Posted in Science & Nature


The hardest object on the Earth is diamond. A diamond is famous not only for its hardness but also its luxuriousness and unique lustre. One might call it the king of all jewels. Would you believe then that such a beautiful, tough gemstone is made of the same thing as charcoal and graphite? Diamond is crystallised carbon where the carbon atoms are neatly arranged in a pyramid lattice. Charcoal and graphite are also made of carbon but the carbon atoms are placed in a different configuration, giving them a different look and characteristics. This unique lattice shape can only be achieved under extreme pressure (such as in the mantle of the Earth or in a meteorite). Thus, a diamond is just carbon that has endured stress well.

If diamond is the hardest material, then how can one cut it? The answer is simple – use a diamond. As it is near impossible to polish or cut without knowing this, diamonds were only used in the form of ores until the modern age. In 1919, a mathematician named Marcel Tolkowsky calculated the optimum proportions of a diamond cut to obtain the best lustre. The first time he struck the diamond with a nail, he fainted from the shock. He succeeded the second time and devised the round brilliant cut used most popularly nowadays.

Diamond is especially used in engagement rings. About 80% of all engagement rings sold in the United States are diamond rings. This may be because the toughness of diamond symbolises undying love, but another key reason is due to diamond syndicates and their marketing campaign. Even until the 1930’s, there was a tradition of women keeping their virginity until their engagement. Thus, if a man proposed to a woman, took her virginity and broke off the engagement, the woman had a legal right to sue the man. Diamond syndicate De Beers thought that this tradition was an excellent money-making scheme. They planted the idea that offering a diamond ring when proposing put a price on the woman’s virginity and encouraged men to buy more expensive rings to show their love and respect for the woman. This manipulative advertising campaign was a great success and the price of diamond skyrocketed very quickly. Now, a diamond ring is almost an essential item when proposing. Thanks to these companies, there are still many African children who are being slaved in diamond mines.

Posted in History & Literature

Playing Cards

Playing cards are the basis of so many games due to their diversity and adaptability. It can be used for any game from poker to the Eleusis game, from house of cards to magic tricks.
One thing that is often overlooked is the long history of cards and the various symbolisms hidden within. For example, the suits may have the following symbolism:

Spades            Nobility, swords, war
Hearts             Church, cups, love and romance
Diamonds    Merchants, coins, wealth
Clubs               Peasants, clubs/batons, agriculture

Although there are many debates regarding this issue, there is substantial evidence that the court cards (Kings, Queens and Jacks/Knaves) are based on historical or mythical heroes and heroines, at least for the French deck that is commonly used nowadays. The following is the list of presumed models for each card:

King of Spades                David (biblical hero)
King of Hearts                Charlemagne (great king of Franks)
King of Diamonds        Julius Caesar (great Roman emperor)
King of Clubs                   Alexander the Great (the king of Macedon)

Queen of Spades             Joan of Arc (the French heroine) or Athena (the goddess of war)
Queen of Hearts             Judith (either the biblical heroine or the tragic queen of Bavaria)
Queen of Diamonds    Rachel (wife of Jacob in the bible – he waited 14 years for her)
Queen of Clubs               Argine (anagram of regina, Latin for queen) or Hera (queen of gods)

Jack of Spades                Holger Le Danois (knight of Charlemagne)
Jack of Hearts                La Hire (comrade of Joan of Arc, member of Charles VII’s court)
Jack of Diamonds       Hector (the hero of the Trojan War or the knight of Charlemagne)
Jack of Clubs                  Lancelot (King Arthur’s most trusted knight)

Although the models for the Kings and Jacks are quite clear, the Queens are still subject to many discussions. As modern playing cards originate from France circa 15th century, the above models (official names for each card back then) appearto be valid.
This also explains the ordering of suits (spades/nobility first, clubs/peasants last, hearts/church second and diamonds/merchants third) and how the Ace sometimes trumps the King (possibly symbolising how peasant hold the power, as in the French Revolution).

Sometimes, knowing the history behind a game can make it even more fun.