— Desmond Skirrow
— Desmond Skirrow
Claude Shannon was a great enthusiast of Rubik’s cube — he designed the “manipulator” above, which now resides in the MIT museum.
In a 1981 letter to Scientific American editor Dennis Flanagan, Shannon included this poem, to be sung to the tune of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”:
Strange imports come from Hungary:
Count Dracula, and ZsaZsa G.,
Now Erno Rubik’s Magic Cube
For PhD or country rube.
This fiendish clever engineer
Entrapped the music of the sphere.
It’s sphere on sphere in all 3D —
A kinematic symphony!
Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
One thousand bucks a day.
That’s Rubik’s cubic pay.
He drives a Chevrolet.
Forty-three quintillion plus
Problems Rubik posed for us.
Numbers of this awesome kind
Boggle even Sagan’s mind.
Out with sex and violence,
In with calm intelligence.
Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” — no!
Rubik’s Magic Cube — Jawohl!
Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
Cu-bies in disarray?
First twist them that-a-way,
Then turn them this-a-way.
Respect your cube and keep it clean.
Lube your cube with Vaseline.
Beware the dreaded cubist’s thumb,
The callused hand and fingers numb.
No borrower nor lender be.
Rude folks might switch two tabs on thee,
The most unkindest switch of all,
The cruelest place to be.
However you persist
Solutions don’t exist.
Cubemeisters follow Rubik’s camp —
There’s Bühler, Guy and Berlekamp;
John Conway leads a Cambridge pack
(And solves the cube behind his back!).
All hail Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw,
A mayor with fast cubic draw.
Now Dave Singmaster wrote THE BOOK.
One more we must not overlook —
Morwen B. Thistlethwaite!
Rubik’s groupies know their groups:
(That’s math, not rock, you nincompoops.)
Their squares and slices, tri-twist loops,
Plus mono-swaps and supergroups.
Now supergroups have smaller groups
Upon their backs to bite ’em,
And smaller groups have smaller still,
Almost ad infinitum.
How many moves to solve?
How many sides revolve?
Fifty two for Thistlethwaite.
Even God needs ten and eight.
The issue’s joined in steely grip:
Man’s mind against computer chip.
With theorems wrought by Conway’s eight
‘Gainst programs writ by Thistlethwait.
Can multibillion-neuron brains
Beat multimegabit machines?
The thrust of this theistic schism —
To ferret out God’s algorism!
He (hooked on
Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
Men’s schemes gang aft agley.
Let’s cube our life away!
She: Long pause
The original includes 10 footnotes.
My life is full, indeed, of gloom.
I’ve naught, you see; just this small room.
I need more wealth — that’s misery.
What joys in great renown! What glee!
The mace and throne I long to own.
No crown too grand for me alone.
My life is full, indeed!
Of gloom I’ve naught, you see.
Just this small room I need.
More wealth? That’s misery.
What joy’s in great renown?
What glee, the mace and throne?
I long to own no crown.
Too grand for me alone.
— Mary Youngquist
In John Milton’s 1637’s poem “Lycidas,” corrupt clergy are threatened with a obscure punishment:
The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine at the door,
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more.
What is the “two-handed engine”? That’s been a riddle for nearly 400 years. In 1950, Oberlin College philologist W. Arthur Turner collected 10 possibilities, ranging from the nations England and Scotland to “[t]he sheep-hook, which in Milton’s day apparently had an iron spud on the straight end and could be used as a weapon.” Turner himself thought that “the only engine which does meet all the requirements is the lock on St. Peter’s door (or the power of the lock), to which he carries the key.” But there’s still no strong consensus.
(W. Arthur Turner, “Milton’s Two-Handed Engine,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 49:4 [October 1950], 562-565.)
In 1927 Albert Einstein sent a photograph of himself to his friend Cornelia Wolf. He inscribed these lines:
Wherever I go and wherever I stay,
There’s always a picture of me on display.
On top of the desk, or out in the hall,
Tied round a neck, or hung on the wall.
Women and men, they play a strange game,
Asking, beseeching: “Please sign your name.”
From the erudite fellow they brook not a quibble,
But firmly insist on a piece of his scribble.
Sometimes, surrounded by all this good cheer,
I’m puzzled by some of the things that I hear,
And wonder, my mind for a moment not hazy,
If I and not they could really be crazy.
“The reuse of this sentence is forbidden.” — Stephen M. Katcher
For years I’ve been hearing about an immortally bad volume of poetry, The Captain of the ‘Dolphin’ and Other Poems of the Sea, by Frederick J. Johnston-Smith. The glimpses I’ve seen look fantastic:
We piled more wood upon the blazing hearth —
More broken planks from off the mould’ring wreck;
The billets, all composed of Norway pine,
Were evidently portions of the deck.
The morning came the tempest’s trail impatient to elute;
The merry birds assistance gave — played each his fife or flute.
A balminess the darkened hours had brought from out the south.
Each breaker doffed its cap of white and shut its blatant mouth.
Strike, strike your flag, Sidonia,
And lessen death and pain!
“Strike!” “Fight!” are but synonyma
For misery to Spain.
(Where the Goddess Aurora sits shaking her fan
In the face of a vapourless moon —
Where the sun circles round for the half of the year
And is cold — like a yellow balloon)
(to a lapwing:)
I thank you for cutting the thread of my thought
With a snip of your scissors-like bill,
For why should my mind with a thinking be fraught
Of men’s indefectible ill?
I’ve just discovered that the whole thing is on the Internet Archive — including a Glossary of Nautical Terms in which the poet informs us that the “wheel” is “that with which the helmsman steers the ship.”
A followup to David L. Stephens’ palindromic poem “Hannibal, Missouri”: In Walt Kelly’s I Go Pogo (1952), some of the swamp critters are trying to find the turtle Churchy LaFemme guilty of something so they can have turtle soup. Deacon Mushrat announces, “Finally we have a cryptic bit written by Turtle that reeks of guilt”:
Smile, wavering wings
Above rains pour,
While hopefully sings
Love of shorn shore
Shore shorn of love
Sings hopefully while
Pour rains above,
Wings wavering, smile.
Miz Beaver says, “I don’t git it.”
Wiley Catt answers, “That’s the clever part. It’s gotta be read backward.”
Dutch writer Gerard Nolst Trenité’s 1920 poem “The Chaos” is a polemic on the senselessness of English pronunciation:
Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.
I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.
Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.
Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say–said, pay–paid, laid but plaid.
A Maths Master, teaching at Rye,
Bought his pupils a succulent π.
But we’re sorry to state
With 6=7 knows why.
— Punch, Sept. 29, 1937, via William R. Ransom, One Hundred Mathematical Curiosities, 1953
(I read this as “three overate, with sick sequels, heaven knows why.”)