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On Sundays, Browser readers receive a special edition with puzzles, poems, books, charts, music and more – here's a little taste of this week's edition.


Puzzle Of The Week

The average of 16 different positive integers is 16. What is the greatest possible value that any of these integers could have?

— from The Ultimate Mathematical Challenge by The UK Mathematics Trust

Solution below, after the interview


Interview Of The Week

A.J. Jacobs Talks Puzzles With Uri Bram

LARPer and author A.J. Jacobs talks about his latest book, The Puzzler, to The Browser's Uri Bram; with digressions touching on Oedipus, dogs, mazes, noodles, W.B. Yeats, CBT, ketchup, determinism, and the meaning of life.

On the riddle of the Sphinx:

When Oedipus answered the riddle correctly, the Sphinx was so distraught that she threw herself over a cliff. Which seems like one of the great over-reactions in puzzle history; she needed some cognitive behavioural therapy.

On staying calm:

I’ll never feel comfortable with my impending demise, but I have to accept that feeling. I’m not happy with the way the laws of the universe were set up, but I can’t control them. One strategy I find helpful is to contemplate what the world looks like long after I’m gone. That takes the pressure off: it’s not all about me.

On why people love puzzles:

I don’t think you need a randomised control trial to show that curiosity is one of the great emotions: it’s how we got the wheel, fire, and the mRNA vaccine, etc. (You could argue that Gain of Function research is the bad side of curiosity). Puzzles encourage that, no matter how specific they are.

Read the whole thing


Puzzle Solution

Puzzle: The average of 16 different positive integers is 16. What is the greatest possible value that any of these integers could have?
Solution: 136. In order to make one number as large as possible, the other fifteen numbers should be as small as possible. Letting x be the largest number, we have:
(1 + 2 + 3 + ··· + 15 + x) ÷ 16 = 16
so (120 + x) ÷ 16 = 16
so 120 + x = 256
and hence x = 136

— from The Ultimate Mathematical Challenge, by The UK Mathematics Trust


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Our friends at Recomendo send a weekly newsletter with 6 brief personal recommendations of all kinds of cool stuff – it's like the Browser but for everything. Here's a sample of last week's edition; if you like what you read, subscribe to Recomendo to get the goodness every week!
Find out if you’re close to burnout
IT Burnout Index is a 10-question survey that will tell you how close you are to burnout, and what your risk level is for Exhaustion, Self Inefficacy, Cynicism and Depersonalization. It only takes 2 minutes to get the results and you can then choose to check out Yerbo’s personalized insights and exercises. It’s anonymous, and doesn’t require an email. — CD 
Cheap healthy recipes
Budge Bytes is a recipe website of delicious meals that cost very little to make, other than your time. The recipes use fresh ingredients and are accompanied by tantalizing photos. Try the Comeback Sauce for roasted vegetables. — MF
Easy plant replication
Most plants can be propagated by pinching off a bit and setting the piece in soil to grow into a whole new plant. You can increase the likelihood of success by dusting the pinched piece with plant hormone to speed root growth, such as Bontone II Rooting Powder. We have generally propagated our entire garden by pinching. We can increase success even more using the Hormex set of 3 different strengths of the hormone based on how woody the plant is. — KK
Silicone earplugs
Mack’s moldable silicone earplugs are superior to squishy foam earplugs because they completely seal the opening to your ear. They do a fantastic job of blocking out sound. These silly-putty-like plugs have saved my sleep many times when staying in noisy hotels and Airbnbs. — MF
Get oldest Google search results first
Oldestsearch.com reverse-orders all Google search results so that you see the oldest webpages first. This is refreshing to use, because I so often feel like all the top results are repetitive. — CD
Cool Tools Show and Tell
Every week for 6 years we’ve recorded a podcast featuring the cool tools of a remarkable person. Earlier this year we paused the podcast, but we have now relaunched it as a video-cast in the same format. Every Friday I interview a remarkable person and ask them on screen to show and tell 4 of their favorite tools. This program, called the Cool Tools Show and Tell, streams on our YouTube channel. And the audio channel of each session will resume streaming on the old Cool Tools Podcast subscription for those who only want to listen. I really look forward to each session because I am always surprised by what interesting cool tools people will recommend. — KK
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The Ends Of The Earth

Daniel Johnson | The Critic | 1st May 2022

Action-packed review of Straits, Felipe Fernández-Armesto's new biography of Ferdinand Magellan, the 16C Portuguese-born adventurer who sought a westward route to the Spice Islands, discovered the Straits of Magellan, lost 90% of his crew to mutiny and disease, gave the Pacific Ocean its name, came to believe that he had divine powers, and died in battle trying to conquer the Philippines (1,540 words)


The Story Of The Three Bears

Samuel Jay Keyser | Berfrois | 6th May 2022

When first recorded in 1837, The Story Of The Three Bears told how a "naughty old woman" broke into the house of some innocent bears, stole their food, and vandalised their goods. How did we get from there to our modern version in which the bears are the baddies and the trespasser is a nice girl called Goldilocks? What is the story's archetypal appeal? Why is there three of everything? (2,800 words)


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A Visit To The Human Factory

James Vincent | The Verge | 4th May 2022

Inside a workshop where a company interested in both entertainment and engineering is building the most human-like androids ever seen. The results are eerie. "It scrunches its cheeks, raises its eyebrows, and then grimaces and blinks. It’s like watching a newborn baby cycle through facial expressions. There’s a sense that the hardware hasn’t yet been fully connected to the software" (3,138 words)


Fighting For Parasite Conservation

Rachel Nuwer | Scientific American | 1st May 2022

Come for the horrifying opener about what might be lurking in your cod fillet, stay for the argument that it is worth conserving parasite populations to keep vital ecosystems functioning. It is, understandably, a hard sell for funding bodies, since some of the parasites in need of conservation merit this kind of description: "The adult worms burst out of their hosts to partake in a parasitic orgy" (3,783 words)


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*The Browser will leave readers to decide for themselves about the livingness and/or dullness of android minds. It's a bit much to tackle in a limerick.

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Paper, Cut

Caroline Jones And Staff | Washington City Paper | 5th May 2022

Memories of a newspaper now closing its print operation. It aided in launching the careers of, among others, David Carr, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kara Swisher. The tales here recall a rollicking journalistic culture that now feels remote. As one former staffer puts it: "The people that you wrote about would, in the worst-case scenario, punch you in the face, but you knew that it had an effect"


The Senior Song Book

Marvin Weisbord | The Smart Set | 5th May 2022

Touching account of the unlikely musical collaboration between two "best old friends" who met by chance in a retirement community. A lesson in being proactive about happiness and hobbies. "It’s easy to talk about 'ageing gracefully'. It takes real work to do it." They wrote about the everyday lives of old people, setting their words to the half-remembered tunes of their youth (3,442 words)



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Hume’s Real Riches

Charles Goldhaber | PhilArchive | 4th May 2022 | PDF

On David Hume's cheerfulness. His autobiography reveals that he was proud of his "natural temper" and ability to overcome disappointment rapidly. Cheerfulness was both a fairly common sociable playfulness and a rarer virtue that provides "fortification against unhappy accidents". Stoicism and scepticism together give a way in which "philosophy can be practical, and help us live well" (5,244 words)


The White House’s Weirdly Hip Record Collection

Rob Brunner | Washingtonian | 3rd May 2022 | U

Jimmy Carter's grandson investigates the presidential record library. Acquired during the Carter administration, the collection was partly curated by Johnny Mercer of "Moon River" fame, but holds more than just easy listening. "Funkadelic’s Hardcore Jollies made the cut, as did Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica" (2,230 words)


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When Animals Shed Their Wings

Richard Dawkins | Quillette | 5th May 2022

Who would not want wings? Who would not want to fly? And yet there must be a downside to wings, since some animals genetically equipped to grow them, such as worker ants, do not do so. Only the queen ant grows wings; and, having mated, she rips them off. The explanation may be that flying consumes lots of energy — energy which a body can use instead to grow bigger and stronger (1,600 words)


Mechanical Watch

Bartosz Ciechanowski | 4th May 2022

I cannot believe that this blog is new to me. Each essay is a marvellously clear and  informative account of how a particular gadget or technology works, with animations to explain the various moving parts. This latest post is an anatomy of the mechanical watch, proceeding from springs and gears via escapements and balance wheels to clicks, crowns, minute wheels and date correctors (8,000 words)


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