In a Word

n. a great number, a crowd

n. strong feeling against a person

v. to whisper

adj. murmuring, growing noisy

Gladys Cooper’s sister, Cissie, was equally misled by an audience when she went on stage for the first time, after acting as her sister’s dresser for many years. Although she only had a small part, the audience apparently started to hiss almost as soon as she had come on stage. This happened every night and in the end she came into the wings in tears. Gladys Cooper could not understand what was going wrong and she asked the House Manager to see if he could find out what was the matter. So he slipped into the back of the stalls just as her sister was making her entrance and from where he was standing he heard the audience whispering:

‘It’s Cissie Cooper, Gladys Cooper’s sister … It’s Cissie Cooper, Gladys Cooper’s sister …’

— Kenneth Williams, The Complete Acid Drops, 1999

Five Up

A card curiosity via Martin Gardner: Deal 10 cards from an ordinary deck and hold this packet face down in your left hand. Turn the top two cards face up and then cut the packet anywhere you like. Again, turn the top two cards and cut. Continue doing this for as long as you like, turning over the top two cards and cutting the packet.

When you’ve finished, deal the cards in a row on the table and turn over the cards at even positions in the row: the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, and tenth cards.

This will always leave five cards face up.

(Martin Gardner, “Curious Counts,” Math Horizons 10:3 [February 2003], 20-22.)

A Fractured Mystery

In 1934, Victor Gollancz published The Torquemada Puzzle Book, a miscellany of verbal puzzles by Edward Powys Mathers, who under the name Torquemada devised cryptic crossword puzzles for the Observer between 1926 and his death in 1939. At the back of the book was a short novel titled Cain’s Jawbone, which came with a unique twist:

Cain’s Jawbone, the bald narrative of a series of tragic happenings during a period of less than six months in a recent year, has met with an accident which seems to be unique in the history of the novelette. The pages have been printed in an entirely haphazard and incorrect order, a fact which reflects little credit on somebody. The author assures his readers, however, that while it is now too late for him to remedy the ordering of the pages, it is quite possible for them, should they care to take the trouble, to reorder them correctly for themselves. Before they attempt to do this, they may care to be assured that there is an inevitable order, the one in which the pages were written, and that, while the narrator’s mind may flit occasionally backwards and forwards in the modern manner, the narrative marches on, relentlessly and unequivocally, from the first page to the last.

The novel’s 100 pages had been printed and bound out of order. To solve the puzzle, the reader had to sort them into the correct order, read the story, solve the mysteries, and reveal the murderers. The task was so difficult that only two puzzlers solved it. Their names were printed in the Observer, but the solution to the problem was never revealed.

Last year the Laurence Sterne Trust got a copy of the book and has crowdfunded a new edition. For £30 you’ll get a box containing 100 jumbled pages, which you have to sort into a coherent mystery story, then identify six murderers and their six victims. The competition will run for 12 months from the date of publication, and the winner gets £1,000. As I write this 659 backers have signed up, putting the project well over its funding goal, but a publication date hasn’t yet been announced. You can find more info here and here.

Note: The announcement ends with a warning: “This is not a competition for the faint-hearted. The puzzle is phenomenally difficult.”

(Thanks, Sam.)

The Cremona–Richmond Configuration

This figure contains 15 lines and 15 points, with three points on each line and three lines through each point, yet no three points are connected by three lines to form a triangle.

It’s named after mathematicians Luigi Cremona and Herbert William Richmond, who studied it in the late 19th century.

Good Boy
Image: Anders Sandberg

As Washington State University anthropologist Grover Krantz was dying of pancreatic cancer, he told his colleague David Hunt of the Smithsonian:

“I’ve been a teacher all my life and I think I might as well be a teacher after I’m dead, so why don’t I just give you my body.”

When Hunt agreed, Krantz added, “But there’s one catch: You have to keep my dogs with me.”

Accordingly, in 2003, Krantz’s skeleton was laid to rest in a green cabinet at the National Museum of Natural History alongside the bones of his Irish wolfhounds Clyde, Icky, and Yahoo.

Krantz’s bones have been used to teach forensics and advanced osteology to students at George Washington University.

And in 2009 his skeleton was articulated and, along with Clyde’s, displayed in the exhibition “Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th Century Chesapeake.”


From a letter of Charles Darwin to Charles Lyell, April 1860:

I must say one more word about our quasi-theological controversy about natural selection, and let me have your opinion when we meet in London. Do you consider that the successive variations in the size of the crop of the Pouter Pigeon, which man has accumulated to please his caprice, have been due to ‘the creative and sustaining powers of Brahma?’ In the sense that an omnipotent and omniscient Deity must order and know everything, this must be admitted; yet, in honest truth, I can hardly admit it. It seems preposterous that a maker of a universe should care about the crop of a pigeon solely to please man’s silly fancies. But if you agree with me in thinking such an interposition of the Deity uncalled for, I can see no reason whatever for believing in such interpositions in the case of natural beings, in which strange and admirable peculiarities have been naturally selected for the creature’s own benefit. Imagine a Pouter in a state of nature wading into the water and then, being buoyed up by its inflated crop, sailing about in search of food. What admiration this would have excited — adaptation to the laws of hydrostatic pressure, &c &c For the life of me I cannot see any difficulty in natural selection producing the most exquisite structure, if such structure can be arrived at by gradation, and I know from experience how hard it is to name any structure towards which at least some gradations are not known.

Ever yours,

C. Darwin.

“A Terrific Banquet in an Iguanodon”

In 1852, British artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins engaged to make 33 life-size concrete models of extinct dinosaurs, to be arranged in a park in southern London around the relocated Crystal Palace. Throughout the work he conferred with a team of leading British scientists, and on New Year’s Eve 1853 they celebrated their accomplishment with a dinner party held inside one of the sculptures:

Twenty-one of the guests were accommodated with seats ranged on each side of the table, within the sides of the iguanodon. Professor Owen, one of the most eminent geologists of the day, occupied a seat at the head of the table, and within the skull of the monster. Mr. Francis Fuller, the Managing Director, and Professor Forbes, were seated on commodious benches placed in the rear of the beast. An awning of pink and white drapery was raised above the novel banqueting-hall, and small banners bearing the names of Conybeare, Buckland, Forbes, Owen, Mantell, and other well-known geologists, gave character and interest to the scene. When the more substantial viands were disposed of, Professor Owen proposed that the company should drink in silence ‘The memory of Mantell, the discoverer of the iguanodon,’ the monster in whose bowels they had just dined.

They concluded with a “roaring chorus” in praise of the “antediluvian dragon”:

A thousand ages underground
His skeleton had lain;
But now his body’s big and round,
And he’s himself again!
His bones, like Adam’s, wrapped in clay,
His ribs of iron stout,
Where is the brute alive to-day
That dares with him turn out?
Beneath his hide he’s got inside
The souls of living men,
Who dare our Saurian now deride
With life in him again?

(Chorus) The jolly old beast
Is not deceased,
There’s life in him again. (A roar.)

In fairy land are fountains gay,
With dragons for their guard:
To keep the people from the sight,
The brutes hold watch and ward!
But far more gay our founts shall play,
Our dragons, far more true,
Will bid the nations enter in
And see what skill can do!
For monsters wise our saurians are,
And wisely shall they reign,
To spread sound knowledge near and far
They’ve come to life again!

Though savage war her teeth may gnash,
And human blood may flow,
And foul ambition, fierce and rash,
Would plunge the world in woe,
Each column of this palace fair
That heavenward soars on high,
A flag of hope shall on it bear,
Proclaiming strife must die!
And art and science far shall spread
Around this fair domain,
The People’s Palace rears its head
With life in it again.

(From Routledge’s Guide to the Crystal Palace and Park at Sydenham, 1854.)

Talking Points

In September 1952, when Dwight Eisenhower found himself campaigning against the eloquent Adlai Stevenson, Time magazine made a list of his incomprehensible utterances:

“In our efforts throughout the world, on outpost positions, I mean positions that are exposed to immediate Communist threat, physical threat, if we will help those people hold out and get ourselves back where we belong as reserves to move in to any threatened danger point if they carry it to that point, carry it to that level, then what we will be doing it will be taking these 22 million South Koreans, pushing programs for getting them ready to hold their own front line.”

“I had some service friends that came to me along about May and some things beat around my head, and asked me, ‘General, why are you so crazy to ever get into this kind of thing?’ I had to find some answer that was quick because I was pretty busy in Europe. I got a picture of my three grandchildren and I put it on my mantel and I said, ‘Look at that.’ I want to talk about the future for a second in their terms. This is my particular philosophy. We have been talking about social gains for all our people in terms of, first, political issues, and secondly as of goals in themselves. Now I reject both doctrines, both ideas.”

“We are not going to let our citizens, through no fault of their own, fall down into disaster they could not have foreseen and due to the exigencies of our particular form of economy, this modern economy where they have no power to keep themselves out of that.”

Arnold Roth observed, “The man who had commanded the greatest army in history seemed to have inadequate command of his own thoughts, or at least the vehicle by which he carted those thoughts into public view.”

See All Clouds, No Thunder.