Road Tunes

Near the village of Katashina in Japan’s Gunma Prefecture, workers have cut 2,559 grooves into a 175-meter stretch of roadway so that motorists hear the tune “Memories of Summer”:

Japan has now built 30 such “melody roads,” and they’re proliferating. The Singing Road in Anyang, South Korea, plays “Mary Had a Little Lamb”:

And the Civic Musical Road in Lancaster, California, plays the William Tell Overture:

A commenter on the last video wrote, “If you drive it in reverse it says Paul is dead.”

Total Recall

Actress Marilu Henner has hyperthymesia, or highly superior autobiographical memory, a rare condition that permits her to recall nearly every day of her life in almost perfect detail. She’s one of only six cases that have been confirmed in peer-reviewed articles.

“It’s like putting in a DVD and it cues up to a certain place,” she told CBS. “I’m there again. So, I’m looking out from my eyes and seeing things visually as I would have that day.”

Her earliest memory is of her own baptism. “My godmother was a nun, and so she’d talk about my baptism all the time,” she said. “Even as a tiny child, I could recall that event. I know people don’t believe me, but it’s really true.”

The Burger Savant

Phyllis Brienza, a waitress at Manhattan’s Bun & Burger since the day it opened on Oct. 26, 1970, became famous for a unique gift — she had “such an extraordinary memory for the niceties of appetite that regular clients do not have to speak their wishes aloud,” reported Israel Shenker in the New York Times in 1975.

She recognized a customer in a Nehru jacket as “medium with half a bun and French.” A man in a raincoat was a “well,” a well-done hamburger.

“If you order it once one way, that’ll stick in my mind,” she said. “When someone new comes in, I think to myself, ‘That’s a medium,’ or ‘that’s a rare.’ Sometimes they have this serious look and I think, ‘That must be a well.’ Usually I’m right.”

In 1974 she received a Christmas card from a customer whom she remembered at once. It was signed “Medium rare, pressed.”

Eight Lives

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In September 1914, a crater wall collapsed on the marine volcano Whakaari, east of New Zealand.

The resulting mudflow overwhelmed 10 sulphur miners.

Three weeks later, when a resupply ship landed on the island, it found Peter the Great, a camp cat, hungry but uninjured.

The bodies of the 10 men and the other camp cats were never found.

Hybrids

A tromboon, above, is a trombone played with the reed and bocal of a bassoon.

A saxobone, below, is a trombone played with the mouthpiece of a saxophone.

If you could play a bassoon with a saxophone mouthpiece I suppose it would be called a saxoboon, but I don’t think that’s even technically possible.

The Jindo Sea Parting

Every year hundreds of thousands of people gather on Jindo Island at the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula to watch the sea part, revealing a 1.8-mile causeway that permits them to walk to the nearby island of Modo, where they dig for clams.

Legend tells that Yongwang, the ocean god, split the sea to permit an old woman to rejoin her family. But National Geographic explains that the truth lies in tidal harmonics.

Podcast Episode 188: The Bat Bomb

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During World War II, the U.S. Army experimented with a bizarre plan: using live bats to firebomb Japanese cities. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the crazy history of the bat bomb, the extraordinary brainchild of a Pennsylvania dentist.

We’ll also consider the malleable nature of mental illness and puzzle over an expensive quiz question.

See full show notes …

Special Issue

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Images: Wikimedia Commons

In 1901 Colombia minted special coins for use in leper colonies. Following the first leprosy congress in Berlin in 1897, the nation minted coins in five values for use in three colonies. The Philippines followed suit in 1913, followed by Japan and Malaysia. The United States produced special coins for a colony in the Panama Canal Zone.

The coins were produced to protect healthy people, but in 1938 Gordon Alexander Ryrie, director of Malaysia’s Sungei Buloh Settlement, proved that the disease can’t spread by such casual contact. His colony burned the notes it had printed.

Outreach

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During World War I the Red Cross solicited contributions by literally sucking them out of a crowd with a vacuum cleaner.

The stunt took place on May 25, 1917, before the New York Public Library. From Scientific American: “While a soldier and a sailor urged the public to hand in their contributions the suction tube of the machine was reached out over the crowd. The suction was sufficient to draw up pieces of money of any denomination and deposit them in the bag of the vacuum cleaner. By this means it was possible to reach the crowd readily and it was unnecessary for a contributor to elbow his way through the jam in order to reach the Red Cross workers.”

The National Archives notes, “So great was the eagerness of the people to have their coins taken in by the cleaner that the bag inside the vacuum cleaner had to be emptied several times.”