Limited Resources

In a 1993 segment on National Public Radio, Will Shortz challenged listeners to construct sentences that use only two consonants, such as “Can Connie, a nice niece in Canaan, can-can on a canoe in uncanny innocence?”

The winner, sent in by Dawne Bear and Rachel Chanin, was “See Tess taste-test Sissy’s sassy tea to attest to its tastiest status.” Other entries:

  • Beddy-bye, baby boy! Bid Daddy bye-bye! (Jim Hamilton)
  • Babs’ boss, Bobb, sobs as Bea’s base beau, Bubba, abuses sea bass. (Roxanne Bogucka)
  • A good guide dog did guide Dad. (Joe Cahill, Susan Morse)
  • Did dull addled Lady Della deal old ally, idle loaded Daddy Leo, a leaden dolly load o’ dilled eel? (Dorothy Thayer)
  • Dear Radio Reader: Did Eduardo, a rodeo rider, dare ride a rare red doe, or did Dario, a dour dude, roar “I rode a ruder, redder deer”? Adieu, Dierdre. (Bernell Scott)
  • At tea, a tattooed idiot did ode to a dead toad (a tad odd!). (Matt Hulen)
  • Otto, Thea! Out to the auto to toot to the heath! Tote the tot that hath the teeth to eat the hat! (Uh-oh, it hit Thea.) Aha, tie the hat to the tot! Ta-ta! (Bruce and Barbara Lessey)
  • Sally, a sassy lass, says “Susie is a souse — also loose”. Sly Susie says “I’ll sue!” (Aarne Hartikka)
  • A little tale to titillate — title: Lolita. (Toby Gottfried)
  • Name me: I am anyone, I am no one; I’m an anima, a meanie, a ninny, a mommy in a muumuu, a nun in a mini; I am many; I am one ­– I am Man. (Wayne Eastman)
  • At a roar in a ruin near our nunnery, I ran in a rare noon rain. (Nancy Gannon)
  • Sue supposes Pa possesses poise as Pa passes Sue pea soup. Sue, pious as a spouse, passes Pa pie. (Jay Cary)
  • “Wow,” we roar, “we are aware we wore wire a wry way. We’re a wee raw! We rue!” (Sylvia Coogan)

In presenting these in Word Ways the following May, editor Ross Eckler noted that “No one discovered that palindromes sometimes work: too hot to hoot; Madam, I’m Adam; name no one man.”

Adventures in Publishing

newell illustrations

This shepherd thought poetic thoughts
As by the flocks he sat;
But while he wrote his verses,
The goat fed on his hat.

Children’s author and illustrator Peter Newell collected a whole series of such reversible images in Topsys and Turvys (1893) and a sequel. He followed these up with The Hole Book (1908), in which young Tom Potts accidentally fires a gun, sending a bullet through a town; The Slant Book (1910), a book shaped like a rhombus in which a runaway baby carriage careens downhill; and The Rocket Book (1912), in which a janitor’s son sends a rocket upward through 21 successive floors of an apartment building.

The Hole Book was manufactured with a hole right through it — on each page the physical hole shows the mayhem caused by the bullet, deflating bagpipes, severing kite strings, sounding a bass drum, and blowing up a car, among many other things. It’s finally stopped by a cake:

And this was lucky for Tom Potts,
The boy who fired the shot —
It might have gone clean round the world
And killed him on the spot.

Bullseye

During World War I, British physicist G.I. Taylor was asked to design a dart to be dropped onto enemy troops from the air. He and a colleague dropped a bundle of darts as a trial and then “went over the field and pushed a square of paper over every dart we could find sticking out of the ground.”

When we had gone over the field in this way and were looking at the distribution, a cavalry officer came up and asked us what we were doing. When we explained that the darts had been dropped from an airplane, he looked at them and, seeing a dart piercing every sheet remarked: ‘If I had not seen it with my own eyes I would never have believed it possible to make such good shooting from the air.’

(The darts were never used — “we were told they were regarded as inhuman weapons and could not be used by gentlemen.”)

(From T.W. Körner, The Pleasures of Counting, 1996.)

Illumination

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Godfried_Schalcken_(1643-1706)_(after)_-_An_Old_Man_Writing_a_Book_by_Candlelight_-_290274_-_National_Trust.jpg

Modern lighting is so ubiquitous that we scarcely think about it, but from prehistory to A.D. 1782 there were just a few primitive means to banish the dark, chiefly fires, rushlights, and tallow candles. And even these were rather precious — in the 17th century John Aubrey wrote of William Oughtred that “his wife was a penurious woman and would not allow him to burne candle after supper, by which means many a good notion is lost.” In 1763 James Boswell was midway through a night of writing when disaster struck:

About two o’clock in the morning I inadvertently snuffed out my candle, and as my fire before that was long before black and cold, I was in a great dilemma how to proceed. Downstairs did I softly and silently step to the kitchen. But, alas, there was as little fire there as upon the icy mountains of Greenland. With a tinder box is a light struck every morning to kindle the fire, which is put out at night. But this tinder box I could not see, nor knew where to find. I was now filled with gloomy ideas of the terrors of the night. I was also apprehensive that my landlord who always keeps a pair of loaded pistols by him, might fire at me as a thief.

What did he do? “I went up to my room, sat quietly until I heard the watchman calling ‘past three o’clock’. I then called to him to knock at the door of the house where I lodged. He did so, and I opened to him and got my candle re-lumed without danger. Thus was I relieved and continued busy until eight the next day.”

(William T. O’Dea, The Social History of Lighting, 1958.)

Perspective

Artist Patrick Hughes calls this illusion “reverspective” — the “end” of each gallery hallway is actually nearest the viewer.

“Hughes acknowledges that these types of paintings have been his most successful and they continue to intrigue him,” writes Brad Honeycutt in The Art of Deception. “As such, he says that he could very well concentrate on creating paradoxical perspective pictures for the rest of his days.”

More examples.