The Great Gadsby

Gadsby is a 50,000-word novel that doesn’t use the letter E:

“But a man has to think of that, Allan. And you will, as you grow up. My two big sons just put off on that big troop train. I don’t know how long Bill and Julius will stay away. Your big cannon might go Boom! and hit Bill or Julius. Do you know Frank Morgan, Paul Johnson and John Smith? All right; that big cannon might hit that trio, too. Nobody can say who a cannon will hit, Allan. Now, you go right on through Grammar School, and grow up into a big strong man, and don’t think about war;” and Gadsby, standing and gazing far off to Branton Hills’ charming hill district, thought: “I think that will bust up a wild young ambition!”

The author, Ernest Vincent Wright, notes that he could mention no numbers between 6 and 30. And “When introducing young ladies into the story, this is a real barrier; for what young woman wants to have it known that she is over thirty?”

Extreme Ironing

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Extreme_ironing.jpg

Extreme Ironing is an outdoor activity that combines the danger and excitement of an ‘extreme’ sport with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

The sport reportedly started in Phil Shaw’s backyard in Leicester, England, but his promotional tour quickly attracted followers in Australia, Austria, and Germany, and the 2002 world championship drew 80 teams from 10 countries. Following the 2004 Summer Olympics, British rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave backed high-stakes ironing to become an Olympic sport.

“Ironists” have performed atop Mount Kilimanjaro, 100 meters underwater off the Egyptian coast, during the London marathon, and in a David-Blaine-style box 20 meters above Christmas shoppers in Leicester. And like any noble calling, this one has inspired others, including downhill vacuuming, inner-city clothes drying, and “apocalypse dishwashing.” Helen Keller wrote, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing.”

Underground Cinema

In September 2004, French police discovered a hidden chamber in the catacombs under Paris. It contained a full-sized movie screen, projection equipment, a bar, a pressure cooker for making couscous, a professionally installed electricity system, and at least three phone lines. Movies ranged from 1950s noir classics to recent thrillers.

When the police returned three days later, the phone and power lines had been cut and there was a note on the floor: “Do not try to find us.”

01/25/2012 The likely explanation. (Thanks, Nina.)

Voynich Manuscript

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Voynich.png

Some writers seem to crave anonymity. None more so than the author of the Voynich manuscript, who invented a mysterious language and an unknown alphabet that has been defying scholars for 500 years.

To judge from the illustrations, the text deals with astronomy, biology, cosmology, herbs, and recipes. Handwriting experts say that the glyphs were written with speed and care, as if the author were facile with them. Statistical analysis seems to show that it’s a natural language, but the vocabulary is unusually small, and in some ways it seems to resemble Arabic more than European languages.

Because no one knows precisely what the 240-page book is, it’s hard to guess who wrote it. Suspects include a who’s who of Europe in the Middle Ages, Roger Bacon and John Dee among them. The cipher has resisted even the National Security Agency, leading some to think it’s a hoax, but even that is hard to prove conclusively.

There’s a great irony at the bottom of this. The mysterious author was one of the most successful cryptologists in history — so successful, in fact, that we may never know who he was.

Crypt of Civilization

Partial contents of the Crypt of Civilization, a time capsule to be opened on May 28, 8113 A.D.:

  • 5 phonograph records (transcriptions)
  • 1 set Lionel model train (6 cars, 1 track)
  • 1 set Lincoln Logs (toys)
  • 1 telephone instrument dial phone (desk type)
  • 2 microfilm readers and 2 microfilms (Oglethorpe Book of Georgia Verse)
  • 4 skeins of rayon, 1 electric iron
  • 2 electric lighting fixtures and 2 acetate shades
  • 1 “Comptometer,” serial number J246635
  • 1 package Butterick dress patterns
  • 1 slide rule and instructions
  • 1 package 2nd carbon copy of teletype news
  • 1 cover for milk bottle
  • 1 asbestos mat
  • 1 tube rayon thread
  • 1 set of 6 radio tubes
  • 1 “Negro doll”
  • 1 blotter, 1 inkwell (sealed)

These things were sealed away in 1940, and already they’re almost unrecognizable.

Big-Band Propaganda

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml

The biggest trouble with diabolical schemes is the quality control.

Case in point: Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once actually put together his own big band, plotting to use “degenerate” swing music to hypnotize decadent Americans.

“Charlie and His Orchestra” were broadcast to the United States, Canada and England, playing popular tunes like “I Got Rhythm,” “Stardust,” and “The Sheik Of Araby.”

About halfway through each song, when he had the audience’s attention, “Charlie” (Karl Schwendler) would leave off singing and launch into a Nazi tirade about war, privation, death, pain, and the master race. Unfortunately, Schwendler’s snarling is not on a par with his bandleading, so he comes off sounding like Colonel Klink in fourth grade:

Thanks for the memories/It gives us strength to fight/For freedom and for right/It might give you a headache, England/That the Germans know how to fight/And hurt you so much …

It’s said that the act picked up its own following in Germany after the war. The band is actually not bad, but whoever wrote the propaganda probably raised American morale.

Easy Street

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Baldwinstreet.jpg

Don’t laugh, you don’t have to mow it.

Baldwin Street, in Dunedin, New Zealand, is thought to be the steepest public street in the world. It has a grade of 38 percent; San Francisco’s steepest are 31.5 percent.

There’s a sign warning motorists not to attempt it, but that hasn’t discouraged runners, who gather each summer for the “Baldwin Street Gutbuster.” In the first event, serious runners climb to the top, then, even harder, try to get down again. In the second, skaters, skateboarders, and pram-pushers try to cover the same 400-meter circuit. One guy actually succeeded on a unicycle.

There’s also a charity event each July in which contestants roll candies down the hill. No injuries have been reported.

“I Find You to Be the Only Fool!”

Excerpt from The Eye of Argon, a famously bad fantasy novella written by Jim Theis in 1970:

Utilizing the silence and stealth aquired in the untamed climbs of his childhood, Grignr slink through twisting corridors, and winding stairways, lighting his way with the confisticated torch of his dispatched guardian. Knowing where his steps were leading to, Grignr meandered aimlessly in search of an exit from the chateau’s dim confines. The wild blood coarsing through his veins yearned for the undefiled freedom of the livid wilderness lands.

At science fiction conventions, fans try to read it aloud with a straight face. The “grandmaster challenge” is to read it with a squeaky voice after inhaling helium.