Footwork

A poser from Penn State mathematician Mark Levi’s Why Cats Land on Their Feet (2012):

Using only a stopwatch and a sneaker, how can you find an approximate value for \sqrt{2}?

Click for Answer

“On the Question of Choice”

https://pixabay.com/en/maple-leaf-outline-tree-nature-296613/

A leaf was riven from a tree,
“I mean to fall to earth,” said he.

The west wind, rising, made him veer.
“Eastward,” said he, “I now shall steer.”

The east wind rose with greater force.
Said he, “‘Twere wise to change my course.”

With equal power they contend.
He said, “My judgment I suspend.”

Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,
Cried: “I’ve decided to fall straight.”

“First thoughts are best?” That’s not the moral;
Just choose your own and we’ll not quarrel.

Howe’er your choice may chance to fall,
You’ll have no hand in it at all.

— Ambrose Bierce

Hat Check

A puzzle from MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008:

Each of three logicians, A, B, and C, wears a hat that displays a positive integer. The number on one of the hats is the sum of the numbers on the other two. They make the following statements:

A: “I don’t know my number.”

B: “My number is 15.”

What numbers appear on hats A and C?

Click for Answer

Class Warfare

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steen,_Jan_Havickszoon_-_The_Village_School_-_c._1670.jpg

“There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school.” — George Bernard Shaw

“I sometimes think it would be better to drown children than to lock them up in present-day schools.” — Marie Curie

“Nearly 12 years of school … form not only the least agreeable, but the only barren and unhappy period of my life. … It was an unending spell of worries that did not then seem petty, of toil uncheered by fruition; a time of discomfort, restriction and purposeless monotony. … I would far rather have been apprenticed as a bricklayer’s mate, or run errands as a messenger boy, or helped my father to dress the front windows of a grocer’s shop. It would have been real; it would have been natural; it would have taught me more; and I should have done it much better.” — Winston Churchill

“Not one of you sitting round this table could run a fish-and-chip shop.” — Howard Florey, 1945 Nobel laureate in medicine, to the governing body of Queen’s College, Oxford, of which he was provost

Comet Vintages

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Komet_von_1811.jpg

In “The Adventure of the Stockbroker’s Clerk,” Dr. Watson describes Sherlock Holmes as being as pleased as “a connoisseur who has just taken his first sip of a comet vintage.”

That’s a reference to a strange tradition in winemaking: Years in which a comet appears prior to the harvest tend to produce successful vintages:

1826 — Biela’s Comet
1832 — Biela’s Comet
1839 — Biela’s Comet
1845 — Great June Comet of 1845
1846 — Biela’s Comet
1852 — Biela’s Comet
1858 — Comet Donati
1861 — Great Comet of 1861
1874 — Comet Coggia
1985 — Halley’s Comet
1989 — Comet Okazaki-Levy-Rudenko

“For some unexplained reason, or by some strange coincidence, comet years are famous among vine-growers,” noted the New York Times in 1872. “The last comet which was fairly visible to human eyes [and that] remained blazing in the horizon for many months, until it faded slowly away, was seen in 1858, a year dear to all lovers of claret; 1846, 1832 and 1811 were all comet years, and all years of excellent wine.”

No one has even proposed a mechanism to explain how this might be, but it’s widely noted in the wine world: Critic Robert Parker awarded a perfect 100-point rating to the 1811 Château d’Yquem, and cognac makers still put stars on their labels to commemorate that exceptional year.

Podcast Episode 113: The Battle Over Mother’s Day

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anna_jarvis.jpg

Anna Jarvis organized the first observance of Mother’s Day in 1908 and campaigned to have the holiday adopted throughout the country. But her next four decades were filled with bitterness and acrimony as she watched her “holy day” devolve into a “burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift-day.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow the evolution of Mother’s Day and Jarvis’ belligerent efforts to control it.

We’ll also meet a dog that flummoxed the Nazis and puzzle over why a man is fired for doing his job too well.

Intro:

For its December 1897 issue, The Strand engaged three acrobats to create a “human alphabet.”

In 1989 researchers discovered a whale in the Pacific that calls at 52 hertz — the only one of its kind.

Sources for our feature on Anna Jarvis:

Katharine Lane Antolini, Memorializing Motherhood: Anna Jarvis and the Struggle for the Control for Mother’s Day, 2014.

Katharine Lane Antolini, “The Woman Behind Mother’s Day,” Saturday Evening Post 288:3 (May/June 2016), 82-86.

“Miss Anna Jarvis Has New Program for Mother’s Day,” The [New London, Conn.] Day, May 9, 1912.

“The Forgotten Mother of Mother’s Day,” Milwaukee Journal, May 13, 1944.

“Founder of Mother’s Day Dies Penniless, Blind at 84,” Pittsburgh Press, Nov. 26, 1948.

Cynthia Lowry, “Woman Responsible for Mother’s Day Died Without Sympathy for Way It Turned Out,” Associated Press, May 4, 1958.

Associated Press, “Mrs. Anna Jarvis Inspires ‘Mother’s Day’ Observance,” May 10, 1959.

Daniel Mark Epstein, “The Mother of Mother’s Day,” Toledo Blade, May 3, 1987.

Marshall S. Berdan, “Change of Heart,” Smithsonian 38:2 (May 2007), 116-116.

Jackie the parodic Dalmatian:

“Hitler-Saluting Dog Outraged Nazis,” World War II 26:1 (May/June 2011), 16.

“Hitler-Mocking Dog Enraged Nazis, According to New Documents,” Telegraph, Jan. 7, 2011.

“Nazi Germany Pursued ‘Hitler Salute’ Finnish Dog,” BBC, Jan. 7, 2011.

Kirsten Grieshaber, “‘Heil Rover!’ Hitler-Imitating Dog Enraged Nazis,” NBC News, Jan. 7, 2011.

Nick Carbone, “Man’s Best Fuhrer: Was Hitler-Saluting Dog a Threat to the Nazis?”, Time, Jan. 9, 2011.

Michael Slackman, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in Finland Who Was Trained to Give a Nazi Salute,” New York Times, Jan. 11, 2011.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Steven Jones, who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

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.

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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!