sheet of paper? One fourth inch thick. And the third page of the book, how thick is this third sheet of paper? One eighth inch thick, etc. ad infinitum. We are to posit not only that each page of the book is followed by an immediate successor the thickness of which is one half that of the immediately preceding page but also (and this is not unimportant) that each page is separated from page 1 by a finite number of pages. These two conditions are logically compatible: there is no certifiable contradiction in their joint assertion. But they mutually entail that there is no last page in the book. Close the book. Turn it over so that the front cover of the book is now lying face down upon the table. Now, slowly lift the back cover of the book with the aim of exposing to view the stack of pages lying beneath it. There is nothing to see. For there is no last page in the book to meet our gaze.

— Patrick Hughes and George Brecht, Vicious Circles and Infinity, 1978

Flung Fire

A remarkable phenomenon was observed at Kattenau, near Trakehnen (Germany), and in the surrounding district, on March 22. About half an hour before sunrise an enormous number of luminous bodies rose from the horizon and passed in a horizontal direction from east to west. Some of them seemed of the size of a walnut, others resembled the sparks flying from a chimney. They moved through space like a string of beads, and shone with a remarkably brilliant light. The belt containing them appeared about 3 metres in length and 2/3 metre in breadth.

Nature, May 20, 1880