“Halfway to Hell”

One “smoot” is five feet seven inches, or about 1.7 meters.

It’s named for Oliver R. Smoot, an ill-starred MIT pledge whose fraternity brothers rolled him head over heels to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge in October 1958.

The bridge measured “364.4 smoots plus one ear.” The markings are repainted each year by the incoming pledge class of Lambda Chi Alpha.

Ironically, Smoot later became chairman of the American National Standards Institute.

Season to Taste

A will, handwritten in a book of kitchen recipes by Margaret Nothe, a Philadelphia housewife, in 1913:

Chili Sauce Without Working

4 quarts of ripe tomatoes
4 small onions
4 green peppers
2 teacups of sugar
2 quarts of cider vinegar
2 ounces ground allspice
2 ounces cloves
2 ounces cinnamon
12 teaspoons salt

Chop tomatoes, onions and peppers fine, add the rest mixed together and bottle cold. Measure tomatoes when peeled. In case I die before my husband I leave everything to him.

A Pennsylvania probate court found it valid.

Society of Mind


Urville is a city of 14 million inhabitants that exists entirely in the mind of Gilles Trehin, a French autistic savant.

Trehin began creating plans at the age of 12, using Lego blocks and model airplanes. Today, at 33, he has drawn extensive maps and landscapes of his creation, as well as inventing a culture and a detailed history going back to the 12th century B.C., when he imagines the city was founded by the Phoenicians.

Today, in Trehin’s mind, Urville is the third largest city in the developed world, behind Tokyo and New York, and boasts 87 cinemas, 42 cabarets, 174 public swimming pools and European offices of I.B.M., Sony, Citybank, Olivetti, and Siemens.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” wrote Albert Einstein. “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Po’ Poe

A desperate letter from Edgar Allan Poe to his Philadelphia publishers, Aug. 13, 1841:

Gentlemen, — I wish to publish a new collection of my prose Tales with some such title as this —

“The Prose Tales of Edgar A. Poe, Including ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue.’ The ‘Descent into the Maelstrom,’ and all his later pieces, with a second edition of the ‘Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.'”

The “later pieces” will be eight in number, making the entire collection thirty-three — which would occupy two thick novel volumes.

I am anxious that your firm should continue to be my publishers, and, if you would be willing to bring out the book, I should be glad to accept the terms which you allowed me before — that is — you receive all profits, and allow me twenty copies for distribution to friends.

They turned him down in three days flat. A century later, at a 1944 auction, the letter itself fetched $3,000.

What’s in a Name?


“Liver-Eating Johnson” had the coolest nickname in the Old West — cooler, perhaps, than the truth warranted.

The “mountain man” was actually born in New Jersey around 1824. He deserted the Navy after the Mexican-American War and lit out for Wyoming, where he trapped, hunted and supplied cordwood to steamboats.

The legend starts in 1847, when the Crow tribe killed his Indian wife and he launched a personal war that lasted 20 years, in which, supposedly, he would cut out and eat the liver of each man he killed.

Did he really? Who knows? But it made a good story, and Johnson’s stature began to grow — literally and figuratively. His Civil War records put him at less than 6 feet tall, but local yarns soon said he was 6 foot 6.

After serving the Union Army as a sharpshooter, he spent the 1880s as a deputy sheriff in Leadville, Colo., and a town marshal in Red Lodge, Mont. He died in 1900.

But a century later the nickname was still working. The 1972 Robert Redford film Jeremiah Johnson was based in part on his life — and Redford even served as one of the pallbearers when Johnson’s body was reburied in Cody, Wyo., in 1974.

Good to Know

Hangmen have determined that it takes 1,260 foot-pounds to dislocate the human cervical vertebrae. They calculate the necessary drop by simple division: A person weighing 112 pounds (50.8 kg) must fall 11’4″ (3.43 m).



Yes, that’s a real dog, and no, the photo isn’t doctored. During World War II the Soviets experimented with “anti-tank dogs,” dogs that were trained to run under enemy tanks with explosives strapped to their backs.

Unfortunately, the Soviets trained the dogs by putting food under their own tanks, which led to some Three-Stooges-style hijinks on the battlefield. In 1942, an entire Soviet tank division was chased into retreat by its own dogs. Serves ’em right.


A man goes to an exotic tropical island for a vacation.

As his boat nears the island, he notices the constant sound of drumming. As he gets off the boat, he asks one of the natives how long it will go on.

The native looks about nervously and says, “Very bad when the drumming stops.”

At the end of the day, the drumming is still going, and it’s starting to get on the man’s nerves. So he asks another native when the drumming will stop.

The native looks as if he’s just been reminded of something very unpleasant. “Very bad when the drumming stops,” he says, and hurries off.

After a couple of days with little sleep, the traveler is finally fed up. He grabs the nearest native, slams him up against a tree, and shouts, “What happens when the drumming stops?!!”

The native says, “Bass solo.”