A Tennessee Parthenon

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Nashville’s Centennial Park contains a full-scale replica of the Parthenon.

Like the original in Athens, it’s “more perfect than perfect”: To counter optical effects, the columns swell slightly as they rise, and the platform on which they stand curves slightly upward. So the temple looks even more symmetrical than it actually is.

Cadaeic Cadenza

Opening excerpt from “Cadaeic Cadenza,” a short story written in 1996 by Mike Keith:


A Poem: A Raven
Midnights so dreary, tired and weary,
Silently pondering volumes extolling all by-now obsolete lore.
During my rather long nap — the weirdest tap!
An ominous vibrating sound disturbing my chamber’s antedoor.
“This,” I whispered quietly, “I ignore.” …

If you write out the number of letters in each word, they form the first 3,834 digits of pi.

Nazca From Space

Most people are familiar with the drawings in Peru’s Nazca Desert:


It’s thought they were created by local peoples between 200 B.C. and 600 A.D. They’re remarkably well realized, considering that the builders probably couldn’t have viewed them from the air. Here’s a view from a satellite:


It’s easy to decide that they’re the work of visiting extraterrestrials — the airliners that first spotted them in the 1920s described them as “primitive landing strips” — but researcher Joe Nickell has shown that a small team of people can reproduce a drawing in 48 hours, without aerial supervision, using Nazcan technology. Still, well done.
(Top image: Wikimedia Commons)

D’Agapeyeff Cipher

Alexander d’Agapeyeff included this “challenge cipher” in Codes and Ciphers (1939), his introductory textbook in cryptography:

75628 28591 62916 48164 91748 58464 74748 28483 81638 18174

74826 26475 83828 49175 74658 37575 75936 36565 81638 17585

75756 46282 92857 46382 75748 38165 81848 56485 64858 56382

72628 36281 81728 16463 75828 16483 63828 58163 63630 47481

91918 46385 84656 48565 62946 26285 91859 17491 72756 46575

71658 36264 74818 28462 82649 18193 65626 48484 91838 57491

81657 27483 83858 28364 62726 26562 83759 27263 82827 27283

82858 47582 81837 28462 82837 58164 75748 58162 92000

No one could solve it, and he later admitted he’d forgotten how he’d encrypted it.

It remains unsolved to this day.



It’s important to acknowledge your mistakes. In a 1920 editorial, the New York Times attacked Robert Goddard’s claim that a rocket would work in space:

That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

In 1969, days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, it published this correction:

Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century, and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere.

It added: “The Times regrets the error.”

Seeing Stars


Copernicus, that learned wight,
The glory of his nation,
With draughts of wine refreshed his sight,
And saw the Earth’s rotation;
Each planet then its orb described,
The Moon got under way, sir;
These truths from nature he imbibed
For he drank his bottle a day, sir!

— From “The Astronomer’s Drinking Song,” in Augustus De Morgan’s Budget of Paradoxes, 1866

Skeptics’ Prizes

The International Zetetic Challenge offered a prize of 200,000 euros to “any person who could prove any paranormal phenomenon.” It ran for 15 years, starting in 1987.

Magician James Randi has offered $1 million to anyone who can show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

Both prizes have gone unrewarded.

Wrist Compass

If you wear an analog watch, you can use it as a compass:

Hold it flat in the palm of your hand, with the hour hand pointing in the direction of the sun. The point midway between the hour hand and the figure 12 is due south.

(In the Southern Hemisphere, point the figure 12 toward the sun. The midpoint between the 12 and the hour hand points north.)