A Tour of England

From reader Dave King:

A certain young lady of Prinknash
Was looking decidedly thinknash.
Her diet restriction
Had proved an addiction
And caused her to swiftly diminknash.

A hungry young student of Norwich
Went into his larder to forwich.
For breakfast he usually
Had bacon or muesli
But today he would have to have porwich.

An ethical diner at Alnwick
Was suddenly put in a palnwick
“This coffee you’ve made
Are you sure it’s Fair Trade?
And I must insist that it’s orgalnwick!”

A Science don, Gonville and Caius,
Kept body parts in his deep fraius.
He didn’t remember
And one dark November
He ate them with cabbage and paius.

A Frenchman now living at Barnoldswick
Was terribly partial to garnoldswick.
The smell of his breath
Drove one lady to death;
She fell from the ramparts at Harnoldswick.

A forceful young prisoner from Brougham
Was confined to a windowless rougham,
So, venting his feelings,
He bashed through the ceiling,
Dispelling the gathering glougham.

(Thanks, Dave.)

True Love

The 1937 edition of Webster’s Universal Dictionary of the English Language contains this peculiar entry:

jungftak (jŭngf´ täk) n. a fabled Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly, — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.

This appears to be neither an error nor a trap to catch copyright thieves. When scholar Richard Rex asked about it, an associate editor at the dictionary replied, “[W]e have gone through a good many sources and jungftak simply does not show up. It is quite a curiosity, for the various accounts of Persian mythology do not describe such a bird even under another name.” The entry disappears from editions after 1943. Probably it was a joke, but the story behind it is lost.

(Richard Rex, “The Incredible Jungftak,” American Speech 57:4 [Winter 1982], 307-308.)

06/19/2024 UPDATE: Reader Nick Hare offers another fantastic bird: the oozlum, which flies in smaller and smaller circles until it disappears up its own backside. Wikipedia observes drily that this behavior “adds to its rarity.”

06/21/2024 UPDATE: Wow, this is really interesting. Reader Edward White informs me that there’s a bird in Chinese mythology, the biyiniao or linked-wing bird, that closely resembles the jungftak — each biyiniao has one eye and one wing, so they have to pair up to fly. The bird is used as a symbol of married love in poems. Can this be a coincidence?


D.C.B. Marsh proposed this problem in the American Mathematical Monthly in 1957:

“Solve a3b3c3 = 3abc, a2 = 2(b + c) simultaneously in positive integers.”

There are a number of ways to go about this, but Raymond Huck of Marietta College found a strikingly simple one. 3abc is positive, so the first equation tells us immediately that b < a and c < a. Add these two facts together and we get b + c < 2a, and hence 2(b + c) < 4a. Substituting this conveniently into the second equation, we learn that a2 < 4a and a < 4. The second equation also shows that a is an even number, so a must be 2, and b and c, which are smaller, must both be 1.

(“Solutions,” American Mathematical Monthly 65:1 [January 1958], 43-46, Problem E1266, via Ross Honsberger, Mathematical Morsels, 1979.)

The Dim Effect

In 2006, German entomologist Jochen-P. Saltin discovered a new species of rhinoceros beetle in Peru, which he dubbed Megaceras briansaltini.

Remarkably, the insect’s horn closely resembles that of Dim, the blue rhinoceros beetle in the Disney film A Bug’s Life, which was released eight years earlier.

“I know of no dynastine head horn that has ever had the shape of the one seen in M. briansaltini, and so its resemblance to a movie character seems like a case of nature mimicking art … or what could be referred to as ‘the Dim Effect,'” wrote entomologist Brett C. Ratcliffe.

“There are numerous examples of art mimicking nature (paintings, sculpture, etc.), but that cannot be the case here, because there had never been a known rhinoceros beetle in nature upon which the creators of Dim could have used as a model for the head horn. In my experience, then, Dim was the first ‘rhinoceros beetle’ to display such a horn, and the discovery of M. briansaltini, a real rhinoceros beetle, came later.”

(Brett C. Ratcliffe, “A Remarkable New Species of Megaceras From Peru [Scarabaeidae: Dynastinae: Oryctini]. The ‘Dim Effect’: Nature Mimicking Art,” The Coleopterists Bulletin 61:3 [2007], 463-467.)

Race to the Bottom

In the 1970s, San Francisco painting contractor Bill Holland discovered he could save money on business cards by listing himself as Zachary Zzzra in the local telephone directory and telling potential customers to find his number at the end of the book.

This worked well until he was displaced by a Zelda Zzzwramp. He changed his name to Zachary Zzzzra but was overtaken by Vladimir Zzzzzzabakov. So in 1979 he pulled out all stops and became Zachary Zzzzzzzzzra.

Victory brought its trials. “People making illegal calls from phone booths look up the last name in the book and charge them to me,” he admitted to Time. “I don’t pay a damn one of them.”

06/17/2024 UPDATE: Reader Nick Semanko adds that in 1964 two Rhode Island politicians, Raphael R. Russo and Mario Russillo, changed their names to aRusso and aRussillo so that they could appear at the top (technically the left) of the ballot. aRussillo won and aRusso lost.

Four years later the two faced one another for the position of town administrator of Johnston. aRussillo added another a to his name (becoming aaRussillo) and won, though aRusso eventually succeeded him. aaRussillo dropped the extra letters from his name in 1995, but aRusso kept his to his death in 1999. (Thanks, Nick.)

In a Word

v. to be or become cheerful

adj. doing neither good nor harm

n. things of little value; trifles

n. a sophistical mode of arguing

When playwright St. John Ervine lost a leg in World War I, George Bernard Shaw wrote to him: “For a man of your profession two legs are an extravagance. … The more the case is gone into the more it appears that you are an exceptionally happy and fortunate man, relieved of a limb to which you owed none of your fame, and which indeed was the cause of your conscription; for without it you would not have been accepted for service.”



Absolutely hands down one of the most beautiful places to see from space is the Caribbean. You see an entire rainbow of blue. From the light emerald green to the green-blue to the blue-green to the aquamarine to the slowly increasingly darker shades of blue down to the really deep colors that come with the depths of a really deep ocean. You can see all that at one time from space. It’s very curvy, it’s not harsh geometric lines. It’s swirls and whirls and all kinds of wavy lines. It looks like a piece of modern art.

— Astronaut Sandra Magnus, quoted in Ariel Waldman, What’s It Like in Space?, 2016


Swedish botanist Elias Tillander (1640–1693) was so “harassed by Neptune” during a trip across the Gulf of Bothnia from Stockholm to Turku that he made the return journey overland and changed his name to Til-Landz (“to land”).

Linnaeus named the evergreen plant Tillandsia after him — it cannot tolerate a damp climate.

(From Wilfrid Blunt, Linnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist, 2001.)