The Horizontal Falls

On the coast of the Kimberley region in Western Australia are two successive gorges that restrict the tide — seawater builds up rapidly at these bottlenecks, creating temporary “waterfalls” through the gaps, which are only 10 and 20 meters wide.

With each change in the tide, the falls reverse direction, and the cycle renews itself.

On and Off

Wyoming’s Intermittent Spring is well named: It runs and stops alternately, in segments of about 15 minutes. The mechanism isn’t known for certain, but scientists suspect that a cavern in the rock face is filling continuously with groundwater, and when the water reaches a certain height it spills through a tube that empties into the valley. This produces a natural siphon effect that draws down the reservoir until air enters the tube, which disables the siphon until the cycle starts again. University of Utah hydrologist Kip Solomon says, “We can’t think of another explanation at the moment.”

Solomon’s tests show that the spring water has been exposed to air underground, which lends support to the theory.

The Endless House

In 1924 architect Frederick Kiesler proposed a house fashioned as a continuous shell rather than an assembly of columns and beams:

The house is not a dome, but an enclosure which rises along the floor uninterrupted into walls and ceilings. Thus the safety of the house does not depend on underground footings but on a strict coordination of all enclosures of the house into one structural unit. Even the window areas are not standardized in size or shape, but are, rather, large and varied in their transparency and translucency, and form part of the continuous flow of the shell.

Storage space is provided between double shells in the walls, radiant heating is built into the floor, and there are no separate bathrooms, as bathing is done in the individual living quarters.

“While the concept of the house does not advocate a ‘return to nature’, it certainly does encourage a more natural way of living, and a greater independence from our constantly increasing automative way of life.”

(Via Ulrich Conrads, The Architecture of Fantasy: Utopian Building and Planning in Modern Times, 1962.)

If You Can’t Beat ‘Em …

A French Prisoner in Norman Cross Barracks, had recourse to the following stratagem to obtain his liberty:–He made himself a complete uniform of the Hertfordshire Militia, and a wooden gun, stained, surmounted by a tin bayonet. Thus equipped, he mixed with the guard, (consisting of men from the Hertford Regiment,) and when they were ordered to march out, having been relieved, Monsieur fell in and marched out too. Thus far he was fortunate, but when arrived at the guard-room, lo! what befel him. His new comrades ranged their muskets on the rack, and he endeavoured to follow their example; but as his wooden piece was unfortunately a few inches too long, he was unable to place it properly. This was observed, and the unfortunate captive obliged to forego the hopes of that liberty for which he had so anxiously and so ingeniously laboured.

The Soldier’s Companion; or, Martial Recorder, 1824

The first escape from [Dartmoor Prison] took place five days after the first draft arrived. Sevegran, a naval surgeon, and Auvray, a naval officer, having observed that a guard of fifty men marched into the prison every evening to assist in getting the prisoners into their respective halls if required, made themselves glengarries and overcoats, and strips of tin looking like bayonets at a distance, and fell in at the rear of the detachment as it marched out. Favoured by the rain which was falling heavily at the time they passed all the gates unquestioned, and as the company wheeled towards the barracks, they left it, and went on through the village towards Plymouth. Speaking English fluently and being well provided with money, they had no difficulty in booking seats for London on the coach.

— Basil Thomson, The Story of Dartmoor Prison, 1907

Chin King

By 1910, Valentine Tapley was claiming to have the longest beard in the world, at 12 feet. His congressman in Missouri would even boast about the achievement and defend Tapley against other claimants. (It’s sometimes said that Tapley was a Democrat and had vowed never to shave again if Abraham Lincoln won the election.)

But it appears that the real record was held by a contemporary, North Dakota farmer Hans Langseth, who’d begun growing his beard in 1865 as part of a contest. By the time of his death in 1927, it measured 17.5 feet, and it’s now held by the Smithsonian Institution.

I can’t find any record that these two even knew of one another.

Rock Music,_1.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Blackbird is a full-size playable stone violin crafted by Swedish sculptor Lars Widenfalk. The instrument incorporates diabase from his grandfather’s tombstone, with a backplate of porphyritic diabase, both materials more than a billion years old. The design is based on drawings by Stradivarius, but Widenfalk made some modifications to allow it to be played.

The fingerboard, pegs, tailpiece, and chinrest are of black ebony, and the bridge is of mammoth ivory. “What drove me on was the desire to discover the limits to which this stone can be pushed as an artistic material,” Widenfalk said. “At two kilos it is heavier than wooden violins, but it gives you the feel that you are carrying Mother Earth.”

One Solution

Rabbit Hash, Ky., has been governed by dogs since 1998. The hamlet’s first elected mayor was a dog “of unknown parentage” named Goofy Borneman-Calhoun, who was inaugurated in 1998 and died in office in July 2001. He was succeeded by Junior Cochran, a black Labrador elected in 2004. When Junior also died in office, a special election installed Lucy Lou, a border collie and the town’s first female mayor, who was named Best Elected Official in 2013 by Cincinnati CityBeat magazine and reportedly considered a presidential run in 2015.

The 2016 election went to a pit bull named Brynneth “Brynn” Pawltro, and the town’s historical society also recognized the runners-up, an Australian shepherd and a border collie, as ambassadors who might step in if Brynn were unable to make an appearance.

The current mayor, a French bulldog named Wilbur Beast, took office last year, with a beagle and a golden retriever joining the border collie as ambassadors.

Wilbur’s human, Amy Noland, told NBC News that she ran his campaign because of “all of the negative media that’s out there surrounding America, and the election, and COVID-19, so I guess I wanted Wilbur to be something positive in the news. … He’s done a lot of interviews locally, he’s had a lot of pets, a lot of belly scratches and a lot of ear rubs.”

Waiting in Style

When the local council removed a bus shelter near the village of Baltasound, on the isle of Unst, Shetland, Scotland, in 1996, 7-year-old Bobby Macaulay wrote to the Shetland Times asking them to replace it — he and his friends had been meeting there to wait for their school bus.

When a new shelter appeared, an anonymous donor added a wicker table and a sofa, and a tradition was born. In time a television appeared, as well as a heater and a carpet. Eventually Bobby’s shelter was named the best shelter in Britain, and now it’s redecorated regularly according to chosen themes (2018 marked 100 years of women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom, for example).

It has its own website.


Memory feats of chess master Harry Nelson Pillsbury:

  • On April 28, 1900, he played 20 opponents blindfold (sitting alone in a room without board or pieces while the moves were announced to him), playing 600 moves in six and a half hours. Afterward he corrected several mistakes that his opponents had made in recording their moves. Two opponents had not kept a record at all, but Pillsbury gave the moves of those games “without any serious effort.”
  • In tour spanning 1900 and 1901, he gave about 150 simultaneous displays, many blindfold. In one 16-game blindfold exhibition in Buffalo, in which he won 84.4 percent of the games, he correctly announced mate in eight in one of the games.
  • In Toledo, Ohio, he simultaneously played 12 games of chess and four games of checkers without sight of any board, while at the same time playing duplicate whist with other people.
  • He was prepared to interrupt a blindfold display at any point, have a portion of a deck of cards read out to him, name all the remaining cards, and then resume play.
  • Before one blindfold display in Philadelphia he studied a list of 29 unfamiliar words and phrases; after the exhibition and again the next day he recited the list, first forward and then backward.
  • Two and a half hours into one 12-board blindfold display he suggested a rest for the players. During this time he invited them as a group to compose a numbered list of 30 words and to read them to him. He was then asked, in jumbled fashion, to give the number of a given word or the word of a given number. All his responses were correct. Afterward he recited the whole list backward and then resumed the blindfold display.

“Philadelphia master and organizer William Ruth told Dale Brandreth that he once sat with Pillsbury at a railroad crossing and wrote down the fairly long and different numbers on each of a large group of passing boxcars while Pillsbury attempted to memorize them. Ruth reported to Brandreth that Pillsbury’s memory for the numbers was incredibly accurate and in the correct order.”

(Eliot Hearst and John Knott, Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games, 2009.)

The Longyou Caves
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In June 1992, farmers draining ponds in Longyou County, Quzhou prefecture, Zhejiang province, China, discovered that they weren’t ponds at all but drowned caverns, apparently created during the Ming Dynasty.

To date 36 such caves have been discovered in a region of 1 square kilometer. They’ve been compared to underground palaces, with rooms, halls, pillars, beds, bridges, and pavilions. But their age and function remain unclear because no historical document mentions them.

(Cheng Zhu et al., “Lichenometric Dating and the Nature of the Excavation of the Huashan Grottoes, East China,” Journal of Archaeological Science 40:5 [2013], 2485-2492.)