For anyone who’s had to write or edit ISO9000 documents, create or review a thesis paper, or wade through technical jargon in an industry magazine, A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown is a wonderful relief. Culled from the pages of the notorious 50s underground publication, The Worm-Runner’s Digest, this collection has something in it to make you smile.
Start with “Postal System Input Buffer Device” by Joe and Gil Robertson Obsborne. It’s a simple action, dropping an envelope into the corner mailbox, right? Not in formal instructionese, which must specify (along with other qualifications and divagations) that to operate such an input device requires
(a) a passenger in normal working condition mounted upright on the front seat or (b) a driver having at least one arm on the right-hand side which is six feet long and double-jointed at the wrist and elbow.
Then there’s F.E. Warburton’s “Terns,” which reliably informs us that because terns have webbed feet, they will be found in the same books as albatrosses and other waterfowl; further that they won’t eat anything but fish, so “it is no use putting out bits of suet and coconut for them in the winter”. Besides,
Baby terns just a few days old are the cutest, fluffiest little things. They will sit on your hand just as friendly as anything, going “chirp, chirp” and looking at you with their big bright eyes and vomiting half-digested fish all over your shirt.
Two versions of the 23rd Psalm are included. The first, by Alan Simpson and R.A. Baker, commences: “The Lord is my external-internal integrative mechanism, I shall not be deprived of gratification for my viscerogenic hungers or my need dispositions…”. The second, from science fiction writer Lester del Rey starts: “The AEC is my shepherd, I shall not live. It maketh me to lie down in radiant pastures…”.
Hugh Sinclair contributed the brilliant “Hiawatha’s Lipid,” which simply has to be read entire. Sinclair spoofs the classic poem in an effort for which he concedes he “sought inspiration in innumerable manhattans—taken , of course, because they were good for me since the day’s immobility of listening to papers on atheroma and serum cholesterol had no doubt silted up my vessels, and alcohol is one of the few effective solvents.”
From his briefcase Hiawatha
Took his paper for the meeting…
Started on the introduction,
Giving first a brief description
Of the Proto-Keynesian period
When all fats in equal measure
Raised cholesterol in serum…
Berkeley engineer Charles Siem’s paper supplies the book’s title. “A Stress Analysis of a Strapless Evening Gown” includes a wonderfully evocative figure, Force Distribution of Cantilever Beam, complete with rotational and compressional components, in which the beam’s profile is distinctly mammalian. The critical element of the force diagram is identified, with the caveat:
If the female is naturally blessed with sufficient pectoral development, she can supply this very vital force and maintain the elemental strip at equilibrium. If she is not, the engineer has to supply this force by artificial methods.
Sometimes the bibliography is more interesting than the paper, as R. Arnold Le Win points out in “Logarithmic and Arythmic Expression of a Physiological Function.” In fact, the only thing in this item is the list of references.
7. Shadrach, C., Meshach, H., and Abednego, H. and C.. An anaerobic heat resistant monoflagellate ornithine producing sulfur non-purple bacterium isolated from the rectum of a goat. J.Bact., 70: 1-11,1944.
10. Aschitz, K., and Spitz, G. Urea excretion, growth hormone production, and caudal temperature of the 6-week-old hypophysectomized, adrenalextomized, tonsillectomized castrated albino hamster. Proc.Soc.Exp.Biol.& Med.. 50: 2-4, 1956.
13. Strickstaw, A. The fats of cats. 27.Glycero-1, 4-alpha-feritol, a new liquid component of the milk of the lion. Felis leo.Biochem.J. 73: 108-113, 1946.
I can only excerpt a few high points here. To read the rest will take some digging, since Stress Analysis is, sadly, out of print. A slightly more recent compilation from The Worm-Runner’s Digest titled Science, Sex and Sacred Cows may be more available.