Crime and Punishment

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stadelheim_Wachturm.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

German playwright Ernst Toller was arrested for socialist activities in 1919. His 1937 collection of letters from prison, Look Through the Bars, includes this memory:

Stadelheim 1919

Dear ——,

We are a hundred men here in prison, separated from our wives for months. Every conversation between any two men always ends in the same way — women.

The high walls prevent any view. Within the walls is a small hut. It was, we heard, some sort of wash-house, which was not used. One day one of us saw that the shutters of the hut were opened. He saw two women at work. One stayed in the wash-house, the other went away and locked the door. Soon we knew all. The two women were a wardress and a prisoner, who was to be released in a short time. She had been sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment for child-murder. She had already served five years; in a few weeks’ time she was to be pardoned.

It would be too complicated to tell you how we contrived to exchange notes with the girl. First playful and harmless ones, then feverish, passionate and confused ones. Everything which, in that closed-in existence, had come in dreams, wishes and fantasies went out to that woman. One morning she gave us a signal. We were to stand near the window at a certain hour.

Impossible to describe what happened. The woman opened her dress and stood naked at the window. She was surprised and taken away. We never saw her again. But we learned that the pardon had been annulled.

Never has a woman moved me so much as that little prisoner, who, in order to make men happy for a few seconds (in a very questionable way) suffered with unsophisticated wisdom three more years in prison.

Customer Service

https://books.google.com/books?id=A3MCAAAAIAAJ

The German papers reported that at Carlsruhe, toward the close of the late war, an aged mother came to the telegraph office carrying a dish full of sauerkraut, which she desired to have telegraphed to Rastadt. Her son must receive the kraut by Sunday. The operator could not convince her that the telegraph was not capable of such a performance. ‘How could so many soldiers have been sent to France by telegraph?’ she asked, and finally departed grumbling.

— “The Telegraph,” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, August 1873

Mixing Day

A puzzle from P.M.H. Kendall and G.M. Thomas’ Mathematical Puzzles for the Connoisseur (1962):

Start with two containers, one holding green paint and the other an equal quantity of red paint.

  1. Pour one pint of green paint into the red.
  2. Pour two pints of this mixture back into the green.
  3. Pour half the mixture in the green paint pot into the red pot.

Assume the paints are mixed thoroughly after each operation. If the two containers are now leveled off, without pouring any paint away, so that they both contain an equal quantity of paint, which pot is now more pure, the “green” paint or the “red”?

Click for Answer

Three Exclusive Clubs

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The Caterpillar Club is an international association of people who have saved their lives by using a parachute to bail out of a disabled aircraft. It was founded in 1922 by Leslie Irvin, inventor of the first free-fall parachute. The name pays tribute to the silkworm, whose contribution made the canopies possible; the club’s motto is “Life depends on a silken thread.” Famous members include Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and John Glenn.

The Goldfish Club accepts people who have escaped an aircraft by parachuting into water, or who have crashed into water and survived by using a life jacket or other device. The club’s stated goal is “to keep alive the spirit of comradeship arising from the mutual experience of members surviving ‘coming down in the drink’.” It was founded in November 1942 by a British manufacturer of air-sea rescue equipment. Gold reflects the value of life, and fish represent water. “Money, position or power cannot gain a man or woman entry to the exclusive circles of the Goldfish Club,” noted the Australian newspaper Burra Record in 1945. “To become a member one has to float about upon the sea for a considerable period with nothing but a Carley Rubber Float between one and a watery death.”

The Guinea Pig Club, above, was a social club for patients who had undergone experimental reconstructive plastic surgery, generally after receiving burns injuries in aircraft during World War II. It was founded in 1941 by New Zealand plastic surgeon Archibald McIndoe and included patients and their surgeons and anaesthetists at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, Sussex. The surgical treatment of burns was in its infancy, and McIndoe wanted to make the patients’ lives as normal as he could. The club continued to meet for 60 years after the war; annual reunions continued until 2007. They had their own theme song, known as “The Guinea Pig Anthem”:

We are McIndoe’s army,
We are his Guinea Pigs.
With dermatomes and pedicles,
Glass eyes, false teeth and wigs.
And when we get our discharge
We’ll shout with all our might:
“Per ardua ad astra”
We’d rather drink than fight.

John Hunter runs the gas works,
Ross Tilley wields the knife.
And if they are not careful
They’ll have your flaming life.
So, Guinea Pigs, stand ready
For all your surgeon’s calls:
And if their hands aren’t steady
They’ll whip off both your ears.

We’ve had some mad Australians,
Some French, some Czechs, some Poles.
We’ve even had some Yankees,
God bless their precious souls.
While as for the Canadians –
Ah! That’s a different thing.
They couldn’t stand our accent
And built a separate Wing.

We are McIndoe’s army …

08/04/2016 One more: Ejection seat manufacturer Martin Baker maintains the Ejection Tie Club, made up of pilots who have ejected from an aircraft in an emergency using a Martin Baker ejection seat and thereby saved their lives. The club has had more than 5800 members. (Thanks, Gareth.)

Two Odd Etymologies

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Nachos are named after a person, Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, who owned a restaurant known as El Moderno in Piedras Negras, Mexico, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, in the early 1940s. Around 1943 he began serving fried tortilla chips topped with melted cheese and jalapeño peppers, calling the dish “Nacho’s Especiales.”

The taser’s name was inspired by a 1911 adventure book for boys, Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle, involving a rifle that fires electricity rather than bullets. The taser’s inventor, NASA scientist Jack Cover, thought this was an apt description of his own weapon, so he made an acronym of Tom Swift’s Electric Rifle.

Both origins are borne out by the Oxford English Dictionary.

Five by Five

knuth latin square puzzle

Computer science legend Donald Knuth offered this puzzle at the 29th International Puzzle Party in San Francisco in August 2009. It’s a partially completed Latin square: The challenge is to place letters in the remaining cells so that each row and column contains the same five letters and in the bottom row these spell a common English word. The solution is unique.

Click for Answer

Sperner’s Lemma

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Draw a triangle and color its vertices red, green, and blue. Then divide it into as many smaller triangles as you like (the smaller triangles must meet edge to edge and vertex to vertex). Now color the vertices of these smaller triangles using the same three colors. You can do this however you like, with one proviso: The vertices that lie on a side of the large triangle must take the color of either of its ends (so, for instance, the point at the bottom center of the triangle above must be colored either green or blue, not red).

No matter how this is done, there will always exist a small triangle with vertices of three colors. In fact, there will always be an odd number of such triangles.

Query

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Thomas Edison proposed to his second wife, Mina, in Morse code.

“My later courtship was carried on by telegraph,” he wrote in his diary. “I taught the lady of my heart the Morse code, and when she could both send and receive we got along much better than we could have with spoken words by tapping out our remarks to one another on our hands. Presently I asked her thus, in Morse code, if she would marry me. The word ‘Yes’ is an easy one to send by telegraphic signals, and she sent it. If she had been obliged to speak of it, she might have found it harder.”