Spectacularly Bad Driving

Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Krohn

This is the most isolated tree on Earth, the “Tree of Ténéré,” a single determined acacia that grew alone for decades in the Sahara in northeastern Niger. There were no other trees for more than 400 kilometers; it was the only tree to appear on maps of the area, even at a scale of 1:4,000,000.

“What is its secret?” wondered a French commandant in 1939. “How can it still be living in spite of the multitudes of camels which trample at its sides? How at each azalai does not a lost camel eat its leaves and thorns? Why don’t the numerous Touareg leading the salt caravans cut its branches to make fires to brew their tea? The only answer it that the tree is taboo and considered as such by the caravaniers. … The acacia has become a living lighthouse; it is the first or the last landmark for the azalai leaving Agadez for Bilma, or returning.”

What could bring down such an exalted spirit? Believe it or not, it was hit by a truck. Twice. The first instance, in which a lorry headed to Bilma detached one of its two trunks, happened apparently in the 1950s. The noble tree struggled on for 20 more years before it was knocked down by an allegedly drunk Libyan driver in 1973. The dead tree was taken to the Niger National Museum in Niamey; today it’s been replaced by a simple metal sculpture. (Image (c)2001 Peter Krohn)

An International Riddle

The following riddles have the same answer. What is it?

  • Scotland: “What is it that hangs high, and cries sore, has a head and no hair?”
  • Wales: “I saw some object near to a town, in a very finely made palace between earth and heaven. It has a fine tail which almost reaches to the ground, and its tongue hangs in a very large skull. It spends most of its time in silence, but sometimes it calls its friends together.”
  • France: “The more one pulls it, the more it cries out.”
  • Lithuania: “A horse with a silver tail neighs on a high hill.”
  • Serbia: “A dead mare doesn’t neigh, but when somebody pulls it by the tail, it neighs so that all men can hear it.”
  • Newfoundland: “Round as a hoop, deep as a pail, never sings out till it’s caught by the tail.”
  • Chile: “Señora Carolina likes to live in a high house, and if they pull her feet, she disturbs the inhabitants.”
Click for Answer



It’s important to acknowledge your mistakes. In a 1920 editorial, the New York Times attacked Robert Goddard’s claim that a rocket would work in space:

That Professor Goddard, with his ‘chair’ in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react — to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

In 1969, days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, it published this correction:

Further investigation and experimentation have confirmed the findings of Isaac Newton in the 17th century, and it is now definitely established that a rocket can function in a vacuum as well as in an atmosphere.

It added: “The Times regrets the error.”


An equivoque is a poem that can be read in two different ways. This one appeared in The Weekly Pacquet of Advice from Rome in 1679. Protestants were to read each line straight across, Catholics down each column:

The Jesuit’s Double-Faced Creed

I hold for sound faith What England’s church allows
What Rome’s faith saith My conscience disavows
Where the king’s head The flock can take no shame
The flock’s misled Who hold the Pope supreme
Where th’altar’s dress’d The worship’s scarce divine
The people’s bless’d Whose table’s bread and wine
He’s but an ass Who their communion flies
Who shuns the Mass Is Catholic and wise.

War Pigeon

Humans have no monopoly on valor. A pigeon won the French Croix de Guerre for heroic service delivering messages in Verdun during World War I.

Cher Ami, a Black Check cock, delivered 12 important messages for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

On his final mission, during the battle of the Argonne in October 1918, he was shot through the breast and still delivered his message. It was found in a capsule hanging from his shattered leg, and helped saved around 200 U.S. soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division’s “Lost Battalion.”

Unlucky in Darts?


In 1908, Jim Garside, the landlord of Leeds’ Adelphi Inn, was called before the local magistrate. In places where alcohol is consumed, English law permits betting only on games of skill. Garside had been permitting bets on darts. Wasn’t that a game of chance?

Garside summoned a dartboard and local champion William “Bigfoot” Anakin, who proceeded to hit every number the court named.

Garside was discharged.

Ars Longa

In the 1840s, John Banvard painted a panorama of the Mississippi River valley — possibly the largest painting ever attempted. It was 12 feet high and 1,300 feet long.

He traveled with it through Europe, Asia, and Africa, and Queen Victoria even got a private viewing.

Improbably, it’s been lost. How do you misplace a painting that’s a quarter mile long?

The Peabody Hotel Ducks

You always know when it’s 11 a.m. at Memphis’ Peabody Hotel: Five ducks are escorted from their penthouse suite, down the elevator to the lobby, along a red carpet (accompanied by a Sousa march), and into the fountain, where they spend the day. At 5 p.m. they return, with equal ceremony.

This has happened every day since the 1930s.