Napier's Magicke Black Rooster
You may have suspected from the last post that I'm a Boffin, which is UK-ish for scientist, usually of the mad or addled variety.
No I am not -- but I just always wanted to be a mad scientist.
Most of what I saw as a child urged me to become a cowboy or a fireman or a spaceman or a policeman, and then when my folks started nudging me with their unsolicited opinions, the Medical Arts were recommended very strongly. (My mom bought me The Visible Man for my birthday, and I performed many really pointless surgical procedures on it. I pioneered the Spleen Relocation. I don't recall my rents ever suggesting I become a Beatnik or a Beat Poet or a Jazz Musician.)
But somewhere I must have seen a Boffin. Superman was always flying to Metropolis Observatory and getting advice or warnings from the scientists there. Superman was the strongest man on Earth, but he needed the boffins to tell him what needed to be pushed around, or fetched from Dwingeloo 2, or flown to the middle of the Sun. To Boffins, Superman was just a guy who was useful for heavy lifting, or for rides.
I loved the way Boffins dressed and wore their hair -- as if their moms had abruptly stopped dressing them and combing their hair. And I got the definite impression that Cactus Junction would get by without the Lone Ranger, but Metropolis, or the Earth, was Up Shit's Creek without its boffins and their advice and gizmos.
Albert Einstein died when I was eight, and I remember seeing lots of photos and film on TV all weekend (it interrupted my cartoons and pre-empted "Captain Video"), and getting the distinct impression from the hushed tones of the news announcers that this screwy-looking guy who hadn't combed his hair since around 1900 was the reason World War II ended so suddenly, and also why all the adults were so worried and nervous. (Cf. "On the Beach" by Neville Shute, or better yet, rent the video starring Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, but don't expect dancing or Gershwin tunes.)
Right about then, doctors began prescribing the first anti-unhappiness pill, Milltown (Meprobamate), and it was an instant smash, it was bigger than Kate Smith. I don't remember anyone calling it Einstein Candy, but that might have been a good nickname for it.
I am a charter member of The Duck and Cover Club. I went to the Washington DC public schools in the 1950s, and we understood very clearly that the playground of Alice Deal Junior High School had a big bullseye painted on it; we weren't stoopid.
Cowboys and firemen had nothing on this guy. Superman was ringing Einstein's doorbell. In "The Day the Earth Stood Still," a Visitor fom Outer Space lands his way rad phat bitchin awesome flying saucer in (my!) Washington DC (notice that he did not land in Omaha or Wilmington, Delaware), and while he's sneaking around my neighborhood (he steals a suit from the dry cleaners at Walter Reed because he looks out of place in his aluminum foil soot), he goes straight to visit The Guy Who's Supposed to Be Einstein (Sam Jaffe). Einstein isn't home, so the Space Guy fixes Einstein's blackboard equations.
Tell me you've seen this movie. Klaatu barada nikto. Okay, so it's in black and white, so you're getting ripped off, but it has lots of sound, and it has a REALLY COOL ... oh, just rent the goddam thing tonight, okay? You can see Little Bobby in short pants picking my nose down by the Washington Monument, gawking at the flying saucer. Bernard Herrmann wrote the score. Three words: theremin! theremin! theremin!
(Back before I married SWMBO, I dated a woman who refused to watch any movies that didn't have sound or color. She was convinced there was something very creepy and defective about a movie that had no color or sound. Who the hell am I? Maybe she was right. Maybe it's time to re-make "Citizen Kane" with Keanu Reeves. And he's always on the cell phone. And Rosebud was his snowboard.)
Anyway, remember John Napier from the last post? He discovered logarithms, which were followed in very short order by the invention of The Slide Rule. He was a Scots baron, 8th Laird of Merchiston, and lived in a medieval castle in Edinburgh. This was around 1600, and Scotland was not exactly an educationally or scientifically advanced or sophisticated neighborhood. (No place was, but Scotland considerably less so.)
The best explanation the people of Scotland could make of Napier was that he was a dangerous magical wizard, a thaumaturge, and a practitioner of ye Blacke Artes. He found this consensus to be personally convenient, as very few people tried to fuck with him or thwart him, because they didn't want their cows to die or their scrotums to shrivel up.
One persistent fable about him is that he figured out a way to vaporize a flock of sheep from a mile away, with some kind of ray, but after this successful demonstration, he refused to reveal how he'd done it, and never repeated it. Like Paganini's violin-playing arrangement with the Devil, this rumor did nothing but make Napier's life easier and smoother.
Napier suspected that somebody on the Castle staff was stealing the silver, but he had no suspects. He summoned every one of his employees (serfs, peasants, ghillies) to a small outbuilding, and explained that there was a Magic Black Rooster inside the shed, and the Magic Black Rooster would magically and immediately know who the thief was. One at a time, each employee was ordered to enter the dark shed by himself, place his hands on the Magic Rooster, and swear that he had not stolen the castle silver. When the last employee re-emerged from the shed, Napier went into the shed, chatted with the rooster, and then came out and pointed right at the thief, who immediately confessed.
How did he do it? If you don't cheat and try to hunt up the story, if you just think and guess and adhere strictly to The Vleeptron PizzaQ Honor System, this one's worth 1 Vleeptron Pizza Slice (or a nice fat Belgian endive) credited to your account.