Roll Call

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

A problem from the 2002 Moscow Mathematical Olympiad:

A group of recruits stand in a line facing their corporal. They are, unfortunately, rather poorly trained: At the command “Left turn!”, some of them turn left, some turn right, and some turn to face away from the corporal. Is it always possible for the corporal to insert himself in the line so that an equal number of recruits are facing him on his left and on his right?

Click for Answer

Roll Call

In 1938, University of North Carolina folklorist Arthur Palmer Hudson published a collection of unusual African-American names, most gathered through personal interviews but others “unimpeachably attested” by state bureaus of vital statistics:

Comer Mercantile Company
Castor Oil
Morphine
Dr. Root Beer
Oleomargarine
Artificial Flowers
Elevator
Dill Pickle
League of Nations
Toledo Ohio
Positive Wasserman (after a hospital wrist tag)
Jesus Hoover Christ (“the family was a beneficiary of the Red Cross when Hoover was director”)
Jesse James Outlaw
James All Virtuous
Sandy Alexander Soap Fish and Tobacco Box
Susan Anna Banana Green Doosenberry Watson
Rosa Belle Locust Hill North Carolina Beauty Spot Evans
Frank Harrison President of the United States Eats His Lasses Candy and Swings on Every Gate Williams
Pneumonia and Neuralgia (twins)
Flat Foot Floogie
State Normal and Industrial College (“Snic”)
No Parking
Lake Erie Banks
Cleopatra Blue

In the 1850s, a Stanly County, N.C., slave was named Sunday May Ninth “to guarantee the bearer’s remembrance of his birthday.” “This name proved useful to the ex-slave in establishing his status with reference to a monetary claim.”

Hudson seems to have been enchanted by unusual names generally — among the UNC alumni he found a white student named Shively Dewilder Accus Baccus Dulcido.

(Arthur Palmer Hudson, “Some Curious Negro Names,” Southern Folklore Quarterly 2:4, December 1938, pp. 179-193.)

Roll Call

Yet more unusual names of real people. Most of these are from the collection of Leland Hilligoss of the St. Louis Public Library, via Paul Dickson, A Collector’s Compendium of Rare and Unusual, Bold and Beautiful, Odd and Whimsical Names (1986). “As far as can be determined, all of the names are real and almost all were collected in North America and the British Isles”:

  • Magdalena Babblejack
  • Phoebe B. Peabody Beebe
  • Sibyl Bibble
  • Christian Bible
  • Hiawatha Cathcart
  • Tensil Cheesebrew
  • Adeline Dingledine
  • W. French Dingler
  • Ed Ek
  • JoAnn Floozbonger
  • E. Vercel Fuglestad
  • Cashmere Funkhouser
  • L.E. Vontilzer Gleaves
  • Felty Goosehead
  • Icy Macy Hoober
  • Zola G. Hooberry
  • Square Horn Jr.
  • Birdie T. Hospital
  • Elizabeth Hogg Ironmonger
  • Mingtoy Johnson
  • Epluribus Kitchen
  • Varnard P. Longhibler
  • Channing Manning
  • Duel Maroon
  • Luch V. Moga
  • Otis Muckenfuss
  • Lester Ouchmoody
  • Loveless Pelt
  • Grace Pinkapank
  • Evangelist Polite
  • Curt Puke
  • Burger Rocket
  • Melon Roof
  • Goolsby Scroggins
  • Norval Sleed
  • Craven Tart
  • Eloise Tittlekitty
  • Kong Vang
  • Gwendolyne Winklepleck
  • Clifteen Wooters

Roll Call

More unusual personal names:

From John Train’s Remarkable Names of Real People (1988):

  • Ave Maria Klinkenberg
  • Gaston J. Feeblebunny
  • Humperdink Fangboner
  • Larry Derryberry
  • Mary Louise Pantzaroff
  • Norman Icenoggle
  • Primrose Goo
  • Rapid Integration
  • Verbal Funderburk

From Barbara Fletcher’s Don’t Blame the Stork (1981):

  • Bobo Yawn
  • Louise Ghostkeeper
  • Constance Stench
  • Naughtybird Curtsey
  • Rat Soup
  • Sir Dingle Foot
  • Consider Arms
  • Craspius Pounders
  • Gizella Werberzerk-Piffel
  • Barbara Savage Machinest

The most impressive specimens come from H.L. Mencken’s magisterial American Language. In 1901 Loyal Lodge No. 296 Knights of Pythias Ponca City Oklahoma Territory Smith was baptized in Ponca City, and in 1949 John Hodge Opera House Centennial Gargling Oil Samuel J. Tilden Ten Brink was interviewed for the Linguistic Atlas in upstate New York. I don’t know what he said.

Roll Call

The taking of the United States census, now nearly completed, has brought to light some curious specimens of given names. A man in Illinois has five children, who have been christened Imprimis, Finis, Appendix, Addendum, and Erratum. In Smythe County, Virginia, a Mr. Elmadoras Sprinkle has called his two sons Myrtle Ellmore and Onyx Curwen, and his six daughters Memphis Tappan, Empress Vandalia, Tatnia Zain, Okeno Molette, Og Wilt, and Wintosse Emmah. The great number of persons surnamed Sprinkle in that county is given as the excuse for these extraordinary names.

Notes and Queries, Dec. 10, 1870

Roll Call

In November 2006, 23-year-old David Fearn of Staffordshire changed his name to James Dr. No From Russia With Love Goldfinger Thunderball You Only Live Twice On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Diamonds Are Forever Live and Let Die The Man With the Golden Gun The Spy Who Loved Me Moonraker For Your Eyes Only Octopussy A View to a Kill The Living Daylights Licence to Kill GoldenEye Tomorrow Never Dies The World Is Not Enough Die Another Day Casino Royale Bond.

It’s the longest name in deed poll history.

Roll Call

A pangrammatic anagrammatic verse composed by Edwin Fitzpatrick — each line contains each of the 20 consonants once and each of the six vowels twice:

Why jog exquisite bulk, fond crazy vamp,
Daft buxom jonquil, zephyr’s gawky vice?
Guy fed by work, quiz Jove’s xanthic lamp —
Zow! Qualms by deja vu gyp fox-kin thrice.

And it rhymes!

Podcast Episode 199: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering

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In 1921 a schooner ran aground on the treacherous shoals off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When rescuers climbed aboard, they found signs of a strange drama in the ship’s last moments — and no trace of the 11-man crew. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll examine the curious case of the Carroll A. Deering, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history.”

We’ll also experiment with yellow fever and puzzle over a disputed time of death.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 147: The Call of Mount Kenya

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Stuck in an East African prison camp in 1943, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi needed a challenge to regain his sense of purpose. He made a plan that seemed crazy — to break out of the camp, climb Mount Kenya, and break back in. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Benuzzi and two companions as they try to climb the second-highest mountain in Africa using homemade equipment.

We’ll also consider whether mirages may have doomed the Titanic and puzzle over an ineffective oath.

See full show notes …

Close Call

From reader Isaac Lubow:

In 2008 a Learjet operated by Kalitta Air was en route from Manassas, Va., to Ypsilanti, Mich., when the air traffic controller noted that the pilot’s microphone button was being pressed continuously. When he contacted the plane, the pilot told him in slow, slurred words, over the sound of audible alarms, that he was unable to maintain altitude, speed, or heading but that everything else was “A-OK.”

Euphoria is a sign of hypoxia. With the help of the pilot of a nearby aircraft, the controllers were able to understand that the Learjet had become depressurized. It turned out that the first officer had been completely unconscious, and his flailing arm had both disengaged the autopilot and keyed the microphone. The open microphone had alerted the controllers, and the need to hand-fly the plane had kept the pilot conscious and able to respond to their commands.

The pilot managed to descend from 32,000 feet to 11,000, where the crew recovered, and the plane landed safely at Detroit’s Willow Run Airport. Controllers Jay McCombs and Stephanie Bevins were awarded the Archie League Medal of Safety, and the episode is now used as a classroom teaching aid at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City.

(From Fear of Landing. Thanks, Isaac.)