In a Word

n. an early flower

Already now the Snowdrop dares appear,
The first pale blossom of the unripened year:
As Flora’s breath, by some transforming power,
Had changed an icicle into a flower:
Its name and hue the scentless plant retains
And Winter lingers in its icy veins.

— Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825)

In a Word

n. the distance between two stopping places

Another puzzle by Sam Loyd: Two ferry boats ply the same route between ports on opposite sides of a river. They set out simultaneously from opposite ports, but one is faster than the other, so they meet at a point 720 yards from the nearest shore. When each boat reaches its destination, it waits 10 minutes to change passengers, then begins its return trip. Now the boats meet at a point 400 yards from the other shore. How wide is the river?

“The problem shows how the average person, who follows the cut-and-dried rules of mathematics, will be puzzled by a simple problem that requires only a slight knowledge of elementary arithmetic. It can be explained to a child, yet I hazard the opinion that ninety-nine out of every hundred of our shrewdest businessmen would fail to solve it in a week. So much for learning mathematics by rule instead of common sense which teaches the reason why!”

Click for Answer

In a Word

n. an erroneous doctrine or tenet

“The phrases men are accustomed to repeat incessantly, end by becoming convictions and ossify the organs of intelligence.” — Goethe

“What fresh views would we acquire if we could for once eliminate from our capital of truisms all that is not intrinsic but has accrued through frequent repetition?” — G.C. Lichtenberg

“We are powerfully imprisoned in these Dark Ages simply by the terms in which we have been conditioned to think.” — Buckminster Fuller

“Concepts that have proven useful in ordering things easily achieve such authority over us that we forget their earthly origins and accept them as unalterable givens. Thus they might come to be stamped as ‘necessities of thought,’ ‘a priori givens,’ etc. The path of scientific progress is often made impassable for a long time by such errors.” — Albert Einstein

“It takes a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.” — Alfred North Whitehead

In a Word

n. a duel

In 1842, Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois lawyer, published a letter in a Springfield newspaper criticizing the performance of the state’s auditor, James Shields. Shields, quick to anger, challenged Lincoln to a duel, and the two met on an island in the Mississippi River. As the challenged party, Lincoln was permitted to choose the weapon, and he requested long cavalry broadswords. As he stood 7 inches taller than Shields, this gave him an enormous advantage, which he demonstrated by cutting a branch above Shields’ head. Accounts differ as to how the auditor responded — he either laughed or quailed — but the two agreed not to fight. Lincoln appears to have been embarrassed by the whole affair, and declined to discuss it in later years.

(Thanks, Aric.)

In a Word

n. a lover of knowledge

n. ignorant; lacking knowledge

n. a lover of the truth

“Have the courage to be ignorant of a great number of things, in order to avoid the calamity of being ignorant of everything.” — Sydney Smith

From a letter from Ben Franklin to John Lining of South Carolina, March 18, 1755:

I find a frank acknowledgment of one’s ignorance is not only the easiest way to get rid of a difficulty, but the likeliest way to obtain information, and therefore I practice it: I think it an honest policy. Those who affect to be thought to know every thing, and so undertake to explain every thing, often remain long ignorant of many things that others could and would instruct them in, if they appeared less conceited.

In a Word

v. to squeak like a rat

v. to bark like a dog

v. to cry like a quail

v. to utter an elephant’s cry

n. the noise made by peacocks

“When did the world begin and how?”
I asked a lamb, a goat, a cow:
“What’s it all about and why?”
I asked a hog as he went by:
“Where will the whole thing end and when?”
I asked a duck, a goose, a hen:
And I copied all the answers too,
A quack, a honk, an oink, a moo.

— Robert Clairmont