Cambridge Coincidences Collection

Well I Never!

Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University wants to know about your coincidences!

Assassination in Sarajevo

The multiple instances of errors & confusion that led to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, any one of which could have prevented the murder that ignited World War I, seem invented for a fictional plot too full of coincidental misadventures to be taken seriously.

Forgotten letter to PLAYBOY appears unexpectedly

A more prosaic example occurred when I was a senior in Prof Quick’s Modern Grammar course at Arizona State University in the spring of 1972. For an oral presentation to the class, I decided on rude expletives. At the time, most dictionaries did not include entries for so-called “four-letter words.” Early in the semester in preparation, I wrote to Henry Bosley Woolf, then the editor-in-chief of Webster’s Dictionary, requesting the etymology of “fuck.” He personally wrote back – the letter alone impressed my professor – giving me the principal information I lacked.

Unexpected book gift contains letter to author

In 1979, shortly before I wed my wife of nearly 35 years, after reading one of John Simon’s columns in Esquire, I wrote to the eminent critic of the arts. Without mentioning me by name – “A much more sophisticated letter comes from a teacher in Yuma, Arizona, yet it, too, profoundly disturbs me” – he quoted a paragraph from my epistle in a later column before verbally ripping it to shreds.

Do we bring luck to football team?

Or this – Do we really bring good luck to a football team? On a Saturday last November, Nora & I were invited to watch the UW Cowboys play their final football game of the season, defeating the UNLV Rebels 35-28. This was the fifth time in the past four years we've been welcomed to watch from either the Wildcatter luxury suites or the Skybox. Twice this year we attended a game. Each time we were guests, so we had no choice in which game we could attend. Thus, the games were random selections & independent events. All five times we witnessed the Cowboys victorious.

Fortuitous acquaintanceship with woman I'd marry

After reading a paragraph from Russian author Ludmila Ulitskaya’s novel, The Big Green Tent, in Lenoid Bershidsky’s book review in The Atlantic, I was reminded of my own first acquaintance with the young woman who became my wife. It’s fascinating to trace the trajectories of people destined to meet. Sometimes such encounters happen without any special effort of fate, without elaborate convolutions of plot, following the natural course of events—say, people live in adjacent buildings, or go to the same school; they get to know each other at college or at work.

Man seeks to find me after my brief appearance on radio about composting

Five years ago when I began thermophilic composting, depositing all of our organic waste into a compost pile in the backyard, I called Ira Flatow during his Science Friday program on NPR to report my project related to his theme of conservation of resources on college campuses. Though I only occasionally have time to listen to the noon broadcast on Fridays, my call was the first answered.

Consecutive double yolks in Turkey on Easter Sunday

What to make of the succession of seven double-yolked eggs out of a total of ten I broke open when making scrambled eggs on Easter Sunday in Turkey twenty years ago? Turkey is sometimes referred to as the “Other Holy Land” because of the seven churches of Asia Minor that are mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation. Was that supposed to be significant to me an agnostic? “In England, a man went to the store and bought a package of six eggs. He cracked the first one open and found a double yolk. Then he cracked open the second, two yolks in that one as well.

College associate

While on duty as an Army enlistee specialist in Bangkok in April, 1968, I was greeted at an Army office by an Army Major I last spoke to in the ROTC office at the Pennsylvania college from which I graduated in May, 1967.

Not so eerie but left us with a strange feeling

On a road trip in Colombia, South America, with a cousin, I got the driver's seat for a short while because my cousin had been driving for a long time and needed to rest. It was dark, the terrible road had many potholes that you had to sort out by driving fast avoiding the largest and hitting the rest. Not long after I was driving I turned right on a fork and about half mile later I hit a pothole so badly that it busted the right hand side front tire and damaged the back one as well.

9/11 Magazine Ad

About a month after the World Trade Center terrorist attack I was leafing through PC magazine at work and came across an advertisement for Yahoo Finance. The ad showed an old photo of the financial district of Manhatten with most of the recognizable skyline but conspicuously did not have the Trade Towers in the image. The ad said, "Feel Left In" and I supposed the the gimmick was to show an image where something was clearly left out -- the trade towers. The date of the magazine was August 2001.

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