21 December 2021

Winter Tilt

     First, the science. 

    The winter solstice occurs when either of the Earth's poles reaches its maximum tilt away from the Sun. Both the North and South Poles have a winter solstice. For those of us living north of the equator, ours occurs today, December 21st. We experience the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. The North Pole exists in twenty-four-hour darkness. Although the weather continues to get colder, the days grow incrementally longer from this point forward until we reach the summer solstice, and the cycle repeats. 

    The winter solstice is not the full day but rather a moment. Here in Fort Worth, that maximum tilt will occur at 11:59 CST. 

    Since prehistory, the day has been celebrated across the world with festivals and rituals to mark the death and rebirth of the sun. Across cultures, diverse peoples have recognized beginnings and endings on this date. 

    In keeping with that theme, I've made note of a few firsts and lasts.

    In 1620, the Pilgrims left the Mayflower and came ashore in Plymouth Bay on this date. None of the arriving settlers noted exactly where they first stepped onto the new world. In 1741, Thomas Faunce, a 94-year old man who claimed to have learned of the exact spot from his father, an early settler, established the site of the landing to be Plymouth Rock. The mythology began from there. 

    In 1891, on this date, the first game of basketball was played. James Naismith wrote the original rules to give his students exercise during the cold winter months. That initial contest had two teams of nine players. The equipment consisted of a soccer ball and two peach baskets. With a made shot, the janitor had to drag a ladder onto the court and empty the basket. Later innovators cut a hole in the bottom of the baskets. The final score, 1-0. No player received a shoe contract. 

    Crossword puzzles began on this date. The first "word cross" game was printed in the New York World in 1913. The civic minded editor, Arthur Wynne had to fill a level space in his newspaper. The original puzzle had 32 clues and was shaped like a diamond. Much like Plymouth Rock, there is a bit of fact and mythology there. Word puzzles have existed for as long as we have had language. (Can you find a sentence with two one-word palindromes in this paragraph?)

    Elvis Presley met President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office on this date in 1970. The meeting marked the beginning of Elvis' important work with the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. 

    Admittedly, this one is a little forced in a blog about beginnings but the tale is too much fun not to include. 

    Vernon Presley, Elvis' father, apparently chastised Elvis for spending too much on Christmas presents (including 32 handguns and 10 Mercedes Benz automobiles.) Elvis left Memphis in a huff and ultimately flew to D.C. On the plane, he wrote a letter to President Nixon, offering his services to the president and the nation. All he wanted in exchange was the badge of a federal officer. (He already had a collection of local police badges.) Elvis' driver delivered him to the gates of the White House where the King deposited the letter. 

Ollie Atkins, chief White House photographer at the time. See ARC record.,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
    Egil "Bud" Krogh, H. R. Haldeman, and a host of others who later became infamous during the Watergate scandal received the letter and arranged the meeting. Presidential aides escorted Elvis, dressed in purple velvet and an oversized gold belt buckle into the Oval Office for his meeting. Nixon's infamous taping system had not been installed yet. As a result, history did not record the conversation between the two men, but Elvis got his badge. 

    Photos taken at the meeting are the most requested pictures in the history of the National Archives. 

    There are endings also. December 21st, 1872 marked the conclusion of Phileas Fogg's fictional around the world adventure. In Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days, the gentleman returned to London after circumnavigating the globe on this date. Fogg and his valet set off in response to a challenge lad dawn at Fogg's club. Spoiler alert: Fogg won the wager and collected ₤20,000

    Not on this date--In 1889, the American journalist, Nellie Bly, completed the feat described in the novel. She circled the globe in 72 days. 

    The biggest of all possible finishes, the end of the world was forecast for December 21st, 2012. Doomsday prophets based their predictions on an interpretation of the Mayan calendar. Mesoamerican scholars at the time reported that the interpretation failed to appreciate the nuances of the Grand Cycle of the Mayan's Long Count calendar, and possibly some problems converting the Mayan calendar into the correct Gregorian date. Oops. 

    December 21st is marked with beginnings and endings. My tenure with SleuthSayers began early in 2021. I've seen some of my stories come to print and had others accepted for future publication. Okay, a few stories had abrupt endings this year as well, but I like to focus on the positive. 

    I wish each of you the very best this holiday season and in the year to come. 

    Stay safe and healthy. 

    Until next time. 



  1. Those are some interesting side-notes in history.

  2. All packed into one short day. Thanks, R.T.

  3. Ah, the end of the world prognosticators: so far, a 100% failure rate!
    Thanks for a very interesting blog.

  4. Intriguing list, Mark, and good reference, Rob. (And I noted the palindromes.)

    Happy solstice and merry Christmas!


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