I’d been in the Navy six years when I was assigned to the USS Ashtabula (AO-51). The ship was big, old, slow and it stunk. It was about 37 years old, depending on which part of the ship you were standing in. The aft section, which included all of the machinery spaces, boilers and engines was the only part of the ship that was originally built in 1943.
The forecastle was blown up in about 1958 by someone welding with an acetylene torch. The midsection, which included everything between the fore and aft superstructures was replaced in 1968.
It was my job to maintain the dead reckoning analyzer, a crude computer that received the ship’s speed and direction information. In turn it fed north-south and/or east-west speed and direction info to two electric motors. The motors drove two lead screws. Attached to the lead screws was a pencil. The pencil was attached to a timer and at certain intervals, a magnet would operate and the pencil would make a mark on a navigation chart to mark the ship’s position.
The dead reckoning system was of no practical use by the late 1970s except in the case of a man overboard and for that reason, the equipment had to be operational at all times. The analyzer and table always worked fine during daylight hours, but as soon as the boatswain’s mate of the watch piped taps, one of them would quit. I would have to get up out of my rack and go to the Combat Information Center, where I spent the rest of the night cleaning carbon contacts or commutators, petting the equipment and saying nice things to coax it along.
So, it was because of the Mark 4 Mod 2 Dead Reckoning Table that I began drinking coffee. It didn’t really keep me awake, but everyone in CIC drank the stuff, so just to be sociable and to make them quit pestering me, I started drinking it.
I don’t know why I still drink coffee. It’s a kind of conundrum.
I like the word conundrum.
It’s not an important word. I don’t know where it came from and neither, apparently, do the editors of the Merriam-Webster Unabridged Collegiate Dictionary since its etymology is unknown and it has nothing to do with joining together or anything of equal value, women belonging to a religious order, or a percussion instrument.
The word, to me at least, is exactly what it means. It is in itself one of those riddles to which there is no answer, such as: Is there life on other planets? What came first, the chicken or egg? Are there dead aliens stored in a warehouse in Area 51?
My favorite conundrum is the Newco drip coffee maker at work that was donated to the newsroom in 1994 by Betty Marlowe. The machine was 2 years old when she brought it with her from the Voice of Evangelism. Actually, it was the late Ron Kosemund who kept coffee brewing at the Banner for about 35 years.
This is not a knock on the Newco coffee maker because the 19-year-old machine has kept the newsroom going on caffeine for 17 years and it makes good-tasting coffee.
The riddle is this: If 12 cups of water are poured in the reservoir and it only brews six cups of coffee, what happens to the other six cups of water? If six cups more are added, that should make 18 cups of coffee and a huge mess on the floor. Instead it only fills the carafe two more cups.
If four more cups are added to the reservoir, then there should be 12 cups of coffee in the carafe and 10 on the floor. However, only two cups drip into the carafe, filling it to the 10-cup line. If two more cups of water are poured into the reservoir, making a total of 24 cups, then the carafe overflows by two cups.
So, the conundrum is: Where are the 12 cups of water that didn’t drip into the carafe?
Ron should have taken the thing with him when he retired Dec. 31, 2008. It was his coffee maker, but after his death on Feb. 7, 2009, I was glad to see it was still a fixture in the break room and I smile a little bit at the riddle he left behind.