For those of you who have only seen the Leonardo DiCaprio movie, the Man in the Iron Mask was an actual historical figure.
He was a mysterious prisoner in the time of Louis XIV.
Two centuries later, a cryptoanalyst finally discovered his probable identity.
In 1698, the Man in the Iron Mask had gained quite a reputation for himself (some said herself) when he had been in a prison in Savoy.
In Paris, he was the subject of so much gossip that he became a legend for centuries to come. Theorists tried to work out his identity.
Some, most famously, Alexandre Dumas, made up an identity, and spun a tale in which the Man in the Iron Mask was the secret twin of Louis XIV.
Twins were a threat to orderly succession, but no one could kill a prince of royal blood, so the second twin was masked and imprisoned.
For two centuries, the mystery remained. There were clues, but they were written in what’s known as The Great Cipher.
This numeric code kept all the court communications secret. In 1890, a French military cryptoanalyst named Etienne Bazeries decided to try his hand at The Great Cipher.
There were about 600 different numbers used in cipher messages, so the numbers couldn’t match up to letters of the alphabet. On the other hand, Bazeries realized, there are 676 ways of pairing up letters of the alphabet.
The Great Cipher must use numbers as substitutes for pairs of letters — with a few for more common words, and a few left out because certain letters are never paired up.
By making guesses at frequently-used pairs of letters, he got a few words, then used those deciphered numbers to guess at yet more words, and find more numbers. Eventually, the code was cracked.
Bazeries began working his way through correspondence from Louis XIV to his minister of war and found a letter about a certain Vivien de Bulonde.
Bulonde was a military man, and was put in charge of an attack on the Italian border. As soon as he heard Austrian troops might be closing in on his position, he turned tail and ran, leaving his own wounded soldiers behind.
Louis ordered the minister to put him in the prison at Savoy, but allowed that he would be “permitted to walk the battlements during the day with a mask.”
So Louix XIV secret twin was actually just a cowardly officer. Reality might be more accurate than fiction, but it’s far less juicy.
The January 10, 1960 edition of Arthur Radebaugh’s Sunday comic “Closer Than We Think” includes a curious invention that was supposed to literally catapult us into the Jet Age:
The circular runway.
From the Chicago Tribune:
The heart of tomorrow’s airfield may be a circular catapult-like mechanism for sending planes into the air. It would mean runways much smaller than those now required.
For military purposes, American Engineering Company has already designed a giant wheel that is turned with great force by jet power. Cables from this wheel serve as catapults for fighting aircraft.
The next step would be to use rocket power to catapult planes from a dish-shaped concrete wheel. One spin on such a “circle runway” would produce the same starting speed that now requires a thousand feet or more of conventional runway, and with much less fuel.
The Navy actually tested a similar circular runway concept in 1965. The big difference between the Navy’s tests and the runway envisioned by Radebaugh? The Navy’s was much, much larger and didn’t have that sci-fi “rocket power unit” to propel the plane.
According to the New York Times, the Navy pilots who tested their makeshift runway found that take-off and landing was “surprisingly easy.”
Landing is accomplished by approaching the runway in a 15 degree bank — that is, the wing facing the center of the circle is lowered 15 degrees from the horizontal. Once touchdown is accomplished, the runway seems to take care of the rest.
The plane finds its natural line on the runway, depending on its speed.
James Gillray (1757-1815) was among the most popular, prolific, revered, and reviled print satirists of the golden age of English caricature, the late eighteenth century.
He took special delight in attacking the excesses of the royal family.
Here, he caustically depicts King George III, Queen Charlotte, and the Prince of Wales (later George IV) gorging themselves on the national treasury, labelled “John Bull’s Blood.”
The title, “Monstrous Craws,” refers to the rapidly expanding gullets dangling from the royal necks, probably inspired by the recent public display in London of three “wild-born human beings,” who apparently exhibited such features.
The Library acquired this print with almost 10,000 other English satires from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle in 1921.
Having worked in the printing industry you do see some very weird things from time to time.
In the days of hot metal at least it was some fun.
I can remember a bloke who had been at the pub for his dinner break.
He went back to work pissed and then decided to throw a paragraph of hot metal type away so that he could get the front page of the daily newspaper to fit.
Only problem was that if you were reading the lead article on the front page and turned the page it disappeared.
He got the boot for that.
When I was a young apprentice and being a Protestant and not being familiar with the terminology of the Catholic Church I read the abbreviation “Fr.” in a Funeral Notice as meaning “Friar” (as in Tuck) and set it accordingly.
The Priest presiding at the service was most unimpressed.
Anyway, here is another big Stuff Up…read the caption below carefully.