Elevated Taste

Belgian novelty restaurant Dinner in the Sky is aptly named: A crane hoists the guests, their table, and the wait staff 180 feet into the air for a 90-minute meal aloft. Founded in 2007 by a marketer and a bungee-jumping impresario, the company has expanded into 47 countries. Most of the food is prepared on the ground, where up to 44 guests sign liability waivers before being strapped into seats around two tables for the duration of the meal; guests are encouraged to use the restroom first, and the foods are chosen to avoid choking hazards.

Ithaa (below) is the world’s first undersea restaurant, an acrylic bubble located 5 meters under the Arabian Sea in the Maldives. Guests enter via a spiral staircase; the 5-by-9-meter main dining room seats 14 and offers a 270-degree view of the surrounding sea (including some of the same seafood that’s on the menu). Lunch for two costs around $120; that’s cheaper than dinner, and the view is best when the sun is shining.

The Disintegration Loops

In 2001 avant-garde composer William Basinski was trying to transfer some old tape loops to digital format, but he found that the original recordings had deteriorated so badly that the ferrite simply fell off the plastic backing as it passed the tape head. Intrigued, Basinski let the loops continue to cycle: the sounds grew more and more indistinct with each pass as the tape literally fell apart.

As it happened, the 9/11 attacks occurred on the morning he finished the project, and the devastation he videotaped from his rooftop seemed to sync with the new recordings. “I felt, with my experience being in New York at that time, and what I went through and what I saw my friends go through, I wanted to create an elegy,” he told NPR. “Yes, there’s that tie to 9/11. But the thing that moved me so profoundly in my studio right after this music happened was the redemptive quality. The music isn’t just decaying — it does, it dies — but the entire life and death of each of these unique melodies was recorded to another medium for eternity.”

Related: In 1969 composer Alvin Lucier recorded a paragraph of speech, then repeatedly played it back and re-recorded it, so that his voice merged gradually into a portrait of the room’s resonant frequencies.

Here’s a modern homage to Lucier using YouTube, showing the effects of ripping and uploading the same file 1,000 times:

A photo reposted to Instagram 90 times in succession:


A video fragment transferred through 20 generations of VHS tape:

(Thanks, Matthew.)


In his Book of Good Love (1330), Juan Ruiz tells of a silent debate between Greece and Rome. The Romans had no laws and asked the Greeks to give them some. The Greeks feared that they were too ignorant and challenged them first to prove themselves before the wise men of Greece. The Romans agreed to a debate but asked that it be conducted in gestures, as they did not understand the Greek language. The Greeks put forward a learned scholar, and the Romans, feeling themselves at a disadvantage, put forward a ruffian and told him to use whatever gestures he felt inspired to make.

The two mounted high seats before the assembled crowd. The Greek held out his index finger, and the Roman responded with his thumb, index, and middle fingers. The Greek held out his open palm, and the Roman responded with a fist. Then the Greek announced that the Romans deserved to be given laws.

Each side then asked its champion to explain what had happened.

They asked the Greek what he had said to the Roman by his gestures, and what he had answered him. He said: ‘I said that there is one God; the Roman said He was One in Three Persons, and made a sign to that effect.

Next I said that all was by the will of God; he answered that God held everything in his power, and he spoke truly. When I saw that they understood and believed in the Trinity, I understood that they deserved assurance of [receiving] laws.’

They asked the hoodlum what his notion was; he replied: ‘He said that with his finger he would smash my eye; I was mighty unhappy about this and I got mighty angry, and I answered him with rage, with answer, and with fury,

that, right in front of everybody, I would smash his eyes with my two fingers and his teeth with my thumb; right after that he told me to watch him because he would give me a big slap on my ears [that would leave them] ringing.

I answered him that I would give him such a punch that in all his life he would never get even for it. As soon as he saw that he had the quarrel in bad shape, he quit making threats in a spot where they thought nothing of him.’

Ruiz writes, “This is why the proverb of the shrewd old woman says, ‘No word is bad if you don’t take it badly.’ You will see that my word is well said if it is well understood.”

(From Laura Kendrick’s The Game of Love, 1988.)


Many German beer brands combine a place name with the word Hell, which means “pale” and indicates a pale lager:


Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2010 German businessman Florian Krause recalled that he’d grown up near an Austrian village called Fucking:


So he brewed a pale lager and named it for the town:


The European Union trademark office initially balked at registering the name, but Krause explained his thinking and they accepted it. “The word combination claimed contains no semantic indication that could refer to a certain person or group of persons,” the office noted. “Nor does it incite a particular act.”

“It cannot even be understood as an instruction that the reader should go to hell.”



“Those writers who lay on the watch for novelty, could have little hope of greatness; for great things cannot have escaped former observation.” — Samuel Johnson

“It is not once nor twice but times without number that the same ideas make their appearance in the world.” — Aristotle

“What wise or stupid thing can man conceive
That was not thought of in ages long ago?” — Goethe

Podcast Episode 149: The North Pond Hermit


Image: Flickr

Without any forethought or preparation, Christopher Knight walked into the Maine woods in 1986 and lived there in complete solitude for the next 27 years, subsisting on what he was able to steal from local cabins. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the North Pond hermit, one man’s attempt to divorce himself completely from civilization.

We’ll also look for coded messages in crosswords and puzzle over an ineffective snake.


Disneyland’s Matterhorn contains a basketball goal.

Two tombstones in the Netherlands “hold hands” across a cemetery wall.

Sources for our feature on the North Pond hermit:

Michael Finkel, “Into the Woods: How One Man Survived Alone in the Wilderness for 27 Years,” Guardian, March 15, 2017.

Associated Press, “Christopher Knight: Inside the Maine Hermit’s Lair,” April 12, 2013.

“Hermit Caught After 27 Years in Maine Woods,” Guardian, April 11, 2013.

Wikipedia, “Christopher Thomas Knight” (accessed April 6, 2017).

Nathaniel Rich, “Lessons of the Hermit,” Atlantic, April 2017.

Michael Finkel, “The 27-Year Hunt for Maine’s North Pond Hermit,” Toronto Star, March 26, 2017.

Betty Adams, “‘North Pond Hermit’ Knight Balks at Paying Costs Related to His Remote Campsite,” Kennebec Journal, April 26, 2016.

Craig Crosby, “After 27 Years of Burglaries, ‘North Pond Hermit’ Is Arrested,” Kennebec Journal, April 9, 2013.

Brian MacQuarrie, “In Rural Maine, a Life of Solitude and Larceny,” Boston Globe, May 26, 2013.

Michael Finkel, “The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit,” GQ, Aug. 4, 2014.

Leonard Dawe and the D-Day crosswords:

Michelle Arnot, Four-Letter Words: And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider, 2008.

Nicholas Lezard, “One Hundred Years of Solvitude,” Independent, Dec. 16, 2013.

Michael E. Haskew, “In Spite of All the Preparation, D-Day Remained a Gamble,” World War II 16:2 (July 2001), 6.

R. Murray Hayes, “A Beach Too Far: The Dieppe Raid,” Sea Classics 44:4 (April 2011), 18-22, 24-25.

George J. Church and Arthur White, “Overpaid, Oversexed, Over Here,” Time 123:22 (May 28, 1984), 45.

Val Gilbert, “D-Day Crosswords Are Still a Few Clues Short of a Solution,” Telegraph, May 3, 2004.

Tom Rowley, “Who Put Secret D-Day Clues in the ‘Telegraph’ Crossword?”, Telegraph, April 27, 2014.

Fred Wrixon, Codes, Ciphers, and Secret Languages, 1989.

Gregory Kipper, Investigator’s Guide to Steganography, 2003.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Dave Lawrence.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

A Pattern-Breaking Pattern

linus sequence

In 1978, inspired by this Peanuts cartoon, Nathaniel Hellerstein invented the Linus sequence, a sequence of 1s and 2s in which each new entry is chosen the prevent the longest possible pattern from emerging at the end of the line. Start with 1:


Now if the second digit were also a 1 then we’d have a repeating pattern. So enter a 2:

1 2

If we choose 2 for the third entry we’ll have “2 2” at the end of the line, another emerging pattern. Prevent that by choosing 1:

1 2 1

Now what? Choosing 2 would give us the disastrously tidy 1 2 1 2, so choose 1 again:

1 2 1 1

But now the 1s at the end are looking rather pleased with themselves, so choose 2:

1 2 1 1 2

And so on. The rule is to avoid the longest possible “doubled suffix,” the longest possible repeated string of digits at the end of the sequence. For example, choosing 1 at this point would give us 1 2 1 1 2 1, in which the end of the sequence (indeed, the entire sequence) is a repeated string of three digits. Choosing 2 avoids this, so we choose that.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the sequence that Linus was describing in the comic strip, but it opens up a world of its own with many surprising properties (PDF), as these things tend to do.

It’s possible to compile a related sequence by making note of the length of each repetition that you avoided in the Linus sequence. That’s called the Sally sequence.

The Most Unwanted Song

In 1996, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid set out to determine the “most unwanted” possible song, using an opinion poll of about 500 people.

Here it is — 22 minutes of cowboy music, bagpipes, accordions, opera, rap, children’s voices, tubas, drum machines, and advertising jingles.

Details are on their website. Columbia neuroscientist David Sulzer says that, if his analysis is right, “fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece.”



In February 1966, the Soviet Union’s Luna 9 landed safely on the moon and became the first spacecraft to transmit photographs of the moon seen from surface level.

The Soviets didn’t release the photos immediately, but scientists at England’s Jodrell Bank Observatory, who were observing the mission, realized that the signal format was the same as the Radiofax system that newspapers used to transmit pictures. So they just borrowed a receiver from the Daily Express, decoded the images, and published them.

The BBC observes, “It is thought that Russian scientists had deliberately fitted the probe with the standard television equipment, either to ensure that they would get the higher-quality pictures from Jodrell Bank without having the political embarrassment of asking for them, or to prevent the Soviet authorities from making political capital out of the achievement.”

(Thanks, Andrew.)