Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Answer: Two difficult to find objects?

 That was fun!  

Last week I posed two Challenges, both of which I thought were fairly tough--but the SRS Regular Readers found it fairly straightforward.  Kudos to you!  (At the end I'll come back to why I found this difficult, and why I think you found them straightforward.)  

Here are the Challenges from last week: 
1.  In my reading I keep seeing references to a compilation of short stories that was put together by the English playwright, novelist, and short story writer Somerset Maugham.  The collection is called Tellers of Tales: One Hundred Short Stories from the United States, England, France, Russia and Germany. (1939)  It's easy to find references to it, but I'd really like to read it.  Can you find a full-view copy of this book that I can read online (without having to spend a zillion dollars)?  

I'm going to quote Regular Reader Arthur Weiss on this (lightly edited):  

First I tried Google Books and Project Gutenberg - as the anthology should be out of print. Then I just did a Google search:  

["teller of tales" "One Hundred Short Stories from the United States, England, France, Russia and Germany" Maugham ]

And up came: One Hundred Short Stories... 

Hard copy versions are available to purchase from a few places for around $50 or less at like and other sites.

Maugham's own works are easier to find online - but this was an anthology. You can see his collected stories at

LESSON: The Internet Archive now includes much much more than archived websites.

That's a good lesson there at the end:  The Internet Archive DOES have much more than you might expect.  I promise to queue up a post about the Archive in the near future.  Stay tuned.  


Regular Readers found this pretty straightforward; there are multiple variations on this search that will work.  Interestingly, this also leads to Amazon and eBay (you could buy a used copy there), and to Hathi Trust (but it's not in full-view).  Like you, the only full-view copy I could find is at the Internet Archive. 

2.  Also in my reading, I came across a word that seems to describe some kind of very old fastener.  The word is "latchet," but it does not have anything to do with shoes (e.g., a string used to fasten a shoe) or any kind of fish.  It took me a while to find a good image of what a latchet fastener is--can you find one and tell us what it is?  And for extra credit, where and when were latchets primarily used?  

The Readers also found this fairly easy to discover.  There were two strategies:  

A.  [ latchet fastener ] 
B.  [ latchet -shoe -sandal -fish ] 

They both work perfectly.  The A strategy just includes a description of what a latchet is ("fastener"), while the B strategy removes terms that would lead to false positives (I told you it wasn't a shoe, so -shoe makes a lot of sense).  

And what's a latchet?  When I did this search [ latchet fastener ] , I ended up looking to Google Books and finding a number of books that talk about latchets.  I learned quickly that it was a Celtic fastener that holds two parts of a large cloak or coat together.  That led me to The Archaeology of Celtic Britain and Ireland, where I found this illustration on page 151: 

Interestingly, this book points out that latchets usually had spirals of wire ("which experiments have found to be highly effective"), but that few of the spirals have survived.  

Thus, images of latchets such as the one on the Irish stamp: 

or the one from the British Museum (and found on the Google Cultural site; see also this different latchet at the British Museum web site, which has a great zoom function)...  

are both missing the spiral wires that "latch" the pieces of clothing together.  Still, they're beautiful, and capture the desire of people in pre-history to create lovely things.  

Why was this hard for Dan? 

I was impressed by everyone's skill at finding these "difficult to find" objects.  So... why this tough for me? 

Not excuses, but background!  

When I started searching for the Somerset Maugham book, I also assumed it was out of copyright and would be in free view on Google Books, so I started there, and spent a fair bit of time looking in there trying to find the free view version... which, I discovered, doesn't exist in that collection.  

Next I went directly to Hathi Trust... and found the same thing.  

Eventually, like you, I looked in the site and found it there. I know they have a more liberal interpretation of copyright than the other sites, but I figured everyone else would recap my search... but NO!  You went straight to the Archive and found it.  

Lesson:  Start your search broadly and then narrow; rather than what I did, which was to start narrow and only after a couple of failures, search broadly.  In particular, do NOT assume those important properties that undermine your search (such as "it's out of copyright").  

Second, when I started looking for the latchet I had two problems.  First, I ran across the word while reading a book.. which unfortunately spelled it as "lachet," which is an alternative spelling of the shoe binding.  It took me a while to figure out that that's the not the correct spelling for the thing I was searching for.  Second, I wasn't 100% sure what a latchet (or lachet) even was.  It was mentioned in a text that didn't provide a lot of context--all I knew is that it was Celtic and used to connect a piece of clothing, but not a part of a shoe.  Once I figured out that it was spelled LATCHET, I then got sidetracked by all of the meanings of latchet that are about shoe fasteners.  This was a bit of a false lead because there's plenty of content around historic latchet shoes (e.g., this page about 17th century Scottish shoes!).  

It was only after reading further in the text that I realized that the latchet under discussion significantly pre-dated the 17th century. As I read, I finally learned that the story was about the 6th Century.  Big oops on my part.  

Lesson:  Check your spelling (especially when you're searching for a term that has alternative spellings), and be sure that what you're searching for is... well... exactly what you're searching for!  

What does this mean for my estimate of the difficulty level?  

I think I gave you a bit too much help!  I told you that it was spelled "latchet" and that it didn't have anything to do with shoes.  Big tip.  You were able to take advantage of the little clues, just as you should.  

And I bet you started your book searches broadly (as I always tell you to do), and didn't make my foolish mistake of assuming that I knew more about the book than was true.  

Ah well... Live and learn.  

I hope you learned as much about searching for "difficult to find" objects as I did!  I'm reminded also that what's difficult for me, might not be difficult for you--and vice-versa.  

Congrats to all who successfully found the objects.  Excellent job!  

Search on! 

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