Double Duty
Image: Wikimedia Commons

I just came across this arresting sentence in The Satanic Verses, of all places:

“Turn your watch upside down in Bombay and you see the time in London.”

It appears this is roughly true: Because Indian Standard Time has an offset of UTC+05:30, an analog watch set to Indian time and read upside down will give the time in London — 10:10 becomes 4:40, noon becomes 6:30, and so on. The reverse is also true — a London watch read upside down will give the time in India.

Unfortunately the hand positions are only approximate, and the U.K. observes daylight saving time and India doesn’t, so just now it doesn’t work. Interesting idea, though.


He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. Nobody can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask, then, when did they begin to be his? when he digested? or when he eat? or when he boiled? or when he brought them home? or when he picked them up?

— John Locke, An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government, 1689

Shining Sea

Early European colonists were staggered at the abundance of fish in the Chesapeake Bay. William Byrd II wrote in his natural history of Virginia:

Herring are not as large as the European ones, but better and more delicious. When they spawn, all streams and waters are completely filled with them, and one might believe, when he sees such terrible amounts of them, that there was as great a supply of herring as there is water. In a word, it is unbelievable, indeed, indescribable, as also incomprehensible, what quantity is found there. One must behold oneself.

More accounts here. “The abundance of oysters is incredible,” marveled Swiss explorer Francis Louis Michel in 1701. “There are whole banks of them so that the ships must avoid them. A sloop, which was to land us at Kingscreek, struck an oyster bed, where we had to wait about two hours for the tide.”


There is nothing contradictory in imagining causal chains that are closed, though the existence of such chains would lead to rather unfamiliar experiences. For instance, it might then happen that a person would meet his own former self and have a conversation with him, thus closing a causal line by the use of sound waves. When this occurs the first time he would be the younger ego, and when the same occurrence takes place a second time he would be the older ego. Perhaps the older ego would find it difficult to convince the younger one of their identity; but the older ego would recall an identical experience long ago. And when the younger ego has become old and experiences such an encounter a second time, he is on the other side and tries to convince some ‘third’ ego of their physical identity. Such a situation appears paradoxical to us; but there is nothing illogical in it.

— Hans Reichenbach, The Direction of Time, 1956

The Biter Bit

Amsterdam artist Hendrik de Keyser’s 1615 sculpture Screaming Child Stung by a Bee was probably inspired by an idyllium of the Greek poet Theocritus in which Cupid is stung while stealing honey from a hive. When he complains to his mother that so small a creature should cause such great pain, she responds that he himself is small but deals wounds that are grievous.

Painter Joseph Ducreux and sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt also experimented with extreme facial expressions.

Catch 22

From reader Chris Smith:

Pick a three-digit number in which all the digits are different. Example: 314.

Now list every possible combination of two digits from the chosen number. In our example, these are 13, 14, 31, 34, 41, and 43.

Divide the sum of these two-digit numbers by the sum of the three digits in the original number, and you’ll always get 22. In our example, (13 + 14 + 31 + 34 + 41 + 43) / (3 + 1 + 4) = 176/8 = 22.

This works because 10a + b, 10a + c, 10b + a, 10b + c, 10c + a, and 10c + b sum to 22a + 22b + 22c = 22(a + b + c), so dividing by a + b + c will always give 22.

(Thanks, Chris.)

06/08/2024 Reader Tom Race points out that essentially the same trick can be performed using the entire number: If you add all six permutations of the original 3 digits, then divide that total by the sum of the 3 digits, the answer is always 222.

For example, using 561:

561 + 516 + 156 + 165 + 651 + 615 = 2664

5 + 6 + 1 = 12

2664 / 12 = 222

“This works because in the first sum each of the three digits (a, b and c) occurs twice in each of the three columns, so the sum is 222a + 222b + 222c = 222(a + b + c).” (Thanks, Tom.)


In the 1897 edition of Who’s Who, George Bernard Shaw listed his recreations as “cycling and showing off.”

To H.G. Wells he once wrote, “The longer I live the more I see that I am never wrong about anything, and that all the pains I have so humbly taken to verify my notions have only wasted my time.”

Side Line

The April 1, 1878, issue of the New York Daily Graphic announced that Thomas Edison had invented a “victuals machine” that would feed the human race:

I made all this food out of the dirt taken from the cellar and water that runs through these pipes. … I believe that in ten years my machines will be used to provide the tables of the civilized world. … I can make cabbages and oranges that have never felt the rain. Nature is full of surprises. Bananas and chocolate can be made out of the very same ingredients, and the methods of combining differ only a trifle.

The last paragraph revealed that the story was a hoax, but many readers didn’t get that far — several newspapers picked up the news, and some readers even tried to order the device. Reporter William Augustus Croffut, who’d concocted the tale, wrote diffidently to Edison on April 4 (above), “Did you see my hoax? And are you in a state of fiery wrath? Or how is it?”

Ease of Use
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Korean alphabet was designed expressly to increase literacy among the country’s uneducated lower classes, who found traditional Chinese characters hard to recognize and understand. King Sejong the Great promulgated the new letters in 1444 to permit the common people to express themselves conveniently in writing.

It’s said that “a wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over, and even a stupid man can learn them in the space of 10 days.”

Image: Wikimedia Commons

The upside-down catfish, Synodontis nigriventris, is right side up. Or, rather, it’s adapted to spend most of its time upside down — its belly is darker than its back, and it swims fastest in this inverted position. The behavior may have evolved to help it reach food on the undersides of submerged branches or to breathe dissolved oxygen near the surface.