Dead End
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong contains a street named Rednaxela Terrace. It’s hard not to notice that this is Alexander spelled backward, but the origin of the name is uncertain.

In Signs of a Colonial Era (2009), Andrew Yanne and Gillis Heller claim that the street had been named Alexander Terrace after its original owner but that a clerk recorded the name backward, as the Chinese language was written right to left at the time.

Another possibility is that the name is linked to New York abolitionist Robert Alexander Young’s 1829 pamphlet Ethiopian Manifesto, which contains the name Rednaxela.

Fancy That
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2005 Yale psychologists Deena Skolnick and Paul Bloom asked children and adults about the beliefs of fictional characters regarding other characters — both those that exist in the same world, such as Batman and Robin, and those that inhabit different worlds, such as Batman and SpongeBob SquarePants.

They found that while both adults and young children distinguish these two types of relationships, young children “often claim that Batman thinks that Robin is make-believe.”

“This is a surprising result; it seems unlikely that children really believe that Batman thinks Robin is not real,” they wrote. “If they did, they should find stories with these characters incomprehensible.”

One possible explanation is that young children can find it hard to take a character’s perspective, and so might have been answering from their own point of view rather than Batman’s. In a second study, kids acknowledged that characters from the same world can act on each other.

But this is a complex topic even for grownups. “James Bond inhabits a world quite similar to our own, and so his beliefs should resemble those of a real person. Like us, he should think Cinderella is make-believe. On the other hand, Cinderella inhabits a world that is sufficiently dissimilar to our own that its inhabitants should not share many of our beliefs. Our intuition, then, is that Cinderella should not believe that James Bond is make-believe; she should have no views about him at all.”

(Deena Skolnick and Paul Bloom, “What Does Batman Think About Spongebob? Children’s Understanding of the Fantasy/Fantasy Distinction,” Cognition 101:1 [2006], B9-B18. See Author!, Truth and Fiction, and Split Decision.)

Head Start
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Does the green dot above flash before, as, or after the red dot reaches it? Most people say after, but in fact the flash occurs before the red dot arrives (below). This anomaly is known as the flash-lag effect, and its cause is unclear. Possibly it’s a sign that the visual system extrapolates the position of a moving object more readily than that of an unpredictably flashing one.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Chapel Oak,_sea_and_sky,_or,_Marvels_of_the_universe_(microform)_-_being_a_full_and_graphic_description_of_all_that_is_wonderful_in_every_continent_of_the_globe,_in_the_world_of_waters_and_the_starry_(20444354449).jpg

In 1696 lightning struck an oak in Normandy, and the resulting fire hollowed out the tree. Villagers filled the space with two chapels, reached by a spiral staircase that circles the trunk. Now perhaps a thousand years old, the Chêne chapelle is still in use today.

See Al Fresco.

Endless Love

Joe invents a time machine. He travels back in time and meets Emily, and they have a child, Bill. Bill grows up, meets Carol, and has a child, Joe. Joe grows up and invents a time machine, and so on.

Joe and Bill are each the other’s father and son, and each man is his own grandfather.

From Dave Morice’s Alphabet Avenue, 1997. See “Proof That a Man Can Be His Own Grandfather” and Oedipus Wrecked. Robert Heinlein’s 1959 story “‘–All You Zombies–‘” is even more confusing.

The Great Michigan Pizza Funeral

When the FDA ordered Ilario Fabbrini to recall 29,188 frozen cheese and mushroom pizzas in 1973, fearing a botulism outbreak, the Michigan pizza magnate went them one better: He buried the pies ceremonially in an 18-foot hole before a crowd of hundreds, including Michigan governor William Milliken.

“I admire your spunk and your spirit,” Milliken told him. “You are an example for businessmen all over the country who are facing tough problems. You are fighting back and I’m sure you will succeed.”

Fabbrini had hoped to make a virtue of necessity, giving up the pizzas but gaining at least some publicity and goodwill in the process. The recall was the largest of its kind to date in American history.

Unfortunately the FDA later ruled out botulism, which meant that the whole escapade had been needless.

Fabbrini sued his suppliers and eventually won the case, but Papa Fabbrini Pizzas went out of business in the early 1980s.


New Mexico’s state senate took up a startling amendment in 1995 — it would have required psychologists to dress up as wizards when providing expert testimony on a defendant’s competency:

When a psychologist or psychiatrist testifies during a defendant’s competency hearing, the psychologist or psychiatrist shall wear a cone-shaped hat that is not less than two feet tall. The surface of the hat shall be imprinted with stars and lightning bolts. Additionally, a psychologist or psychiatrist shall be required to don a white beard that is not less than 18 inches in length and shall punctuate crucial elements of his testimony by stabbing the air with a wand. Whenever a psychologist or psychiatrist provides expert testimony regarding a defendant’s competency, the bailiff shall contemporaneously dim the courtroom lights and administer two strikes to a Chinese gong.

The measure had received unanimous approval in the senate and was headed for the house of representatives when sponsor Duncan Scott explained that he’d intended it as satire — he felt that too many mental health practitioners had been acting as expert witnesses. It was withdrawn and never signed into law.

General Delivery,_Kagawa_Prefecture_Mitoyo_Takuma_cho_Awashima%EF%BC%89.JPG
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Send a postcard to the “missing post office” on Awashima Island, Japan, and it will be held there to be read by anyone. Messages can be sent for any reason — the office has received cards addressed to deceased relatives, early loves, unborn children, even to a traffic light. Samples:

‘Mother, When you died last summer I didn’t cry. When you were alive it was like we only said horrible and spiteful things to each other … If we met now I think we still would … But a year has passed and I have only loving memories from childhood left. I have when we made pudding together. I have when we read books. I have when you bought me my piano. That was the happiest.’

‘To my future grandchild, When will you arrive? The sooner the better, come on and be born! I can’t wait to finally do for you everything I couldn’t do for my own kids.’

‘Actually, I was hoping to do the folk dance at school with you. My heart was pounding with excitement as our turn together was coming around soon but … just before it happened, the song cut off. Since then several autumns have gone by. What might have happened to you by now?’

The project was launched in 2013 by artist Saya Kubota and has been maintained due to its popularity. Anyone can participate — send a postcard to this address, omitting the name of the recipient and your own name and address:

Missing Post Office (Hyoryu Yubinkyoku) 769-1108 Hyoryu Yubinkyoku Dome Awashima 1317-2, Takuma Town, Miyoto City, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan

A visitor who feels a message is meant for them will be allowed to keep it.

Related: The Bridegroom’s Oak.