Alt text: “More actual results: ‘Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You [are the best. The best thing ever]’, ‘Revenge is a dish best served [by a group of people in my room]’, and ‘They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our [money].’”

from xkcd

xkcd: Wikipedia article titles with the right syllable stress pattern to be sung to the tune of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song. (Here’s the song, for reference.)

All of these titles are examples of trochaic tetrameter, which is one of the most common English meters (a trochee is a foot consisting of STRONG-weak and tetrameter is four feet per line). Another example is Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, although that has a deficient last foot, but you can sing any of these titles to that tune as well if you just double the last note.

Trochaic tetrameter creates a strong feeling of sing-song “poem-ness” in English. Most Shakespearean characters, for example, speak in iambic pentameter (weak-STRONG, five feet per line), which sounds more natural, but a few speak in trochaic tetrameter for dramatic effect. For example, MacBeth and Lady MacBeth speak in iambic pentameter, which gives the effect of talking normally: 

Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,

Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ‘tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power
to account?—Yet who would have thought the old
man to have had so much blood in him?

But the witches speak in trochaic tetrameter, which makes them seem like they’re delivering an incantation: 

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Previous xkcd on poetry: metrical foot fetish, ballad meter, trochaic fixation. Language Log also has a long, interesting post on meter

4

Randall Munroe is a bit of a genius and hopefully he doesn’t see this because I’d be embarrassed to have him hear me say it. 

He’s one of the greatest science explainers of my generation…possibly the greatest. He does it not by explaining science and math and calculus and biology for the sake of understanding it, but by seeking answers. 

And look, that’s why we created biology and calculus and chemistry anyhow. So by searching for answers to really WEIRD questions. Questoins like “Can I build a jetpack out of machine guns” (surprisingly yes, but don’t) and “How much space would all of Google take up if it was on punch cards” (it would bury New England to the height of several kilometers.) And “What would happen if the Earth just stopped spinning but the atmosphere kept moving” (everyone would die, some people less slowly than others.)

To find these answers, Randall does intense amounts of research and also lots and lots of math.

In his “What If?” column he uses this marvelous toolbox that we’ve developed over the last 100,000 years of being a species in such exciting ways that you don’t even know how smart you’re getting as you read it. 

Now he’s turned “What if?” into a book and it is SO MUCH FUN. It’s hilarious and fascinating and shows the kind of obsession with the universe that I find infectious. I’ve been devouring it since I got my copy.

I’ve flown out to San Francisco to interview Randall on the Vlogbrothers channel (Colbert just did an interview with him last week so I guess I’m in good company.) His understanding of the world is extremely deep so he’s able to share only the bits that are either hilarious or fascinating. I’m nervous to spend a bunch of time with him, but very excited to bring his work (I hope) to more people and ideally help sell some copies of his book (which I’m sure is doing just fine without me.)

The Hangout starts in about two hours and I’m gonna go hang out in the chat for it right now

Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors. And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they are doing. Do things without always knowing how they’ll turn out. You’re curious and smart and bored, and all you see is the choice between working hard and slacking off. There are so many adventures that you miss because you’re waiting to think of a plan. To find them, look for tiny interesting choices. And remember that you are always making up the future as you go.
—  Randall Munroe, XKCD
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