It was necessary to keep a good supply of cannon balls near the cannon
on old war ships. But how to prevent them from rolling about the deck
was the problem. The best storage method devised was to stack them as
a square based pyramid, with one ball on top, resting on four, resting
on nine, which rested on sixteen.
Thus, a supply of 30 cannon balls could be stacked in a small area
right next to the cannon. There was only one problem -- how to prevent
the bottom layer from sliding/rolling from under the others.
The solution was a metal plate with 16 round indentations, called, for
reasons unknown, a Monkey. But if this plate were made of iron, the
iron balls would quickly rust to it. The solution to the rusting
problem was to make them of brass - hence, Brass Monkeys.
Few landlubbers realize that brass contracts much more and much faster
than iron when chilled.  Consequently, when the temperature dropped
too far, the brass indentations would shrink so much that the iron
cannon balls would come right off the monkey.
Thus,it was quite literally, cold enough to freeze the balls off a
brass monkey. And all this time, you thought that was just a vulgar
expression, didn't you? You must send this fabulous bit of historical
knowledge to at least a few uneducated friends....just as I did!


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