Bon Apetit

A masochist’s lunch menu:

  • Casu marzu is a Sardinian cheese riddled with live insect larvae that can jump up to 6 inches. Wear goggles.
  • Kopi luwak, sometimes described as “cat poop coffee,” is a Sumatran beverage made from berries that have passed through a civet’s digestive tract.
  • Lutefisk is a Nordic dish made by soaking whitefish in lye. It is the only food refused by Jeffrey Steingarten, author of The Man Who Ate Everything: “Lutefisk is not food, it is a weapon of mass destruction.”
  • “Stinky tofu,” a favorite of Mao Zedong, is marinated for months in a brine of fermented vegetables. Reportedly it tastes like blue cheese, but its smell has been compared to sewage, horse manure, and “a used tampon baking in the desert.”

Mark Twain wrote, “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”

“Get Thee Behind Me”

Here’s one way to beat temptation: file a lawsuit. In 1971, Gerald Mayo sued “Satan and his staff” in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. He alleged that “Satan has on numerous occasions caused plaintiff misery and unwarranted threats, against the will of plaintiff, that Satan has placed deliberate obstacles in his path and has caused plaintiff’s downfall” and had therefore “deprived him of his constitutional rights,” a violation of the U.S. Code.

The court noted that jurisdiction was uncertain; legally the devil might count as a foreign prince. Also, Mayo’s claim seemed appropriate for a class action suit, and it wasn’t clear that Mayo could represent all of humanity. Finally, no one was sure how the U.S. Marshal could serve process on Satan.

So the devil got away. Mayo’s case has been cited several times, and has never been overturned or contradicted.

Extreme Hospitality

Photo by Tom Corser, Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 England & Wales (UK) Licence:

Except for the beds, Sweden’s Ice Hotel is made completely of ice blocks — 60 rooms and suites, a bar, a reception area and a chapel, 30,000 square feet in all. Even the glasses in the bar are made of ice. You can book a room for about $400, but hurry — it melts in May.

Its alter ego is the Uyuni Salt Hotel, in Bolivia, where everything — including the beds — is made of salt. (Photo (c)2005 Tom Corser,


Until 2000, calling 760-733-9969 would connect you to a single phone booth in the Mojave desert, 15 miles from the nearest interstate and miles from any building.

Tired of vandalism, Pacific Bell finally took down the booth. Fans put up a headstone, but they took that down too. Killjoys.

U.S. Camel Corps

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the 1840s, when Army horses and mules were failing in the American Southwest, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (yes, same guy) allocated $30,000 for “the purchase of camels and the importation of dromedaries, to be employed for military purposes.” The Navy sent a ship to North Africa, and in 1856 33 confused camels arrived in Indianola, Texas.

They did pretty well. After a survey expedition to California, an enthusiastic Col. Edward Beale declared, “I look forward to the day when every mail route across the continent will be conducted … with this economical and noble brute.”

The Civil War put an end to the project, but there’s a strange postscript. Some of the camels escaped into the Texas desert, where apparently they adapted to life in the wild. The last feral camel was sighted in 1941. There’s a movie in here somewhere.

Ojibwa Prophecy

In the 15th century, among the Ojibwa people of Lake Superior, a prophet dreamed of “men who had come across the great water … their skins are white like snow, and on their faces long hair grows. These people have come … in wonderfully large canoes which have great white wings like those of a giant bird. The men have long and sharp knives, and they have long black tubes which they point at birds and animals. The tubes make a smoke that rises into the air … from them come fire and … a terrific noise.”

After this prophecy was made, a group of Ojibwa traveled down the St. Lawrence waterway to investigate and made their first contact with white men, possibly a party from John Cabot’s (1497) or Jacques Cartier’s (1535) expedition.

Reviewing the Troops

If you visit the Edinburgh Zoo, be prepared to salute — in August a penguin named Nils Olav was promoted to colonel-in-chief of the Royal Norwegian Guard.

Apparently penguins are pretty active in the Guard — since 1982 they’ve held the ranks of lance corporal, sergeant, and regimental sergeant major. They’re certainly dressed for it.

08/23/2016 Now promoted to brigadier! (Thanks, Dan.)

“A Case of Snake-bite”

From Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle, 1896:

The following case illustrative of the tenacity of virulence of snake-venom was reported by Mr. Temple, Chief Justice of Honduras, and quoted by a London authority.

While working at some wood-cutting a man was struck on a heavy boot by a snake, which he killed with an axe. He imagined that he had been efficiently protected by the boot, and he thought little of the incident. Shortly afterward he began to feel ill, sank into a stupor, and succumbed.

His boots were sold after his death, as they were quite well made and a luxury in that country. In a few hours the purchaser of the boots was a corpse, and every one attributed his death to apoplexy or some similar cause.

The boots were again sold, and the next unfortunate owner died in an equally short time.

It was then thought wise to examine the boots, and in one of them was found, firmly embedded, the fang of the serpent. It was supposed that in pulling on the boots each of the subsequent owners had scratched himself and became fatally inoculated with the venom, which was unsuspected and not combated.

“The case is so strange as to appear hypothetic, but the authority seems reliable.”

Blind Tom Wiggins

Born in 1849, “Blind Tom” Wiggins found himself with three burdens and a gift: He was blind, he was mentally challenged, he was a slave, and he was a musical prodigy.

He was playing piano by ear at age 4, before he could speak. At 5 he composed a tune and found he could reproduce perfectly any piece from memory. His vocabulary was only about 100 words, and he spoke of himself in the third person (“Tom is pleased to meet you”), but in time he learned 7,000 piano pieces, mostly classics.

At age 8 a successful concert in Columbus, Ga., led to a tour. He played for James Buchanan and Mark Twain, accepting challenges to repeat original compositions to show there was no trickery. By age 16, he was touring the world.

He retired in 1883 but returned briefly for a series of New York concerts in 1904. He died in 1908.

The Kingoodie Hammer

In 1844, Sir David Brewster discovered an iron nail in a block of stone in Scotland’s Kingoodie Quarry. The nail was embedded in a Cretaceous block from the Mesozoic era; in 1985, the British Geological Survey dated the bed at between 360 and 408 million years old.

An iron nail has no business in the Mesozoic era, and no ordinary nail could avoid oxidation for more than 400 million years.

So how’d it get there? No one knows.