Archive

Miscellany

Miscellany Discovery

Before Sally Ride spent a week aboard the Challenger shuttle in 1983 and became the first American woman in space, NASA engineers asked her if she wanted a hundred tampons in her flight kit. “No,” she later recalled responding, “that would not be the right number.” They said they wanted to be safe. “Well,” she assured them, “you can cut that in half with no problem at all.”

Miscellany Time

The Ongee of the Andaman Islands base their calendar on smell: their names for seasons derive from the flowers that are in bloom at the time. 

Miscellany The Future

“I’m ashamed of you, dodging that way. They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance,” said Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick not long before a Confederate bullet struck his skull and killed him.

Miscellany Food

The first Olympic champion on record, Coroebus, was a cook. He won the sprint in 776 BC.

Miscellany The Sea

On June 15, 1904, a fire broke out on the General Slocum, a steamboat crossing the East River with over thirteen hundred passengers on board, and it sank. Few of the passengers could swim, most were wearing thick layers of clothes, and the life vests were faulty. An estimated 1,021 people died—the deadliest day in New York City’s history until September 11, 2001.

Miscellany Luck

The Cincinnati Commercial complained in 1871 about the game of fly loo, a “detestable canker that destroys men’s souls.” Players selected sugar lumps and bet on which would attract a fly first. “Every afternoon from twenty to thirty of the very flower of our mercantile population retire to a private room and under locks and bolts give themselves up to this satanic game,” the article noted, “while the deserted ladies are languishing for a little male conversation below.”

Miscellany Home

Analytic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was asked in 1926 by his youngest sister to help plan her new house. He quickly became obsessed, taking a year to design the door handles, another for the radiators. Near the project’s completion, he demanded the ceiling be raised thirty millimeters to achieve his desired proportions. “It seemed indeed to be much more a dwelling for the gods,” wrote another Wittgenstein sister, “than for a small mortal like me.” 

Miscellany Family

Although the Oxford English Dictionary lists the etymology of “hooligan” as unascertained, one of the three speculations is that it derives from a popular music-hall song of the 1890s about a rowdy Irish family that went by that last name.

Miscellany Food

To celebrate King Henri III of France’s visit to Venice in 1574, a banquet table was prepared with some 1,286 items—from napkins and cutlery to figures of popes—all made from spun sugar.

Miscellany Home

“It requires great exertion,” wrote Lady Irwin in 1771 about the dangers of life in a grand country house, “to use exercise and stir about when the will is not so inclined and the sofas appear in every corner of the room.” 

Miscellany Politics

In The Third Man, Orson Welles’ character Harry Lime says, “In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” Graham Greene, who co-wrote the script with director Carol Reed, said that it was “the best line of the film”—and that Welles wrote it. Welles recalled, “When the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they’ve never made any cuckoo clocks—they all come from the Schwarzwald in Bavaria!”

Miscellany Food

In the 1790s in the United States, the average American over the age of fifteen consumed almost six gallons of pure alcohol per annum. The modern figure is 2.8.

Miscellany Death

Slaves in ancient China during the Zhou dynasty were sometimes buried alive with their recently departed masters in order that they might continue to serve them in the afterlife.

Miscellany Fashion

Southern women during the Civil War chewed on newspapers, believing an ingredient in the ink whitened their faces.

Miscellany Family

Philocles, the nephew of Aeschylus, received the prize for tragedy at the dramatic festival the year that Sophocles presented Oedipus Rex. None of his one hundred or so plays is extant.