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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

“Those distinct substances, which concretes generally either afford, or are made up of, may, without very much inconvenience, be called the elements or principles of them”*…

An interactive encomium to the elements…

A review of the Periodic Table composed of 119 science haiku, one for each element, plus a closing haiku for element 119 (not yet synthesized). The haiku encompass astronomy, biology, chemistry, history, physics, and a bit of whimsical flair…

Elemental haiku,” by Mary Soon Lee (@MarySoonLee) in @ScienceMagazine from @aaas.

Robert Boyle, The Sceptical Chymist


As we celebrate chemical compliments, we might send illustratively-arranged birthday greetings to Alexandre-Émile Béguyer de Chancourtois; he was born on this date in 1820. A geologist and mineralogist, he was the first to arrange the chemical elements in order of atomic weights (in 1862). But De Chancourtois only published his paper, not his graph with the novel arrangement; and because it was a geology paper, it was largely ignored by chemists. It was Dmitri Mendeleev’s table, published in 1869, that became the standard– and the model for the periodic table that we know today.


“Cleanliness is next to Godliness”*…

John French owns what is believed to be the world’s only moist towelette museum, located at the Michigan State University’s Abrams Planetarium

It started as a joke: a small collection of moist towelettes jammed into a box in an office drawer, at a Pittsburgh planetarium in the 1990s.

John French says he and a friend were amazed at the strange collections he found online in the early days of the internet. But he couldn’t find any moist towelette collections or websites — so he started one… He never imagined his collection would grow to more than 1,000 and travel from Pennsylvania to Texas and then Michigan with him, gathering momentum…

He now runs his mini-museum out of a corner of his office at the Abrams Planetarium in Lansing, Mich. There he displays hundreds of individually wrapped moist towelettes from every continent, except Antarctica…

Towelettes have been marketed to clean everything from fingers to, well, private parts. They were invented in 1958, when American Arthur Julius came up with the idea that became a trademark of the Kentucky Fried Chicken meal.

Over the years it was sold alongside everything from messy meals to popcorn at movie releases. People have donated to French’s museum — which consists of a corner shelving unit — from all over the world…

More at: “Meet the man who runs a moist towelette museum out of a planetarium,” @jsfrench. Visit the museum online here.

* John Wesley


As we disinfect our digits, we might we might send dirk birthday greetings to poet, author, and critic Edgar Allan Poe, born on this date in 1809 in Boston.  In the late 1830’s, after the first chapters of a short but extraordinarily eventful life, Poe (by this time married to his cousin and living in Philadelphia) began to publish the horror tales (“The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Tell-Tale Heart”) and the mysteries (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter”) that have earned him the title of “father” of both genres.  Poe died in Baltimore (in what were surely karmically-appropriately mysterious circumstances) in 1849.

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.”

Edgar Allan Poe at 39, the year before his death


“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

An Ernie Bushmiller “Cross Word Cal” cartoon, from Sunday New York World, 1925. Note how the animals are caged by letter length and genus — Source.

Roddy Howland Jackson (himself a setter of puzzles) considers the origins of, and reveals the pleasures and imaginative creatures lurking in Torquemada’s seminal puzzles, the original cryptic crosswords…

Just a few years after The Waste Land appeared — a poem whose difficulty critics compared to some “pompous cross-word puzzle” — Edward Powys Mathers (alias: Torquemada) pioneered the cryptic: a puzzle form that, like modernist poetry, unwove language and rewove it anew…

“The Swan” from Torquemada’s Cross-Words in Rhyme for Those of Riper Years (1925) — Source

T. S. Eliot, Vladimir Nabokov, Torquemada, and the Modernist crossword: “Beastly Clues,” from @roddyhj in @PublicDomainRev.

See also “Topic: Surprise, Drowsy Cows RIP, as Corrected (2,5,7,10)

* Stephen Sondheim (who helped introduce Americans to British-style cryptic crosswords)


As we contemplate circuitous clues, we might note that today is National Thesaurus Day, celebrated each year on this date in honor of physician, natural theologian, and lexicographer Peter Mark Roget, who was born on this date in 1779. In 1852 Roget published his Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition (or, as we know it, Roget’s Thesaurus), a pioneering collection of related words.

Modern thesauri tend to be collections of synonyms and antonyms. Roget’s Thesaurus was…

… essentially a reverse dictionary. With a dictionary, the user looks up a word to find its meaning. With Roget’s, the user start with an idea and then keeps flipping through the book until he finds the word that best expresses it. The organization of the book reflects the unique intelligence of the polymath that created it…

Roget’s was a two-for-one: it put both a book of synonyms and a topic dictionary (a compendium of thematically arranged concepts) under one cover.

Roget’s official portrait by Thomas Pettigrew


“Intelligence is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.”*…

On the attribution of intelligence…

A new study published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal — the annual fun one — sought to settle once and for all which phrase to describe a simple task is more deserved, “It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science.” They did this by administering an intelligence test to 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons. Turns out it’s conditional: the rocket scientists and neurosurgeons are pretty much evenly matched, though the aerospace engineers were better at mental manipulations while the brain surgeons were better at semantic problem solving. That said, no significant difference was found between the aerospace engineers and the control population, while the same held among the neurosurgeons, although they did have a speedier problem solving time that was statistically significant. That said, the paper’s authors contend maybe pedestaling this kind of niche intellect is overall discouraging to people given the results, so I think the obvious compromise is that we all agree to just change to, “Well, it’s not exactly blogging about MoviePass,” to honor the real titans of our day…

Not Exactly Brain Surgery,” from Walt Hickey (@WaltHickey) in his essential Numlock News (@NumlockAM).

Read the underlying research here.

* Susan Sontag


As we get smart, we might send polymathic birthday greetings to Piet Hein; he was born on this date in 1905. A mathematician, inventor, designer, author and poet, his short poems, known as gruks (or grooks), first started to appear in the daily newspaper Politiken shortly after the German occupation of Denmark in April 1940 under the pseudonym “Kumbel ”tombstone’] Kumbell.” He invented the Soma cube and the board game Hex, and designed the famous “super ellipse” traffic circle in Stockholm.

Before the war Hein had, in his own words, “played mental ping-pong” with Niels Bohr. After the war Hein was a close associate of Martin Gardner and his work was frequently featured in Gardner’s Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. At the age of 95 Gardner wrote Hein’s “autobiography” and titled it Undiluted Hocus-Pocus. Both the title and the dedication of the book come from one of Hein’s grooks.

Piet Hein, standing in front of the Hans Christian Anderson statue in Copenhagen


“‘It’s magic,’ the chief cook concluded, in awe. ‘No, not magic,’ the ship’s doctor replied. ‘It’s much more. It’s mathematics.’*…

Michael Wendl (and here) dissects some variants of the magic separation, a self-working card trick…

Martin Gardner—one of history’s most prolific maths popularisers [see here]—frequently examined the connection between mathematics and magic, commonly looking at tricks using standard playing cards. He often discussed ‘self-working’ illusions that function in a strictly mechanical way, without any reliance on sleight of hand, card counting, pre-arrangement, marking, or key-carding of the deck. One of the more interesting specimens in this genre is a matching trick called the magic separation.

This trick can be performed with 20 cards. Ten of the cards are turned face-up, with the deck then shuffled thoroughly by both the performer and, importantly, the spectator. The performer then deals 10 cards to the spectator and keeps the remainder for herself. This can be done blindfolded to preclude tracking or counting. Not knowing the distribution of cards, our performer announces she will rearrange her own cards ‘magically’ so that the number of face-ups she holds matches the number of face-ups the spectator has. When cards are displayed, the counts do indeed match. She easily repeats the feat for hecklers who claim luck…

All is revealed: “An odd card trick,” from Chalkdust (@chalkdustmag). 

* David Brin, Glory Season


As we conjure, we might spare a thought for Persian polymath Omar Khayyam; the mathematician, philosopher, astronomer, epigrammatist, and poet died on this date in 1131.  While he’s probably best known to English-speakers as a poet, via Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of the quatrains that comprise the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Omar was one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period.  He is the author of one of the most important works on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra (which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle).  His astronomical observations contributed to the reform of the Persian calendar.  And he made important contributions to mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology, and Islamic theology.


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