A Chorus of Versus

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In 1943, Texas panhandle farmer Ray L. Batman converted his farm into a family partnership by transferring some assets to his teenage son, Gerald. But it turned out that the son had no actual desire to become his father’s partner, and in fact Ray had taken the measures against the advice of his accountant, apparently in order to reduce his income tax liability. The IRS deemed the partnership illegitimate and assessed Ray and his wife a fine of $10,000 each.

This meant that, when the family sued the head of the IRS, the case was recorded as Batman v. Commissioner.

John G. Browning collected some further odd case titles for the Texas Bar Journal in 2011:

Schmuck v. United States
United States v. Dolt
Klump v. Duffus
Plough v. Fields
Silver v. Gold
Brain v. Mann
Juicy Whip v. Orange Bang
United States v. Estate of Grace
State of Indiana v. Virtue
Death v. Graves
Easter Seals Society for Crippled Children v. Playboy Enterprises
Julius Goldman’s Egg City v. United States
United States v. Bad Marriage
United States v. Vampire Nation

“And let’s just say that some plaintiffs have identity issues, as demonstrated by I Am the Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts in Edmond Frank MacGillivray Jr. Now. I Am the Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts IEFMJN. I Am the Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts. I Am the Beast Six Six Six of the Lord of Hosts OTLOHIEFMJN. I Am the Beast SSSOTLOHIEFMJN. I Am the Beast Six Six Six. Beast Six Six Six Lord v. Michigan State Police, et al., File No. 5:89:92, 1990 U.S. Dist. Lexis 8792 (W.D. Mich. July 12, 1990). I hear his friends just call him ‘Six.'”

A Look Ahead

The writing in Hugo Gernsback’s 1911 science fiction novel Ralph 124C 41+ is uniformly terrible:

As the vibrations died down in the laboratory the big man arose from the glass chair and viewed the complicated apparatus on the table. It was complete to the last detail. He glanced at the calendar. It was September 1st in the year 2660. Tomorrow was to be a big and busy day for him, for it was to witness the final phase of the three-year experiment. He yawned and stretched himself to his full height, revealing a physique much larger than that of the average man of his times and approaching that of the huge Martians.

But it successfully predicted spaceflight, tape recorders, sound movies, solar energy, artificial cloth, television, synthetic foods, remote-control power transmission, the videophone, transcontinental air service, and voiceprinting. While Martin Gardner called it “surely the worst SF novel ever written,” Arthur C. Clarke marveled that it contains the first accurate description of radar, encountered when Ralph is pursuing the villain who has kidnapped his girlfriend:

A pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light-ray is reflected from a bright surface or from a mirror. … By manipulating the entire apparatus like a searchlight, waves would be sent over a large area. Sooner or later the waves would strike a space flyer. A small part of the waves would strike the metal body of the flyer, and these waves would be reflected back to the sending apparatus. Here they would fall on the Actinoscope, which records only reflected waves, not direct ones. … From the intensity and the elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance between the earth and the flyer can then be accurately and quickly calculated.

Clarke calls Ralph 124C 41+ “dreadful but fascinating. … The pun in the title gives you a good idea of its literary quality.” The full text is here.

Setting the Date


A romantic puzzle from Albert H. Beiler’s Recreations in the Theory of Numbers:

An ardent swain said to his lady love, some years ago, ‘Once when a week ago last Tuesday was tomorrow, you said, “When a day just two fortnights hence will be yesterday, let us get married as it will be just this day next month.” Now sweetheart, we have waited just a fortnight so as it is now the second of the month let us figure out our wedding day.’

Beiler’s book came out in 1964, so he gives the answer Tuesday, March 17, 1936 — the couple are speaking on March 2, discussing a conversation they had on February 17. Obviously the answer is not unique — “Tuesday, March 17, 1908, is another solution but then the swain would not be very young.” Basically we need a leap year in which March 17 falls on a Tuesday. Beiler finds these occur also in 1964 and 1992 — and one did in 2020 as well.

In Brief

In 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt endorsed a plan to simplify the spelling of difficult words, Englishman Harry Graham offered a scheme of his own:

When Theo: Roos: unfurled his bann:
As Pres: of an immense Repub:
And sought to manufact: a plan
For saving people troub:
His mode of spelling (termed phonet:)
Affec: my brain like an emet:

And I evolved a scheme (pro tem.)
To simplify my mother-tongue,
That so in fame I might resem:
Upt: Sinc:, who wrote “The Jung:”
And rouse an interest enorm:
In conversational reform.

I grudge the time my fellows waste
Completing words that are so comm:
Wherever peop: of cult: and taste
Habitually predom:
‘Twould surely tend to simpli: life
Could they but be curtailed a trif:

For is not “Brev: the soul of Wit”?
(Inscribe this mott: upon your badge)
The sense will never suff: a bit,
If left to the imag:
Since any pers: can see what’s meant
By words so simp: as “husb:” or “gent:”

When at some meal (at dinn: for inst:)
You hand your unc: an empty plate,
Or ask your aunt (that charming spinst:)
To pass you the potat:,
They have too much sagac:, I trust,
To give you sug: or pepp: or must:

If you require a slice of mutt:
You’ll find the selfsame princ: hold good,
Nor get, instead of bread and butt:,
Some tapioca pudd:,
Nor vainly bid some boon-compan:
Replen: with Burg: his vacant can.

At golf, if your oppon: should ask
Why in a haz: your nib: is sunk,
And you explain your fav’rite Hask:
Lies buried in a bunk:,
He cannot very well misund:
That you (poor fooz:) have made a blund:

If this is prob: — nay, even cert: —
My scheme at once becomes attrac:
And I (pray pard: a litt: impert:)
A public benefac:
Who saves his fellow-man and neighb:
A deal of quite unnecess: lab:

Gent: Reader, if to me you’ll list:
And not be irritab: or peev:,
You’ll find it of tremend: assist:
This habit of abbrev:,
Which grows like some infec: disease,
Like chron: paral: or German meas:

And ev’ry living human bipe:
Will feel his heart grow grate: and warm
As he becomes the loy: discip:
Of my partic: reform,
(Which don’t confuse with that, I beg,
Of Brander Matth: or And: Carneg:)

“”T is not in mort: to comm: success,”
As Shakes: remarked; but if my meth:
Does something to dimin: or less:
The expend: of public breath,
My country, overcome with grat:,
Should in my hon: erect a stat:

My bust by Rod: (what matt: the cost?)
Shall be exhib:, devoid of charge,
With (in the Public Lib: at Bost:)
My full-length port: by Sarge:
That thous: from Pitts: or Wash: may swarm
To worsh: the Found: of this Reform.

Meanwhile I seek with some avid:
The fav: of your polite consid:

Long Haul


New Zealand’s Whangarei Aerodrome and Morocco’s Tangier Ibn Battouta Airport are on precisely opposite sides of the earth: In an antipodal map projection, which maps each part of the world to its opposite location, the two airports’ runways even cross.

Unfortunately, at 1,097 meters, Whangarei’s longest runway is too short to accommodate a commercial jet with the necessary range, so there’s no way to actually fly from one to the other. For the dedicated air traveler, the next best pairing is Taipei and Asuncion, which are 19,912 kilometers apart.

02/28/2022 UPDATE: Wait, I’m wrong — a reader tells me that on an antipodal projection the closest points on the two runways are about 23.8 kilometers, or 14.8 miles, apart. Still, remarkably close!

A Modest Proposal


On March 28, 1912, bacteriologist Almroth Wright wrote a letter to the London Times arguing that women should be denied the vote and in fact kept away from politics altogether in light of their psychological shortcomings. Two days later the Times printed this response. It was signed “One of the Doomed” but in fact had been penned by 26-year-old Clementine Churchill, wife of Winston:

March 30th, 1912

To the Editor of The Times.


After reading Sir Almroth Wright’s able and weighty exposition of women as he knows them the question seems no longer to be ‘Should women have votes?’ but ‘Ought women not to be abolished altogether?’

I have been so much impressed by Sir Almroth Wright’s disquisition, backed as it is by so much scientific and personal experience, that I have come to the conclusion that women should be put a stop to.

We learn from him that in their youth they are unbalanced, that from time to time they suffer from unreasonableness and hypersensitiveness, and that their presence is distracting and irritating to men in their daily lives and pursuits. If they take up a profession, the indelicacy of their minds makes them undesirable partners for their male colleagues. Later on in life they are subject to grave and long-continued mental disorders, and, if not quite insane, many of them have to be shut up.

Now this being so, how much happier and better would the world not be if only it could be purged of women? It is here that we look to the great scientists. Is the case really hopeless? Women no doubt have had their uses in the past, else how could this detestable tribe have been tolerated till now? But is it quite certain that they will be indispensable in the future? Cannot science give us some assurance, or at least some ground of hope, that we are on the eve of the greatest discovery of all — i.e., how to maintain a race of males by purely scientific means?

And may we not look to Sir Almroth Wright to crown his many achievements by delivering mankind from the parasitic, demented, and immoral species which has infested the world for so long?

Yours obediently,

(‘One of the Doomed’)

Plateau’s Laws


Clusters of soap bubbles obey some pleasingly simple rules: They arrange themselves into constant-mean-curvature surfaces (such as pieces of spheres) that meet in threes at 120° along seams, which in turn meet in fours at about 109° angles at points.

“Nothing more complicated ever happens,” writes mathematician Frank Morgan, even in complicated clusters with thousands of bubbles.

Belgian physicist Joseph Plateau observed and recorded this fact in the 19th century, but he offered no proof. More than 100 years would go by before Rutgers University mathematician Jean Taylor produced a complete explanation. Her demonstration required no physics or chemistry, just the principle of area minimization.

Morgan writes, “Many pages of complicated mathematics later came the conclusion: Plateau’s laws, 120° angles, 109° angles, and all.”

(Frank Morgan, “Mathematicians, Including Undergraduates, Look at Soap Bubbles,” American Mathematical Monthly 101:4 [April 1994], 343-351.)


Ballerina Anna Pavlova was famous for creating The Dying Swan, a four-minute solo ballet depicting the last moments in the life of a swan, after the cello solo “Le Cygne” in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Le Carnaval des animaux. She performed the role some 4,000 times; American critic Carl Van Vechten called it “the most exquisite specimen of [Pavlova’s] art which she has yet given to the public.”

Two days after Pavlova’s death in 1931, the orchestra at London’s Apollo Theater paused between selections and began to play “The Death of the Swan.” Dance writer Philip J.S. Richardson recorded what came next:

The curtain went up and disclosed an empty, darkened stage draped in grey hangings, with the spotlight playing on someone who was not there. The large audience rose to its feet and stood in silence while the tune which will forever be associated with Anna Pavlova was played.

“It was an unforgettable moment,” he wrote.