Thousands of people want to do something in Prince William County, Va., this summer, but publisher Dean Regan laments, "It's getting harder and harder to find a [place] that's big enough and rural enough." To do what?
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Wednesday's Question (No. 431)—"Impressed?":
A letter in the journal Nature asserts that in the post-Sputnik malaise of 1958, the Air Force put physicist Leonard Reiffel in charge of a team of 10 people, including Carl Sagan, with this mission: Bolster national confidence and "impress the world with the prowess of the United States." How?
"And, lo, Sharon Stone was born."—Michael Mannella
"Find a new subatomic particle. While forming a human pyramid."—Francis Heaney
" 'Controlled nuclear detonations' to clear menacing brush near Los Alamos research facilities."—Roger Hipp
"They were to demonstrate the superiority of capitalism by 1) finding intelligent life from other planets, then 2) successfully selling it whole life insurance, with a rider excluding travel-related mishaps."—Greg Diamond
"JFK nails Marilyn Monroe. Who wouldn't be impressed with prowess like that?"—Ann Gavaghan (Andrew Puzzio had a similar answer.)
Click for more answers.
Throughout 1958, American confidence rose and fell like something that moves up and down a lot—a roller coaster or an elevator maybe (especially if it were run by a guy made of something really bouncy and metaphorical, like rubber!). On March 6, President Eisenhower rejected a proposal to produce an atomic-powered airplane, fearing that it would set off a round of jokes about peanuts that glow in the dark and would waste scarce materials and talents. It would be another 30 years before the Star Wars missile defense would allow the country to waste material and talent on such a scale (confidence down). Five weeks later, Van Cliburn won the Tchaikovsky piano competition in Moscow, playing Rachmaninoff's Third Piano Concerto using only conventional fuels (confidence up). A nervous China began lobbing pianos at Quemoy and Matsue. On April 27, Vice President Richard Nixon set off on what prankish staffers told him would be a "good will tour" of South America. Pelted with rocks and garbage in Peru and Venezuela, Nixon taught all Americans the joys of laughing at someone else—him (confidence moves latterly, but everyone having too much fun to care). NASA was formed on July 29, although most American rockets impertinently continued to blow themselves up on the launch pad. On Aug. 3, the USS Nautilus, an atomic-powered submarine, made the first underwater, under-ice crossing of the North (or perhaps South?) Pole, and many atom-enthusiasts wondered if Ike had made the wrong call on that atomic airplane (Edward Teller fumes inwardly. And outwardly.). On Oct. 10, the Pioneer Moon Rocket snuck into a courthouse and petitioned to have its name changed to the Pioneer Very High Flying Rocket when it failed to reach the moon (confidence down). On Nov. 24, the United Nations established a committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, and no one bothered to tell the Pioneer where the meetings would be held (confidence down). By the end of 1958, for the first time in history, airplanes carried more transatlantic passengers than ships. None of the planes was atomic-powered. None was flown by a pilot made of rubber. (Imagine robust fanfare swelling to dramatic crescendo to lend above paragraph a phony-baloney feeling of conclusion.)
First Impressions Answer
Reiffel's team planned to fire an A-bomb at the moon.
Why? Because blowing stuff up looks cool. They theorized that the nuclear flash would be visible (and damned entertaining) from Earth and that the explosion would leave a huge crater and a dust cloud that, because of the moon's low gravity, would flow out in all directions rather than forming an old-fashioned mushroom cloud, and would scare the crap out of the Russians.
The project was eventually scuttled so as to preserve the pristine lunar environment and because there were other ways to impress the Russians and puff up the confidence of the American public, and so a few weeks later Cadillac rolled out the 1959 Coupe de Ville, with its super-sharky tailfins, driven by a naked Marilyn Monroe, and riding shotgun … Mr. Chuck Berry—USA! USA! USA!—or perhaps not; it's so hard to remember since the CIA began dumping those experimental drugs into the water supply "to make us all feel prettier," Allen Dulles did not add.
Simply Selena Extra
Perhaps it was the sobering spectacle of the Knicks' futile effort against the Heat in Wednesday night's contest, or perhaps she's taking some kind of metaphor-inhibiting drug, but New York Times basketball reporter Selena Roberts showed uncharacteristic restraint in her account of Game 5 of this playoff series. However, she was able to manufacture the following references:
- three-card monte
- jalopy engine
- whirlwind of energy
- wind-up toy on its last tick
Game 6 will be played Friday evening in New York, and—good news for Roberts fans—it's Thesaurus Night!
Press Pass Extra
Some observers believe that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's recent rash of personal problems will ultimately help his chances in the Senate race by revealing a more human side of this often belligerent man. Which of the following are actual remarks made just this week by the newly conciliatory mayor?
- "Shhhhhhhhh!"—stifling rude reporters.
- "Officer, beat that woman into unconsciousness. Please."—improving the manners of an inconsiderate reporter.
- "What you're trying to do is a back-door way of trying to dredge this all up so you can write more salacious stuff."—impugning the motives of a saucy reporter.
- "Do you realize that you embarrass yourselves doing this in the eyes of just about everyone."—showing concern for the impression made by some vulgar reporters.
- "Oh, get out of here."—chiding an overly inquisitive reporter.
- "Get lost."—reproving an impudent reporter.
- "That's a sneaky way of trying to invade somebody's personal life."—offering constructive criticism to a devious reporter.
- "Look out! He's got a wallet."—urging the police to take their usual precautions in the face of an unarmed reporter.
- "Idiot!"—assessing the intelligence of a vexing reporter.
- "Die, infidel dog! I dispatch your heathen soul to hell for all eternity!"—repelling the advance up the Iberian peninsula of a Moorish reporter.
1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are authentic and recent; 9 is authentic but not recent.
Billions and billions, JFK's experimental Teflon super-penis.