“The greatest escape I ever made was when I left Appleton, Wisconsin.” — Harry Houdini
Everyone likes a good riddle. In Chapter 7 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter poses a famous one: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Lewis Carroll intended that it should have no solution, but puzzle maven Sam Loyd offered these anyway:
- Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes.
- Poe wrote on both.
- Bills and tales are among their characteristics.
- Because they both stand on their legs, conceal their steels (steals), and ought to be made to shut up.
In 1896, Carroll proposed an answer himself: “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” (“Nevar” is “raven” spelled backward.)
For most Japanese, World War II ended in 1945. But not for some:
- Shoichi Yokoi, a soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army, was discovered in a remote section of Guam in 1972. He had been hiding in an underground jungle cave for 28 years, refusing to believe leaflets that said the war had ended.
- 2nd. Lt. Hiroo Onoda hid in the Philippines jungle for 29 years. He finally gave up in 1974, when his old commanding officer convinced him the war was over. He surrendered in his dress uniform and sword, with his Arisaka rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition, and several hand grenades.
- The last holdout, Capt. Fumio Nakahira of the Japanese Imperial Army, was discovered on Mindoro Island in the Philippines in April 1980 — 35 years after V-J Day.
“It is with much embarrassment that I have returned alive,” Yokoi said on returning to Japan. He got $300 in back pay.
adj. feeding on oak trees
“Outer space is no place for a person of breeding.” — Lady Violet Bonham Carter (1887-1969)
Average human lifespan, by era:
- Neanderthal: 20 years
- Neolithic: 20 years
- Classical Greece: 28 years
- Classical Rome: 28 years
- Medieval England: 33 years
- End of 18th century: 37 years
- Early 20th century: 50 years
- Circa 1940: 65 years
- Current (in the West): 77-81 years
Today the average Zambian dies at age 37, the average Japanese at age 81.
An immortally bad poem by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673):
What Is Liquid?
All that doth flow we cannot liquid name
Or else would fire and water be the same;
But that is liquid which is moist and wet
Fire that property can never get.
Then ’tis not cold that doth the fire put out
But ’tis the wet that makes it die, no doubt.
Samuel Pepys called it “the most ridiculous thing that ever was wrote.”
Albert Einstein said, “You cannot beat a roulette table unless you steal money from it.” He might have been surprised. Roulette wheels have subtle flaws, and in this technological age a sophisticated observer can make some serious money:
- In 1873, British engineer Joseph Jaggers hired six clerks to study the wheels at the Beaux-Arts Casino in Monte Carlo. One wheel showed a clear bias, which Jaggers exploited to the tune of $325,000.
- As early as 1961, mathematician Claude Shannon had built a wearable computer to find likely numbers.
- By the late 1970s, a group of computer hackers known as the Eudaemons were frequenting casinos wearing computers in their shoes.
- In the early 1990s, Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo used a computer to analyze the roulette wheels at the Casino de Madrid. He won more than $1 million over a period of several years.
- In 2004, a group in London was using a special laser cameraphone and microchip to predict a ball’s path, a technique called sector targeting. They won £1.3 million.
In both of the latter two cases, the casinos mounted legal challenges — and lost. If you’re not influencing the ball, the courts ruled, you’re not cheating. Modern casinos monitor their wheels to keep them as random as possible, but the long-term odds favor the engineers.
In 1732, Alexander Pope gave a greyhound to King George II, to be kept at the royal kennels near Hampton Court. He engraved this on the dog’s collar:
I am his Highness’ dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
At full power, a space shuttle’s engines generate as much energy as 23 Hoover Dams.