# Podcast Episode 260: The Rugged Road

In 1934, two Englishwomen set out to do what no one had ever done before: travel the length of Africa on a motorcycle. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron from Algiers to Cape Town on a 14,000-mile adventure that many had told them was impossible.

We’ll also anticipate some earthquakes and puzzle over a daughter’s age.

See full show notes …

# In a Word

belute
v. to cover with mud or dirt

lutose

squage
v. to dirty with handling

Every regulation major league baseball, roughly 240,000 per season, is rubbed with “magic mud” from a single source, a tributary of the Delaware River. It’s harvested by a single man, 62-year-old Jim Bintliff, who keeps the precise location secret even from Major League Baseball.

“I know the mud,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I’m the only one on the planet who does.”

(Thanks, Peter.)

# Non-Starter

A man decides to walk one mile from A to B. A god waits in readiness to throw up a wall blocking the man’s further advance when the man has travelled 1/2 mile. A second god (unknown to the first) waits in readiness to throw up a wall of his own blocking the man’s further advance when the man has travelled 1/4 mile. A third god … &c. ad infinitum. It is clear that this infinite sequence of mere intentions (assuming the contrary-to-fact conditional that each god would succeed in executing his intention if given the opportunity) logically entails the consequence that the man will be arrested at point A; he will not be able to pass beyond it, even though not a single wall will in fact be thrown down in his path. The before-effect here will be described by the man as a strange field of force blocking his passage forward.

— Jose Benardete, Infinity: An Essay in Metaphysics, 1964

# Escalation

Back in 2005 I mentioned that Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, New Zealand, was the steepest street in the world.

Last month it was surpassed: Guinness World Records certified that Ffordd Pen Llech, in the Welsh seaside town of Harlech, has a gradient of 37.45%, more than 2 percentage points steeper.

Businessman and architectural historian Gwyn Headley told the Associated Press he felt “jubilation” at the news. He said he feels sorry for New Zealand, but “steeper is steeper.”

# The Citardauq Formula

This is interesting — if ax2 + bx + c = 0, then

$\displaystyle x = \frac{2c}{-b\mp \sqrt{b^{2} - 4ac}}.$

It’s called the citardauq formula — citardauq is quadratic spelled backward. It’s explained above by the inimitable James Tanton; here’s a Facebook discussion; and see the second answer here regarding questions of numerical instability.

# Time to Kill

Suppose I pull a trigger at time t1, releasing a bullet that hits you, and you die of the wound at time t2. Certainly I’ve killed you, but when? If the act of killing transpired in the time it took me to pull the trigger, then somehow the killing has been accomplished before you’ve died. That seems absurd, and the absurdity increases the longer it takes the bullet to reach you.

But if the killing is over only after you’ve died, then I might still be “killing” you when I’ve gone on to some other activity, or even after I myself have died. When does a killing take place?

(Ruth Weintraub, “The Time of a Killing,” Analysis 63:3 [2003], 178-182.)

# Spun Art

Moscow programmer Ani Abakumova makes portraits by spanning circular hoops with lengths of colored thread.

A computer dictates the placement of the threads, but she produces each portrait by hand.

More at her Instagram page.

# In the Pink

It is not every maiden, in these prosaic days, who can summon the ‘tell-tale blood’ to her cheeks at will, or silently reveal by an opportune roseate flush, those inward feelings to which many young ladies experience such difficulty in giving verbal expression. But as the value of the blush, as a highly effective weapon in the feminine armory, is still universally recognized by the sex, although it would appear to have somewhat fallen into desuetude, French ingenuity has been at the pains of devising a mechanical appliance for the instantaneous production of a fine natural glow upon the cheek of beauty, no matter how constitutionally lymphatic or philosophically unemotional its proprietress may be. This thoughtful contrivance is called ‘The Ladies’ Blushing Bonnet,’ to the side ribbons of which — those usually tied under the fair wearer’s chin — are attached two tiny but powerful steel springs, ending in round pads, which are brought to bear upon the temporal arteries by the action of bowing the head, one exquisitely appropriate to modest embarrassment, and by artificially forcing blood into the cheeks cause them to be suffused with ‘the crimson hue of shame’ at a moment’s notice. Should these ingenious head coverings become the fashion among girls of the period, it will behoove ‘young men about to marry’ to take a sly peep behind the bonnet-strings of their blushing charmers immediately after proposing, in order to satisfy themselves that the heightened color, by them interpreted as an involuntary admission of reciprocated affection, is not due to the agency of a carefully adjusted ‘blushing bonnet.’

London Telegraph, via Robinson [Ill.] Constitution, Dec. 1, 1880

# The Magic Total

Each of the 36 numbers in this table is the sum of the numbers at the head of its column and at the left of its row. For example, 3 = 2 + 1 and 13 = 5 + 8. The six bold numbers have been chosen so that each of them falls in a different row and a different column. The underlined numbers were chosen in the same way. But each of these two sextets produces the same total: 16 + 6 + 5 + 14 + 8 + 8 = 8 + 10 + 7 + 8 + 10 + 14 = 57. In fact, any six numbers chosen in this way will produce the total 57. Why is this?

# Forward Thinking

From the Stirling [Scotland] Observer, April 18, 1844. Maybe, in the long run, that will be the last year of recorded history!

(Thanks, Jack.)