Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wednesday search challenge (5/2/12): From fish to football--what's the connection?

I’m still in Belize, scuba diving with a few friends and looking at lots of fish.  As  you probably know, the study of fish has been a hot topic in science for many years.  Here, for example, is an image from a 17th century scientific study of fish.

Now the reason I bring this to you in a Search Challenge is that there’s an interesting story behind this picture. 

As I said, this book was published in the 17th century.  Typically, publishers like to make a little money after the publication of a book, or at very least they want to break even.  But in this case, the publisher almost lost everything putting this book out to print, which left them unable to fund the production of the next book.  It turned out that the nearly-unpublished book was probably one of the most influential books in the history of science.  Luckily, someone stepped in at the last minute and paid for the publication of book 2.

To get to the story in tomorrow’s answer, you need to find out the following pieces of the puzzle:

   1.  What’s the name of this book about fishes? 

   2.  What publisher was nearly bankrupted by its publication?   

   3.  The original author also wrote an early definitive study of games. 
        What, according to the author, was sometimes inserted into a football

        to make it a little more mobile, and keep it from just lying there? 

And for extra credit…

   4. Since the publisher was nearly bankrupt, who actually put up the
       money to pay for the publication of the NEXT book by this publisher? 

I know this all sounds improbable, but it’s a really fascinating set of interlocking stories.  Try the search, and as usual, let us know the answers and how long it took for you to find them!

Search on!


  1. Searched for the image using the image in your blog post to get to

    1. The Historia Piscium (1686)

    2. Royal Society

    Searched for [francis willughby book of games]

    Searched inside the book at Google Books [football]

    3. Leather encasement around a bladder filled with air. Page 245

    4. "it was saved from obscurity by Edmund Halley, then Clerk at the Royal Society, who raised the funds to publish the work, providing much of the money from his own pocket."

    Time 20 minutes

  2. 1. Historia Piscium

    2. Royal Society

    3. Quicksilver

    4. Edmund Halley

  3. This one was almost too easy! Googling "17th century book on fishes" brings up 2 articles from only April 19th which clearly show the same picture and answer all questions except 3. Googling the two authors will take you to their Wikipedia page where the one for Willughby mentions the use of quicksilver (mercury) being placed within a football (or bladder, at the time).

    1. Historia Piscium
    2. Royal Society
    2. Quicksilver (author is Francis Willughby)
    4. Edmund Halley

  4. This was super easy. Especially if you already knew the study of fish was icthyology. I didn't and it was still easy.
    First googled: "important science book fishes 17th century"
    Which had a link to wikipedia's icthyology page.
    So I googled: "influential icthyology book 17th century" and the same wikipedia article was prominently there so I clicked it for more info (it also had something about 17th century in it).
    In the 16-17th century section it had one book that was linked called
    1) "Historia_Piscium" written by "Francis Willughby"
    clicking it told me that it was published by the
    2) "Royal Society"
    and nearly bankrupt them so the next book (Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica) was published by
    4) "Edmund Halley"
    Clicking on "Francis Willughby's" link explained about his book "Francis Willughby's Book of Games" in which he claims that
    3) quicksliver (aka mercury)
    was sometimes added to soccer balls to keep them from lying still.

    Interesting stories and facts but not a terribly difficult search. Altogether maybe 5 minutes due to a slow internet connection.

  5. QUESTION 3 I started with question 3 and searched the second sentence "what, according to the author..." in google. It seemed most unique of the queries.
    Scrolling down results page, i found a wikipedia page referring to quicksilver, francis willughby and medieval football
    Answer: They used to put quicksilver into footballs to keep it from lying still
    Francis Willughby's Book of Games: A Seventeenth- Century Treatise on Sports ...
    By Francis Willughby, David Cram, Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Dorothy Johnsto
    I searched francis willughby and read that he was an ichthyologist.
    John Ray, a naturalist published Ornithologia libri tres which was the beginning of scientific orinthology in Europe
    In the Search Challenge the book is described as 'one of the most influential books in the history of science'... while the start of the scientific study of birds and taxonomy may be influential, I wonder if Daniel Russell is alluding to a connection with Charles Darwin and his eventual finch studies. Seems to me that the language of the Search Challenge alluded to an even larger scientific contribution
    so I searched "francis willughby fish" - which changed my answer completely
    this article brought up this msnbc article that outlined the entire story and prominently displayed the fish engraving from the Search Challenge
    Answer: Edmond Halley -astronomer, put up the money for the publication
    Answer: the book was called "Historia Piscium" or "The History of Fishes"
    Answer: the publisher that was nearly bankrupt was the young Royal Society

    I tried to be as efficient in the search as possible, but then realized there was an even more efficient way, which I want to try on future searches.
    Really interesting story!

  6. 1. "De historia piscium", 1686 by Francis Willughby

    2. The Royal Society

    3. A quicksilver

    4. Edmund Halley, clerk of the society.

    I did an image search and quickly found the name and publisher. With the name, I was able to pluck the rest from Wikipedia.

    It only took a few minutes to find the answers I submitted. Great if they are right!

  7. This took less than 5 minutes. I googled "17th century book fish" without the quotes and the 3rd entry was this page which was obviously the answer so I went straight to it. There I found answers to questions 1, 2 and 4.

    1. What’s the name of this book about fishes? Historia Piscium, or History of Fishes, by John Ray and Francis Willughby.

    2. What publisher was nearly bankrupted by its publication? The Royal Society.

    4. Since the publisher was nearly bankrupt, who actually put up the money to pay for the publication of the NEXT book by this publisher? Edmund Halley.

    To answer question 3, I searched both authors in Wikipedia and in Willughby's page there is a quotation from his book "Francis Willughby's Book of Games" which talks about footballs and finishes with "They used to put quicksilver into it sometimes to keep it from lying still"

  8. Historia Piscium

    Royal Society

    France Willughby Book of Games--insert quicksilver

    Edmond Halley (Halley's Comet) to publish the Principia by Isaac Newton

    This took me about 20 minutes including 5 minutes on Izaak Walton and the Compleat Angler. I decided that my conclusion was wrong so I searched again "17th century book about fish". I saw that the Guardian had an article about the book and Isaac Newton so I read that. Found out who wrote the History of Fish, googled the two authors and got to Francis Willughby's page on Wikipedia. Near the end of the article, it discusses the quicksilver trick.


  10. This took longer to document for my post than it did to actually find the information.

    google: 17th century book of fish

    First result:

    1. Historia Piscium


    "Historia Piscium" published by

    first result:

    2. Royal Society

    click name on wiki page for Francis Willughby:

    Wiki page for Francis contains details about his book: Francis Willughby's Book of Games

    3. quicksilver was added

    From the Wiki Page on De Historia piscium:

    4. Edmund Halley financed: Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Newton

  11. 1. "A History of Fishes," by John Ray and Francis Willughby
    2. Royal Society
    3. Quicksilver
    4. Edmund Halley

    About 5 minutes through Yahoo! News and Wikipedia.

  12. I found quite quickly the answers for three questions:

    1. Historia Piscium” or “The History of Fishes.
    Searching with the Image Search.

    2. The Royal Society
    The search for question 1 led to this link which includes also the answers to questions 2 and 4:

    4. Edmond Halley, the astronomer. Same link.

    Still searching for the answer to question 3.

    Luiz Henrique - Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

  13. 3. quicksilver
    From wikipedia:
    I used the * in the search:
    "put a * inside the ball" Francis Willughby and got there.

  14. The name of the book is The Historia Piscium by Francis Willughby and John Ray. It was published with the financial support of The Royal Society. As for what was put inside of a football, the answer is quicksilver. The next book by the publisher was Sir Isaac Newton's Principia, funded by Edmund Halley a clerk at the Royal Society.

    Took me roughly 7 minutes.

  15. Searched for "Fish book 17th century" in google images. The second picture lead to this:

    That tells it all:
    1) A History of Fishes by John Ray and Francis Willughby
    2) Royal Society
    4) Edmund Halley

    For 3) search Francis Willughby and football which leads to Wikipedia
    3) "They used to put quicksilver into it sometimes to keep it from lying still"

  16. 1) Historia Piscium (History of Fishes) , by John Ray and Francis Willughby

    2) Royal Society

    3) Quicksilver

    4) Edmund Halley, Clerk at the Royal Society.

    Took about 6 minutes. With a search on books of fish from the 17th century. Eventually an article the guardian led me to most of the answers except quicksilver. A quick search of Francis Willughby brought up quicksilver.

  17. 1) Google image search leads to:

    Which provided the title: De historia piscium libri quatuor or "The Historia Piscium"

    2) From the same page: The Royal Society was responsible for the printing of the plates. The book did not sell well, and the resulting financial deficit made it impossible for the Society to pay for the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica.

    3) From Wikipedia ( "They used to put quicksilver into it sometimes to keep it from lying still"

    4) Also from Wikipedia ( - the cost of publication was borne by Edmund Halley (who was also then acting as publisher of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society)

  18. 1. De Historia piscium
    2. Royal Society
    3. Bull Penis
    4. Edmond Halley

    took about 15 minutes to find the answer.

  19. < 5minutes
    1. Historia Piscium by John Ray and Francis Willughby
    2. Royal Society
    3. -- Couldn't find this one
    4. Edmund Halley, then Clerk at the Royal Society

  20. 1. A History of Fishes, by John Ray and Francis Willughby

    2. The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge

    3. Quicksilver

    4. Edmund Halley

    I searched on "17th century book fishes bankrupt". Jumping ahead to the bankruptcy question was the trick for 1, 2, and 4. #3 took the longest since you had to pick an author and follow along the thread. Cool stuff, took about 7 minutes - thanks!

  21. This one was super easy. Google image search gave up the name of the book, Wikipedia article on the book let to the author whose article had the rest of the answers. Took abut two minutes, 1 out of 10 difficulty.

    1) De Historia piscium
    2) The Royal Society of London
    3) Mercury
    4) Edmund Halley, then clerk of the Royal Society.

  22. 1. The name of the book is Historia Piscium (a History of Fishes) by John Ray and Francis Willughby.

    2. The book was published by the Royal Society.

    3. In Willughby's Book of Games, he proposes adding quicksilver to the inside of the ball.

    4. The next book published by the Royal Society was Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy).

    The search took 13 minutes. i initially assumed the "important book" was Origin of Species, which led to a dead end. I then did a Google Image search. This led to, which has almost all of the information necessary. The last step was to investigate the authors, which led to an account of Book of Games.

  23. My first search was "fish book bankrupted publisher" and the first hit was a link to a Daily Mail story published on April 19, 2012 which included the picture.

    In it, I learned the The Royal Society was the publisher of the "A History of Fishes" and because sales were so dismal they almost didn't publish Newton's Principia. The money for that was largely provided by Edmund Halley, who was the Society's Clerk.

    I still needed to learn about the football element, so the next search was "Francis Willughby games book football" and the third hit, which I chose to read first, was a Wikipedia entry. In it I learned that quicksilver was the mysterious addition.

    I did two searches and in each case the first entry I read on each contained the information I needed. Total time: less than two minutes, including reading.

  24. Answer 1) 10 seconds, search query on google: 'fish book bankrupt 17 century', First link

    Answer 2) 0 seconds, same article (Royal Society)

    Answer 4) 0 seconds, same article (Edmund Halley)

    Answer 3) 10 seconds, google query: 'francis study of games', First link,

  25. Hi Mr. Dan,

    I love the search QUESTion this week.

    here are my answers: took me 20 minutes

    1. The name of the book is DE HISTORIA PISCIUM (History of Fishes) by FRANCIS WILLUGHBY

    2. The book was published by Royal Society of London in 1686.

    3. Quicksilver (liquid metal mercury)is put into the ball to keep it lying still.

    4. (I particularly like this connection). Edmond Halley (famous for computing the orbit of the comet's named after him) financed Newtons's Principia but was informed by the society that they cannot longer afford promised salary and instead paid with the left-over copies of De Historia Piscium

  26. 1.History of Fishes(De Historia Piscium)
    2.Royal Society of a bull's cod
    4.Edmund Halley

  27. Answers:
    1. Historia Piscium (a History of Fishes) by John Ray and Francis Willughby, 1686.
    2. Royal Society.
    3. Quicksilver
    4. Edmund Halley

    The route:
    An image search pointed to this page on physicsworld, ,
    where we have the answers to questions 1, 2 and 4.
    A scan of Farancis Willughby's Wikipedia page gives the answer to question 3.

    The whole research took less than 10 minutes! :)

  28. Googled " 17th century scientific study of fish", checked Image, the second picture shown was the one in the post, which led to a Guardian article, , and the name of the book Historia Piscium. Found it on Wikipedia, along with the answers to Q2, the Royal Society, and Q4, Edmund Halley. Then found the answer to Q3 on the Author's wiki page, quicksilver. These took about 2 mins.

    Probably should have checked if wiki lied to me but decided unlikely.

  29. Great challenge this. It became easy once I'd "stepped back" a bit, like with all these things.

    I also wanted to say that this is my favourite blog on the web!

    Took about 5-10 mins

  30. I tried this and interestingly I came across a different book that has the same illustration. The book is called Aquatilium animalium historiae and was written by Salviani in 1557

    Compare the page below:

    to the picture from the book:

    You will notice that they are identical.