Monday, May 25, 2020

From the readers: Geometry, Cheerful Cards, Mecki and more

To kick off the latest installment of reader comments in grand fashion, we have this wonderful email from Greg Frederickson, who refers to the 2012 post 1959 receipt from The Colonial Bookstore in York, Pa.
"Your [post] caught my eye, because I got a great start on a sub-obsession as a result of that bookstore. My mother Margaret had been searching there for a birthday present for me and found this obscure geometry book written by an Australian patent examiner. It was Geometric Dissections, by Harry Lindgren, published by D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. in 1964. It sat more-or-less unexamined on my bookshelf at home until 1969, after I had graduated from college and had started a job teaching mathematics at a junior high school in Baltimore, Maryland.

"I wasn’t the most prepared math teacher that Baltimore had encountered, having had no instruction in education courses, aside from doing practice teaching in the summer school before the school year was to begin in the fall of 1969. But as an inner-city school district Baltimore was desperate for math teachers and was willing to take a chance on me. It was tough sledding that first year, and at times I was almost ready to give up and risk being drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. But the supervisory personnel there were first-rate and gave me lots of good advice. One specialist from the downtown headquarters kindly observed that my classroom was a mess, with pencil scrawlings all over of the student desks and absolutely nothing on my pristine bulletin boards. Besides attacking the desks with soapy water, I ransacked the few math books that I had brought with me to Baltimore to see if I could find something to put on my bulletin boards. The cover decorations on Lindgren’s book were really eye-catching, so I took some colored construction paper and cut out large pieces, which I then stapled onto a bulletin board to illustrate how to cut one geometric figure into pieces that would rearrange to form another figure.

"My supervisor was sufficiently impressed. But more importantly, I ended up being intrigued by a number of geometric dissections in the book. Knowing almost no one in the city and having lots of time to play around with interesting things, I treated myself to a much more careful look at the book. The author had made a big deal about trying to find the fewest possible number of pieces for any given dissection problem. One morning on a weekend, I discovered a way to modify a dissection so that it used one fewer piece. Suddenly I was off and running: I had my first dissection record! Many more have come since then. Always they were unexpected — coming before work, late at night, during meals, or at other times when something else was planned.

"And after every couple of dissections I would hurry off to get them copied and then mail them halfway around the world to Harry Lindgren in Australia. When the original printing of his book sold out, the copyright was taken over by the paperback publisher Dover Publications. Since I was the one who had rendered parts of his book out of date, Harry assigned me the responsibility of revising his book. It was then retitled Recreational Problems in Geometric Dissections & How to Solve Them, and I was officially listed as the reviser.

"After my third year of teaching in Baltimore, I went on to take some courses in Computer Science at the University of Maryland and eventually graduated with a Ph.D. I landed a tenure-track position in the Computer Science Department at Penn State University in 1977 and then became a full professor at Purdue University in 1986. I transitioned to an emeritus professor there a couple of years ago. Besides my many publications in Computer Science, I have published four additional books in geometric dissections, listed on my webpage

"So I enthusiastically acknowledge a big and grateful 'Thank You’ to the Colonial Bookstore of York!"
Much thanks to Greg for taking the time to share this story, the kind of behind-the-scenes history of a life that can so easily become lost. And it all began with that bookstore in York.

Examining the Tunguska Event via newspaper headlines: Tom from the ever-delightful Garage Sale Finds (highly recommended if you're seeking a nostalgic rabbit hole while spending more time at home) writes: "I remember reading The Fire Came By back in the 80s when I was fascinated will all things paranormal and space-related. It bothered me that Dan Aykroyd referred to it as the Tunguska blast of 1909 rather than 1908. Hey, I was (am) a nerd."

Smile-worthy old AP Laserphoto: I tracked down photographer Blake J. Discher on Twitter, and he responded: "Yep, that’s me. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. Pretty funny photo. You can’t dream this stuff up... the guy fell asleep at work!"

Philadelphia Phillies spring training photos from March 1984: Wendyvee from the wonderful Wendyvee's writes: "Which reminds me ... I think my mom has a picture with my Dad and Tug McGraw somewhere. I'll have to find it because it was an especially good picture of Dad. Also, I was 'Today Years Old' when I found out why he was nicknamed Tug ... and I maybe wish I wouldn't have, lol!"

1970s Woodsy Owl bookmark: "Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute." Two new responses on this one. Anonymous writes: "A relative by marriage (my great aunt's nephew Barry) was the voice of Woodsy."

And Carol Hunter writes: "I could have sworn the following lyrics were in the Give a Hoot jingle that I remember from my childhood: 'Give a hoot, don't pollute, let your outdoor manners show, help to stop pollution in the North South, East & West ... the Nooorth Sooouth East & Weeeest! Hoot Hoot!' Does anyone else remember it this way? Or did I make up lyrics as a kid because I couldn't remember the original ones?"

Anyone have any help for Carol? I can say that it's turned out that 50% or more of the lyrics I thought I knew as a kid were incorrect. Sometimes comically so.

"Only long enough to make a beginning": Joan writes: "I am pleased with your choice of photo-staging props." (She is referring to Titan and Foghorn, who were gratuitously posed with the book.)

Scholastic book cover: "Mystery of the Piper's Ghost": Checking in again, Tom notes: "I love those Scholastic mystery books. I have a number myself, but haven't seen this one. I love the idea of putting them in the Little Library to introduce to a new generation. I wonder if kids still like to read books like that. My own kids' Scholastic flyers are absent of anything like this. I never did get our Little Library built this year, shooting for this year. My intent was to populate it with Scholastic books from my collection as well."

A family history told through newspaper blurbs: Nathan Bland writes: "My Grandmother was Francis S. Staley from the old blue Concrete business card in the post for the IDEAL Concrete Stone Co. in Yellow Springs, Maryland. In case you want any more info on the family tree."

Stay tuned, folks, because I'm definitely going to follow up on this. It's nice to have a chance to circle back to a 2011 post!

Sci-fi book cover: "Star Ways" (aka Kilts in Space?): Tom writes: "If you hadn't given the publication date, I would have guessed this was a retitled novel with the intent to ride the Star Wars wave of the late 1970s, especially the way the title almost looks like a sticker placed over the original."

Cheerful Card Company can help you earn extra money for the holidays: Unknown writes: "I am a legend of Cheerful House. I used to sell door to door. My neighbors would look through the catalog and buy from me. Christmas cards, birthday cards, oh my God those were the days. Every one who saw them wanted to buy them. That was back in 1972. Cheerful House just brought tears to my eyes and a lot of wonderful memories. I was 12 years old back then. Today I'm 60, and it feels like it was just yesterday — 48 years have passed. I thought they were gone for ever, but when I saw this ... it's a great feeling." ... Responding to another comment that children should not be prevented from working, Unknown added: "I feel the same way. I sold cards for them when I was 12. My mom got jealous. I was earning more than her full-time job."

I continue to be amazed at how the Cheerful Cards comments (28 and counting) took on a life of their own after that 2012 post. Having the ability to remember and discuss that cherished part of their childhood has been so important for folks. Glad to provide the outlet for it!

The One Where I Get Sucked into the Mecki Universe: Anonymous writes: "My mother brought one of these from Germany — it was 1953. She used to chase us around the house with it. It's not scary at all, unless of course it's chasing you, LOL. Mom has passed away but we still have the Mecki. It is about 2 feet tall and in great shape for its age. Who would have thought that doll would be a family heirloom like it has become?"

Story time: The Tale of the Gothic Lullaby: A trio of comments on this story that Ashar and I wrote together:

  • Joan writes: "This is definitely the highlight of my week (and month). Thank you!!!"
  • Wendyvee writes: "Which is why I always sit way, way in the back of the theater."
  • Darlene Swords writes: "I am standing up and applauding the gothic lullaby. I loved it! It was beautifully written ... like James Patterson ... with short chapters."

Dick Gendron's QSL card featuring the Cherry Street fire: John Whitehouse adds some sad history regarding this October 1963 blaze: "The fire was at 108-114 Cherry Street, which housed BF Goodrich, a paint store and a barber shop, as well as eight apartments. A Deputy Chief, George Carty, lost his life due to electrocution. The building was a total loss. Dick (Gendron) was an avid photographer, as well as a very friendly guy. His daughter told me that most of his photos were lost when, ironically, his residence and six other buildings were destroyed by fire. Some of his pictures survive and hang on the walls in Burlington, Vermont, fire stations."

Delving into Henry K. Wampole & Company: "Dirtdoctorjak" writes: "I’ve a bottle 7/8ths full with the box that I recovered out of a old home demo in California."

Stay-at-home shelfie #10: Inky from On Shoes and Ships and Sealing-Wax writes: "This shelfie makes me happy given that quite a few of these grace my own shelves and book piles (I admittedly have not read The Angry Planet yet, but I love the cover). As a huge fan of Mervyn Peake, I highly recommend reading him."

Does anyone still own a 1-square-inch Texas ranch? Anonymous writes: "I was one of those suckers. Not sure where my deed is now."

Lamenting what we'll never know about Phyllis J. Stalnaker Harris: Unknown writes: "I don't know how I came up on this thread. When I looked into it it just made me really sad. Thank you for sharing a little bit about her life. Unfortunately she probably died because of domestic abuse."

Stay-at-home shelfie #20: Inky writes: "Hooray for the Ruth Manning-Sanders shelves! I've never come across any of her non-fairy tale books, though I certainly love her 'A Book of...' books and consider the mermaid one to be one of my favorite fairy tale collections."

1941 advertisement for the Modern Talking Picture Service: Unknown writes: "My AV department at South Orange Maplewood, New Jersey, ordered many films from MTP Service back in 1972. Also ordered films from Films Incorporated. I've often wondered where all those reels went. Be nice if they were offered on eBay."

Night of Household Items #4: "Makes your toilet paper sing!" Unknown writes: "I bought several of these when I lived in New Jersey in 1988. I still have one, but it doesn't work anymore. I loved them! They were great fun!!!"

Book cover: "So you want to be a Ham": Dave Conley writes: "I also discovered this book at the library, and just about reduced it to shreds by checking it out repeatedly. Robert Hertzberg was very good at communicating his love of the hobby."

"Siss Noch Unvergleichlich": 1962 Pennsylvania Dutch Days brochure: Wendyvee writes: "How very Pennsylvania. Also, one of my grandmothers made funeral pies that were so sweet, I swear I can still taste them. Eeek!"

Would you like to play a game of Wizzardz & War Lordz? "arik24" writes: "It's been archived at"

Happy gaming, everyone!

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