This pandemic has hit Sir Benjamin Slade, and the weekend-wedding business he runs out of his 14th-century North Petherton estate, hard. With that revenue stream running dry, the 74-year-old baronet is looking to rent out the manor, for $26,000 a month. “We need the punters. We want amusing ones though. Good right-wing, hunting, shooting types,” he told The Times of London. “No lefties or Marxists.” He added, “They can also bring as much wine as they like, as long as it’s high quality and I’m allowed to drink it.”
On the Maunsel House Web site, a smiling Sir Benjamin poses not in tweed but a camo jacket, a submachine gun under one arm and a dog under the other, alongside text that reads, “Maunsel House is a wonderfully welcoming home steeped in the most tremendous history and with, we feel, more than a touch of eccentricity (a reflection of its owner, perhaps!?).” Yes, quite possibly. As The Times noted, “It is not the first time the publicity-seeking baronet has placed an advertisement. He made headlines last year after publicising his search to find a wife who could provide him with male heirs. His list of requirements for the perfect ‘breeder’ stated she should be taller than 5ft 6in — preferably 6ft 1in or 6ft 2in — aged between 30 and 40, possess a gun licence and be ‘castle trained’. The search proved unsuccessful and he continues to live alone in a farmhouse on the estate.” So, there you have it: 34 BRs, Pkland vu, 100 acres, 1 eccntrc aristo. (And remember, B.Y.O.B.)
At this point, with A.I. ubiquitous and computers encroaching on so many aspects of our work and play, little enough is left for humans to enjoy and thrive at as flesh-and-blood beings. Well, we could always console ourselves in darker moments, we’ll always have curling. No longer. The simple pleasure—and they don’t come much simpler—of sliding heavy, polished granite stones across sheets of ice, and then waiting to see what happens, has been forever spoiled. Officially, we are now, even Canadians, second-best at doing this. Some computer has figured out a way to beat us. Yes, beat, because curling is only deceptively simple—the sport doesn’t stop and start with shoving a stone and then trying to keep calm, and warm, as it moves along the ice toward its painted target (the “house”). There’s much more to it than that: points, winners, losers, strategy, spin, trajectory … and don’t even get us started on all that frantic sweeping with a curling broom, or the fascinating pros and cons of the “Manitoba tuck” delivery. Yes, curling has it all. No wonder they call it “chess on ice,” even if for some it’s less interesting to watch.
In any event, much is now being made of the fact that a computer—called, as if to rub it in, “Curly”—has defeated a team of top players drawn from South Korean squads in three out of four games. Curly used cameras to assess the situation at the “house” end of the rink and launched the stones from the other end. (At least there were no robot sweepers—that image would have been hard to expunge.) “These results indicate that the gap between physics-based simulators and the real world can be narrowed,” noted the authors of a paper on the experiment published in Science Robotics. Yeah, well, our real world has certainly narrowed.
The solution to the 75-year-old mystery of the Amber Room, looted by the Nazis from the Catherine Palace near St. Petersburg, might be lying in crates in a shipwreck off the coast of Poland. Divers have found the German freighter Karlsruhe nearly 300 feet below the surface of the Baltic, and there is speculation that the disassembled and packed 18th-century paneled, gold-leaf-and-mirror chamber—called by some the “eighth wonder of the world”—might have gone down with the ship when it sank, in 1945. “We discovered military vehicles, porcelain and many crates with contents still unknown,” said a member of the Polish diving group Baltictech. “We don’t want to get excited, but if the Germans were to take the Amber Room across the Baltic Sea, then the Karlsruhe steamer was their last chance.” Should the Karlsruhe cargo not pan out as hoped, treasure hunters can always refocus on one of the other theories about the Amber Room’s fate: that it sank while being transported by another German ship, that it was buried in a Lithuanian lagoon, that it was destroyed in the R.A.F.’s 1944 bombing of Königsberg Castle (where it had been taken to be exhibited), or, most tantalizingly, that it’s still buried somewhere in St. Petersburg. For now, better raise those crates and have a look inside.
The late paint-by-numbers creator Dan Robbins (1925–2019) always said he’d been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). But with a small assist from time travel, could it have been the other way around? A paper published by the French National Center for Scientific Research suggested that Leonardo first sketched the Mona Lisa, highlighted the drawing with pinpricks on paper, and used charcoal to essentially trace the outline onto the white-poplar panel he used in creating the finished portrait. Researchers, who employed a high-resolution camera to make their analysis, also concluded that Leonardo had at some point changed the position of the fingers of the left hand. And one more thing, noted in The Times of London, which should keep the experts busy for a few more years: evidence just above the subject’s head of what appears to be the image of a hairpin.
Elsewhere in Paris, King Mohammed of Morocco has picked up a pied-à-terre near the Eiffel Tower for a reported $95 million. If that seems a little steep, factor in the garden, pool, and spa that come with the 12-bedroom town house. The 57-year-old monarch’s entourage likes for him to be referred to as “the king of the poor”—even though a mere 10 percent of Moroccans live in miserable, abject poverty. In any event, the monarch is doing his part to raise the nation’s average assets. Says The Times of London: “Mohammed, a businessman-monarch who also owns an estate in Picardy, is worth $2.1 billion and is the 5th richest king in the world, according to Forbes magazine.”
Topa, a teddy bear on the children’s puppet show Kalykhanka, on Belarus 3 state television, doesn’t have a mustache, but the lack of resemblance to Alexander Lukashenko pretty much ends there. Lukashenko, the authoritarian president of Belarus—its only president, ever—is said by some to enjoy the support of a whopping 3 percent of the population, but was nevertheless just sworn in for a sixth term following an election in August that many charge was rigged. This has made him even riper for satire, even on kiddie television. A recent episode on Kalykhanka had Topa, the teddy bear, seizing power from Yana the Fox (apparently representing the opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya). “Now I will be sitting on the throne and issuing orders,” Topa said. “I am the only one who is allowed to sit on it. See my crown?” Things don’t end well for Topa. As for Lukashenko, time will tell.
Alexei Navalny, the Russian activist recently on the receiving end of a nearly lethal dose of a nerve agent, claimed this week in the tabloid Bild that the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder receives money from Russian president Vladimir Putin and is Putin’s “errand boy.” Schröder is a friend of Putin’s and has ties to Russia’s energy industry—he sits on boards of state-owned oil-and-gas companies—but says he was not contacted by Bild before the newspaper published the Navalny allegations. Now comes word that Schröder is suing Bild. “I understand the difficult personal situation in which Mr Navalny finds himself,” Schröder said. “However, his interview statements in the newspaper [Bild] and on bild.de about alleged shadow payments are false.”
George Kalogerakis is a Writer at Large for air mail