When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

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Instead Of A Tip

1984: Phyllis Penzo had worked at Sal’s Pizzeria, in the Yonkers suburb of New York, for 24 years. Since the late 1970s, police detective Robert Cunningham had been a regular customer. They were good friends.

One night, after his usual meal of linguine with clam sauce, Cunningham got Penzo to help him pick the numbers for a $1 state lottery ticket. Instead of tipping the waitress, Cunningham promised her half the prize money if they won.

When the lottery was drawn on 31 March, theirs were the only winning numbers: 7, 9, 21, 28, 29 and 43, with 35 as a supplementary number.

Penzo’s “tip” turned out to be worth $3 million.

Source: The New York Times, 3 April 1984

No Exceptions

American writer William Saroyan

1981: Despite doubting the veracity of “last sayings”, which he regarded as mostly “inventions of the survivors, members of the family, exploiters of truth and falsity”, the American author William Saroyan offered his own contribution shortly before prostate cancer killed him: “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”

Source: Lawrence Lee and Barry Gifford, Saroyan: A Biography (1984), p. 307

Claim To Fame

1978: The popularity of the Golden Gate Bridge with would-be suicides has been attributed to the bridge’s fame, to copycat behaviour, to the likelihood that a leap from the bridge will be fatal (very few people survive the impact with the water far below), and to the ease with which those intent on suicide can get over the bridge’s guard rails (which are little more than waist-high).

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Space Ambitions

1977: President Mobutu Sésé Seko intended that the launch, on 17 May, of a rocket from Shaba province, in eastern Zaïre, would set the country on course to join the select club of space nations. The rocket, designed and built by the West German company OTRAG as an inexpensive alternative to NASA and European Space Agency rockets, reached an altitude of 20 kilometres. But any hopes that Shaba would become the Cape Canaveral of Africa, putting satellites into orbit at cut-rate prices, received a severe setback a year later, when another rocket crashed immediately after takeoff, directly in front of the country’s watching president.

Source: David van Reybrouck, Congo: The Epic History of a People (2014), pp. 365–7, 369–70

Greater Gravitas

1975: Margaret Thatcher worked hard to improve her public speaking skills. Analysis of recordings showed that over a decade she succeeded in lowering the pitch of her voice by about 60 hertz, which made her sound more assertive, gave her more gravitas. She had less success with the tone of her voice. Even at the end of her political career it still sounded (to use Clive James’s description) like a “condescending explanatory whine” that treated the person on the receiving end as if they were “an eight-year-old child with personality deficiencies”.

Source: Anne Karpf, The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent (2006), pp. 226–9

Tom Swift And Taser

1974: Inventor Jack Cover secured a patent for a “weapon for subduing and constraining” that consisted of a projectile “connected by means of a relatively fine, conductive wire to a launcher which contains an electrical power supply”. Cover called his stun gun a Taser, an acronym he derived from one of his favourite childhood books, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

Source: Los Angeles Times, 13 February 2009

Gusty In Greenland

1972: A storm that battered the Thule area of Greenland on 8 and 9 March produced winds gusting to 333 km/h, which broke both the meteorological record for peak wind speed at low altitude and the anemometer measuring them.

Source: www.557weatherwing.af.mil/