Pareidolia is the experience of “seeing” something in a stimulus that’s simply vague and random.

You’ve felt it if you’ve ever seen images of animals or faces in clouds, or the man in the moon, or heard messages when records are played in reverse. It’s the basis for the Rorschach inkblot test.

This is a portrait of Elizabeth II as it appeared on the 1954 series Canadian dollar bill. So many people thought they saw the face of the devil in the queen’s hair that the bills were eventually withdrawn from circulation.

There’s nothing there — the portrait was adapted from a photograph.

A Lifetime’s Eating

“A French statistician has just ascertained that a human being of either sex who is a moderate eater and who lives to be 70 years old consumes during his life a quantity of food which would fill twenty ordinary railway baggage cars. A good eater, however, may require as many as thirty.”

Barkham Burroughs’ Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, 1889


A clerihew is a four-line humorous verse about a well-known person. They’re named for Edmund Clerihew Bentley, who invented them, and they get pretty erudite, for some reason:

Sir Karl Popper
Perpetrated a whopper
When he boasted to the world that he and he alone
Had toppled Rudolf Carnap from his Vienna Circle throne.
(by Armand T. Ringer)

Sir Christopher Wren
Said, “I am going to dine with some men.
If anyone calls,
Say I am designing St Paul’s.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Lived upon venison;
Not cheap, I fear,
Because venison’s dear.
(credited to Louis Untermeyer)

George the Third
Ought never to have occurred.
One can only wonder
At so grotesque a blunder.

The world’s densest clerihew was composed, over breakfast, by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, in honor of New Yorker poetry editor Howard Moss. It manages to rhyme the names of three people in four lines:

To the Poetry Editor of the New Yorker

Is Robert Lowell
Better than Noël

Sheep Rising

A tremendous blizzard in January 1978 buried a flock of sheep under a snowdrift in Sutherland, Highland, Scotland.

Weeks later, after digging out 16 dead sheep, Alex Maclellan found one ewe still alive. Its hot breath had created air holes in the snow, and it had gnawed its own wool for protein.

It had survived that way for 50 days.

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.

“The Quick Brown Fox …”

A pangram is a sentence that contains every letter of the alphabet:

  • John P. Brady, give me a black walnut box of quite a small size. (48 letters)
  • Quixotic knights’ wives are found on jumpy old zebras. (44)
  • By Jove, my quick study of lexicography won a prize. (41)
  • Sympathizing would fix Quaker objectives. (36)
  • Jackdaws love my big sphinx of quartz. (31)
  • Foxy nymphs grab quick-jived waltz. (29)
  • Brick quiz whangs jumpy veldt fox. (27)

The 26-letter ones are nearly incomprehensible:

  • Nth black fjords vex Qum gyp wiz.

Or “An esteemed Iranian shyster was provoked when he himself was cheated: an alleged seaside ski resort he purchased proved instead to be a glacier of countless oil-abundant fjords.”