"Talks a good game about freedom when out of power, but once he’s in – bam! Everyone's enslaved in the human-flourishing mines."

Partial Credit

The explorer lifted his hands toward the sky. “With the heavens as my witness,” he said, “if you do not release me, then I will respond by blotting out the sun…” He took a piece of paper out of his pocket, double-checked some numbers written on it “…starting exactly one minute from now.”

The savages snorted. The chieftain fiddled with the bone in his hair. “You no have power blot out sun,” he accused.

“My people possess great magic,” said the explorer. “And by threatening to eat me, you have incurred my wrath. So let me depart your country, or darkness shall fall over the land, starting…now!”

Nothing happened.

“Sun no get blot out,” said the savage chieftain. A few other savages nodded. “We think we stick with original plan of eat you.”

“The sun in so getting blotted out,” said the explorer. “Just a tiny corner at first. It’s hard to see. But gradually it’ll get bigger.”

One or two of the savages tried to stare at the sun, then averted their eyes after a moment.

“Definitely no blot out,” said the chieftain.

“You can’t see it because the remaining unblotted-out portion of the sun is too bright!” said the explorer.

“Not seem very good magic,” said the tribe’s shaman, joining in the discussion.

“Um. How about this. Do you have a cereal box?”

“What is cereal box?” asked the chieftain skeptically.

“Ah, frick. Um, bark. Do you have long and thin pieces of bark?” Some of the savages went into a hut, came out with some bark. “If you arrange them into a kind of box shape, and you cut a hole in that one there, and then you use it to block the other one, you…”

“Why we do this, again?” asked the shaman. “We hungry. We want eat you now.”

“Because,” said the explorer, “I’m trying to demonstrate that I’m blotting out the sun.”

“Me would think,” said shaman, “that if sun blotted out, maybe not need contraption made of pieces of bark in order to know.”

“I’m blotting it out really slowly! It’s too bright to look at directly!”

“Maybe you should blot out sun faster,” said the chieftain.


“Still not seem very good magic.”

“Oh, screw you, I’ll do it myself,” said the explorer, breaking out from among the warriors standing guard around his party. None of them moved to stop him as he sat down, took the pieces of bark, and propped them up against each other with sticks. He took a knife from his pocket and whittled a little hole into one of them. “See! The sun clearly has a little corner taken out of it.”

The savages all peered down warily. Finally, the shaman asked what all of them were thinking: “What supposed to be demonstrated by this?”

“Oh, for the love of God. It’s a pinhole projector. Normally the sunlight would come through this hole and illuminate a perfectly circular area on this other piece of bark here. But now, because I’m blotting out the sun with my magic, it’s producing this kind of crescent shape, with a bit taken out of the sun.”

“You able to blot out the sun with magic seem like overly complicated explanation for weird shape shadow,” said the shaman. “Maybe shadow made on bark always weird.”

“NO IT’S NOT,” said the explorer. “After I stop blotting out the sun, you’ll see it’s a normal circular shadow.”

“Okay,” said the chieftain. “Is good idea. You unblot sun now, we check for circular shadow, then re-blot sun again.”

“I’m not going to stop blotting out the sun just because you guys don’t understand optics!”

“Just unblot little bit, then reblot little bit. Not so hard.”

“Have you ever blotted out the sun before? No? Then stop telling me what’s hard or easy!”

“So when you stop blotting out sun?”

“After you release me!”

“So we only able to learn if releasing you necessary after you unblot sun, and you only unblot sun after we release you? Sound kind of like trick.”

“Look,” said the explorer. “I’m sorry about this. I really am. There are places north of here that are getting total sun-blotting-outs. If we were a few dozen miles away, this would be really impressive, I promise. But here, I’m only able to blot out the sun partially. Like, ninety percent. I just feel like, as demonstrations of power go, that’s still pretty impressive.”

“But definitely when ninety percent of sun blotted out, it big enough to notice, right?”

“Well…it will probably get darker. I think maybe the difference will be noticeable. And if you look at the pinhole projector…” He touched the contraption of bark and sticks, which promptly fell apart. He cursed and propped it back up again. “If you look at the pinhole projector, you’ll see that the part of the sun that’s missing is gradually increasing.”

The savages stared at the projector, dubiously.

“Look about same,” said the shaman.

“It’s not! Over the past few minutes, the ‘bite’ taken out of the sun has gradually gotten bigger!”

“Maybe should blot out whole sun,” said the chieftain. “Maybe then seem more obvious.”

“I’M NOT GOING TO BLOT OUT THE WHOLE SUN! Come on, can’t you tell it’s getting darker?”

The shaman squinted. “Maybe sort of look dark. Hard to tell.”

The savages started talking to each other. “Maybe look little darker than usual,” the chieftain concluded. “But maybe only because you give me suggestion.”

“Oh, come on,” said the explorer. “It’s clearly darker. Just let me go.”

The chieftain whispered something to the shaman. The shaman whispered something back to the chieftain. Finally, the chieftain turned to the explorer and nodded.

“Not sure if really darker or just power of suggestion. But you make sun come back, we let you go.”

The explorer gave a sigh of relief. He lifted his hands to the heavens. “In the name of the gods of my people,” he declared, “I command the sun to return to the sky!”

Nothing obvious happened. They waited a minute. Two minutes. Finally the chieftain shrugged. “Maybe little bit lighter,” he said. “Hard to tell.”

“Can I go?” asked the explorer.

The chieftain shrugged. Before he could change his mind, the explorer grabbed his pack and rushed out of the village.

Ten minutes later, he was back. The chieftain looked at him quizzically.

“Actually,” said the explorer, “I just saw the traffic on the road out of here. If the offer’s still open, I think I’d rather get eaten.”

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73 Responses to Partial Credit

  1. doubleunplussed says:

    Oh man. I’m still in that traffic. We’re headed back to Maryland from Tennessee. It took 8 hours just to get to Virginia. Craziest traffic I’ve ever seen. Arriving wasn’t so bad though, for some reason.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Still in Oregon, made it about 20 miles in 6 hours before giving up and getting a hotel room. Getting eaten sounds pretty good at this point.

      • kieranpjobrien says:

        xkcd: What If

        Most of the cars are engulfed by the crowds, but a lucky few get out and begin wandering the abandoned road network.
        Some make it past New York or Boston before running out of fuel. Since the electricity is probably not on at this point, rather than find a working gas pump, it’s easier to just abandon the car and steal the new one.

      • skef says:

        Given the general switch from maps to canned GPS solutions, plotting a route with no or few highways to avoid traffic is more effective than it’s ever been. I made it back to Portland on a pleasant drive with just a little congestion leading up to a few stop signs.

        These directions, combined with mapstogpx.com and OsmAnd, worked pretty well. You can start with the web version of Google maps with your points of departure and destination, and drag the route away from highways as necessary.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          My experience was the opposite: my girlfriend and I cleverly plotted a route made entirely of little back roads – and then one of them developed a gigantic traffic jam and we ended up falling way behind our friends who had just taken the highway.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Where in Oregon? It took my friend and me only about four hours to get from Salem to Portland, and I thought that was bad.

      • lycotic says:

        Stopped a lot. Ate lunch, had a wine tasting (one was drinkable) *and* a cheese tasting (not bad, but not really my style of cheese), and wound up driving on dirt roads. Wasn’t so bad.

      • Antistotle says:

        We drove up from the Denver suburbs to about right here:

        On the way back we decided to go through Riverton (heading west) rather than beat the snot out of the (rented) camper by driving back down the gravel road. This didn’t add much time to our trip, (because traveling at 60 mph rather than 25).

        Then we hit a 11 mile backup caused by traffic at Muddy Gap.

        According to someone the population of Wyoming *doubled* for one day.

        Traffic on I-25 from Cheyenne to Denver was at a crawl. Traffic on 85, about 5 miles east, was running at or above the posted limits most of the way. I should have stuck it out on 287 (about 30 miles west of I25) as it seems like traffic dropped off quickly there.

        Worth it though.

        The 10 year old said “BEST DAY EVER”.

        • ManyCookies says:

          The traffic on I-25 wasn’t that bad for us, we got there from Boulder in three hours and got back in ~four, switching to 287 around Fort Collins. I didn’t hear any horror stories among other friends, did we just all get lucky?

    • ManyCookies says:

      Arriving wasn’t so bad though, for some reason.

      People started their arrival trips at different times, which spread the total volume of traffic over the span of several hours. Whereas everyone left at roughly the same time.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        This makes perfect sense, but I’m surprised nobody (including me) predicted it beforehand.

        • Random Poster says:

          How would you know nobody predicted it beforehand? Let’s assume that (contrary to what actually happened) you in fact did predict it. So what could you do about it? I see only two options: you could still just leave immediately (exactly as if you hadn’t predicted it) or you could wait some time before leaving, in the hope that the traffic jams have cleared. The obvious benefit of option two is that you wouldn’t be stuck in a traffic jam, but the downside is that you wouldn’t know the right time to wait; leave too soon and you’ll still be stuck in a jam somewhere, but OTOH waiting too long is just a waste of time, and even if you could somehow divine the exact right moment to leave, you still couldn’t arrive at your destination sooner than if you had just left immediately, so you really wouldn’t have all that much reason to choose to wait. And the same thing is true for everyone, so most people wouldn’t be willing to wait for very long. Also, if you didn’t wait until almost everyone had left, then you don’t know if there actually were some people who did wait for hours before leaving.

          • Edward Scizorhands says:

            I’m one of those people who would rather sit around at the event than sit around in traffic. If I can’t be the first one out the door, I’m just sitting.

            And lots of people predicted that traffic was going to suck, particularly for the end of the event.

          • eccdogg says:

            I did predict it and changed my behavior accordingly. Though admittedly I had a unique situation.

            I am an avid college football fan and have season tickets to my university. One thing we learned a long time ago was that instead of trying to leave right after the game was over it was better to just break out all the tailgating food and have a second tailgate after the game. That allows us to do something fun while the traffic died down.

            In the case of the eclipse we watched it in Columbia SC about 3.5 hours from my house. We were watching it from a family member’s lake house. So instead of trying to leave right after the totality was done (around 3:00 pm) we planned on leaving at 7:00 and swimming/eating/boating until then. With smart phone apps it was pretty easy to track traffic patterns. Between picking a good time to leave and avoiding traffic jams shown on our smart phone we made it home in only about 20 minutes longer than typical with no stop and go traffic. Other folks we know took 8 hours getting home.

            This strategy requires that you have something pleasurable to do while waiting out traffic and that you don’t have to get back at a particular time (we got home at midnight because we ended up leaving more like 7:30 and we had an extended pit stop).

        • ksvanhorn says:

          They did. I didn’t see anybody “official” predicting this, but among my friends that was the expectation.

        • Randy M says:

          The traffic came as a surprise to you? I’ll forgive that because you seem like the type not to have been to too many sporting events in your life.

          • doubleunplussed says:

            It surprised me because I thought there would be some symmetry to it. People arrived over the course of a few hours, and we didn’t see everyone immediately rushing to leave, and we left after about an hour.

            We figured maybe the traffic coming in wasn’t so bad because people had somewhere local to stay the night before – if so, wouldn’t a decent fraction also be planning to stay locally the night after the eclipse?

            Maybe what broke the symmetry was simply that the day after the eclipse was a workday, whereas the previous day was a Sunday. Having things that couldn’t easily be missed at work was why we went all the way back to Maryland, otherwise we could have camped again at the same place we were the night before (which was not busy at all). Maybe more people were in that boat where taking a day off work was acceptable, but taking 2 off was a bit of a waste of leave time if you thought you could make it back that night still.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            I expected lots of traffic both ways. When there was no traffic coming in, I assumed that meant there wouldn’t be much going out.

        • Error says:

          I anticipated murdertraffic in both directions, and evaded it by the method of departing shortly before midnight each time. The roads were clear at 2am even along major highways into centerline hotspots.

          I had to pay for an extra day’s hotel room that I didn’t really need, so as to have somewhere to sit around for eight hours after the eclipse — but it was worth it.

          Also, holy shit that was magnificient. I think it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in person.

        • Steinn Sigurdsson says:

          Not only was it predicted, traffic analysts held meetings about it and how to handle it, and held the meeting at the point with likely the worst congestions. And then they wrote about it in the Washington Post.
          Then it happened, as predicted.

          • Antistotle says:

            As noted above the population of Wyoming *doubled* for one day.

            It is a state of sparse roads and the sort of infrastructure to support travelers because there’s almost nothing in most of the state to be interested in. Lots of big sky. Lots of REALLY tough scrub brush. Lots of cows.

            There was literally nothing the state could do to prepare other than “all hands on deck” for LEOs and emergency personel.

            Oddly the only I saw in Wyoming that was acting like a self-important d*k was a Prius. Most people were in (relatively) good humor, considering.

            One dude was expounding to his buddies (all on Hardly Ablesons) that “This sort of traffic only happens every 150 years here in Wyoming. Last time it was covered wagons”).

  2. Baeraad says:

    Well, sure – ruin a perfectly good cliched plot device, why don’tcha? 😛

    • Deiseach says:

      If I believe King Solomon’s Mines, it works better with lunar eclipses and you need to swear at the celestial object 🙂

      The chief laughed a little at the question. “No, my lord, that no man can do. The moon is stronger than man who looks on her, nor can she vary in her courses.”

      “Ye say so. Yet I tell you that tomorrow night, about two hours before midnight, we will cause the moon to be eaten up for a space of an hour and half an hour. Yes, deep darkness shall cover the earth, and it shall be for a sign that Ignosi is indeed king of the Kukuanas. If we do this thing, will ye be satisfied?”

      “Yea, my lords,” answered the old chief with a smile, which was reflected on the faces of his companions; “if ye do this thing, we will be satisfied indeed.”

      …“Then let my lords darken the moon, and save the maiden’s life, and the people will believe indeed.”

      “Ay,” said the old chief, still smiling a little, “the people will believe indeed.”

      …Only Gagool kept her courage.

      “It will pass,” she cried; “I have often seen the like before; no man can put out the moon; lose not heart; sit still — the shadow will pass.”

      “Wait, and ye shall see,” I replied, hopping with excitement. “O Moon! Moon! Moon! wherefore art thou so cold and fickle?” This appropriate quotation was from the pages of a popular romance that I chanced to have read recently, though now I come to think of it, it was ungrateful of me to abuse the Lady of the Heavens, who was showing herself to be the truest of friends to us, however she may have behaved to the impassioned lover in the novel. Then I added: “Keep it up, Good, I can’t remember any more poetry. Curse away, there’s a good fellow.”

      Good responded nobly to this tax upon his inventive faculties. Never before had I the faintest conception of the breadth and depth and height of a naval officer’s objurgatory powers. For ten minutes he went on in several languages without stopping, and he scarcely ever repeated himself

      For a novel about the adventures of Great White Hunters in Darkest Africa, it has a very strong sense of the ridiculous, mediated by the narrator; Allan Quartermain is a prudent, cautious chap who has a strong preference for staying out of fights if he can possibly help it, and no objection to “having determined to go into battle with bare legs, in order to be the lighter for running, in case it became necessary to retire quickly.”

      Passing through these without a word, we gained a hut in the centre of the ground, where we were astonished to find two men waiting, laden with our few goods and chattels, which of course we had been obliged to leave behind in our hasty flight.

      “I sent for them,” explained Infadoos; “and also for these,” and he lifted up Good’s long-lost trousers.

      With an exclamation of rapturous delight Good sprang at them, and instantly proceeded to put them on.

      “Surely my lord will not hide his beautiful white legs!” exclaimed Infadoos regretfully.

      But Good persisted, and once only did the Kukuana people get the chance of seeing his beautiful legs again. Good is a very modest man. Henceforward they had to satisfy their æsthetic longings with his one whisker, his transparent eye, and his movable teeth.

  3. Jugemu says:

    Guess you didn’t have time to make it to the totality area?

    At any rate, I lol’d.

  4. publiusvarinius says:

    This is the best anecdote about Anthropogenic Global Warming ever.

  5. OptimalSolver says:

    Why do rationalsphere writers love the short-fiction method of communication so much? Is it all the influence of Eliezer? You don’t really see this on, say, econ or biology blogs.

    • AnthonyC says:

      Possibly, but I would guess it has more to do with 1) it’s a small community that happens to contain a high fraction of talented fiction writers, including Scott and Alicorn (whose real name I don’t actually know) and Eliezer, 2) there’s a lot of overlap with people who are already fans of sci-fi and fantasy, 3) when trying to convey unfamiliar abstract concepts a short story can sometimes provide an illustrative example that makes it more possible to feel the impact of things that may not exist yet (or anymore, or ever).

      I’ve read the sequences, and every post on SSC, and Superintelligence. Still, Meditations on Moloch and Three Worlds Collide and the Goddess of Everything Else and even the more poetic sections of Making History Available (from Less Wrong) echo in my mind much more readily and unbidden, with much greater emotional impact.

    • Paul Brinkley says:

      One day, tens or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years ago, a hairy biped discovered that it could share sequences of events with its fellow bipeds through grunts and pantomimes and gestures.

      A few of the fellow bipeds found this way of recounting events easy to remember, and repeated the behavior to their fellows. In time, every biped expected other bipeds to tell a story, whenever one of them wanted to share a sequence.

      The purposes varied – sometimes to remember, sometimes to teach, sometimes to inspire. But the form persisted. The media varied as well. Someone figured out how to map some grunts and gestures to scratches in a surface. That turned out to be pretty handy when the scratcher couldn’t be around. Other bipeds would improve upon this – making the scratches easier to remember, organizing them, making them bigger or smaller, changing the surface type, and moving them around faster, and even jiggering them to turn back into grunts and pantomimes when they felt like it. But again, the form persisted.

      It was so persistent, in fact, that it remained in use after the original biped had lain down for the last time. And then after the biped’s progeny lay down. And their progeny after that. And so on down the line, through so many progeny that we no longer know the number. A cruel twist of irony it was that no one had thought to share the sequence of that original biped and where it had lain. Indeed, the possibility of there being multiple such bipeds still exists.

      But it doesn’t matter. The form persists, and it compels. Scott, Eliezer, et al. use it to mindhack other bipeds into remembering sequences far more strongly than they would if it were simply shared as a contemporaneous tangle of trivium, just as this post may cause others to consider the existence of the first human to figure out storytelling.

    • Drew says:

      Stories are good because they make abstract stuff concrete.

      Economists tell stories. Consider the Prisoner’s dilemma, or Battle of the Sexes. In advanced seminars, it’s really common to hear people say stuff like, “I could tell a story where…” to refer to an alternate explanatory model.

      This might not make it to blogs so much. But blogs are mostly debating concrete policy question, so you don’t necessarily need a story beyond the one that’s out in reality. Blogs are less likely to talk about abstract math or alternate formulations for empirical models.

    • tmk says:

      Maybe the rationalsphere, like most social circles, is mostly based on people copying each other. Things don’t always have a rational reason, but you can always invent one if challenged.

  6. saverius says:

    It reminds me of the classic short shory “The Eclipse”, by Augusto Monterroso

    WHEN BROTHER Bartolome Arrazola felt lost he accepted that nothing could save him anymore. The powerful Guatemalan jungle had trapped him inexorably and definitively. Before his topographical ignorance he sat quietly awaiting death. He wanted to die there, hopelessly and alone, with his thoughts fixed on far-away Spain, particularly on the Los Abrojos convent where Charles the Fifth had once condescended to lessen his prominence and tell him that he trusted the religious zeal of his redemptive work.

    Upon awakening he found himself surrounded by a group of indifferent natives who were getting ready to sacrifice him in front of an altar, an altar that to Bartolome seemed to be the place in which he would finally rest from his fears, his destiny, from himself.

    Three years in the land had given him a fair knowledge of the native tongues. He tried something. He said a few words which were understood.

    He then had an idea he considered worthy of his talent, universal culture and steep knowledge of Aristotle. He remembered that a total eclipse of the sun was expected on that day and in his innermost thoughts he decided to use that knowledge to deceive his oppressors and save his life.

    “If you kill me”–he told them, “I can darken the sun in its heights.”

    The natives looked at him fixedly and Bartolome caught the incredulity in their eyes. He saw that a small counsel was set up and waited confidently, not without some disdain.

    Two hours later Brother Bartolome Arrazola’s heart spilled its fiery blood on the sacrificial stone (brilliant under the opaque light of an eclipsed sun), while one of the natives recited without raising his voice, unhurriedly, one by one, the infinite dates in which there would be solar and lunar eclipses, that the astronomers of the Mayan community had foreseen and written on their codices without Aristotle’s valuable help.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Eclipses seem like one scientific observation for which the ancients would often be ahead of modern man. Of course, our scientists observe and predict them too. But in many parts of the world astronomy was the science to which NASA-like resources were devoted. The ONLY structures that survive from some cultures seem to be observatories of sorts.

      Admittedly these are mostly from higher latitudes, in which variations in the angle of the Sun are more obviously connected to survival.

  7. Anonymous Bosch says:

    Lesson learned. Everyone be sure to reserve their hotels in San Antonio now rather than later!

    • Brasidas says:

      I’ll shamelessly plug my home state and suggest viewing at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas which offers pleasant overlooks of the surrounding Arkansas River valley and lies around 5 miles from the center of the 2024 eclipse. A few cabins and several tent sites are available at the park, and it is, under normal circumstances, about a 90 minute drive from Little Rock.

      However, the weather may be less cooperative than south Texas.

      • jeqofire says:

        However, the weather may be less cooperative than south Texas.

        Also being from Arkansas, I’d say this is pretty likely. However, I am not familiar with the weather in South Texas, and am going on Arkansas’s base rate of uncooperative weather.

  8. maintain says:

    Soon to be a major motion picture.

  9. bbartlog says:

    Where in Oregon did you end up going? I was in Madras and traffic was not a huge problem (lost maybe one hour versus completely uncongested travel) – though we did try to time our departure for a kind of lull, by setting out around 8PM on August 21, and anyway our route was one of the less traveled ones once we got past Redmond (west on 126 across the Cascades). Maybe further to the east things got worse, though.

  10. qwints says:

    I hadn’t realized that the event was based on something Columbus actually did.

    • JayT says:

      This fact blew me away when I read it last week. My brothers and I have had a running joke about convenient eclipses going back years, but to find out it was all based off of an actual occurrence was super surprising to me.

    • 2181425 says:

      And not just Columbus (albeit in slightly different circumstances):
      link text

  11. JulieK says:

    Speaking of which, why don’t eclipses occur at regular intervals?

    • random832 says:


      Which is of course a joke, but the reason is still clear from the diagram: because the moon’s orbit is tilted relative to the earth’s. An eclipse happens only when they are aligned correctly, which happens for a ~34-day period every 173.3 days. A full moon in this period will be a lunar eclipse, and a new moon in this period will be a solar eclipse.


      • Douglas Knight says:

        Right, eclipse season occurs like clockwork, about every half of a solar year.* An eclipse is a new or full moon in that period. The phases of the moon occur like clockwork, the (synodic) month. So there is at least one solar and one lunar eclipse each eclipse season. But the lunar cycle is unrelated to the year cycle, so the precise timing of eclipses within the eclipse season is not simple. Also, the quality of the eclipse, the amount occluded, depends on how close to the center of eclipse season the eclipse occurs.

        * The eclipse season is not exactly half of a solar year, because the orbit of the moon precesses. But the point is that the time between eclipse seasons is unrelated to the (synodic) month.

        There are further complications, like where on the Earth the eclipse is visible and how close the Moon is to the Earth, all of which pretty much synchronize in the Saros cycle.

      • JulieK says:

        So is it correct to say eclipses happen at regular intervals (about 173 days), but not always a total eclipse, and not always visible from an inhabited place? Do total eclipses happen at regular intervals (some multiple of 173)?

        Also, does the eclipse season always coincide with one of the same 2 months in the Muslim calendar?

        • Douglas Knight says:

          The eclipse year is 347 days, so it moves with respect to the solar year by about 20 days each year. The Islamic calendar is only 354 days, so the eclipse season moves more slowly, but it still moves. Every 4 years, the month of the eclipse changes.

          The Saros cycle of 18 years brings almost everything back together. 18 years from now, there will be an eclipse very similar to the one we just saw. Not quite identical, but it will also be total. But there will be about a dozen other total eclipses in between.

        • random832 says:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eclipse_cycle has some detail about various forms of regularity (the eclipses belonging to a cycle will not be the only eclipses in the time period covered by the series). One such period of interest is the Saros, which is about 38 of the 173-day cycles. There is an animation on one of the pages of a series that goes from partial eclipses near the south pole in 1360, to long total eclipses near the equator in the 20th century, to partial eclipses near the north pole in 2622, with the eclipse path moving northward with each instance.

          It’s worth mentioning that there is no connection between these cycles and the Earth’s rotation – the 2035 eclipse, next in this cycle, will be visible in China and North Korea. So, the characterization of an eclipse being visible at any one place as random is reasonable, even if “once in a lifetime” is an exaggeration. And the cycles overlap, so it’s harder for a casual observer to notice the regularity.

  12. Dragon God says:

    I don’t understand.

    • poipoipoi says:

      1) The eclipse takes a really, really long time to start. About 2 hours from start to peak.

      2) The average highway lane can do 2000 cars per hour, the average side road lane (with lights and things) 750. Several (ten?) million people decided to watch the eclipse and then all left at the same time when it was over. Admittedly, they weren’t all in the same spot, but the exact same logic that makes it take 2 hours to get home from the sportsball game applies here too.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        1) And even a near-total eclipse is not very notable. (1% of full sunlight is very bright.) I was very close to totality, and it looked a little dark outside, like an overcast day except the sun was shining. If no one told me there was an eclipse I could easily have not noticed anything despite being outside. And furtive glances at the sun didn’t reveal anything weird.

  13. Naclador says:

    Thanks Scott, a funny one. But do you really think a shaman with hardly any knowledge of English would use phrases like “overly complicated explanation”? Maybe you stick with Chesterton for the moment, that story was extremely convincing.

  14. JulieK says:

    I’m not a politically correct sort of person, but even so it bothers me to have the natives depicted as speaking comically broken English- it seems like a cheap dig. (Despite rationally knowing that I shouldn’t look down on them for it, since obviously their command of English is better than the explorer’s command of their language.)

    • Naclador says:

      What other kind of English would you have the natives speak? I would rather say their language is still inappropriately elaborate. I find it interesting that you object to the natives speaking broken English, but not to them being depicted as cannibals.

    • Gerry Quinn says:

      Tribal natives lucky. Caveman not even permitted complex sentences. Six words maximum for Ug.

    • antilles says:

      The ironic tension comes from the fact that their broken English is being used to make some really remarkably good points, and they are on the right track as far as proving that the explorer is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. If they were speaking fluent English it wouldn’t help drive home the point that rational thinking ability is not related either to English competency or level of scientific education.

  15. So we drove to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which from Ann Arbor was the closest town (measured by Google Maps driving time) at center of the path of totality.

    Coincidentally, a point just north of Hopkinsville was the most geometrically perfect point of the eclipse, so the Vatican’s official astronomer* came from Rome to see the eclipse there. Hopkinsville optimistically branded itself as “Eclipseville USA” and tried to make the most of its two minutes out of the sun.

    By the time I was making plans, every hotel room within two hours’ drive of Hopkinsville was booked, so I reserved one in Louisville. On the day of the eclipse, we rose very early, and drove directly to Hopkinsville without the slightest problem. We had a parking space reserved at the Hopkinsville campus of Murray State University.

    After the eclipse, we thought we’d just drive into Hopkinsville proper and look around, but once we got there, practically every street was gridlocked with traffic. We saw traffic lights change from red to green to red to green without any movement, because there was nowhere for people ahead of us to go. Nor was there any place to pull off and park.

    It occurred to me that people leaving Hopkinsville, going back to where they came from, were filling up the roads going north or northeast. But they were unlikely to be returning to areas east from Hopkinsville, because that was also in the path of totality. People from that direction were unlikely to have gone all the way to Hopkinsville.

    I got through some side streets to US 68, eastbound, and it was clear sailing all the way to Bowling Green. From there, we took I-65 to Louisville without much difficulty.

    Along US 68, about ten miles east of Hopkinsville, we noticed a huge obelisk resembling the Washington Monument. It was the birthplace of Jefferson Davis. The massive tower that was built to honor his memory, the second tallest obelisk in the world, is a Confederate monument that dwarfs all the mere statues.

    I parked and went to see it and take pictures, but my daughter refused to get out of the car.

    * Guy Consolmagno S.J. (his official title is Director of the Vatican Observatory) is originally from Michigan. He was the guest of honor at a science fiction convention I attended some years back.

    • random832 says:

      Hopkinsville optimistically branded itself as “Eclipseville USA” and tried to make the most of its two minutes out of the sun.

      And Carbondale, IL has branded itself as the “Eclipse Crossroads of America”, since it is quite close to the point where the path of this year’s eclipse and that of 2024 intersect, and thus best positioned to actually get repeat business out of the eclipse.

  16. Gerry Quinn says:

    I’ve always waited for them to come to me.

    • Random Poster says:

      I’m guessing none of them have come to you so far, since you are still alive to comment here.

      Oh wait, did you mean eclipses instead of cannibals?

  17. Nancy Lebovitz says:

    I enjoyed the story. I’m very fond of humor about things not working– Three Men in a Boat, Dave Barry, that sort of thing.

  18. anonymousskimmer says:

    The real trick is to refrain from blotting out the sun after they precautionarily release you prior to the eclipse. 2 hours isn’t that long to get out of their vengeful reach.