The Folding Chess Set

The folding chess set was invented in France, in 1125.  The bishop of Paris had forbidden priests from playing chess, but one chess-playing cleric was unable to resist, and so invented a folding chess set that, from the outside, looked like two books lying together.


Learn, Learn, Learn!

There existed in the Soviet Union a well-known joke concerning Marx, Engels, and Lenin.  Lenin’s advice to the Soviet youth was always, “Learn, learn, learn!” a saying evoked everywhere, and often found on the walls of school buildings as an exhortation to students.

The joke goes: Marx, Engels, and Lenin were all asked whether they would prefer a wife or a mistress.  Karl Marx, with his unexpectedly bourgeois morality, answers, “A wife.”  Friedrich Engels, infamous for his unconventional relationships with women, replies, “A mistress.”  When Lenin is asked, though, he surprised them both by saying he would have both.  Why is this? they wonder.  Does the great revolutionary have a hidden prurient side?  No, not at all, he explains.  “That way, I can tell my wife I am with my mistress and I can tell my mistress I am with my wife.”  What, then, will you do?  “I will find a solitary place to be by myself and learn, learn, learn!”

Machiavelli’s Dream

Shortly before his death in 1527, Niccolò Machiavelli  told his friends of a dream he had recently had, which had gone down in history of “Machiavelli’s Dream.”

He first saw a group of miserable men in rags.  He asked them who they were, and they replied, “We are the saintly and the blessed;  we are on our way to heaven.”  He next saw a group of solemn men, noble and serious, speaking of important matters.  Amongst them, Machiavelli saw the great thinkers, philosophers, and political scientists of the past, those who had in their era done what Machiavelli had done in his: Plato, Plutarch, Tacitus, and others.  He asked them who they were, and they replied, “We are the damned of hell.”

After telling the story of his dream, Machiavelli told his friends that, of the two destinations, he would be infinitely happier in hell with the philosophers than in heaven, bored, with the saints.

Isaac Newton’s Eye

Isaac Newton seemed utterly unconcerned for any negative effects of any experiments he might try.  He once stared directly at the sun for as long as he could stand it, just to see what would happen.  He had to spend some days in darkened rooms afterwards in order to recover.  Another time, he inserted a long knitting needle between his eyeball and the bone, and, using it, pressed down upon his eyeball, distorting its shape, in order to see what the effect upon his vision would be.  Shockingly, he escaped permanent damage both times.