Second Strike

The Paradox of the Court is a logic problem from ancient Greece. Protogoras took on a pupil, Euathlus, on the understanding that Euathlus would pay him after he won his first court case. After Protogoras taught him the law, Euathlus decided not to practice, and Protogoras sued him for the amount owed.

Protagoras argued that if he won this lawsuit, he’d be paid the money he was owed, and if Euathlus won the suit, then he’d have won his first case and would owe Protagoras the money anyway under the terms of their contract. So he ought to be paid either way.

Euathlus argued that if he won the suit then by the court’s decision he owed nothing, and if he lost the suit then he still would not have won his first case, and thus owed Protagoras nothing under the contract.

One lawyer suggested that the court should decide in favor of the student and declare that he doesn’t have to pay for his education. Then Protagoras should sue him a second time — since then, incontrovertibly, the student will have won his first case!

See You Around
Image: Flickr

Italian Futurist Renato Bertelli produced this “Continuous Profile of Mussolini” in 1933, eight years after its subject became dictator of Italy. Surprisingly, Mussolini approved it as an official portrait. Not only did it present him as a cultural pioneer, he thought, but it appealed to his respect for Roman traditions: Where Janus had two faces, to look into the past and the future, Il Duce’s had an infinite number, to see in all directions.

Lodging a Complaint
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Among the most compelling anecdotes suggesting that dolphins have concepts of ‘wrong’ behavior is Thomas White’s description of how a human snorkeler observing Atlantic spotted dolphins off the Bahamas went outside the bounds of the norms of behavior expected by the dolphins of human observers at that site. The swimmer approached a calf engaged in learning to fish with its mother, a no-no in the rules of engagement between swimmers and these dolphins built up over years. When this happened, the mother then swam not to the hapless trespasser but to the leader of the group of swimmers, whom she could identify, and tail-slapped, her displeasure apparently directed at the leader who had not controlled the behavior of those being led.

— Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins, 2015


English wit Charles Stuart Calverley was “the hero of a hundred tales” at Cambridge. One Sunday, for no very good reason, he unhooked the inn sign from the Green Man at Trumpington and sprinted off with it toward the university. The innkeeper and several customers went after him, but Calverley gained ground and managed to escape to Christ’s College, where he ordered the porter to bar the gate and carried his prize to his rooms.

When the dean asked the meaning of the disturbance, he said, “Sir, an evil and adulterous generation seek after a sign, but no sign shall be given.”

Podcast Episode 364: Sidney Cotton’s Aerial Reconnaissance
Image: Wikimedia Commons

One of the most remarkable pilots of World War II never fired a shot or dropped a bomb. With his pioneering aerial reconnaissance, Sidney Cotton made a vital contribution to Allied planning. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his daring adventures in the war’s early months.

We’ll also revisit our very first story and puzzle over an unknown Olympian.

See full show notes …

The Tree of 40 Fruit
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2008, Syracuse University art professor Sam Van Aken acquired the three-acre orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, which was closing due to funding cuts. Over the next five years he grafted together buds from 250 varieties grown there, creating in the end a single tree with 40 different branches, each bearing a different kind of fruit, including almonds, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, and plums. He’s since gone on to produce 16 such trees.

“I’ve been told by people that have [a tree] at their home that it provides the perfect amount and perfect variety of fruit,” he said. “So rather than having one variety that produces more than you know what to do with, it provides good amounts of each of the 40 varieties. Since all of these fruit ripen at different times, from July through October, you also aren’t inundated.”

Oh, and they also bloom in pink, crimson and white in the spring. Here’s Van Aken’s website.

Fowl Grace

Dr. Goldsmith tells a story of King Henry the Seventh’s Parrot, which fell out of the window of a room in the palace at Westminster, into the Thames, and at once called aloud, as it had heard people do, ‘A boat! twenty pounds for a boat!’ A waterman passing, took it up, and saved the poor bird’s life; and, on a question arising as to the amount to be paid to the man as a reward for restoring the Parrot, it was appealed to, when it instantly screamed out, ‘Give the knave a groat!’

Zoological Sketches: Consisting of Descriptions of One Hundred and Twenty Animals, 1844

Silent Speech

In the “language of flowers,” a meaning is assigned to every flower in a bouquet, so that it’s possible to send a message to your beloved without saying a word. The trouble is that different dictionaries give different meanings. In Collier’s Cyclopedia of 1882, they get very specific:

American starwort: Cheerfulness in old age.
Apple (blossom): Fame speaks him great and good.
Balsam, red: Touch me not.
Bay leaf: I change but in death.
Bud of white rose: Heart ignorant of love.
Butterfly weed: Let me go.
Camellia japonica, red: Unpretending excellence.
Camomile: Energy in adversity.
Cape jasmine: I’m too happy.
Carnation, deep red: Alas! for my poor heart.
Chinese chrysanthemum: Cheerfulness under adversity.
Cistus, gum: I shall die tomorrow.
Citron: Ill-natured beauty.
Convolvulus: Worth sustained by judicious and tender affection.
Corchorus: Impatient of absence.
Damask rose: Brilliant complexion.
Geranium, lemon: Unexpected meeting.
Geranium, nutmeg: Expected meeting.
Helmet-flower: Knight-errantry.
Hemlock: You will be my death. [!]
Hundred-leaved rose: Dignity of mind.
Japan rose: Beauty is your only attraction.
Laurestina: I die if neglected.
Locust tree (green): Affection beyond the grave. [!]
Meadow saffron: My best days are past.
Mistletoe: I surmount difficulties.
Mourning bride: Unfortunate attachment. I have lost all.
Mulberry tree (black): I shall not survive you.
Persimmon: Bury me amid nature’s beauties.
Poppy, scarlet: Fantastic extravagance.
Rose, Christmas: Tranquilize my anxiety.
Rose, daily: Thy smile I aspire to.
Scarlet lychnis: Sunbeaming eyes.
Sorrel, wild: Wit ill-timed.
Spindle tree: Your charms are engraven on my heart.
Straw, broken: Rupture of a contract.
Tiger flower: For once may pride befriend me.
Virginian spiderwort: Momentary happiness.
Zinnia: Thoughts of absent friends.

“How charmingly a young gentleman can speak to a young lady, and with what eloquent silence in this delightful language. How delicately she can respond, the beautiful little flowers telling her tale in perfumed words; what a delicate story the myrtle or the rose tells!” But I think only florists could do this articulately.