Three of a Perfect Pair

The Incompatible Food Triad is a culinary puzzle: Name three foods such that any two of them go together, but all three do not.

The puzzle originated with University of Pittsburgh philosopher Wilfrid Sellars, and some notable thinkers have taken a crack at it. Physicist Richard Feynman thought he’d stumbled onto a solution when he accidentally asked for milk and lemon in his tea (ick), but this doesn’t quite work, as one of the “good” pairs (milk and lemon) is bad.

Best attempts so far: salted cucumbers, sugar, yogurt; orange juice, gin, tonic. Honorable mention: “Get pregnant, and you can eat anything.”


Latin palindromes:

Si bene te tua laus taxat sua laute tenebis
If you are considered praiseworthy, you, elegant man, will keep your own property.

Et necat eger amor non Roma rege tacente,
Roma reges una non anus eger amor

And sick love kills, not from Rome, while the king is silent,
Rome, you will rule together, an old woman is not your sick love.

A favorite among Roman lawyers was Si nummi immunis, which means “Give me my fee, and I’ll warrant you free.”

Loup-Garou has the full text of Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Werewolves, one of the creepier reference works of the 1860s.

In America we think of lycanthropes as turning into wolves, but legends actually vary throughout the world. People tend to turn into the most important carnivore in the area: dogs in Greece, tigers in India, bears in Northern Europe, foxes in Japan, leopards in Africa, and jaguars in South America. In Polynesia there are even were-sharks.

Correspondingly, there’s a psychiatric syndrome called clinical lycanthropy, in which people think they’ve turned into animals. Here, too, though, wolves are in the minority. Clinicians have reported patients who thought they’d become cats, horses, birds, tigers, frogs, even bees.

Baring-Gould’s vision was quite a bit darker, but he was a weird guy himself. A Victorian hagiographer, antiquarian, novelist, and scholar, he used to teach with his pet bat on his shoulder. His book wanders from lycanthropy down into grave desecration and cannibalism — kind of an odd area for the guy who wrote “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” To each his own.

Heady Macro has high-quality images of classic films and their stars, mostly from the 1940s and earlier. This one is a publicity still of Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-born star of Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah.

Lamarr is an object lesson in the price of beauty. She had quite a good technical education, and actually patented a device that made radio-guided torpedoes harder to detect. But the world saw only her face: She had to drug her obsessive husband to escape to London, and then Hollywood saddled her with demeaning epithets like “the most beautiful girl in films” and “the Laurence Olivier of orgasm.” When she tried to join the National Inventors Council, she was told she could better help the war effort by selling war bonds.

In the end she went through five more husbands before she passed away in 2000; if she was bitter at her fame, it was certainly understandable. “Any girl can be glamorous,” she once said. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.”


Petals Around the Rose is a simple brain teaser with an impressive pedigree — here’s how Bill Gates responded to the puzzle when he first encountered it.

Newcomers are told that the name of the game is important. Someone rolls five dice and announces the “answer,” which is always zero or an even number.

That’s it. On each roll, the initiate has to give the correct answer before he’s told. When he can do this consistently, he becomes a Potentate of the Rose, pledged “to be a cruel and heartless wretch who will never divulge the secret of the game to anyone else.”

I’m told that the puzzle is a good index of intelligence — smart people take longer to figure it out.

Of Vice and Men
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Depravity Scale is an attempt to reach a scientific definition of evil. What makes a crime “heinous”? If “horrible” or “atrocious” crimes get longer sentences, what counts? The Supreme Court says that sentences must reflect societal attitudes, but right now there’s no legal definition of a “heinous, atrocious, or cruel” act; jurors have to rely on their emotions.

New York forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner put together a list of 26 things that might characterize an act as depraved. Does the criminal maximize the victim’s fear or pain? Does he boast about his act? So far, Welner has found more than 90 percent consensus that 16 of the items indicate depravity. Interestingly, the results seem consistent across states, but not between countries.

“We need consistency, and in particular consistency that reflects the best that forensics has to offer,” Welner says. “From my own vantage point of working within the cases, juries and judges don’t see near as much as they should be seeing when it comes to forensic evidence about what a person’s intent was, what a person actually did, and what a person’s attitude was about what he did. Even from a mental health standpoint, there’s far more effort devoted to the question of who a person is or why that person did something rather than just look at what the person did.”

And Welner has no problem with the concept of evil. “I have no problem with the word being used,” he says. “If you look in the literature, there’s a startling lack of effort to try to flesh out what evil is, and I think it’s our responsibility as behavioral scientists to try to understand it. This issue gets neglected because therapeutic professions like psychiatry inherently must focus on the good in order to be therapeutic. Another reason for this neglect is because to wade in and wrestle with it means to confront it in ourselves, and that’s a painful prospect even for the most stable of us. When I first began exploring this, I never enjoyed it, and I appreciated walking away from it. The more I studied it, the more it affected even my dreams. It’s an unpalatable exercise.”