12 September

Potentially devastating idea

So we are drinking a...

Smokestack Lightning

On this day in 1933, a physicist named Leo Szilard was standing at the traffic lights where Russell Square joins Southampton Row in London. The lights turned green, he stepped off the pavement and... Szilard realised, in an instant, that the atom could be split, releasing unquantifiable amounts of energy. And he kept his discovery to himself.

Why? He had just fled Germany - as a Jew, he could already see what Hitler had in mind for him - and his number one priority was that Hitler never achieved the atom bomb. In 1939, though, as World War II began, Szilard prevailed on his friend and colleague Einstein to write a letter he had drafted, asking the US Government to begin research. Towards the end of the war, he warned of the dangers of a long term global arms race.

So, if you're wandering past Russell Square today, stop at the lights and take a look. Or just toast that terrifying and brilliant lightning strike of inspiration with one of our own creations, a Smokestack Lightning.

H.L. Mencken's birthday

On this day in 1880, Henry Louis Mencken, the writer known simply as H.L., made his debut into the world. A great prose stylist, despite his repellent political views, H.L. Mencken was drinking buddies with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Anita Loos, among others, and many of his writings on language are still in print today.

Cocktail geeks have much to thank Mencken for. He researched the etymology of the word "cocktail" - quite possibly inventing some of the most colourful explanations. He calculated how many different cocktails a well-stocked bar could produce: 17,864,392,788.

And he wrote passionately about bars and booze, once describing the Martini as "the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet". We'll raise a toast to this literary mischief-maker in a suitably mischievous drink: the Reverse Martini, which takes the classic proportions of the Dry Martini and turns them on their head.

Ancient art unveiled

Today in 1940, Marcel Ravidat, an 18-year-old mechanic from the village of Montignac in France, stumbled on one of the great wonders of the world: the Lascaux Caves, an ancient human habitation lined with wonderfully lifelike paintings of charging stags, galloping horses and leaping bulls.

Nobody knows whether they were sympathetic magic or an early form of entertainment - what is certain is that they had survived for around 17,000 years. In honour of those ancient French artists, and the chap who discovered them, we are drinking a French Cocktail, an adult but accessible take on the 1990s French Martini.