23 November 2022

A mathematician prepares Thanksgiving dinner

Fiendishly difficult cryptic puzzle


Every month I enjoy tackling the cryptic puzzle in Harper's magazine.  The December one that came this week is particularly frustrating.  I've figured out the 24 words in the clues, but I'm facing the task of fitting them into the dodecahedron.

The instructions note that there are 12 letters left over after "subtracting" the five-letter answers from the 6-letter answers, and those 12 letters will spell "the name of the holiday person to whom the puzzle is dedicated." (no indication whether that "name" is a proper name or an occupation or other descriptor and whether it is one word or two or three).

Here are the 12 letters: BEGIIILNNRRV

If I could figure out how to rearrange those 12 letters into a name, the rest of the solution would fall into place more easily.  Even Wordsmith's excellent Internet Anagram Server couldn't come up with any relevant one- to six-word solution - but perhaps names are not in its database.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.  [answer in the Comments]

22 November 2022

The Butterfly Nebula


"This sharp close-up was recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope and is processed here to show off remarkable details of the complex planetary nebula, highlighting in particular light emitted by oxygen (shown as blue), hydrogen (green), and nitrogen (red). NGC 6302 lies about 3,500 light-years away in the arachnologically correct constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius). Planetary nebulas evolve from outer atmospheres of stars like our Sun, but usually fade in about 20,000 years."

21 November 2022

Yet more George Booth cartoons



Late-breaking Tooth Fairy news

 Somehow I missed this announcement three months ago:
According to findings of the 2022 Original Tooth Fairy Poll® released by Delta Dental, the Tooth Fairy visited 79% of homes across the country with children ages 6-12 who have lost teeth. Most kids are demonstrating patience for the Tooth Fairy’s visit, with more than half of parents (61%) reporting that their child waited for their loose tooth to fall out, unlike 18% of their children that pulled their own tooth...

Since 1998, Delta Dental has been analyzing the Tooth Fairy's U.S. annual giving trends. The 2022 Original Tooth Fairy Poll® indicates the Tooth Fairy's average cash gift reached $5.36 per tooth, an all-time high in the 24-year history of the poll. This year’s value of a lost tooth has more than quadrupled since the inception of the Original Tooth Fairy Poll® when the value of a lost tooth was $1.30. 
$7.36 — The Northeast: Continues to lead U.S. regions in highest average monetary gift for a lost tooth, rocketing $2 above the national average and marking a $1.64 gain over the previous year’s results.
$5.77 — The South: Continues to track most closely to the overall U.S. average and shows a $1.32 increase.
$4.27 — The Midwest: Although lower than the national average, up 61 cents.
$4.08 — The West: Represents the only U.S. region with a downward giving trend, with the average monetary gift for a lost tooth plunging by $1.46.

Planet Earth has a mass of six ronnagrams

More or less.
"In a vote at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles on Friday, the International System of Units (SI) embraced four new prefixes with immediate effect, marking the first such changes in more than 30 years.

At the top end of the scale are the new prefixes ronna, which stands for a billion billion billion, and quetta, which is a thousand times larger still. At the bottom end is ronto, meaning a billionth of a billionth of a billionth, and quecto, which is a thousand times smaller than that.

The arrival of the new prefixes means the Earth can now be said to weigh six ronnagrams, and Jupiter about two quettagrams. An electron weighs about a rontogram, and a single bit of data stored on a mobile phone adds about 10 quectograms to its mass..."

17 November 2022

A cartoon for English majors - updated


This one was "over my head."  I'll post now for other English majors to ponder, and update after the weekend with some relevant details and links.

Addendum: As I was preparing this series of memorial posts about George Booth, one of the library books included some biographical material.  They indicated that Booth did not tend to use "gag writers" to provide the captions accompanying his cartoons, but that when he did encounter a potentially useful phrase, he saved it up until an appropriate cartoon came to mind.  Two examples were cited.

The cartoon above has text based on the play Cymbeline (in Act III, Scene 6 "Wales.  Before the cave of Belarius"), when they spot Imogen (dressed as a boy) in the cave:
BELARIUS
[Looking into the cave]
Stay; come not in.
But that it eats our victuals, I should think
Here were a fairy.
GUIDERIUS
What's the matter, sir?
BELARIUS
By Jupiter, an angel! or, if not,
An earthly paragon! Behold divineness
No elder than a boy! 

Re-enter IMOGEN

IMOGEN
Good masters, harm me not:
Before I enter'd here, I call'd; and thought
To have begg'd or bought what I have took:
good troth,
I have stol'n nought, nor would not, though I had found
Gold strew'd i' the floor. Here's money for my meat...
The scene has been illustrated for various publications of the play, as in this example (a reproduction from the Dallas Museum of Art):


and again here:


and yet again here:


So the scene appears to be well recognized by artists and thespians.  But the phrase "By Jupiter, an angel..." was totally unfamiliar to me (in my defense I would suggest that Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare/deVere's lesser-performed works).  It wasn't until I read the Booth biography and the cartoon at the top was discussed that I was prompted to search Google for the true source of the quotation.

Interestingly, the biography went on to offer one more cartoon based on a quotation from someone.  The caption in this cartoon -


- was credited to "Hank Martin."  I spent a lot of time fruitlessly Googling that name before finally deciding that the reference must be to Henry Martin, who like Booth was a longtime New Yorker cartoonist.

But... to what is the text of the caption referring???  I have been unable to find a primary source for the "lone grape" sentences (searches typically lead to cartoon compilations that include both Booth and Martin).  Perhaps the excitement on the bus was something spoken to Booth by Martin privately, or perhaps it exists in some correspondence or book.  For now it remains a mystery unless some reader of this blog can suss it out.

Word for the day: Biarritz-style



Several weeks ago I played my last round of golf for the year.  The sport had been "prescribed" for me by orthopedic surgeons back in the 1950s as postoperative therapy after I underwent surgical repairs of polio-induced flexion contractures in my legs.  Both of my parents had been recreational golfers since the 1930s, when the sport was popularized by Sam Snead and Bobby Jones.  We played as a family on public courses, including rural ones with sand greens.

I was intrigued last year to read about Pioneer Pointe Golf Course opening in the Madison, Wisconsin area.  Executive golf courses are shorter than normal - typically all par 3s, or with a short par-4, and sometimes comprising only 13 holes instead of 18.  They are designed to appeal to "executives" who don't have the requisite time for playing a full 18 holes, but also appeal to aging persons like me who no longer relish facing a 570-yard par 5.

The developers of this course also incorporated some unusual features in the course design.  The image above shows where my (mulligan) tee shot landed on the 200-yard 7th hole.  Between me and the wickedly-placed pin is a transverse swale bisecting the front and back plateaus of the green, designed not for stormwater drainage but rather to challenge the putting skills of the golfer.  This was described as "Biarritz-style," but never having played fancy golf courses I had to look that up.

This video offers and explanation along with flyovers of some of the world's most famous "Biarritz-style" holes:

"In 1888, Willie Dunn Jr. designed the Biarritz Golf Club and the par-3 3rd hole which was dubbed “the chasm”. The chasm was adopted by C.B. Macdonald as a template hole and named “the biarritz.” Fellow architects were slow to grow fond of the bold and controversial putting surface that Macdonald was employing and called it “Macdonald’s Folly” in the early years.

Biarritz holes are long par-3s, typically 210-240 yards, designed to test a player’s ability to hit accurate long shots. Its defining characteristic is the massive green that stretches up to 80 yards. The large green is bisected by a deep swale in the middle —  usually 3-5 feet deep — and is protected by narrow bunkers on both sides of the green."
Here is an awesome one (more still photos at The Fried Egg):


I three-putted, and had fun doing so.  I hope to be back there next summer ($19 for a round of golf is not bad).  Here's another green from the Pioneer Pointe golf course, with a bunker in the center of the green:

Three more Booth cartoons


"My wife asked me why I spoke so softly in our house..."

I told her I was concerned that someone might be listening.

She laughed.

I laughed.

Siri laughed.

Alexa laughed.

Life lessons from Steve Hartman's "On The Road"


One of the few high points of my television viewing of national news is the Friday evening CBS segment of Steve Hartman's On The Road.  Readers who share that appreciation will particularly enjoy this video.

Related video from a local Arizona TV station.

You are always "on the road"

"Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task and becomes natural and simple, in itself an ecstasy."
~Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj 
Text via Moon Child and Suddenly.  Photo taken on the Heartland Trail near Walker, Minnesota.  Reposted from 2014.

Mercury embolization


The xrays are those of a 25-year-old man who injected himself intravenously with 4cc of mercury to treat tinea cruris (jock itch).  The lateral view of the chest shows extensive emboli in the pulmonary vasculature and, interestingly, focal accumulations in the right atrium and right ventricle (arrow and asterisk).  He had systemic symptoms and signs of mercury intoxication and was treated for such.  Details at The New England Journal of Medicine.

New word for me: "tuple"


It's always fun to learn a new word.  I encountered this one while playing Hurdle (which I find more challenging that the old Wordle).  No other entry was possible for the fourth row; the puzzle confirmed the word and moved me on to the final hurdle.

So, to the dictionaries.  Not in the OED (OED-level words are not typically in Hurdle anyway, which like Wordle uses a database of relatively common five letter words).  But it wasn't in my 1995 edition of the official Scrabble-players dictionary, which I used for decades.  

I found the word in Wiktionary, defined as a "finite sequence of terms," and found more detail in Wikibooks -
Tuples offer another way of storing multiple values in a single value. Tuples and lists have two key differences:

Tuples have a fixed number of elements (immutable); you can't cons to a tuple.
Therefore, it makes sense to use tuples when you know in advance how many values are to be stored. For example, we might want a type for storing 2D coordinates of a point. We know exactly how many values we need for each point (two – the x and y coordinates), so tuples are applicable.

The elements of a tuple do not need to be all of the same type. For instance, in a phonebook application we might want to handle the entries by crunching three values into one: the name, phone number, and the number of times we made calls. In such a case the three values won't have the same type, since the name and the phone number are strings, but contact counter will be a number, so lists wouldn't work.

Tuples are marked by parentheses with elements delimited by commas.
Now I understand.  Tuple is a word created for programming language, and is not used by normal people in the real world.  As soon as I encountered "you can't cons to a tuple" I knew I was wading into quicksand and I carefully backed out.

Note to self:  Time passes, language changes, and so does the official lexicon for Scrabble.  Maybe it's time to update the dictionary.
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