Time and Again


Peter and Jane, both 20 years old, are visited by a time machine one day in 1999. A familiar figure emerges, hands a diary to Jane, and asks her to travel to 2019, recording her impressions of the trip. She does so, dutifully making an entry in the diary. When she arrives in 2019 she meets the 40-year-old Peter and gives the diary to him. He returns to 1999, making an entry in the diary himself. When he emerges in 1999, he gives the diary to the 20-year-old Jane and asks her to travel to 2019.

Now: How many entries are in the diary when Peter gives it to Jane? It’s not blank, for we know it contains Jane and Peter’s accounts of their journeys through time. But if it contains those two accounts when Jane departs, then she will have written a third on her journey to 2019, and Peter a fourth before arriving at the present moment. It seems that the diary must contain an indefinite number of entries, but there are clearly only two trips, Jane’s to 2019 and Peter’s to 1999. What is the answer?

(From Robin Le Poidevin, Travels in Four Dimensions, 2003.)

Second Sight

Ben Underwood lost his eyes to retinal cancer at age 2, but within three years he had taught himself to discern objects by echolocation, making clicking noises with his tongue and listening for reflected sound. Soon he was able to run, rollerblade, skateboard, and play basketball with other children.

His first Braille teacher, Barbara Haase, witnessed his progress as they went on walks together. “I said, ‘Okay, my car is the third car parked down the street. Tell me when we get there,'” she remembered. “As we pass the first vehicle, he says, ‘There’s the first car. Actually, a truck.’ And it was a pickup. He could tell the difference.”

Underwood led a full life until age 16, when he died of the same cancer that took his eyes. “People ask me if I’m lonely,” he once said. “I’m not, because someone’s always around, or I’ve got my cell phone and I’m always talking to friends. … I tell people I’m not blind, I just can’t see.”

(Thanks, Mike.)

Under Cover

A dwarf named Richbourg, who was only sixty centimetres (23 1-2 inches) high, has just died in the Rue du Four, St. Germain, Paris, aged 90. He was, when young, in the service of the Duchess d’Orleans, mother of King Louis Philippe. After the first revolution broke out he was employed to convey despatches abroad, and, for that purpose, was dressed as a baby, the despatches being concealed in his cap, and a nurse being made to carry him. For the last twenty-five years he has lived in the Rue du Four, and during all that time never went out. He had a great repugnance to strangers, and was alarmed when he heard the voice of one; but in his own family he was very lively and cheerful. The Orleans family allowed him a pension of 8000 francs.

Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, February 1859

Name Trouble

In 2008, a New Zealand couple lost custody of their 9-year-old daughter because they had named her Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii. “The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment that this child’s parents have shown in choosing this name,” said family court judge Rob Murfitt. “It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily.”

In a written ruling he criticized the trend of giving children bizarre names, citing as recent examples Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter, and, “tragically, Violence.”

In 2004, Sara Leisten of Gothenburg, Sweden, sought to name her baby Superman (Staalman) because he was born with one arm outstretched. A judge blocked her effort, claiming the child would be ridiculed in later life. Swedish MPs pointed out that the law is inconsistent, as the names Tarzan and Batman are allowed.

In 1995, angry that his bank had charged him £20 for a £10 overdraft, Leeds marketing consultant Michael Howerd changed his name to “Yorkshire Bank PLC Are Fascist Bastards.” When the bank asked him to close his account, he asked them to repay his 69p balance by cheque in his full new name.

In 1867, Godey’s Magazine reported that a woman had been fined in London for using unjust weights. Her name was Virtue Innocent.

A Rare Birthday


Sweden briefly had a February 30. In planning to switch from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, the Swedish Empire resolved to omit leap days from 1700 to 1740. It followed through on this plan in 1700, but through error 1704 and 1708 remained leap years. With the time now out of joint, the empire abandoned its plan and returned to the Julian calendar by observing two leap days, February 29 and February 30, in 1712. (Sweden finally converted to the Gregorian calendar in 1753.)

If the original plan had been carried out, a person born on Feb. 29, 1696, would not celebrate a birthday until 1744. As it was, a person born on Feb. 30, 1712, would never celebrate a birthday at all.


henry cope

A bizarre entry in the Annual Register of 1806:

“Oct. 25. — Among the personages who lately attracted public notice at Brighton, was an original, or would be original, generally known by the appellation of the green man. He dressed in green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock, green cravat; and, though his ears, whiskers, eye-brows, and chin, were powdered, his countenance, no doubt from the reflection of his clothes, was also green. He ate nothing but greens, fruits, and vegetables; had his rooms painted green, and furnished with green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed, and green curtains. His gig, his livery, his portmanteau, his gloves, and his whip, were all green. With a green silk handkerchief in his hand, and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat, he paraded every day on the Steine.

“This morning at 6 o’clock, this gentleman leaped from the window of his lodging on the south parade, into the street, ran from thence to the verge of the cliff nearly opposite and threw himself over the precipice to the beach below. Several persons immediately ran to his assistance, and carried him, bleeding at the mouth and ears, back to his lodgings. The height of the cliff, from whence he precipitated himself, is about 20 feet perpendicular. From the general demeanour of the above gentleman, it is supposed he is deranged. His name, we understand, is Henry Cope, and that he is related to some highly distinguished families.”

Dream Time


In 1898 J.W. Dunne was staying at a hotel in Sussex when he dreamed he was arguing with one of the waiters. He was claiming that it was 4:30 in the afternoon, and the waiter maintained it was 4:30 in the morning. “With the apparent illogicality peculiar to all dreams, I concluded that my watch must have stopped; and, on extracting that instrument from my waistcoat pocket, I saw, looking down on it, that this was precisely the case. It had stopped — with the hands at half-past four. With that I awoke.”

He lit a match to see whether his watch really had stopped. It was not by his bedside, but after some hunting he found it lying on a chest of drawers. It had stopped, and the hands stood at 4:30. Noting the coincidence, he wound the watch and returned to bed.

On coming downstairs the next morning, he went to the nearest clock in order to restore the watch to the correct time. He expected to find it off by several hours, as he supposed it had stopped during the previous afternoon and was rewound in the middle of the night.

But “to my absolute amazement I found that the hands had lost only some two or three minutes, about the amount of time which had elapsed between my waking from the dream and rewinding the watch.”

In other words, the dream watch and the waking watch had stopped at the same moment. Possibly the sleeping Dunne had sensed that his watch’s familiar ticking had stopped, and this had informed his dream. “But — how did I come to see, in that dream, that the hands stood, as they actually did, at half-past four?”

Eastern Time

The most outlandish uncle of all was William Strachey. Notwithstanding his having lived in India only five years, and his association with the British empire having been slight and undistinguished, he persevered in upholding Eastern customs with far greater rigidity and a finer disregard for common sense than any other Strachey. Having once visited Calcutta, he became convinced that the clocks there were the only reliable chronometers in the world, and kept his own watch set resolutely by Calcutta time, organizing the remaining fifty-six years of his life accordingly. The results were disconcerting for his friends and family in England. He breakfasted at afternoon tea and lived most of his waking hours by candlelight. In visits to Sutton Court, his strange nocturnal habits earned him a reputation in astrology among the embedded Somerset folk.

— Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey, 1995



In writing the first edition of Scouting for Boys in 1908, Robert Baden-Powell planned to include a section on self-abuse.

“You all know what it is to have at times a pleasant feeling in your private parts,” he wrote, “and there comes an inclination to work it up with your hand or otherwise. It is especially likely to happen when you see a dirty picture or hear dirty stories and jokes. Well, lots of fellows from not knowing any better, please themselves in this way until it often becomes a sort of habit with them which they cannot get out of.”

“The result of self-abuse is always — mind you, always — that the boy after a time becomes weak and nervous and shy, he gets headaches and probably palpitation of the heart, and if he still carries it on too far he very often goes out of his mind and becomes an idiot. A very large number of the lunatics in our asylums have made themselves ill by indulging in this vice although at one time they were sensible cheery boys like any one of you.”

Baden-Powell had consulted with his mother as to whether to include the section. He removed it at the strong advice of his publisher.