• It’s illegal to enter the Houses of Parliament wearing a suit of armor, according to a 1313 statute.
  • “All things in moderation” is an immoderate policy.
  • If a prime number is made up entirely of 1s (e.g., 11), then the number of its digits is prime.
  • The word CARBON is itself made up of element symbols (Ca, Rb, O, N). (Dmitri Borgmann)
  • Interior decorator Nicholas Haslam: “All it comes down to is making a setting in which people look prettier.”

07/17/2024 UPDATE: Several readers point out, correctly, that carbon is hardly the only elemental “chemical word” — indeed, some elements can be spelled in multiple ways. I’ve assembled this list from multiple contributions:


TiN is even a valid compound, titanium nitride.

Of these Borgmann had found only arsenic, carbon, iron, neon, phosphorus, silicon, and xenon when he wrote in 1974, “surely the most unusual is CARBON which can be factored into elements not including itself.” But that property wasn’t unique even within his limited list, as can be seen above.

Many thanks to readers Gareth McCaughan, Catalin Voinescu, and Eric Harshbarger for writing in about this.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

The color fuchsia is named after the flower of that name, which was named after 16th-century German botanist Leonhart Fuchs. And Fuchs is German for fox. So the color is named after a plant named after a man named after an animal.

The color orange is named after the fruit, rather than the other way around.

Canaries are named after the Canary Islands, rather than the other way around.

04/20/2024 UPDATE: The Canary Islands in turn derive their name from the Latin name Canariae Insulae, “islands of the dogs.” Pliny the Elder records that the islands contained “vast multitudes of dogs of very large size.” So animal -> islands -> bird. (Thanks, Bob, Randy, Derek, and Sam.)

And chartreuse is named after the French liqueur of that color, which is named after the Grand Chartreuse order of monks that created it in the eponymous Chartreuse Mountains. Mountains -> monastery -> beverage -> color. (Thanks, John.)


  • Fletcher Christian’s first son was named Thursday October Christian.
  • 16384 = 163 × (8 – 4)
  • Of the 46 U.S. presidents to date, 16 have had no middle name.
  • “It is ill arguing against the use of anything from its abuse.” — Elizabeth I, in Walter Scott’s Kenilworth

Star Trek costume designer William Ware Theiss offered the Theiss Theory of Titillation: “The degree to which a costume is considered sexy is directly proportional to how accident-prone it appears to be.”

(Thanks, Michael.)

For the Record


The most names ever held by a historical royal belonged to Don Alfonso de Borbón y Borbón (1866-1934), a great-great-grandson of Charles III of Spain, reflecting a trend favored by Spanish royalty in the 19th century.

His full name was Alfonso María Isabel Francisco Eugenio Gabriel Pedro Sebastián Pelayo Fernando Francisco de Paula Pío Miguel Rafael Juan José Joaquín Ana Zacarias Elisabeth Simeón Tereso Pedro Pablo Tadeo Santiago Simón Lucas Juan Mateo Andrés Bartolomé Ambrosio Geronimo Agustín Bernardo Candido Gerardo Luis-Gonzaga Filomeno Camilo Cayetano Andrés-Avelino Bruno Joaquín-Picolimini Felipe Luis-Rey-de-Francia Ricardo Esteban-Protomártir Genaro Nicolás Estanislao-de-Koska Lorenzo Vicente Crisostomo Cristano Darío Ignacio Francisco-Javier Francisco-de-Borja Higona Clemente Esteban-de-Hungría Ladislado Enrique Ildefonso Hermenegildo Carlos-Borromeo Eduardo Francisco-Régis Vicente-Ferrer Pascual Miguel-de-los-Santos Adriano Venancio Valentín Benito José-Oriol Domingo Florencio Alfacio Benére Domingo-de-Silos Ramón Isidro Manuel Antonio Todos-los-Santos de Borbón y Borbón.

Peak Performance


This is fascinating if it’s true: Ten municipalities meet at the summit of Mount Etna, producing a “decipoint” and one of the most complex arrangements of political boundaries outside Antarctica.

I say “if it’s true” because, for such a striking fact, it’s surprisingly hard to confirm. Many sources point to a blog post at Condé Nast Traveler by Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, but that cites no source.

On the other hand, no one else seems to doubt it, and this map by Patrick McGranaghan won the American Geographical Society’s monthly map contest in November 2017. Maybe I’m too skeptical?

09/21/2023 UPDATE: Wow, it seems to be true. The official website of the Parco dell’Etna includes a map (PDF) showing the distribution of comuni metropolitani around the peak. And the website of the Italian National Institute of Statistics offers data files on statistical districts that can be opened using the desktop version of Google Earth. Many thanks to readers Rob Miller and Ross Ogilvie for looking into this.


Image: Wikimedia Commons

The bird known as the red phalarope in North America is the grey phalarope in England — it bears red plumage during its breeding season, but the British see only its drab winter dress.

A poem by Lord Kennet, from my notes:

I live in hope some day to see
The crimson-necked phalarope;
(Or do I, rather, live in hope
To see the red-necked phalarope?)


  • Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Monroe all died on July 4.
  • Australia is wider than the moon.
  • NoNRePReSeNTaTiONaLiSm can be assembled from chemical symbols.
  • 1 × 56 – 1 – 7 = 15617
  • “‘Needless to say’ is, needless to say, needless to say.” — Enoch Haga

The Bottom Line


In his 2008 book 100 Essential Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know, cosmologist John D. Barrow considers how long a straight line a typical HB pencil could draw before the lead was exhausted.

A soft 2B pencil draws a line about 20 nanometers thick, and the diameter of a carbon atom is 0.14 nanometers, so a pencil line is only about 143 atoms thick. The pencil lead has a radius of about a millimeter, so its area is about π square millimeters. If the pencil is 15 centimeters long, then it contains 150π cubic millimeters of graphite.

Putting this together, if we draw a line 20 nanometers thick and 2 millimeters wide, then the pencil contains enough graphite to continue for the surprising distance L = 150π / 4 × 10-7 millimeters = 1,178 kilometers. “But I haven’t tested this prediction!”

(Thanks, Larry.)

05/21/2022 RELATED: How much of a pencil’s lead is wasted in the sharpening?

(Thanks, Chris.)

Long Haul


New Zealand’s Whangarei Aerodrome and Morocco’s Tangier Ibn Battouta Airport are on precisely opposite sides of the earth: In an antipodal map projection, which maps each part of the world to its opposite location, the two airports’ runways even cross.

Unfortunately, at 1,097 meters, Whangarei’s longest runway is too short to accommodate a commercial jet with the necessary range, so there’s no way to actually fly from one to the other. For the dedicated air traveler, the next best pairing is Taipei and Asuncion, which are 19,912 kilometers apart.

02/28/2022 UPDATE: Wait, I’m wrong — a reader tells me that on an antipodal projection the closest points on the two runways are about 23.8 kilometers, or 14.8 miles, apart. Still, remarkably close!