# The Ghost Train

In August 2006, the Newhaven Marine railway station in East Sussex was closed to passengers due to safety concerns. But it remained legally open, and under an 1844 regulation a train was required to call there once a day.

So until its closure in 2020, the station received daily train service, though its platforms were inaccessible to the public. The service was listed in timetables, but passengers who wished to travel to the next station were ferried there by taxi instead.

# Surrounded

The territory of Madha is an exclave — it belongs to Oman, but it’s surrounded by the United Arab Emirates.

And Madha itself contains an enclave — the village of Nahwa belongs to the United Arab Emirates.

This makes Nahwa a second-order enclave — it lies within the boundaries of its nation, but it’s surrounded by the territory of another state.

# Easter Fare

Wolfram Alpha offers some surprising seasonal equations — a bunny:

max(min(-51/25 abs(-(21 x)/(22 a) – (5 y)/(17 a) + 2/11)^(29/16) – 37/17 abs((5 x)/(17 a) – (21 y)/(22 a) + 15/17)^(35/23) + 1, -75/22 abs(-(12 x)/(17 a) – (12 y)/(17 a) + 19/24)^(34/15) – 105/13 abs(-(12 x)/(17 a) + (12 y)/(17 a) + 1/34)^(123/62) + 1, x/a), min(-51/25 abs((21 x)/(22 a) – (5 y)/(17 a) + 2/11)^(29/16) – 37/17 abs(-(5 x)/(17 a) – (21 y)/(22 a) + 15/17)^(35/23) + 1, -75/22 abs((12 x)/(17 a) – (12 y)/(17 a) + 19/24)^(34/15) – 105/13 abs((12 x)/(17 a) + (12 y)/(17 a) + 1/34)^(123/62) + 1, -x/a), min(max(-(177 x^2)/(13 a^2) – 46/15 (y/a + 1/24)^2 + 1, (690 x^2)/(29 a^2) + 63/4 (y/a + 8/17)^2 – 1), 1/10 – ((79 x^2)/(16 a^2) + 16 (y/a + 1/2)^2 – 1) ((16 x^2)/a^2 + (79 y^2)/(16 a^2) – 1), 6287/17 (x/a – 1/9)^2 + 100 (y/a + 1/16)^2 – 1, 6287/17 (x/a + 1/9)^2 + 100 (y/a + 1/16)^2 – 1), -31550/23 (x/a – 2/19)^2 – 62500/49 (y/a + 1/11)^2 + 1, -31550/23 (x/a + 2/19)^2 – 62500/49 (y/a + 1/11)^2 + 1, -18407811/17 (x/a – 1/25)^4 – 250127/15 (y/a + 13/22)^4 + 1, -18407811/17 (x/a + 1/25)^4 – 250127/15 (y/a + 13/22)^4 + 1, -(x/a – 1/2)^2 – (y/a + 5/4)^2 + 1/30, 11/20 – ((y^4/(63 a^4) – y^3/(11 a^3) – y^2/(7 a^2) + (13 y)/(15 a) + x^2/a^2 + 29/43) ((142 x^2)/(15 a^2) + ((-(304 y)/(23 a) – 878/31) x)/a + (1019 y)/(25 a) + (184 y^2)/(13 a^2) + 349/11) ((142 x^2)/(15 a^2) + (((304 y)/(23 a) + 878/31) x)/a + (1019 y)/(25 a) + (184 y^2)/(13 a^2) + 349/11))/(11/19 – y/(8 a))^2, -x^2/a^2 – x/a – (5 y)/(2 a) – y^2/a^2 – 16/9, -(127 x^2)/(21 a^2) – ((-(118 y)/(23 a) – 47/7) x)/a – (559 y)/(15 a) – (173 y^2)/(22 a^2) – 847/19, -(127 x^2)/(21 a^2) – (((118 y)/(23 a) + 47/7) x)/a – (559 y)/(15 a) – (173 y^2)/(22 a^2) – 847/19)>=0

… and an egg:

min(1/5 – sin(16 p sqrt(x^2/(a^2 (1 – y/(10 a))^2) + (9 y^2)/(16 a^2)) (1 – 1/10 (1 – sqrt(x^2/(a^2 (1 – y/(10 a))^2) + (9 y^2)/(16 a^2))) cos(12 tan^(-1)(x/(a (1 – y/(10 a))), (3 y)/(4 a))))), -x^2/(a^2 (1 – y/(10 a))^2) – (9 y^2)/(16 a^2) + 1)>=0

In Poland, Easter Monday is Śmigus-dyngus, in which boys throw water over girls they like and spank them with pussy willow branches. Traditionally, Wikipedia says, “Boys would sneak into girls’ homes at daybreak on Easter Monday and throw containers of water over them while they were still in bed. After all the water had been thrown, the screaming girls would often be dragged to a nearby river or pond for another drenching. Sometimes a girl would be carried out, still in her bed, before both bed and girl were thrown into the water together. Particularly attractive girls could expect to be soaked repeatedly during the day.”

(Thanks, Danesh and Wade.)

# Wine and Roses

The oldest living rose bush grows on the apse of the Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany — documentation confirms its age at approximately 700 years (it’s visible in the engraving at right above, which dates from about 1845).

Allied bombers destroyed the cathedral in 1945, but the rose’s roots survived, and it flowered again among the ruins.

The oldest known bottle of wine is the Speyer wine bottle, unearthed from the tomb of a Roman nobleman in 1867 and dated to 350 A.D. Though it remains sealed, it’s presumed to contain liquid wine.

The ethanol will be gone, but the remaining liquid has been preserved by olive oil and wax that the Romans used to protect it from the air. For safety’s sake, its curators have forborne from opening it.

# Two Birds

Ben Franklin used chess to learn Italian. From his autobiography:

I had begun in 1733 to study languages; I soon made myself so much a master of the French as to be able to read the books with ease. I then undertook the Italian. An acquaintance, who was also learning it, us’d often to tempt me to play chess with him. Finding this took up too much of the time I had to spare for study, I at length refus’d to play any more, unless on this condition, that the victor in every game should have a right to impose a task, either in parts of the grammar to be got by heart, or in translations, etc., which tasks the vanquish’d was to perform upon honour, before our next meeting.

“As we play’d pretty equally,” he wrote, “we thus beat one another into that language.”

# Expansive

In 1996, artists Jeff St. Pierre and Philip Antoniades released A Rubber Band Christmas, a collection of Christmas songs played on rubber bands.

Kyle Brown of Rubber and Plastic News wrote that “The snaps and twangs aren’t always pitch-perfect, but a lot of spirit comes through.”

# Better Safe

The Pentagon has a detailed strategy for surviving a zombie apocalypse.

CONOP 8888, “Counter-Zombie Dominance,” arose when military planners needed to create a planning document that the public could not mistake for a real scenario. They imagined a “clearly impossible” emergency in which planners needed to “undertake military operations to preserve ‘non-zombie’ humans from the threats posed by a zombie horde.”

“The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,” spokeswoman Pamela Kunze told Foreign Policy. “This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.” But, a disclaimer reads, “this plan was not actually designed as a joke.”

Here it is.

# “A Rubric on Rubik Cubics”

Claude Shannon was a great enthusiast of Rubik’s cube — he designed the “manipulator” above, which now resides in the MIT museum.

In a 1981 letter to Scientific American editor Dennis Flanagan, Shannon included this poem, to be sung to the tune of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”:

Strange imports come from Hungary:
Count Dracula, and ZsaZsa G.,
Now Erno Rubik’s Magic Cube
For PhD or country rube.
This fiendish clever engineer
Entrapped the music of the sphere.
It’s sphere on sphere in all 3D —
A kinematic symphony!

Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
One thousand bucks a day.
That’s Rubik’s cubic pay.
He drives a Chevrolet.

Forty-three quintillion plus
Problems Rubik posed for us.
Numbers of this awesome kind
Boggle even Sagan’s mind.
Out with sex and violence,
In with calm intelligence.
Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange” — no!
Rubik’s Magic Cube — Jawohl!

Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
Cu-bies in disarray?
First twist them that-a-way,
Then turn them this-a-way.

Respect your cube and keep it clean.
Lube your cube with Vaseline.
Beware the dreaded cubist’s thumb,
The callused hand and fingers numb.
No borrower nor lender be.
Rude folks might switch two tabs on thee,
The most unkindest switch of all,
Into insolubility.

In-sol-u-bility.
The cruelest place to be.
However you persist
Solutions don’t exist.

Cubemeisters follow Rubik’s camp —
There’s Bühler, Guy and Berlekamp;
John Conway leads a Cambridge pack
(And solves the cube behind his back!).
All hail Dame Kathleen Ollerenshaw,
A mayor with fast cubic draw.
Now Dave Singmaster wrote THE BOOK.
One more we must not overlook —

Singmaster’s office-mate!
Programming potentate!
Alg’rithmic heavyweight!
Morwen B. Thistlethwaite!

Rubik’s groupies know their groups:
(That’s math, not rock, you nincompoops.)
Their squares and slices, tri-twist loops,
Plus mono-swaps and supergroups.
Now supergroups have smaller groups
Upon their backs to bite ’em,
And smaller groups have smaller still,

How many moves to solve?
How many sides revolve?
Fifty two for Thistlethwaite.
Even God needs ten and eight.

The issue’s joined in steely grip:
Man’s mind against computer chip.
With theorems wrought by Conway’s eight
‘Gainst programs writ by Thistlethwait.
Can multibillion-neuron brains
Beat multimegabit machines?
The thrust of this theistic schism —
To ferret out God’s algorism!

CODA:
He (hooked on
Cubing)
With great
Enthusiasm:

Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Ay!
Men’s schemes gang aft agley.
Let’s cube our life away!

She: Long pause
(having been
here before):
—————OY VEY!

The original includes 10 footnotes.

# Black and White

A problem “for juvenile solvers” by Edith Baird, from Womanhood, May 1899. White to mate in two moves.

# Unquote

“As a general rule the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information.” — Benjamin Disraeli