# Battlefield ID

The Norman Conquest unfolded before the advent of modern heraldry, so warriors couldn’t be identified reliably by the designs on their shields, and their hoods and helmets tended to obscure their faces. As a result they were often unrecognizable. At the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror had to raise his helmet to show that he was not dead, as recorded on the Bayeux Tapestry (Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, points to him to rally the troops). Combatants began to carry armorial shields early in the 12th century.

# In a Word

crepuscule
n. twilight

(Stanislaw Straszkiewicz, Zmierzch, 1910.)

# Digit Work

In Mathematics in Fun and in Earnest (2006), Nathan Altshiller-Court describes an ancient method of finger arithmetic to compute the product of two numbers in the range 6-10. Each number is assigned to a finger (on both hands):

6: little finger
7: ring finger
8: middle finger
9: index finger
10: thumb

Now, to multiply 7 by 9, hold your hands before you with the thumbs up and touch the ring finger of one hand to the index finger of the other. These two fingers and all the others physically below them number six and count for 60 toward the final result. Above the joined fingers are three fingers on one hand and one on the other — multiply those two values, add the result (3) to the existing 60, and you get the final answer: 7 × 9 = (6 × 10) + (3 × 1) = 63.

“Besides its arithmetical uses, this clever trick may also serve, with telling effect, to enhance the prestige of an ambitious grandfather in the eyes of a bright fourth-grade grandson,” Altshiller-Court observes. “Competent observers report that it is still resorted to by the Wallachian peasants of southern Rumania.”

# The Emaciated Child

We now and then hear of some interesting discovery, but seldom of one more affecting to the sense of humanity than that which was made three weeks ago. In one of the narrow streets [of Pompeii] were found signs of human remains in the dried mud lying on the top of the strata of lapilli reaching to the second floor of the houses; and when the usual process of pouring plaster of Paris into the hollow left by the impression of a body had been accomplished, there came to light the form of a little boy, seemingly about twelve years old. Within the house, opposite to the second floor window of which this infantile form lay, were found a gold bracelet and the skeleton of a woman, the arms stretched towards the child. The plaster form of this woman could not be obtained, the impression being too much destroyed. It is evident that the mother, when the fiery mass descended, had put her little boy out of the window in the hope of saving him, and he must, no doubt have been overwhelmed. The position of the left leg, indeed, seems to show that the child had lost one foot, or that it had been hurt of lamed, which may have been done by the burning substance that quickly overspread the floors of the house and the pavement on the street. Some think the boy was actually being raised and carried in his mother’s arms, at the moment when both finally perished. His left arm is close to the chest, as though wrapped in his toga or mantle, while the right arm (which has been broken off above the wrist, in digging out the figure) was somewhat uplifted. There is a protuberance on the face, which seems to have been caused by his putting a finger to his mouth, to clear off the suffocating matter that pressed upon him in his last moments of life.

Illustrated London News, March 11, 1882, via Eugene J. Dwyer, Pompeii’s Living Statues, 2010

# Still Waters

The unassuming Japanese perennial Paris japonica may have the largest genome of any living organism.

With 150 billion base pairs, the DNA from a single cell stretched out end to end would cover more than 300 feet.

# Identity

Hui Tzu argued that a motherless colt never had a mother.

For when it had a mother, he said, it was not motherless.

And at every other moment of its life, it had no mother.

# Exchange

It was after the battle of Ypres when many wounded were returned to home hospitals where they received numerous solicitous visitors.

One dear old soul went around the wards speaking to each soldier in turn and inquiring of each the nature of his wounds.

‘And where about were you wounded my dear man?’ she asked one soldier.

‘Ypres, ma’am,’ the man replied.

‘Yes, yes, of course,’ said the dear old soul, ‘But where about? That is, in what way?’

‘Oh, I see what you mean,’ the soldier said. Then after a pause he added, ‘Well, ma’am, it’s like this; if you had been wounded where I was wounded, then you wouldn’t have been wounded at all.’

— Arthur E. Wrench, In Lighter Vein, 1976

# Unquote

“Silence is not always tact and it is tact that is golden, not silence.” — Samuel Butler

# Podcast Episode 353: Lateral Thinking Puzzles

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles — play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions.

Intro:

Lili McGrath’s 1915 “floor polisher” is a pair of slippers connected by a cord.

Eighteenth-century English landowners commissioned custom ruins.

The sources for this week’s puzzles are below. In some cases we’ve included links to further information — these contain spoilers, so don’t click until you’ve listened to the episode:

Puzzle #1 is from listener Moxie LaBouche.

Puzzle #2 is from listener Cheryl Jensen, who sent this link.

Puzzle #3 is from listener Theodore Warner. Here’s a link.

Puzzle #4 is from listener David Morgan.

Puzzle #5 is from listener Bryan Ford, who sent these links.

Puzzle #6 is from listener John Rusk, who sent this link.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

# Skulduggery

This secret message appears in J.J. Connington’s 1933 novel Tom Tiddler’s Island:

TEIIL LFILH TCETU FDHSO OENPR YYUGO HNGOF
LOVTU GCHAN NOATN AEHAT ISUWE ETFST GSCAD
OFRGH PELPE HASLE GASTH HGSMR LHLAR ARNIF
THRDL NITFO SSWSG NYILE EFALT ODECT IESOL
NTSNT COOUE AODNT IUTAI TIOON LEANR IIGOT
AHNOM FINHE YLMFD ATTTS MANHH OFEII ETODD
OTPCA MOTIE FMONG IMCLA TTCHB YIMNN ETROX
EMCOU VSFHE ELMPN NCTAW ETRWO OAHEE IYCNA
OIRBT RTXET PEIZN RSCSA TIKOH NITHT EMFNE
NNRUO GOTGP ENETP SYANS Z

What does it mean?