Regarding the recent discussion of sex in space [February 28, April 11], I have here the book Liftoff by Michael Collins, the Apollo 11 command module pilot. On page 191 he discusses various medical concerns on these long missions. Seems the NASA doctors were concerned that the crew, presumably remaining celibate during their month or two in space, might develop “infected prostate glands that could lead to urinary tract infections.” Collins goes on to report that one doctor suggested the crew masturbate regularly, but that at least one crew member ignored this advice. Keep pressing, Cecil. The future of manned space flight may hang in the balance.

–Jason Catan, via AOL

Now, Jason. What Collins says is, “One doctor advised regular masturbation, advice [Skylab crew member] Joe [Kerwin] ignored.” He doesn’t say other crew members didn’t ignore it. On the next page he writes, “There was no sex on Skylab,” and still further along, in a discussion of the recreational possibilities of space, he says, “And lovemaking! I don’t think any astronauts have yet been privileged to sample the ultimate use of weightlessness.” It is clear from the context he’s talking about sex involving two parties, not masturbation. But if you think I’m calling NASA to ask about this again, you’re nuts.


A comment concerning Lewis Carroll’s infamous “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” riddle [April 18]. The best answer I ever heard–and remember that feather pens were a common writing tool of the day, and that writing desks had inkwells–was, “Because they both come with inky quills.”

–Connor Freff Cochran, via AOL

I distinctly remember reading in a dumb mid-80s comic book that one answer is, “Because Poe wrote on both.” –Raistlin Wakefield, via the Internet

Back in the 1930s, when I first picked up my mother’s dog-eared copy of the works of Lewis Carroll, I asked her why a raven was like a writing desk. She answered with a straight face, “Because you cannot ride either one of them like a bicycle.” Since this was true, and it was just as true as saying, “Because neither one of them is made from aluminum,” I always thought mom was right. –Anonymous, via the Internet

She was. And I’ll tell you another thing. We’re not writing any more about this topic either.


I’m glad to see your discussion of Richard Wallace’s anagram “research” in your March 7 column. [Wallace purported to prove that Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper by finding sexual anagrams in “Jabberwocky”, etc.] Wallace’s book was excerpted in the November Harper’s. For a startling depiction of its true significance, you should see the response from Guy Jacobson and Francis Heaney, which appeared in the February Harper’s letters column.

–Dan Hoey, via the Internet

Goodness. Jacobson and Heaney write: “The first paragraph of [Wallace’s] article contains a grisly confession. Rearranging the letters of:

“‘This is my story of Jack the Ripper, the man behind Britain’s worst unsolved murders. It is a story that points to the unlikeliest of suspects: a man who wrote children’s stories. That man is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of such beloved books as Alice in Wonderland.’

“we arrive at:

“‘The truth is this: I, Richard Wallace, stabbed and killed a muted Nicole Brown in cold blood, severing her throat with my trusty shiv’s strokes. I set up Orenthal James Simpson, who is utterly innocent of this murder. PS I also wrote Shakespeare’s sonnets, and a lot of Francis Bacon’s works too.'”

I’m dying, I really am. Guy, Francis–nice work.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Slug Signorino.