Punctuation

Greed

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.

Contentment

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

(David L. Silverman, “Kickshaws,” Word Ways 5:3 [August 1972], 168-181.)

A Confusing Country

Philosopher Nelson Goodman published this puzzle anonymously in the Boston Post in 1931, at age 24. He later called it “by far the most popular and widely circulated of all my writings.”

All the men of a certain country are either nobles or hunters, and no one is both a noble and a hunter. The male inhabitants are so nearly alike that it is difficult to tell them apart, but there is one difference: nobles never lie, and hunters never tell the truth.

Three of the men meet one day and Ahmed, the first, says something. He says either, ‘I am a noble’, or ‘I am a hunter.’ (We don’t know yet which he said.)

Ali, the second man, heard what Ahmed said, and in reply to a query, answered, ‘Ahmed said, “I am a hunter”.’ Then Ali went on to say, ‘Azab is a hunter.’

Azab was the third man. He said, ‘Ahmed is a noble.’

Now the problem is, which is each? How do you know?

Click for Answer

The Horizontal Falls

On the coast of the Kimberley region in Western Australia are two successive gorges that restrict the tide — seawater builds up rapidly at these bottlenecks, creating temporary “waterfalls” through the gaps, which are only 10 and 20 meters wide.

With each change in the tide, the falls reverse direction, and the cycle renews itself.

In a Word

quadragenarian
n. one in her forties

repentine
adj. sudden

monomachy
n. a duel; single combat

labefaction
n. overthrow, downfall

The longest-lived spider on record is Number 16, a wild female trapdoor spider that lived on the North Bungulla Reserve near Tammin, Western Australia. She’d reached age 43 when ecologist Leanda Mason discovered that something, probably a parasitic wasp, had pierced the silk door of her burrow, which was now empty.

“She was cut down in her prime,” Mason told the Washington Post. “It took a while to sink in, to be honest.”

Podcast Episode 336: A Gruesome Cure for Consumption

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MercyBrownGravestone.jpg

In the 19th century, some New England communities grew so desperate to help victims of tuberculosis that they resorted to a macabre practice: digging up dead relatives and ritually burning their organs. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll examine the causes of this bizarre belief and review some unsettling examples.

We’ll also consider some fighting cyclists and puzzle over Freddie Mercury’s stamp.

See full show notes …

Storm Warning

When a truck ignores repeated alerts that it’s too tall to enter the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, an automated system projects a giant stop sign onto a curtain of water at the tunnel entrance. This presents the boldest possible message without causing damage to a heedless truck — and authorized vehicles can still pass safely through the curtain.

More Fortuitous Numbers

Two years ago I wrote about the number 84,672, which has a surprising property: When its name is written out in (American) English (EIGHTY FOUR THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED SEVENTY TWO) and the letter counts of those words are multiplied together (6 × 4 × 8 × 3 × 7 × 7 × 3), they yield the original number (84,672).

Such numbers are called fortuitous, and, not surprisingly, very few of them are known. When I wrote about them in 2019, the whole list ran 4, 24, 84672, 1852200, 829785600, 20910597120, 92215733299200. Now Jonathan Pappas has discovered two more:

1,239,789,303,244,800,000

ONE QUINTILLION TWO HUNDRED THIRTY NINE QUADRILLION SEVEN HUNDRED EIGHTY NINE TRILLION THREE HUNDRED THREE BILLION TWO HUNDRED FORTY FOUR MILLION EIGHT HUNDRED THOUSAND

3 × 11 × 3 × 7 × 6 × 4 × 11 × 5 × 7 × 6 × 4 × 8 × 5 × 7 × 5 × 7 × 3 × 7 × 5 × 4 × 7 × 5 × 7 × 8 = 1,239,789,303,244,800,000

887,165,996,513,213,819,259,682,435,576,627,200,000,000

EIGHT HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN DUODECILLION ONE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE UNDECILLION NINE HUNDRED NINETY SIX DECILLION FIVE HUNDRED THIRTEEN NONILLION TWO HUNDRED THIRTEEN OCTILLION EIGHT HUNDRED NINETEEN SEPTILLION TWO HUNDRED FIFTY NINE SEXTILLION SIX HUNDRED EIGHTY TWO QUINTILLION FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY FIVE QUADRILLION FIVE HUNDRED SEVENTY SIX TRILLION SIX HUNDRED TWENTY SEVEN BILLION TWO HUNDRED MILLION

5 × 7 × 6 × 5 × 12 × 3 × 7 × 5 × 4 × 11 × 4 × 7 × 6 × 3 × 9 × 4 × 7 × 8 × 9 × 3 × 7 × 8 × 9 × 5 × 7 × 8 × 10 × 3 × 7 × 5 × 4 × 10 × 3 × 7 × 6 × 3 × 11 × 4 × 7 × 6 × 4 × 11 4 × 7 × 7 × 3 × 8 × 3 × 7 × 6 × 5 × 7 × 3 × 7 × 7 = 887,165,996,513,213,819,259,682,435,576,627,200,000,000

A 10th solution, if one exists, will be greater than 10138.

Details are here. Jonathan has also discovered some cyclic solutions (ONE HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHT -> FIVE HUNDRED TWENTY FIVE -> SIX HUNDRED SEVENTY TWO -> FOUR HUNDRED FORTY ONE -> FOUR HUNDRED TWENTY -> ONE HUNDRED SIXTY EIGHT) and the remarkable 195954154450774917120 -> 195954154450774917120000 -> 1959541544507749171200000.

(Thanks, Jonathan.)

On and Off

Wyoming’s Intermittent Spring is well named: It runs and stops alternately, in segments of about 15 minutes. The mechanism isn’t known for certain, but scientists suspect that a cavern in the rock face is filling continuously with groundwater, and when the water reaches a certain height it spills through a tube that empties into the valley. This produces a natural siphon effect that draws down the reservoir until air enters the tube, which disables the siphon until the cycle starts again. University of Utah hydrologist Kip Solomon says, “We can’t think of another explanation at the moment.”

Solomon’s tests show that the spring water has been exposed to air underground, which lends support to the theory.

Direction

Ancient Egypt was an essentially one-dimensional country strung out along the Nile, which flows from south to north. The winds were conveniently arranged to be predominantly northerly. To go north, a traveler could let his boat drift, while with a sail he could move south against the slow current. For this reason, in the writing of the ancient Egyptians, ‘go downstream (north)’ was represented by a boat without sails, and ‘go upstream (south)’ by a boat with sails. The words (and concepts) or north-south and up-downstream became merged. Since the Nile and its tributaries were the only rivers known to the ancient Egyptians, this caused no difficulties until they reached the Euphrates, which happened to flow from north to south. The resulting confusion in the ancient Egyptian mind is recorded for us to read today in their reference to ‘that inverted water which goes downstream (north) in going upstream (south).’

— P.L. Csonka, “Advanced Effects in Particle Physics,” Physical Review, April 1969, 1266-1281