Category Archives: Curiosities

By The Numbers

Here’s an interesting angle: using Benford’s Law to spot falsified data in academic papers.

An Idea Whose Time Had Come

A while back a reader pointed out to me in an email that my e-pal David Duff and I often seemed to be oddly “in sync” with our blog-posts. Yesterday I visited David’s excellent blog Duff and Nonsense after a few days’ absence, and saw that like me, he’d also put up a post about […]

And Now For Something Completely Different

Sorry for the lack of original content here lately – I’m weary of the news, and temporarily abandoned by the Muse. Here’s something out of the ordinary for you, then: a huge clown in whiteface channeling Johnny Cash to sing “Pinball Wizard”. (That would be extraordinary enough all by itself, but this man has a […]

Figure And Ground

I always have to admire those who present quantitative data in visually compelling ways. With a hat-tip to David Duff, here is a wonderful example: Trumpland and the Clinton Archipelago, from the site Vivid Maps. Related content from Sphere

Remains Of The Day

We’ve mentioned the mysterious “Antikythera Mechanism” before (see here and here). Now divers have found a human skeleton, probably containing intact DNA, at the shipwreck site. Story here. (See also this story, suggesting that the device was already old when it was lost at sea.) Related content from Sphere

Rules Of Order

Here’s something interesting: Hyperbaton is when you put words in an odd order, which is very, very difficult to do in English. Given that almost everything else in the English language is slapdash, happy-go-lucky, care-may-the-Devil, word order is surprisingly strict. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien wrote his first story aged seven. It was about a “green […]

Is This A Great Company, Or What?

In his book Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Douglas R. Hofstadter discussed the idea of “recursive acronyms”. He gave as an example the acronym TATO, which stands for “TATO And TATO Only”. The expansion goes like this: 1. TATO 2. TATO And TATO Only 3. (TATO And TATO Only) And […]

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

I had occasion today to pay a visit to one of the websites on our sidebar: The Fallacy Files. It’s one-stop shopping for examples of logical fallacies; I hadn’t visited for a while, and I’m glad to see it’s still in business. Even more comprehensive than our political comment-threads, I think. Related content from Sphere

Build This

Here is “The Khaleesi“, a proposed skyscraper for West 57th Street in Manhattan. A tower for our times, I think.

It Don’t Mean A Thing?

Here’s an interesting item: a novel gait identified in Russian officials. Learn more here.

Le Meta-Petard

In an essay about the Paris attacks, Richard Fernandez writes: The dilemma the West now faces is that it cannot survive on the basis of the platform which its elites have carefully constructed since WW2. They are being beaten to death with their own lofty statements. They must either continue to uphold the vision of […]

And Now For Something Completely Different

Under development: the pinniped space-program. Here.

Verb Of The Day

Here’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know about: “anting”. From Gilbert Waldbauer’s What Good are Bugs?: The amazing behaviors by which many birds, including some quail and a multitude of perching birds, use or solicit ants to free their bodies of lice and parasitic mites are known as anting, Birds ant in two quite different […]

The EM Drive

OK, this is interesting: ‘Impossible’ rocket drive works and could get to Moon in four hours Some details here.

Call It Caitlyn

Ladies and gentlemen, we present the most numerous vertebrate on Earth: the bristlemouth.

What Is It Like To Be A Bat?

From a corporate presentation I’m watching just now, in order to earn my daily crust: “We need to create an ideation methodology across various stakeholder groups and provide full-circle communication.”

Flavor Implosion

I had no idea such a thing was even possible, but here it is: Gird your cheeks. You’ve been warned.


Here’s a strange item that’s been making the rounds. (Charles Fort, call your office.)


Rather an odd coincidence today: an old friend called, with whom I hadn’t spoken in quite a while. He asked how I was; I said that while I was well, generally, I had had a bit of a rough time the past few weeks with my knee-replacement surgery, and now with the prospect that it […]

The McGurk Effect

I’m not happy about this. Not at all.

Just A Sleepy Little Town


You Learn Something New Every Day

Well, some days, anyway. Today I heard for the first time about something called “Blaschko’s lines”. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about them: Blaschko’s lines, also called the Lines of Blaschko, named after Alfred Blaschko, are lines of normal cell development in the skin. These lines are invisible under normal conditions. They become apparent […]

The Great Filter

Most of you have likely heard of the ‘Fermi Paradox’: the puzzling fact that, despite the uncountable multitudes of stars in the sky, and the overwhelming likelihood that myriads of them have habitable planets, we have never seen any conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial life. Why is this? Given the immense age of the Universe, and […]

Polyphonic Singing


Stalk Show

Here’s something really beautiful: photographs of subtropical fungi by Australian photographer Steve Axford.

Not So Fast

From our reader Henry, here’s an interesting item: geneticists studying the rate at which biological complexity has increased over time have arrived at a provocative extrapolation.

Consider The Following

We’re having a busy weekend — among other things, our daughter just flew in from China to stay with us for the Christmas week — and so I haven’t had the time to sit at the computer brooding and writing. For tonight, then, a logical curiosity you may not be familiar with: Newcomb’s paradox. Here’s […]

Gold Leaf

In this article from Science Daily, we learn that eucalyptus trees are pumping gold out of the ground.

It’s A Bug, That Will Eat Your Features

It’s the flesh-eating beetle, genus Dermestes. See these hungry little guys in action, here.

Project Westford

Here’s a Cold War scheme I’d never heard about, until our own JK sent me this link: a Saturn-like ring around the Earth, made of little copper wires.

This Thing All Things Devours

OK, enough about Syria. Here’s the video we’ve all been watching, a frame a day, in the mirror. Fantastic.


That’s what prions are: ice-nine for the brain.


I pass this along without comment.

They All Look Alike To Me

If you’ve ever wondered about just how subjective human notions of beauty really are (or aren’t), here’s an interesting item: Korean beauty-pageant contestants go for plastic surgery, and all end up with the same face. Related content from Sphere

Convergent Evolution

This one’s been making the rounds: the fish with “human teeth”.

A Compelling Natural Force

I’m working late tonight, so here’s a strange item for you to mull over: the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Read about it on Wikipedia, here, or for a more detailed account, have a look here. Strangest of all: the missing tongue. Related content from Sphere

Flying Squid

That’s right, flying squid. And as fast as Usain Bolt, if flying isn’t enough. Here. (“Fast ‘n’ bulbous”, as I think a wise man once said.)

Two Scents Worth

If you’re like me, you’ve been wondering whether there are any critters out there that can locate food by way of odor gradients. Well, meet the Eastern mole: the mammal that smells in stereo. Related content from Sphere

Competition For Excrement Is Fierce

If you’re like me (of course you are!), you’ve been lying awake at night, asking yourself: “How the hell do South African dung beetles roll their balls in a straight line? Sure, polarized light from the Sun works fine during the day (duh!), but what about at night, when many of them do their best […]


The composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett died this past Christmas Eve, and tonight WQXR played a selection of his works. One of them was from his score for the 1967 film Billion Dollar Brain, and it featured an eerie, flute-like instrument. At first I thought it was a Theremin, but then I realized it must […]


There’s no shortage lately of the sort of topics I’d normally be commenting on. The ongoing Second Amendment “debate” is certainly one (this Vanity Fair piece deserves a good going over, for example, and I’ve piled up a lot of related material that needs organizing into a post). The eternal and stupendously useless budget war […]

Vomiting Larry


Better Late Than Never

Best Christmas song ever. Sorry I wasn’t able to post this before the Big Day.

Santa, Shamanta

If you’ve seen Walt Disney’s Fantasia, which featured an animation of Tchaikovsky’s Christmas suite The Nutcracker, you’ll likely remember the fairy-circle of mushrooms performing the Chinese Dance. The mushrooms have white stalks, with red caps that are also speckled with white. Such mushrooms are a common theme at Christmas, as we see in the assortment […]

Testa di Cazzo!

Here. Also, as an “extra added bonus”, a new word: ctenactinium.

Food For Thought

Here’s something I didn’t know until just now: squids have doughnut-shaped brains, with the esophagus going right through the hole. See for yourself.


Blogger Ellison calls our attention to a potable that might be better left in the pot. Here.

The Loyal Opposition

If I asked you to name the holiest of America’s founding documents, there’s a good chance you’d pick the Declaration of Independence. (The only other one even remotely in the running would be the Constitution.) How well do you know the Declaration? We all remember those reverberant passages about self-evident truths (despite their being, if […]


We lost. I don’t know quite what to say about that just yet. I thought that just maybe this nation could pull the nose up before it was too late, but I guess it wasn’t to be. Brace for impact. Nothing to be ashamed of, though. We had a couple of pretty good centuries there. […]

There It Is Again!

Recent events remind us, once again (with a hat tip to James Taranto), of the enduring mystery of the number 47. More here.