Gleanings from the Past #71

Keynes on Newton

I believe that the clue to his mind is to be found in his unusual powers of continuous concentrated introspection. A case can be made out, as it also can with Descartes, for regarding him as an accomplished experimentalist. Nothing can be more charming than the tales of his mechanical contrivances when he was a boy. There are his telescopes and his optical experiments, […] His peculiar gift was the power of holding continuously in his mind a purely mental problem until he had seen straight through it. I fancy his pre-eminence is due to his muscles of intuition being the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted. Anyone who has ever attempted pure scientific or philosophical thought knows how one can hold a problem momentarily in one’s mind and apply all one’s powers of concentration to piercing through it, and how it will dissolve and escape and you find that what you are surveying is a blank. I believe that Newton could hold a problem in his mind for hours and days and weeks until it surrendered to him its secret.

— John Maynard Keynes, “Essays in Biography: Newton, the Man”, quoted in The Collected Writings of John Maynard Keynes, 1972

Unattainable Books

The Books I cannot hope to buy,
Their phantoms round me waltz and wheel,
They pass before the dreaming eye,
Ere Sleep the dreaming eye can seal.
A kind of literary reel
They dance; how fair the bindings shine!
Prose cannot tell them what I feel, —
The Books that never can be mine!

— Andrew Lang, “Ballade of the Unattainable”, Books and Bookmen, 1887

The 3,000th Crossword

Sir,

Recently we were greeted for our enjoyment with The Times Crossword Puzzle No. 3,000. The puzzle was not — as some of us hoped — of a nature specially appropriate to this remarkable anniversary, but I do not think the occasion should be allowed to pass without suitable comment. There must be thousands of readers of The Times – especially cricketers and lovers of Shakespeare — who owe an undying debt of gratitude to the author of our daily ‘food.’

At this point, it is interesting to look back and consider which we regard as his cleverest clue. Personally, I still cling to one of his early ones:

Clue. — ‘It is topping to kiss a monkey.’
Answer. — Apex.

Bravo! Sir. Kindly carry on through the difficult days that lie ahead.

Yours sincerely.

E. A. C. Buckmaster

— The Times of London, October 10, 1939

Language

Those authors I can never love
Who write, “It fit him like a glove.”
Though baseballs may be hit, not “hitted,”
The past of “fit” is always “fitted.”
The sole exception worth a haricot
Is “Joshua fit de battle ob Jericho.”

— Ogden Nash, “Laments of a Dying Language IV”, Everyone but Thee and Me, 1962

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My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

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