I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

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i’ve seen the thumb trick go very wrong when someone tried to smack the persons hands in 2 different directions

• Hegelian

Actually, Weisman looses the thread and ice cube bet, which was to lift the ice cube using “only the thread.”He used the thread **and** salt so he failed the bet. (Well, and he used his hand, too, but that one he can probably get away with…) The bet has to be phrased as “using the thread”.

Also, there is another way to make the 9.50 = 101010 equation correct with the addition of a single line. Simply change = to ≠ (does not equal) by putting a line through the equal sign.

The ten pence coin through the hole bet lacks the qualifier that the paper can not be torn. The way the bet is phrased, to push the coin through the hole, doesn’t preclude ripping the hole–and given that these are all trick bets you can’t claim that is an “understood” part of the bet.

• gauch0

• relawson

well, and the fact that 9.5 is 9:30, your suggestion is the only correct one!

Internationally, a period is often used instead of a colon, so 9.50 there is 9:50 here.

• haineux

Pretty sure I saw all these in a Dover Publishers puzzle book from my childhood.

• Boundegar

Shutup shutup shutup!  It’s magic!

• Daneel

Does anyone ever actually place these bar bets? I can safely say that if someone offered me a bet that looked like I couldn’t lose, I’d expect a scam.

• semiotix

9.50 = 101010

and challenge them to make it correct by adding just one line.

9.50 ≠ 101010

Et voilà!

EDIT: DAMMIT, that would have been more impressive if Hegelian hadn’t CLEARLY gotten to it first. I partially retract my implied claim to awesomeness.

• Hegelian

I may have beaten you to the punch but your delivery is way snazzier. :-) I guess it is really the more obvious solution. I wonder if Weisman omited or truncated phrasing that would have precluding crossing the equal sign?

I have to say that this latest video is a lot weaker than the first, and as haineux implies, it seems that Weisman has just lifted them from some old book, and did so in a pretty sloppy fashion. There is value added in making a video demonstrations of the bets taken from print sources ( and value to Weisman in adding it to the Weisman marketing and aggrandizement stack) but not so much if the bets are improperly phrased or potentially dangerous as Matthew Urso notes the thumb in the hand trick can be.

• morkl

If one crosses the equal sign, its not really an equation anymore, so it might be invalidated depending on how “make it correct” is interpreted.

• Hegelian

Good point, but I think it is overridden by relawson’s point that 9.5 is decimal equivalent of the
Sexigesimal 9:30, so changing the equation to “9.50 = Ten to Ten” is not a valid answer.

• Robert Fiore

I remember a number of these from a paperback called “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion” that I bought when I was a wee tad.

• Jeremy Hughes

Wiseman.

• Ty Myrick

In reply to relawson and Hegelian, I believe the British commonly use a decimal, rather than a colon, to designate time. See Agatha Christie’s 4.50 to Paddington http://www.amazon.com/4-50-Paddington-Agatha-Christie/dp/1405046260/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1360696002&sr=1-4&keywords=4.10+agatha+christie

• phuzz

It’s not really a common usage, but in a context that makes it clear that it’s a time (like your example) would probably be ok.
Usually though brits either use the colon; “4:50″, or in text, spell it out; “ten to five”.