In 2011, Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School, Daniel Mochon of Yale, and Dan Ariely of Duke found that test subjects were willing to pay 63% more for IKEA furniture that they had assembled than for identical units that came preassembled. In a separate study, they found that subjects who had finished building items were willing to pay more for their creations than subjects who had only partially completed assembly. The lesson seems to be that consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they’ve had a hand in creating.
The principle had been understood, though not named, as early as the 1950s, when homemakers initially disdained instant cake mixes, which they felt made cooking too easy and inspired no investment in the outcome. When the recipe was adjusted to require the cook to crack an egg, sales went up.
When the realist painter Fairfield Porter was 11 years old, he invented a fictional country on Mars, collaborating with his brother Edward and two neighbor girls. They devised an acronym for it based on their own four names: EDward, FAirfield, LOuise, BArbara.
Fairfield drew the map above, showing its topography and train lines. Much later one of his own sons recognized it as a “reduplication” of Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine, where the Porter family spent their summers. He divided it into four pieces, keeping for himself the area corresponding to the house and cove where the children swam and sailed.
He wrote to his aunts in December 1918, “Edward John and I have just been playing with the Pulman train that we made out of the blocks. Louise and Barbara play with us most of the time. … We pretend that the train goes around Edfaloba. … We pretend everything in Edfaloba runs by sunlight and people store it to make a light in night time.”
When he grew up and established himself as an artist, he developed a reputation as an eccentric for looking beyond the precedents of 20th-century art. Wrote one critic, “It was as if he lived in an alternate world with an alternate history, which, defiantly, he really did.”
(From Michele Root-Bernstein, Inventing Imaginary Worlds, 2014.)
In 1916 Manhattan chauffeur George Boyden patented a new way to navigate: Install a phonograph in your car to play audio recordings through a megaphone in front of the steering column. “The talking machine at the proper times will announce the directions whereby the driver will be enabled to follow a predetermined route.”
How does it know where you are? The phonograph is connected to the car’s wheels and will engage only when you’ve traveled certain predetermined distances. “For example, if it is desired to make a record to guide the driver from Chevy Chase to the Treasury Department, the record among other things would contain the directions ‘U street turn to the left,’ and knowing the distance between Chevy Chase and the corner of 18th and U, for example, [a record of this distance would be registered with the mechanism] and the desired direction spoken into the machine. From a cylinder prepared in this manner a matrix would be made for the production of permanent records.”
10/19/2018 UPDATE: A strikingly similar idea from 1971 (thanks, Alec):
The limerick is furtive and mean;
You must keep her in close quarantine,
Or she sneaks to the slums
And promptly becomes
Disorderly, drunk and obscene.
— Morris Bishop
It needn’t have ribaldry’s taint
Or strive to make everyone faint.
There’s a type that’s demure
And perfectly pure,
Though it helps quite a lot if it ain’t.
— Don Marquis
The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical
But the good ones I’ve seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.
A bather whose clothing was strewed
By winds which left her quite nude,
Saw a man come along,
And, unless I am wrong,
You expected this line to be rude.
There was a young lady … tut, tut!
So you think that you’re in for some smut?
Some five-line crescendo
Of lewd innuendo?
Well, you’re wrong. This is anything but.
— Stanley J. Sharpless
Submitted by Lewis Allen for Life magazine’s 1915 short story contest:
‘Isn’t that young Griggs and Miss Deering?’ asked the captain, peering down from the bridge at a dark spot silhouetted against the moonlit sea.
‘Yes, sir,’ replied the second officer.
‘It’s the speediest shipboard romance I’ve ever seen in all my thirty years aboard a liner,’ remarked the captain, smiling.
‘I understand they never saw or heard of each other until they met at dinner, Tuesday. Have you talked much with them, sir? I see they sit next you at table.’
‘Oh, yes, that’s true. Why, on the second dinner out he complained because there was no jewellery shop aboard. She looked as happy as a kid with a lollypop, and blushed.’
‘Whew! Engaged within forty-eight hours! Going some! I suppose they’ll be married by the American consul before they’ve been ashore an hour.’
‘Not a bit of doubt of it,’ grinned the captain. ‘True love at sight in this case, all right. Well, they have my blessings. I fell in love with my Missus the same way, but we waited three months. I’ll go below. What’s she making?’
‘Nineteen, sir. Good-night.’
* * *
Two hours later there came a terrific explosion away down in the hold amongst the cargo. The ship trembled and listed.
‘Women and children first! No danger! Time enough for all!’ shouted the officers, as the frantic passengers surged about the life-boats.
She was going down rapidly by her stern. There came another explosion, this from the boilers.
‘All women and children off?’ bellowed the captain.
‘Aye, aye, sir,’ answered the second officer.
‘Married men next!’ shouted the captain as the men began scrambling into the boats. A score of men paused, bowed, and stepped back. Young Griggs tore his way through and started to clamber into the boat.
‘Damn you, for a coward!’ cursed the second officer, dragging him back.
Young Griggs yanked away and again clutched at the boat. This time the second officer struck him square in the face and he went down.
The boatload of married men was merely cut away, so low was the ship in the water. Then came a lurch, and the waves closed over the great ship.
* * *
The next evening the Associated Press sent out, from its St. Louis office, this paragraph:
‘Among those lost was H.G. Griggs, junior partner of the Wells & Griggs Steel Co. He leaves a wife and infant son in this city. It is feared Mrs. Griggs will not recover from the shock.’
One of the most exquisite of telephone hoaxes known to me was one contrived by Dr Carl Bosch when he was a research student in Germany. He happened to work in a laboratory situated several floors up, where from his window he found that he could survey a block of flats across the road. Having discovered that the occupant of one of the flats was a newspaper correspondent, Bosch telephoned him pretending to be his own professor. Excitedly he explained to the correspondent that he had just invented a marvellous system of television (the date was 1933) which you could clip on to an ordinary telephone set, look into it and see the man that you were speaking to at the other end. Of course, the newspaper man was incredulous. The ‘professor’ then offered to demonstrate the system to him, inviting him to point the telephone towards the middle of his room, then stand in front of it and do anything that he liked, such as standing on one leg, after which the ‘professor’ would tell him what he had done. The result was a rave article in the local newspaper, an embarrassed newspaperman, and an astonished ‘professor’.
— Robert L. Pfaltzgraff et al., Intelligence Policy and National Security, 1981
“There is something essentially ridiculous about critics, anyway: what is good is good without our saying so, and beneath all our majesty we know this.” — Randall Jarrell
John Conway’s author biography in Melvin Fitting and Brian Rayman’s 2017 book Raymond Smullyan on Self Reference:
John H. Conway is the John von Neumann Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Applied and Computational Mathematics at Princeton. He has four doctorate degrees: PhD (Cambridge), DSc (Liverpool), D.h.c. (Iasi), PhD (Bremen). He has written or co-written 11 books, one of which has appeared in 11 languages. He has both daughters and sons, each daughter has as many sisters as brothers and each son twice as many sisters as brothers. He has met Raymond Smullyan repeatedly at many Gatherings for Gardner and Andrew Buchanan in Cambridge, New York and Princeton.
The size of his family is left as an exercise.
A man once married a charming young person who agreed with him on every question. At first they were very happy, for the man thought his wife the most interesting companion he had ever met, and they spent their days telling each other what wonderful people they were. But by and by the man began to find his wife rather tiresome. Wherever he went she insisted upon going; whatever he did, she was sure to tell him that it would have been better to do the opposite; and moreover, it gradually dawned upon him that his friends had never thought so highly of her as he did. Having made this discovery, he naturally felt justified in regarding himself as the aggrieved party; she took the same view of her situation, and their life was one of incessant recrimination.
Finally, after years spent in violent quarrels and short-lived reconciliations, the man grew weary, and decided to divorce his wife.
He engaged an able lawyer, who assured him that he would have no difficulty in obtaining a divorce; but to his surprise, the judge refused to grant it.
‘But –‘ said the man, and he began to recapitulate his injuries.
‘That’s all very true,’ said the judge, ‘and nothing would be easier than for you to obtain a divorce if you had only married another person.’
‘What do you mean by another person?’ asked the man in astonishment.
‘Well,’ replied the judge, ‘it appears that you inadvertently married yourself; that is a union no court has the power to dissolve.’
‘Oh,’ said the man; and he was secretly glad, for in his heart he was already longing to make it up again with his wife.
— Edith Wharton, The Valley of Childish Things, and Other Emblems, 1896