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FRAN UNDERWOODóMemories and Practical Jokes

from Mitch Marcus - elmit atsign att dot net


Fran and I worked together in the same department during some of our early years at IBM Endicott. We were not only coworkers but became close friends as well. We lost touch for awhile after Fran transferred to San Jose but in post-retirement years I found Fran again with assistance from IBM. Fran was living in Monterey CA at the time and we were living in Boca Raton FL. The timing was perfect because my wife, Ellie, and I were about to visit California, so we had a reunion with Fran in Monterey. Fran and I have kept in close touch ever since.

One of the things that Fran and I have in common is our love of puzzles and problems. We used to await each issue of Scientific American so we could read Martin Gardnerís "Mathematical Games" column and tackle his problems. We then compared notes and awaited the next issue for the answers and the next set of problems. Fran and I even dreamed up problems of our own which we exchanged to challenge each other.

My earliest memory of Franís sharp mind and broad range of knowledge: I was working on a circuit diagram at my drawing board. Next to me, an engineer was working on a large mechanical design at his drawing board.

Fran was walking along the aisle behind our drawing boards. He glanced down briefly at my diagram as he passed, and then did the same as he was passing the mechanical drawing. With a one-second look at the drawing from his upside-down vantage point, he immediately spotted an error which he pointed out to the designer.

Practical Jokes

There was a practical joker in our department (who will remain unnamed). Fran had a great sense of humor. He enjoyed practical jokesóeven when he was the recipient. I recall three of them. I wonder if Fran remembers them.

1. Fran was working on a relay contact circuit diagram. While he was gone, someone altered the diagram. Here is what Fran found: A ladder had been drawn on the left edge of the diagram, reaching from the bottom to the top. The contacts immediately to the right of the ladder had been erased, leaving wires connected to nothing. Near the top of the ladder was a little man. In one hand, he was holding a contact that he had just "removed". In the other hand, he was holding a bucket filled to overflowing with the removed contacts.

2. Fran was away one December when the secretary handed out the new one-a-day calendars for the coming year. Someone carefully removed and preserved the cellophane wrapper from Fran's new calendar. Then he removed Franís old calendar from its stand, discarded the relatively few sheets with Franís handwriting on them, and inserted the old calendar into the cellophane wrapper and resealed it. Lastly, he mounted the new calendar on the stand, turning it to the present date.

Fran eventually got around to updating his calendar. He removed from the stand what he thought was his old calendar and dumped the sheets into the wastebasket. He then started installing what he thought was his new calendar. Suddenly he said, "This is strange. This new calendar has some handwriting on it. Hey, itís my handwriting!" (The perp had missed removing that one sheet.)

Finale: Fran's desk was covered with the sheets retrieved from his wastebasket as he re-collated his new calendar.

3. While Fran was away, someone disassembled his pencil sharpener. He also disassembled a draftsman pencil sharpener. He then interchanged one of the two internal cutters from each sharpener so that each sharpener now had one standard cutter and one draftsman cutter. (On a standard sharpener, the cutters meet, cutting the lead to a point. On a draftsman sharpener, the cutters have a space between them equal to the thickness of the pencil lead, so they cut through the wood only, leaving the lead untouched.) The perp reassembled the two sharpeners, remounted one where Fran's had been, and stashed the other one where he knew Fran would find it.

Fran eventually used his sharpener. With one cutter cutting into the lead and the other cutting only up to the lead, the sharpener produced a skinny corkscrew point, so fragile that it broke as soon as Fran tried to write with it. Knowing that someone has messed with his sharpener, Fran searched for and found the other sharpener. He unmounted the first sharpener, mounted the second one, and got the same unusable corkscrew point.

Finale: Franís desk was covered with parts from both sharpeners as he figured out how to reassembe them properly.

The next time the perp was away, Fran got even. When the perp got back and unlocked his desk, the top middle drawer didn't spring out as it usually did. (This prevented all the other drawers from opening also.) The

perp got a flashlight and crawled under the desk to search for the trouble. He noticed a screw on the

underside of the drawer that didnít look like it belonged there. He unscrewed it and the drawer popped open. Fran had screwed the drawer to the underside of the desk.