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Chess is hard. Ever since the modern game of chess came into existence around 1475 A.D. players have been matching wits to try and best each other at an intellectual’s game. Today, chess is widely played around the world and there are over 1,500 international grandmasters but in the late 18th century only one chess player reigned supreme. Known as “The Turk” for the traditional Turkish attire the player wore, The Turk dominated kings and scholars at chess and proved that no one could defeat him. The Turk wasn’t just an incredible player, he was also… a robot.
Designed in 1770 by German inventor, Wolfgang Von Kempelen, The Turk was a chess playing automaton that consisted of a large wooden desk, a chess board, and a mannequin of a Turkish man standing behind it. The mannequin could move its left arm, head, and even roll its eyes all by itself. The machine also knew where its opponent’s pieces were based on the amount of weight placed on each square of the chess board. Using a complex mechanical algorithm and the data it gather on which pieces were placed where, The Turk’s machinery would calculate what the best move was and move the Turkish mannequin’s arm to move the chess piece to the correct spot. No matter what the other player did, the Turk was always one step ahead of them.
Throughout the late 1700’s, The Turk traveled the world and played chess against nobility and royalty. The Turk even bested Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte while visiting Paris. It was a marvel of mechanical engineering and chess expertise but unfortunately the technology was lost in a fire in 1854. Interestingly, The Turk also knew when an opponent was cheating. If an opponent took a piece off the board or moved a piece incorrectly, The Turk’s hand would swipe all the pieces off the table and quit the game.
Wales a small country that sits on the west coast of the island known a Great Britain. It is a strange little country that is one fourth of the larger country known as the United Kingdom (includes England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland). Unlike the other countries in the U.K., Wales has a different origin story, tracing its roots back to the Celts circa 1200 B.C. Its Celtic origins inspired one of the strangest aspects of Wales, its language.
Welsh is a language that is more akin to Elvish than English (technically elvish is based on Finnish but whatever). The language includes a lot of long words that contain way too many vowels and are nearly impossible for any non-Welsh speaker to pronounce. This quirky language is perfectly exemplified by the impossible to pronounce and incredibly long-winded name of a town that exists on an island just off the Welsh coast. The towns name is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch or Llanfairpwllgwyngyll for short.
No that isn’t a typo (there are plenty of typos in HumpDay already) but that long welsh word is actually the name of a town that people live in. Imagine putting that name on the local high school teams jerseys? Or filling out your shipping address on Amazon? It would be impossible. Unfortunately, the translation of the word doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. When translated into English the town is called “St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the fierce whirlpool of St Tysilio of the red cave”. Crazy right. What a mouthful.
Weird names are just part of the charm of Wales but if you ever decide to pay the country a visit, good luck asking for directions.
Capital punishment is no joke. From the gruesome tortures of the medieval Europe to the Queen of Hearts calling for people’s heads, executions are never something to be looked forward too. Fortunately for those condemned to death in the height of the Ottoman Empire, there was a chance to escape execution and all it would take a nice pair of running shoes.
The Ottoman empire began in 1299 A.D. and at its peak it controlled all of modern day Turkey, Greece, Israel, most of Egypt, and the coast of north Africa. The empire thrived for more than 600 years only ending after WWI.
In the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century, criminals that were convicted of serious crimes would be punished to death. Depending on the criminal’s social status, the form of execution would be more or less painful. The lucky ones received quick deaths from a guillotine while the unlucky ones could be stuffed in a bag and dropped to the bottom of the sea. Most Ottoman death sentences were handed down because of serious crimes that affected the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan, directly so as tradition almost all executions would occur at the Sultan’s palace.
The executions that took place at the palace were carried out by the Sultan’s executioner. Bizarrely, the Sultan’s executioner was also the head gardener for the palace grounds. Apparently, if you can chop a hedge, then you can chop a head. When the head gardener wasn’t tending to the palace’s flower beds, he was pruning criminals from palace dungeons.
All was not lost for those sentenced to die because the Sultan allowed criminals a chance to escape their fate with a simple challenge. All criminals needed to do to survive their execution was beat the executioner in a foot race.
The race against the executioner started at the palace, went through the palace gardens and ended approximately 300 meters away at the gate to a nearby fish market. If the criminal were to win, the execution would be cancelled, and they would be free to go. If they lose, they would be executed (they were going to be executed anyway so no harm in trying).
There are very few recorded examples of convicts beating the executioner in the foot race and surviving their execution. Probably because the executioner was also the head gardener and knew the race track better than anyone. If only 18th century Ottoman prisoners knew about cleats, or at least running shoes…
This Week in History
On this day in 2004 during a NBA regular season game between the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers a fight broke out between Ben Wallace of the Pistons and Ron Artest of the Pacers starting a bench clearing brawl. After the fight was over and the players walked back to their respective benches, a fan threw a full cup of beer at Ron Artest, causing him to fly into a rage, jump into the stands and beat up the fan that threw the beer. Other players rushed into the stands and started fighting the fans. More beer was thrown and both players and fans were hurt. The fight was dubbed the “Malice in the Palace” since it took place in the Pistons stadium known as the Palace of Auburn Hills.
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