A Looking-Glass Letter

A facsimile of a letter from Lewis Carroll to Miss Edith Ball, Nov. 6, 1893:

https://www.gutenberg.org/files/11483/11483-h/11483-h.htm#441

My dear Edith,

I was very much pleased to get your nice little letter: and I hope you won’t mind letting Maud have the Nursery Alice, now that you have got the real one. Some day I will send you the other book about Alice, called Through the Looking-Glass, but you had better not have it just yet, for fear you should get them mixed in your mind. Which would you like best, do you think, a horse that draws you in a cab, or a lady that draws your picture, or a dentist, that draws your teeth, or a Mother, that draws you into her arms, to give you a kiss? And what order would you put the others in? Do you find Looking Glass writing easy to read? I remain

Your loving,

Lewis Carroll.

(From Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll, 1898.)

“A Remarkable Newspaper”

kamloops wawa

In British Columbia there is a little newspaper, the Kamloops Wawa, circulating among several tribes of North American Indians. The unique feature of this journal is that it is printed in shorthand. Its story is a remarkable one. Some years ago the Rev J.M. Le Jeune, a Breton missionary, arrived in British Columbia to take charge of a territory some fifty miles square. He found the great obstacle to his work to be the absence of any means of written communication, as the natives had no written language of their own. His repeated efforts to teach them to read and write by ordinary methods failed entirely. The missionary was acquainted with the simple French Duployan shorthand, and then conceived the novel idea of teaching the Indians to write their own language phonetically by means of the shorthand characters. He adapted the stenographic signs of the Chinook language, and the experiment proved a complete success. There are to-day three thousand Indians able to to write and read their own language by no other means than shorthand. ‘Wawa’ means ‘talk’ in the Chinook, hence the title of the little newspaper which has been the natural outcome of the missionary’s undertaking. The page shown above is part of an article dealing with the Boxer trouble in China.

— J.D. Sloan, in The Strand Magazine, October 1911

In a Word

periergia
n. bombastic or laboured language

galimatias
n. confused language, meaningless talk, nonsense

taigle
v. to impede or hinder; hence, to fatigue; weary

obtrect
v. to disparage or decry

A paragraph from an unnamed “publication from a leading geographical society”:

The examples given suggest that the multiformity of environmental apprehension and the exclusivity of abstract semantic conceptions constitute a crucial distinction. Semantic responses to qualities, environmental or other, tend to abstract each individual quality as though it were to be considered in isolation, with nothing else impinging. But in actual environmental experience, our judgements of attributes are constantly affected by the entire milieu, and the connectivities such observations suggest reveal this multiform complexity. Semantic response is generally a consequence of reductive categorization, environmental response or synthesizing holism.

In The Jargon of the Professions, Kenneth Hudson suggests that the authors “should be locked up without food or water until they can produce an acceptable translation.” In Secret Language, Barry J. Blake adds, “I think the passage simply means that in experiencing the environment we need to look at it as a whole rather than at particular properties, though I am at a loss to decode the first sentence.”

Bad Cats

tiger statue

This has been a trying month for the Indonesian military. On March 11 a Twitter user uploaded this photo with the caption “What the hell is this tiger?” and it took off on social media. The statue, meant to represent the mascot of an army division, had stood for five years at the entrance of the Siliwangi Military Command base in Garut, West Java. But nothing can withstand social media: After two days of general hilarity the statue was taken down.

The army says that plans are being made to replace it. If they can’t find anything better, one good candidate might be the stuffed lion kept at Sweden’s Gripsholm Castle (below). It had been one of the first living lions in Scandinavia when the Bey of Algiers presented it to King Frederick I in 1731, but on its death it presented a strange problem to the taxidermist: No one could remember quite how a living lion looked. They did the best they could.

gripsholm lion

Unquote

“The leading advocates of the need to subject everything to the competitive test of the market are tenured economists.” — Sheen Kassouf

Podcast Episode 146: Alone in the Wilderness

https://archive.org/details/aloneinwildernes00knowrich

In 1913 outdoorsman Joseph Knowles pledged to spend two months in the woods of northern Maine, naked and alone, fending for himself “without the slightest communication or aid from the outside world.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Knowles’ adventures in the woods and the controversy that followed his return to civilization.

We’ll also consider the roots of nostalgia and puzzle over some busy brothers.

Intro:

In 1972, a French physicist discovered a natural uranium reactor operating underground in Gabon.

In the 13th century the English royal menagerie included a polar bear.

Sources for our feature on Joseph Knowles:

Jim Motavalli, Naked in the Woods, 2007.

Joseph Knowles, Alone in the Wilderness, 1913.

Bill Donahue, “Naked Joe,” Boston Magazine, April 2013.

Richard O. Boyer, “The Nature Man,” New Yorker, June 18, 1938.

John Gould, “Tarzan of the Pines,” Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1999.

Roderick Nash, “The American Cult of the Primitive,” American Quarterly 18:3 (Autumn 1966), 517-537.

Robert Moor, “The 1913 ‘Nature Man’ Whose Survivalist Stunts Were Not What They Seemed,” Atlas Obscura, July 7, 2016.

“Joe Knowles, Lived in Wilds Unarmed!”, New York Times, Oct. 23, 1942.

Joseph B. Frazier, “An Early Nature Buff: By Going Into the Woods Alone, Did Joe Knowles Remind America of Its Potential?”, Orlando Sentinel, March 2, 2008.

Joseph B. Frazier, “‘Natural Man’ Inspired, Despite Fraud Claims,” Augusta Chronicle, March 16, 2008.

“The 100th Anniversary of Joe Knowles’ Famous Odyssey into the Wilds,” Lewiston [Maine] Sun Journal, April 14, 2013.

“Joe Knowles and the Legacy of Wilderness Adventures,” Lewiston [Maine] Sun Journal, May 12, 2013.

“Nature Man Badly Injured,” Los Angeles Times, May 18, 1915.

“The Nature Man,” The Billboard, Nov. 6, 1915.

Grace Kingley, “Joe Knowles, Nature Man, at Republic,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 23, 1914.

https://archive.org/details/aloneinwildernes00knowrich

Still dressed in his bearskin and cedar-bark shoes, Knowles was examined by Harvard physician Dudley Sargent on Oct. 9, 1913. “He surpassed every test he took before starting on the trip,” Sargent declared. “His scientific experiment shows what a man can do when he is deprived of the luxuries which many people have come to regard as necessities.”

https://archive.org/details/aloneinwildernes00knowrich

A portion of the crowd that met him in Boston.

Listener mail:

Fireworks disasters in Oban, Scotland, and San Diego.

MURDERCASTLE, from the Baltimore Rock Opera Society.

John Tierney, “What Is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows,” New York Times, July 8, 2013.

University of Southampton, “What Nostalgia Is and What It Does” (accessed March 18, 2017).

“Nostalgia,” Google Books Ngram Viewer, March 18, 2017.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Rod Guyler.

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 Mathless Math Puzzle

hess bug puzzle

Richard Hess posed this problem in the Spring 1980 issue of Pi Mu Epsilon Journal. At noon on Monday, a bug departs the upper left corner, X, of a p × q rectangle and crawls within the rectangle to the diagonally opposite corner, Y, arriving there at 6 p.m. He sleeps there until noon on Tuesday, when he sets out again for X, crawling along another path within the rectangle and reaching X at 6 p.m. Prove that at some time on Tuesday the bug was no farther than p from his location at the same time on Monday.

Click for Answer

The Greatest Show

Before making his name with mobile sculpture, Alexander Calder was captivated by the circus. On a visit to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York City at age 27, Calder traveled about the big top with a sketchpad, drawing tightrope walkers, horseback riders, and acrobats. Using a free pass, he returned to the circus every day for two weeks, and then set out to make a toy circus of his own.

He assembled it from wire, cloth, leather, corks, pipe cleaners, string, and wood. He worked on it for six years, until he had 55 performers, and then put on circus parties for friends, playing music and introducing a ringmaster who would direct each of the acts. When it became too fragile to handle, he gave the circus to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, where it remains today.

“Sandy is evidently always happy, or perhaps up to some joke, for his face is always wrapped up in that same mischievous, juvenile grin,” his school yearbook description had read. “This is certainly the index to the man’s character in this case, for he is one of the best natured fellows there is.”

Pentalpha

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pentagram_green.svg

During a visit to Crete in 1938, Miss L.S. Sutherland described a game she saw played on a pentagram:

You have nine pebbles, and the aim is to get each on one of the ten spots. You put your pebble on any unoccupied spot, saying ‘one’, and then move it through another, ‘two’, whether this spot is occupied or not, to a third, ‘three’, which must be unoccupied when you reach it; these three spots must be in a straight line. If you know the trick, you can do this one-two-three trick, for each of your nine pebbles and find it a berth, and then you win your money. If you don’t know the trick, it’s extremely hard to do it.

To make this a bit clearer: The figure has 10 “spots,” the five points of the star and the five corners of the pentagon in the middle. A move consists of putting a pebble on any unoccupied spot, moving it through an adjacent spot (which may be occupied) and continuing in a straight line to the next adjacent spot, which must be unoccupied. You then leave the pebble there and start again with a new pebble, choosing any unoccupied spot to begin this next move. If you can fill 9 of the 10 spots in this way then you’ve won.

Can you find a solution?

Click for Answer

Pandigital Pi

In the July/August 2006 issue of MIT Technology Review, Richard Hess noted that this expression:

 3 + \frac{16 - 8^{-5}}{97 + 2^{4}} \approx \pi - 3.3 \times 10^{-9}

provides a good approximation to π using each of the digits 1-9 once. He challenged readers to do better, limiting themselves to the operators +, -, ×, ÷, exponents, decimal points, and parentheses.

The best solution received was from Joel Karnofsky:

 3.14 + \left ( 7^{-.9^{-6}} + 2/8 \right )^{5} \approx \pi - 9.3 \times 10^{-11}

But Karnofsky noted that this is probably not the best possible. “Unfortunately, my estimate is that there are on the order of 1016 unique values that can be generated under the given conditions and I cannot see how to avoid checking essentially all of them to fnd a guaranteed best. With maybe a thousand computers I think this could be done in my lifetime.”

Indeed, eight months later Sergey Ioffe sent this solution, which he found “using a genetic-like algorithm applying mutations to a population of parse trees and keeping some number of best ones”:

 3 + 5^{-\left ( 7^{.1} \right )} + \frac{.49^{8}}{2^{6}}  \approx \pi - 3.8 \times 10^{-13}

Even that has now been surpassed — on the Contest Center’s ongoing pi approximation page, Oleg Vlasii offers this expression:

 \left ( \frac{2}{.98} - .3 \right ) \times \left (.4 + 5^{(7^{-.6}-.1)}  \right )  \approx \pi - 4.1 \times 10^{-14}

And it’s possible to do even better than this if zero is added as a tenth digit.

03/25/2017 UPDATE: Reader Danesh Forouhari wondered whether there’s a “unidigital” formula for pi. There is — Viète’s formula:

\displaystyle \frac{2}{\pi } = \frac{\sqrt{2}}{2} \cdot \frac{\sqrt{{2 + \sqrt{2}}}}{2} \cdot \frac{\sqrt{2 + {\sqrt{{2 + \sqrt{2}}}}}}{2} \cdots