Who Answers Sherlock Holmes's Fan Mail?

Podcaster and YouTube user Simon Whistler has cracked the case of Sherlock Holmes’s fan mail. In a recent episode of the web series Today I Found Out, Whistler explains how a bank ended up receiving, and responding to, fan mail addressed to Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective for nearly six decades.   

According to Whistler, the Abbey National Bank began receiving fan mail for Holmes in the 1930s. The detective’s residence at 221B Baker Street didn’t exist when Doyle was writing his mysteries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, by the 1930s, London’s street numbers had changed, and Abbey National’s headquarters were now located at the detective’s address. 

Rather than simply throw away mail addressed to a fictional character, the bank decided to hire someone to answer Holmes’s mail—as his secretary. Until Abbey National moved its headquarters in the 2000s, the bank continuously employed a series of secretaries to respond to fans, letting them know that Holmes had retired to the countryside to raise bees, or even replying occasionally as Holmes himself, using quotes from Doyle’s books. 

''Mr. Holmes has been asked to help with Watergate and Irangate, to solve the murder of Olaf Palme, the Swedish Prime Minister, and find lost homework to prove to the teacher that the student really did it,” Holmes’s secretary Nikki Caparn told The New York Times in 1989. “Many people know he's not real and write tongue in cheek. But some people haven't worked it out. The stories were written in the late 1800's and early 1900's and Mr. Holmes would be 136 years old now, so it's unlikely that he'd still be living here.''

Nowadays, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, located on Baker Street a few doors down from 221, responds to Holmes’s mail. In the video above, Whistler explains how Abbey National Bank embraced sharing their address with Sherlock Holmes, and how letter writing duties eventually shifted from the bank to the museum. 

[h/t AV Club]

Banner Image Credit: Getty Images

Why Are Sloths So Slow?

Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Sloths have little problem holding still for nature photographers.
Geoview/iStock via Getty Images

When it comes to physical activity, few animals have as maligned a reputation as the sloth. The six sloth species, which call Brazil and Panama home, move with no urgency, having seemingly adapted to an existence that allows for a life lived in slow motion. But what makes sloths so sedate? And what horrible, poop-related price must they pay in order to maintain life in the slow lane?

According to HowStuffWorks, the sloth’s limited movements are primarily the result of their diet. Residing mainly in the canopy vines of Central and South American forests, sloths dine out on leaves, fruits, and buds. With virtually no fat or protein, sloths conserve energy by taking a leisurely approach to life. On average, a sloth will climb or travel roughly 125 feet per day. On land, it takes them roughly one minute to move just one foot.

A sloth’s digestive system matches their locomotion. After munching leaves using their lips—they have no incisors—it can take up to a month for their meals to be fully digested. And a sloth's metabolic rate is 40 to 45 percent slower than most mammals' to help compensate for their low caloric intake. With so little fuel to burn, a sloth makes the most of it.

Deliberate movement shouldn’t be confused for weakness, however. Sloths can hang from branches for hours, showing off some impressive stamina. And because they spend most of their time high up in trees, they have no need for rapid movement to evade predators.

There is, however, one major downside to the sloth's leisurely lifestyle. Owing to their meager diet, they typically only have to poop once per week. Like going in a public bathroom, this can be a stressful event, as it means going to the ground and risking detection by predators—which puts their lives on the line. Worse, that slow bowel motility means they’re trying to push out nearly one-third of their body weight in feces at a time. It's something to consider the next time you feel envious of their chill lifestyle.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER