“Halfway to Hell”

One “smoot” is five feet seven inches, or about 1.7 meters.

It’s named for Oliver R. Smoot, an ill-starred MIT pledge whose fraternity brothers rolled him head over heels to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge in October 1958.

The bridge measured “364.4 smoots plus one ear.” The markings are repainted each year by the incoming pledge class of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Ironically, Smoot later became chairman of the American National Standards Institute.

Great Wall From Space


The Great Wall of China, as seen from the space shuttle. Contrary to popular belief, an unaided viewer cannot see it from the moon. One shuttle astronaut said, “We can see things as small as airport runways, [but] the Great Wall is almost invisible from only 180 miles up.” An Apollo astronaut said no human structures were visible at a distance of a few thousand miles. And — most tellingly — Chinese astronaut Yang Liwei couldn’t see it at all.

“Because He Left a Residue at Every Pole”

Incomprehensible math jokes:

Q: What is lavender and commutes?
A: An Abelian semigrape.

Q: What’s yellow, linear, normed, and complete?
A: A Bananach space.

Q: What’s the value of a contour integral around Western Europe?
A: Zero, because all the Poles are in Eastern Europe.

Q: What do you get when you cross a mountain climber with a mosquito?
A. Nothing: you can’t cross a scaler with a vector.

Q: What’s hot, chunky, and acts on a polygon?
A: Dihedral soup.

Q: What sound does a drowning analytic number theorist make?
A: “Log log log log …”

Q: What’s sour, yellow, and equivalent to the axiom of choice?
A: Zorn’s lemon.

“Mathematicians are like Frenchmen,” wrote Goethe. “Whatever you say to them they translate into their own language, and forthwith it is something entirely different.”

Asteroids Named After Fictional Characters


Asteroids named after fictional characters:

  • 2309 Mr. Spock
  • 5048 Moriarty
  • 5049 Sherlock
  • 5050 Doctorwatson
  • 6042 Cheshirecat
  • 6735 Madhatter
  • 6736 Marchare
  • 7470 Jabberwock
  • 7980 Bandersnatch
  • 9007 James Bond
  • 18610 Arthurdent

Strangely, 2309 Mr. Spock caused an uproar when the asteroid’s discoverer, James Gibson, revealed that he’d actually named it after his cat (he called the cat Spock because it was “imperturbable, logical, intelligent, and had pointed ears”). The International Astronomical Union officially discouraged any more pet animal names, but people are still fine — asteroids have been named after Carlos Santana, Mister Rogers, all four Beatles and all six members of Monty Python.