Ambrose Bierce’s Disappearance

“Good-by — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!”

— An excerpt from one of Ambrose Bierce’s last letters, posted in 1913 from Chihuahua. He vanished shortly afterward. His disappearance remains a mystery.

Ravens in the Tower

According to an ancient legend, as long as there are ravens at the Tower of London, England is safe from invasion.

Currently eight ravens are fed there at government expense: Gwylum, Thor, Hugine, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, and Baldrick.

They clip their flight feathers. Is that cheating?

Nazca From Space

Most people are familiar with the drawings in Peru’s Nazca Desert:

It’s thought they were created by local peoples between 200 B.C. and 600 A.D. They’re remarkably well realized, considering that the builders probably couldn’t have viewed them from the air. Here’s a view from a satellite:

It’s easy to decide that they’re the work of visiting extraterrestrials — the airliners that first spotted them in the 1920s described them as “primitive landing strips” — but researcher Joe Nickell has shown that a small team of people can reproduce a drawing in 48 hours, without aerial supervision, using Nazcan technology. Still, well done.
(Top image: Wikimedia Commons)

D’Agapeyeff Cipher

Alexander d’Agapeyeff included this “challenge cipher” in Codes and Ciphers (1939), his introductory textbook in cryptography:

75628 28591 62916 48164 91748 58464 74748 28483 81638 18174

74826 26475 83828 49175 74658 37575 75936 36565 81638 17585

75756 46282 92857 46382 75748 38165 81848 56485 64858 56382

72628 36281 81728 16463 75828 16483 63828 58163 63630 47481

91918 46385 84656 48565 62946 26285 91859 17491 72756 46575

71658 36264 74818 28462 82649 18193 65626 48484 91838 57491

81657 27483 83858 28364 62726 26562 83759 27263 82827 27283

82858 47582 81837 28462 82837 58164 75748 58162 92000

No one could solve it, and he later admitted he’d forgotten how he’d encrypted it.

It remains unsolved to this day.

Mike the Headless Chicken

Mike the Headless Chicken was something of a celebrity in the western U.S. in the 1940s. He started life as an ordinary Wyandotte rooster in Fruita, Colo., but a botched decapitation in 1945 missed his brain stem and jugular vein, leaving him headless but still mostly functional.

When the rooster did not die, his surprised owner resolved to care for him permanently, feeding him milk and water with an eyedropper, as well as small grains of corn. Mike actually put on weight on this regimen: At his beheading he weighed 2.5 pounds; at his death he was up to nearly 8.

Mike reportedly seemed fairly happy with his headless existence. He could balance on a perch and walk clumsily; he would even attempt to preen and crow, as far as possible without a head.

On tour, Mike made $4,500 a month at West Coast sideshows. Animal-rights activists were aghast, but several humane societies examined him and declared he was free from suffering. He finally died in March 1947 at a Phoenix motel, 18 months after losing his head.

To this day, Fruita holds a “Mike the Headless Chicken Day” each year on the third weekend of May. Events include Pin the Head on the Chicken, a “chicken cluck-off,” and chicken bingo, in which chicken droppings fall on a numbered grid to determine the numbers.

Addresses of Fictional Characters

Addresses of fictional characters:

Dr. John Dolittle
Oxenthorpe Road
Slopshire, England

Clark Kent
344 Clinton Street
Apt. 3B
Metropolis, USA

Leopold Bloom
7 Eccles Street
Dublin, Ireland

Miss Marple
High Street
St. Mary Mead

Hercule Poirot
Apt. 56B
Whitehaven Mansions
Sandhurst Square
London W1, U.K.

Lucy Ricardo
Apartment 4A
623 East 68th Street
New York, New York

The Simpsons
742 Evergreen Terrace
Springfield, USA

Stendhal Syndrome

“Stendhal syndrome” refers to rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion, and even hallucinations in the presence of great art.

It’s named for Stendhal himself, the 19th century French author, who reported experiencing it on an 1817 visit to Florence (and described it in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio).

It wasn’t formally described until 1979, when Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini documented more than 100 cases among visitors to Florence. The syndrome was first diagnosed in 1982.