Hitchcock’s Lifeboat Cameo

In the film Lifeboat, the action is set entirely in a small boat. This left director Alfred Hitchcock momentarily at a loss how to make his traditional cameo appearance.

Finally, inspired by a recent diet, he hit on a solution — Hitchcock can be seen briefly in a newspaper advertisement for “Reduco, the Obesity Slayer.”

“The 1729 Anecdote”

The Indian mathematical prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan showed an almost supernatural facility with numbers. British mathematician G.H. Hardy once visited him in the hospital:

I had ridden in taxicab number 1729 and remarked that the number seemed to me rather a dull one, and that I hoped it was not an unfavorable omen. “No,” he replied, “it is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”

“Every positive integer,” remarked J.E. Littlewood, “is one of Ramanujan’s personal friends.”

Balloon Mail


Besieged by Prussians in 1870, Paris found a clever way to get mail to the outside world. For 20 centimes you could write a letter on a thin piece of green paper; these were collected and sent hopefully upward on unguided mail balloons. Each 4-gram postcard carried an address; the Parisians hoped that the balloons would drift to earth somewhere and that whoever found the messages would forward them.

It worked. During the four-month siege they sent up 65 balloons, and only two went missing.

A Spaceborne Time Capsule

You can write a message to future generations at the KEO project. It’ll be launched on a satellite that won’t return to Earth for 50,000 years.

Even more ambitious is the LAGEOS satellite, which will re-enter our atmosphere in 8.4 million years bearing a plaque that shows the arrangement of the continents. Let’s hope our descendants still have catcher’s mitts.

Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

In the 16th century, the English navy would put messages in bottles to send information ashore about enemy positions.

Queen Elizabeth I even created the official position “Uncorker of Ocean Bottles.” Anyone else caught opening them faced the death penalty.