Read an Excerpt
Are there any undiscovered colors?
Sir Michael Cummings, Biggin Hill
I have been furiously mixing paints ever since this question appeared in last month's issue and am astonished and proud beyond measure to be able to announce that I have discovered what I believe to be an entirely new color! By mixing blue paint and red paint, I have come up with a wonderfully rich, regal hybrid that is somehow warmer and more mellow than blue, and cooler and more elegant than red. I call it "Simon," because my name is in fact Simon. I am enclosing a swatch of pure Simon for you to reproduce in your magazineperhaps on the cover?!?
Simon Sayers, Durham County
[Ed note: We're not entirely sure, Simon, but we think you might have made purple. Thanks for trying, though.]
Not to be disrespectful, but this could very well serveas a kind of prototypical stupid question, much as Donald Rumsfeld's words about "known knowns" and "unknown unknowns" have become bywords for political bluster and obfuscation. The way the human eye reacts to the light it receives determines the colors we see. A point often made is that we can never be sure that while we agree something is "brown," we are seeing the same color. In theory I might receive a blow to the head and wake up seeing completely different (or "new") colors but never know the difference.
Synesthesia is interesting in its implications for thisit results mostly from neurological trauma. In the USSR one Yuri Zherkov survived a plane crash near Katerinapol and afterwards saw colors in musical notes. Taken to the National Soviet Gallery, he was able to play manyof the great paintings there in astonishing improvised arrangements on the piano. He had always been tone deaf, however, and his later attempts to paint the great Russian composers' works were met with critical revulsion, official anger, and banishment to a Gulag for anti-Soviet aesthetic tendencies, where he died of potato poisoning.
Greg Maresh, Cubbling, Alaska
What was the best thing before sliced bread?
Simone Taylor, London
Wooden legs, stout, second wives, the King James Bible, iron bridges, public executions, hot acorns at the theater, the London Bridge, and Rita Hayworth's tits are among the things that have been historically referred to as "the best thing since." Many other verbatim references are to be found among letter-writers, diarists, and journalists to "the worst thing since": the Black Death, Alaskan whores, that bastard Cromwell, France, the French, French anything, German anything (foreign anything, in fact), the Industrial Revolution, and, in Whitman's famous words, "the law against buggery."
Terry Graite, Holyhead, Wales
We in the Best Thing Since Society have spent years campaigning for something to replace sliced bread in the "best thing since" stakes. We are hopeful of recognition through avenues such as this column, so that people might start to call various things the "best thing since…" Here is a selection of our current alternatives: resealable coffee packets, the suck-nipple on bottled water, cash-back, the "recall email" tool on Microsoft Outlook, Snake II, multi-region DVD players, and the Washington Post Giant General Knowledge Crossword.
Jeremy Shrimp, Best Thing Since Society, Washington, DC
As ousted chair of the Best Thing Since Society, reading Mr. Shrimp's facile suggestions, I thought it might illuminate your readers to see the other things that were once considered for entry by that pathetic organization: the Concorde, Col. Oliver North, the widget, audio cassettes, Madonna getting into movies, leg warmers, spam, Dan Quayle, medium-wave radio, boxed wine, modernism, postmodernism, and the Emmy for Outstanding Host of a Reality Show. It will be apparent how transient the appeal of each of these things was. Yet sliced bread remains with us, as useful as ever.
Jonathan Radiohead , Next Best Thing Since Society, Boulder, Colorado
This question was most interesting to me, as a former baker by trade. The best thing before sliced bread was having ordinary, unsliced bread and a full set of f*cking fingers.
Harry Noel, West Tittering, Shrops