ZZ Top’s first album is called ZZ Top’s First Album.
Supreme Court justice Byron White was the NFL’s top rusher in 1940.
LOVE ME TENDER is an anagram of DENVER OMELET.
Every palindromic number with an even number of digits is divisible by 11.
“In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” — Cassius
From English antiquary John Aubrey’s 1696 Miscellanies: “Anno 1670, not far from Cyrencester, was an Apparition; Being demanded, whether a good Spirit or a bad? Returned no answer, but departed with a curious Perfume and a most melodious Twang.”
Peck had spent 34 years hunting for Forbes since he’d “resolved out of space” to her during the Ouija craze around 1920. She believed Forbes was confined in a mental institution and wrote to many around the country as she tried to locate him.
Nine nieces and nephews contested the will. But Peck’s executor, City National Bank of Danbury, held out that Forbes might have been an actual person, though a private investigator couldn’t find him.
As the day wore on, the French cavalry became more and more desperate, and charged repeatedly with fierce gesticulations, which became more pronounced as they were so continuously repelled. These peculiar looks and gestures of the French became so marked that when the colonel, Fielding Browne, gave the familiar order, ‘Prepare for cavalry,’ the officers would thunder out the order, and add, ‘Now, men, make faces!’
(“The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers,” Navy & Army Illustrated, Feb. 4, 1899.)
In the 1850s, lovers often corresponded by printing coded messages in the Times. An example from February 1853:
CENERENTOLA. N bnxm yt ywd nk dtz hfs wjfi ymnx fsi fr rtxy fschtzx yt. Mjfw ymf esi, bmjs dtz wjyzws fei mtb qtsldtz wjrfns, ncjwj. lt bwnyf f kjb qnsjx jfuqnsl uqjfxy. N mfaj xnsbj dtz bjsy fbfd.
(“I wish to try if you can read this and am most anxious to hear that and when you return and how long you remain here. Go write a few lines explaining please. I have since you went away.”)
A second message appeared nine days later using the same cipher:
CENERENTOLA. Zsyng rd n jtwy nx xnhp mfaj n y wnj, yt kwfrj fs jcugfifynts ktw dtz lgzy hfssty. Xnqjshj nx nf jny nk ymf ywzj bfzxy nx sty xzx jhyji; nk ny nx, fgg xytwpjx bngg gj xnkyji yt ymjgtyytr. It dtz wjrjgjw tzw htzxns’x knwxy nwtutxnynts: ymnsp tk ny. N pstb Dtz.
(“Until my heart is sick I have tried to frame an explanation for you but cannot. Silence is safest if the true cause is not suspected; if it is, all stories will be sifted to the bottom. Do remember our cousin’s first proposition. Think of it. I know you.”)
This practice was so well known that cracking the codes became a regular recreation among certain Londoners. Lyon Playfair and Charles Wheatstone uncovered a pending elopement and wrote a remonstrating response to the young woman; she published a new message saying, “Dear Charles, write me no more, our cipher is discovered.”
Most of the messages were simple substitution ciphers, which made them fairly easy to solve, though the lovers seemed to find them challenging — one wrote, “If an honours degree at Oxford cannot read my message, we had better change the cipher. Suggest we revert to numbers. Love, Gwendoline.” But when Playfair and Wheatstone came up with a more secure “symmetrical cipher” and offered it to the Foreign Office, the under-secretary rejected it as “too complicated.”
“We proposed that he should send for four boys from the nearest elementary school,” Playfair wrote, “in order to prove that three of them could be taught to use the cipher in a quarter of an hour. The reply to this proposal by their Under-Secretary was … ‘That is very possible, but you could never teach it to attachés.'”
George Hitchings, who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1988, proposed to his wife by saying “Incidentally, you’re my fiancée now” as they drove to an event.
John Bardeen, who won the prize in physics in both 1956 and 1972, told his fiancée, “You can be married in the church if you want to, but not to me.”
Hemingway, a Nobelist in literature in 1954, said, “I remember after I got that marriage license I went across from the license bureau to a bar for a drink. The bartender said, ‘What will you have, sir?’ And I said, ‘A glass of hemlock.'”
And Wolfgang Pauli won the Nobel in physics in 1945. Of his ex-wife’s remarriage, he said, “Had she taken a bullfighter I would have understood, but an ordinary chemist!”
The snow gods’ smallest mimes do not wish in any way in their lives for the great duty of the defenses of wine to be diminished.
In Ancient Writing and Its Influence (1969), Berthold Louis Ullman and Julian Brown write, “When this is written in Gothic characters without dots for the i‘s and with v written as u, it makes a first-class riddle”:
Of The Lord of the Rings, W.H. Auden wrote, “I rarely remember a book about which I have had such violent arguments. Nobody seems to have a moderate opinion: either, like myself, people find it a masterpiece of its genre or they cannot abide it.”
Among the naysayers, Edmund Wilson wrote, “One is puzzled to know why the author should have supposed he was writing for adults. There are, to be sure, some details that are a little unpleasant for a children’s book, but except when he is being pedantic and also boring the adult reader, there is little in The Lord of the Rings over the head of a seven-year-old child.”
Tolkien seemed philosophical about the difference. He wrote in the foreword to the second edition:
The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them. As a guide I had only my own feelings for what is appealing or moving, and for many the guide was inevitably often at fault. Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.
He wrote elsewhere:
The Lord of the Rings
is one of those things:
if you like it you do:
if you don’t, then you boo!
In 1961, Michael Rockefeller disappeared after a boating accident off the coast of Dutch New Guinea. Ever since, rumors have circulated that the youngest son of the powerful Rockefeller family had been killed by the headhunting cannibals who lived in the area. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll recount Rockefeller’s story and consider the different fates that might have befallen him.
We’ll also learn more about the ingenuity of early sportscasters and puzzle over a baffled mechanic.
Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.
Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
English meteorologist Lewis Fry Richardson (1881-1953) spent the last 25 years of his life trying to establish a mathematical theory of the causes of war. In the first of two books on this subject, Arms and Insecurity, he works out a model of arms races using differential equations and reaches the conclusion that
U and V are the annual defense budgets of two parties to a conflict
k is a positive constant representing the response to threat
α is a positive constant representing the fatigue and expense of keeping up defenses
U0 and V0 represent cooperations between the parties, tentatively assumed to remain constant
and g and h represent the “grievances and ambitions, provisionally regarded as constant,” on each side.
The term in brackets is a constant, so Richardson predicted that plotting d(U + V)/dt against (U + V) would produce a straight line. He tried this out using the defense budgets of the Franco-Russian and Austro-German alliances for 1909-14 and got this:
“The four points lie close to a straight line, closer, indeed, than one might expect,” he writes. “Since I first drew this diagram, which was shown at the British Association in Cambridge in 1938, and printed in Nature of 29 October of that year, I have been incredulous about the marvelously good fit. Yet there is no simple mistake. … The mere regularity of these phenomena shows that foreign politics had then a rather machine-like quality, intermediate between the predictability of the moon and the freedom of an unmarried young man.”
The extrapolated straight line hits the x axis at U + V = £194 pounds sterling. “As love covereth a multitude of sins, so the good will between the opposing alliances would just have covered £194 million of defense expenditures on the part of the four nations concerned. Their actual expenditure in 1909 was £199 millions; and so began an arms race which led to World War I.”