...but they've completely failed to capture my intellectual laziness.
You are a Theory Slut. The true elite of the
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paragraph breaks few and far between.
What kind of postmodernist are you!?
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"Jeopardy!" gives its beloved host Alex Trebek a free pass on seeming like he knows a lot of things, and apparently the universe has decided that Alex doesn't need to have an idea of when to pull off the road to avoid dying in an accident, either.
If you prefer Alex Trebek-related humor to Alex Trebek-related news, I offer you solace with this.
Care to guess what this is?
No, it's not a terrorist device, it's just one of the over-the-top inserts in the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly -- or the inner workings of it, anyway. For you fellow EW readers, this is the inside of that ad that, when you open its flap, plays a suprisingly loud and fairly long snippet of "Woke Up This Morning", the theme music to "The Sopranos".
But speaking of terrorist devices, if you've got a flight this week, and you stick the latest issue of EW in your carry-on bag, is this thing going to look suspicious on the X-ray monitor? I guess it's a little small to look like something that's going to do any damage. But is it one of the electronic devices you shouldn't turn on while the plane is taking off? "Please turn off your cell phones, and don't open that Sopranos ad in the latest EW."
If I squint correctly, this ad is powered by three watch batteries, so expect to see lots of guys selling watch batteries on the subway this week.
Great review for the new Walkmen CD in this week's EW. 60 percent of the Walkmen used to be members of Jonathan Fire Eater, a band whose debut CD, "Wolf Songs for Lambs", I found in a discount bin in 1997 and loved. So I was psyched when the Walkmen first formed, but somehow, the tracks I heard from their first recording didn't do it for me. (I know, how much of an indie snob do I sound like? Oh, they're not as good as they were when they were Jonathan Fire Eater, la la la, look at all the CDs I own.)
Anyway, the songs I've heard from the new album sound great, especially "The Rat", so I think I'm back on board with the Walkmen. But are they deliberately trying to recreate the old Jonathan Fire Eater magic by having their publicity photos look like the cover of "Wolf Songs for Lambs"? Judge for yourself:
I don't think it's the exact same table, because I don't see that heating pipe in the corner of the EW shot. Still. Come on.
My curiosity piqued by all those transliterated Russian pages with the word "igry" on them, I set out to try to figure out what the heck "igry" means in Russian. It appears that it means "game".
"Edinstvennyi vykhod.. -- Nuzhno vypast' iz igry" [The only way out... One must drop out of the game].
The first chess book printed in Russia was a translation of Benjamin Franklin's Morals of Chess, published in St. Peterburg in 1791. The title was Pravila dlia Shashechnoi Igry (Rules for the Game of Chess).
Pretty cool, since the group of us that coined the English version of the word are all game geeks.
I generally have no interest in the cute coinages people keep coming up with, usually by blending two other words to achieve some strained and unnecessary meaning: beducation or whatever. Every once in a while, though, somebody invents a word that meets a hitherto unrealized need; such a word was Walpole's "serendipity" (first written down in a letter of January 28, 1754, exactly 250 years ago today!), and such a word (or prospective word) is "igry".
Read more. A mini-controversy regarding usage pops up in the middle of the post, which I address in a comment down at the bottom of the page. Spin-off posts are here and here. Not quite a meme yet, but getting there!
Also, at long last, if you search for "igry" on Google, pages about the coinage come out on top, instead of the slew of Slavic pages one used to get.
My friend Daniel recently dissected last Sunday's NY Times Magazine article by Peter Landesman about sex trafficking in an attempt to separate out the facts from the, um, other facts used in a sensational manner. Jack Shafer at Slate also has a series on the article; here's where to start reading that if you're interested.
Anyway, say you're Peter Landesman and you catch wind that people are criticizing your article. What do you do? Sigh quietly to yourself, reflect on that pesky first amendment, and craft a reasoned defense of your piece? Or do you make an angry phone call and threaten to sue? Perhaps you have figured out the answer by spotting which of those two questions sports the hyperlink.
Anyway, that's all bad enough on its own (is it actionable to call someone a "twit"? I think that's a statement of opinion rather than fact, so -- not libel!), and doesn't really require comment from me. So I'll just point out this other thing that caught my eye in the latest Slate column on the subject, from an e-mail by Landesman to Shafer:
I spent four months researching a dangerous and complicated story, often accompanied by my pregnant wife (the article's photographer).
I don't know about you, but if I were pregnant (it's a hypothetical, just go with me here), I would not be volunteering for dangerous assignments. Or maybe she wasn't along for the dangerous parts. From part three of Shafer's series:
The captions state that the photos are of rescued women now back in Mexico. But if the story is about sex slaves and sex-slave quarters in the United States, why has the Times Magazine illustrated it with photos of the rescued in their new safe quarters? It's obvious to me that the illustrations were designed to dupe the average reader by representing a sex-slave domicile to the scanning eye.
Maybe I'm unsympathetic to someone who threatened to sue a friend of mine (wait...let me check...yes! I am!), but I resent Landesman's apparent rhetorical attempts to gain sympathy in his apology. ("I worked hard on the piece! It was scary! My wife is pregnant!") Sir: okay. You overreacted. It's understandable that you were upset. But your apology shouldn't be about you, and it means about as much as Pete Rose's if you're not going to make it clear that you plan to step back on the litigation.
(Thanks to Wonkette for the link.)
Another take on the hollerin' Dean story, from someone who was there.
Not merely an anagram of "The Cure", it's a more specific sort of wordplay, what cryptic crossword constructors call a container, or what we in the NPL call a deletion: the word "The" stuck inside the word "Cure": CU(THE)RE. Nice.
No, an actual bunny. A bunny. Why would I lie about this? Beck has a bunny, he's done with it, got all the bunniness out of it that he really needs, and now he's ready to pass it along.
"Igry" has turned up yet again, this time at Language Log, a blog which features posts from numerous professors of linguistics. The entry featuring "igry" also features another coinage, "eggcorn". What's an eggcorn? Guess you'll have to read the entry and find out. I can also recommend the blog itself; it's good reading for armchair linguists.
(Thanks to Tahnan for spotting the post.)
I thought candidates weren't supposed to kiss voters within 50 feet of a polling place.
This story about avocado trafficking is just begging to be turned into a hard-hitting cop show or miniseries called "The Thin Green Line". I mean, sure...it's not funny that avocado farmers are having their profits threatened. But it is funny when an article reads:
"...it was not difficult to launder avocados — especially around the Super Bowl, which, along with Cinco de Mayo, is the biggest avocado day of the year. 'They go anyplace you can think of,' she said of rustled fruit. 'There's a lot of guacamole out there.' "
I picture Jerry Orbach, looking sternly at the horizon, chomping on a toothpick and muttering, "There's a lot of guacamole out there." Jerry can play a composite that includes Richard Price, "the Charles Bronson of guacamole", who has a giant Rottweiler named Mugsy and covered his land with cacti to prevent theft. That is hardcore.
(Thanks to Debby for the link.)
Or Vatican II: Electric Boogaloo. Is it just me, or does this sound like the great lost Spike Jonze video?
Another thing I enjoy about the articles on this subject is the difficulty reporters have in eloquently describing breakdancing. From the NY Post: "During the show, one of the dancers planted his head on the floor, spun around on his head and jiggled his legs in the air. Another dancer ran and spun around doing headstands." It's like I'm right there watching it.
(Thanks to Trip for the link.)
Please brace yourselves for the harrowing ordeal of the documentarian who ate nothing but McDonald's for a month. The tales of his liver damage and weight gain of nearly a pound a day are bad enough, but wait until you see the McDonald's spokeswoman's canned response:
"Consumers can achieve balance in their daily dining decisions by choosing from our array of quality offerings and range of portion sizes to meet their taste and nutrition goals."
That is to say, if you eat any of McDonald's incredibly fattening food at one meal, you should balance it by eating five healthy meals. Or you could lower the portion size of your Big Mac by only taking one bite of it.
I'm also amused that two diet ads appear on the same page -- the South Beach diet, and, of course, the meat-heavy Atkins diet:
(Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.)
Here's a very entertaining interview with David Cross about politics, in which he reveals that he would be the same kind of campaigner I would be, were he to run for public office:
The best thing about me is there are no skeletons. I'm brutally honest about all aspects of my life, so it's not like you're going to shock me a week before the election and be like, "This guy totally dropped acid." And I'll be like, "Yeah, well I talked about that ten years ago." So that would be good.
(Thanks to Danger Blog!, assiduous chronicler of all things humor-related, for the link.)
(Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the link.)
For the millions of nanopeople who get their music news from reading my blog, Cure fans will be ecstatic to find out (if they haven't already) that a new box set ("Join the Dots") which compiles all their b-sides and many rarities is coming out in a few days, which means you can finally stop shelling out all that money for the climate-controlled chamber you've been keeping your cassette copy of "Standing on a Beach" in all these years.
It's a great set, and one that's obviously designed for fancollectordorks like myself. Like, much as I loved XTC's "Coat of Many Cupboards" box, why bother putting so many album tracks on something that's mostly going to be purchased by the obsessive XTC fan anyway? "Join the Dots" doesn't have that problem. It's all rarities. Disc 1 is essentially all the b-sides from "Staring at the Sea" (plus a couple other tracks from that era), and seeing that there's enough material for three more discs really makes you realize, wow, their career certainly has had a lot of acts, hasn't it.
And even better, I only paid 20 bucks for it, through being in the right place at the right time. Read on if personal anecdotes are your bag.
See, I made a trip back to the East Village to take the photographs in the previous entry, and while I was in the neighborhood I decided to stop in another one of the many used CD stores on St. Mark's. I spotted the new Cure set at the bottom of a pile of CDs on the counter (I have a good eye for that sort of thing) and asked to see it, but was informed that it wasn't for sale yet.
As I browsed, it became clear that the reason it wasn't for sale yet was that the store hadn't bought it yet. Someone was trying to sell a big pile of CDs and DVDs, and the guy behind the counter was lowballing him and giving him some sob story about how he couldn't pay more because business had been bad ever since Christmas and the cold snap.
Sensing an opportunity, I kept an ear on the conversation while idly picking up CDs and pretending to read their tracklists. They'd gotten to a point where the guy from the store was offering $100 for a subset of the CDs and DVDs, and the guy selling them wanted $120. A few minutes of haggling raised the price to $110, but it just wasn't budging from there.
The $110/$120 standoff went on forever. This was the basic dialogue: "Well, I can't go higher than $110." (Long pause.) "I kind of want $120 for it." (Long pause.) "Yeah...but that's the best I can do." (Long, long pause.) "Hmm. I just don't think that's enough for me." (Incredibly long pause.) (Repeat for five minutes.)
After a while of that, I breathed easier; at first, I was worried some compromise would be reached. (Because, you know, under the normal rules of haggling, if one person starts at $100 and the other one starts at $120, generally they will both modify their opening amounts and meet at $110.) But at a certain point when they'd both spent so much time holding their ground, it was clear that male pride was going to overrule haggling, and the deal was not going to happen.
Sure enough, a couple minutes later the guy was packing up his stuff. I collected my bag from the bag check and followed him out the door and asked him how much he wanted for the Cure box, and he (apparently not having any idea what I was talking about) quoted an ungodly low price: $10. I couldn't quite believe he was going to go so easy on me after being so intransigent with the guy in the store, and I was like, "Hell yes! Are you serious?"
He quickly realized he had probably come up with way too low of a price, so he made some excuse about how "Oh, well, this friend of mine said he was interested in it, so maybe I should just give it to him." I said, "Are you sure? Because I'll give you $20 for it." "Now you're talking," he said, whipping the CDs out of the bag.
So now I'm in mope rock heaven. Thanks, fate!
If you've never noticed sneakers hanging on wires in your town, I can only assume you don't look upwards all that often. However, I can't imagine anyone sees this very often: cardboard cutouts shaped like sneakers, hanging from a wire.
(Here's another, blurrier shot from a different angle that shows their two-dimensionality a bit better.)
Anyone got any ideas about this? Did someone try selling sneaker replicas for people who liked the idea of throwing their sneakers over a wire, but didn't want to get rid of their actual shoes? If not, then what could they be from? Cardboard sneakers don't seem like an exceptionally fun toy, even with laces attached.
Check this site out for hot international onomatopoeic action.
(Thanks to John Chaneski for the link.)
Just remembered one thing I forgot to put in my Mystery Hunt review (and, by coincidence, one of the Mystery Hunt-related things I have to relate that might be amusing to the puzzle outsider).
So there was one puzzle in the Hunt entitled "A Mud-Soled Lubber". It was a Harry Potter puzzle ("A Mud-Soled Lubber" is an anagram of "Albus Dumbledore"), but as far as I was concerned, it should've been a Fatboy Slim puzzle, because every time I saw it, I could not stop singing to myself: "Right about now, a mud-soled lubber. Check it out now, a mud-soled lubber."
You know how panhandlers on the subway will sometimes tell you they'll accept anything, even pennies, but then if you actually give them pennies, they look kind of annoyed? This filmmaker won't do that.
This has given me a fine idea. I'm thinking of recording an album funded only by $100 bills. If you have a jar of $100 bills lying around that you're not using, let me know.
Sometimes lyrics transcriptions can go too far, vis-a-vis strict accuracy. I apologize for all the animation and whatnot on the page, but for me, it was worth the choppy pageload to read lines like:
Now on the sidewalk ? uuh, huh ? whoo ? sunny mornin? ? uuh, huh
A-there's a tugboat ? huh, huh, huh ? down by the river don?tcha know
I am a little disappointed that the transcriber did not indicate between which words Mr. Darin inhaled and exhaled.
I recently signed up with Site Meter so I could see how people were finding my blog, and this is a fine thing, because it means that now I know at least one person found my blog by searching on the phrase "penis stretching" at www.alltheweb.com, where my site comes up on page 2, thanks to my spam review of a month ago.
I do miss the classic penis stretching advertisements, though. "At Smith Barney, we stretch your penis the old-fashioned way. We pull on it."
It's not the most frequently updated site in the world, but this guy is still out there, expressing emotions. How many of us can say the same thing?
The ones living in sin, that is. And, of course, gays too. But that almost goes without saying, doesn't it?
Ohio lawmakers struggled with the issue for seven years, when then-Rep. Jay Hottinger introduced a bill in the House. Hottinger, now a senator, said the bill was not an attack on homosexuals but rather meant to protect a traditional definition of marriage.
Yeah...the bill also prevents anyone from receiving domestic partner benefits. You just can't have a traditional marriage if there are people out there in the world benefiting from their life partner's insurance, because that is one of the most sacred parts of the marriage ceremony.
(Puzzle-heavy entry follows. Don't even try it if this sort of thing doesn't interest you. I will include some background anyway for the intrepid.)
Got back from the Mystery Hunt tonight, which took the heat off my former team for running the longest hunt ever in 2003, by running one that was even longer. My team did not win this year, to our disappointment and (at least for me) relief. (The prize for winning is that you have the write the next year's Hunt.)
Now, 2003 was the first year in quite some time that the Hunt was won by an all-student team (Kappa Sig), which was a big deal in some quarters, since the Mystery Hunt did start out as a student-run affair. Over the years, teams have expanded to include a lot of non-MIT people, because the Hunt is very very difficult, and so people frequently invite their friends to join them on their teams. I first competed in the Hunt in 1998, when I joined the Setec Astronomy team through the auspices of my friend and MIT alum Mark Gottlieb.
So nowadays you have teams that consist of some percentage of MIT students, alums, people who work at the school, and friends of MITers. But some students (although, obviously, not all) resent the presence of people with no direct MIT connection. In particular, I am told, they resent (or, at least, are intimidated by) the NPL presence, which is somewhat quixotic, given that so many of the NPLers at the Hunt were MIT students who joined the NPL. (We're thinking about starting our own mock controversy about how MIT is ruining the NPL.) My response to that is -- man, MIT students shouldn't be intimidated by us, especially the ones who do the Mystery Hunt, because they are exactly like us. Anyone who is willing to sit in a room for three days straight and subject themselves to the hardest freaking puzzles in the world is a very unusual type of person, and we are apparently all that type of person. This is why so many MIT students end up joining the NPL. Can't we all just get along?
Of course, on some level, I can completely relate to feeling like someone is coming in and walking on your turf...but then again, that's something else that can go both ways. Students have a perfect justification to feel like MIT is their space, but what about people who've been doing the Mystery Hunt for a decade or more? Students shouldn't be surprised to find that an event which has evolved to include a larger community feels very important to that community, and that the people in that larger community feel defensive if they hear a rumor that they shouldn't be included any more.
That's one way of leading into mentioning that the rumor mill was pretty active this year, with there being scuttlebutt (unfounded, as it turned out) that the team running the Hunt was going to ban non-student participation, etc., etc., and some of the resulting (and kind of inflammatory) discussion about what to do should such a ban take place got back to the team running the hunt, and they got kinda pissed off. So pissed off that at least one of them indulged in some rather poor behavior, joining one of the team's mailing lists without permission, apparently to monitor their communications. That's not cool.
So tensions were running high. What I find sort of ironic/irksome about all that is that back in 2003, we all really wanted to write a hunt which would be won by a largely student team, or at least someone who hadn't won before, because we thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh blood in there to keep mixing things up. So I was actually a little offended that I, who had spent an ungodly amount of hours throughout 2002 writing a hunt that Kappa Sig ended up winning, was starting to feel a little unwelcome.
In practice, pretty much everyone on Kappa Sig that I dealt with in person was very friendly and helpful (especially our various on-site hinters, who were deputized to speed the Hunt along as it became clear that there were too many puzzles in the Hunt and they were all too hard -- something we had also had to do in 2003, alas), but we did have to deal with some pretty bad attitudes over the phone. My favorite example of this was when the aforementioned Mark Gottlieb, now on the Acronym team with me, called in the answer FEANEL, which he had arrived at due to mistranscribing something at some earlier step in solving the puzzle. (The actual answer was FENNEL.) Now, obviously this wasn't a very promising-looking word, but we'd gotten some pretty non-word looking answers before, so he called it in anyway and was roundly taunted with catcalls of "That's not a word! What the hell are you thinking?", which is a bit rich from people writing puzzles whose answers are RECTION, HUERFANA, and ACQUIL.
Anyway, one of the reasons I had been wanting a student team to win was my hope that a big ol' bunch of young and energetic students would come up with some swell new innovative structure for the Hunt. While they did have a great theme (Time Bandits, which allowed for a lot of variety from round to round -- I was especially amused at the Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas round) and a unique method of going from one round to the next (teams could choose which round they wanted to go to next, so the order of puzzles wasn't fixed), on the other hand, the theme didn't always feel very well-integrated, and in a lot of ways it all felt like a rerun of the Hunt we had run the previous year. Our Matrix hunt started out with the pretense that it was a corporate hunt; this hunt started out with the pretense that it was a pirate hunt (a reference to 1992's pirate-themed Hunt). We had a knitting puzzle; they had a crochet puzzle. We had a subway puzzle; they had a subway puzzle. We had a puzzle with a bunch of sentences whose words had been mixed together and resorted; so did they. Our hunt was too long; this hunt was too long. And so forth.
That wouldn't have been so bad in itself, but the puzzles were frequently broken or basically unsolvable as written. A frequent refrain we heard when calling Hunt HQ to ask for hints was, "Oh, yeah, we couldn't solve that part when we were testing that puzzle." So...maybe you should have rewritten that bit?
Having gone on at length about why the Hunt had problems, I should find some good things to say. The metapuzzles were excellent. (Metapuzzles, for any non-puzzle masochists still reading, are puzzles where you take the individual puzzles in a given round and put them together in some fashion to get a final answer.) The Hunt looked great -- each round included a physical prop and a map for each team, and the graphic design was generally excellent. It was disappointing, though, that the props didn't get used until the very end of the Hunt, so most of us never got to find out how they were supposed to be used (although we did smash our plaster skull to see if there was anything hidden inside, which there was -- awesome). In many ways, it sounded like we would've liked the Hunt more if we had won, if only because so many of the coolest bits were back-loaded toward the end of the hunt, which most people didn't see.
Here's a list of my favorite puzzles from the Hunt:
All the Wrong Places: my least favorite of my favorite puzzles (if that makes sense), this was a cute puzzle that involved visiting Craiglist's missed connections bulletin board and looking for pirate-themed posts; sending e-mail to the address gave you a response which requested unusual objects, which you also had to search Craigslist for (and it took us an unconscionable length of time to think of this). The final step after that was kind of annoying but since someone else ended up working on that step, it didn't especially diminish my amusement vis-a-vis the parts that I saw.
Marooned Man's Pants: Hey! A puzzle where the thing I thought was the right thing to do actually turned out to be the right thing to do! It was a paint by numbers puzzle; solving it gave you a maze; you then overlaid the maze onto the color field and looked at the colors in the dead ends; if you looked at the RGB values of those colors, you got numbers between 1 and 26 in the R field, which spelled the answer.
Dead and Gone: I never saw this puzzle during the Hunt (other people solved it while I was working on something else), but someone told me about it later and I was sorry I had missed it. Each set of pictures represents a retired Ben & Jerry's flavor. Cute.
20,000 L. Under the S.: This was an entertaining twist on the now-traditional Equation Analysis Test in which all the equations were MIT-thematic. Obviously I didn't do much work on this one, but I had a fine time watching the MIT students on our team rip it up, and the equations were pretty amusing when solved (54 = C.L. for F.S.F. translated as 54 = Credit Limit for First Semester Freshmen, for instance).
In a Manner of Speaking: Two girls chat via instant message, and refer obliquely to a lot of songs that use different figures of speech in their titles ("Wild Wild West" = alliteration; "Like a Virgin" = simile; "Black Hole Sun" = oxymoron).
Temple of Tezcatlipoca: This puzzle took me and Rose forever and was torturous, but in the end, I still liked it. We spent hours going through Sandman books in the MIT science fiction library, finding the 12 images of Dream from the ten Sandman collections. The tiny images on the clocks came from the same pages as the large images, so each clock corresponded with one of the above images. Then I got stuck for a while. After a hint many hours later, I realized that the hour hand on every clock corresponded with a particular character that appeared on the page with Dream (1:00 = Destiny, 2:00 = Death, etc.); taking the nth word spoken by that character on the page, where n is the number the minute hand is pointing to, gave you a message. Part of the reason I really needed a hint to solve this puzzle was that the image file that included all the clocks was too wide to fit on the page, and I miscopied the last clock so it read 10:20 instead of 4:20, which changed everything. So I'm annoyed at the lack of user-friendliness in not making sure that the puzzle could be printed out properly (and further annoyed that the Huntmasters apparently changed the puzzle instructions to make it harder to solve without telling the person who wrote the puzzle about it), but it was still a cool puzzle.
Temple of Macuilxochitl: Identify songs by trying to read the lips of the singers. Fun. (Two of them were nigh-impossible, but a satisfying puzzle nonetheless.)
Snowfield: Didn't work on it, but saw it get finished and liked it. You might want to try this one yourself, if the smiley face at the top of the puzzle and the grid of numbers ring any bells for you.
Pinecone Creek: Another one I didn't solve, but which I was told was worth doing. I may go back and solve it later, even though I know the theme now.
Campfire Stories: The best puzzle in the Hunt. Fun, accessible, funny, satisfying. Recommended.
Rant: My second favorite puzzle in the Hunt, and not just because I had the first necessary insight on how to solve it. The trick was to take the .wav file and invert the waveform of the sound in one speaker so the waves would cancel each other out and get rid of the voice. What was left after that was done was a series of quiet tones; amplifying them revealed them to be the sounds of a push-button phone. The answer was the word that those phone buttons spelled out. Very nice.
And here are the puzzles I most loathed:
Leftovers: This puzzle was a jigsaw-style puzzle consisting of mostly identical strips of paper. (The shapes were the same, but they were shaded differently.) Given that we hap no idea what image we were attempting to create, and the shapes didn't interlock in any way, this was a completely unsolvable puzzle. Fortunately, it was obvious that it was unsolvable, so we didn't waste too much time on it.
Whirlwind: A puzzle that could have been fun if they had bothered to make it solvable. At one point, when we were asking for hints on it, the person we were talking to said, "Oh, that puzzle is basically impossible. I would just skip that one if I were you." At that point we had already been told that the 14 strips of paper provided needed to be separated into two 7-by-7 squares, and that arranging them properly would give you a path of words that wound around the grid in no particular pattern (none of which was indicated in the original instructions). Later, we found we really needed to solve it to finish one of the metapuzzles, so I insisted we get a usable hint, like: what strips of paper were the leftmost strips in each square? They told me that and a couple other things besides, which was enough to get started on...even though the puzzle was still pretty tricky even given all that extra info. Once we actually got moving on the puzzle, I enjoyed it, but the hell we had to go through to get to that point wasn't worth it.
Come to think of it, both those puzzles share a problem -- they're puzzles that take almost no effort to construct and take forever to solve. If I'm given an incredibly hard puzzle to solve that takes me hours to finish, I like to feel like "oh! that was very elegant!" when I'm done. I feel that the puzzle writer should have had to put in at least as much effort as I was expected to put in while solving it. But writing some words in a grid with no constraints, cutting them up, and rearranging them -- that takes very little effort. (Not to mention the problem of failing to make it solvable when, apparently, many people among the Hunt runners thought it was way too hard.)
I hate Far From Home, for Rose's sake. The puzzle involved identifying the given fonts (hard, given that they're not shown at a good resolution; like, that fifth font is Impact, which looks nothing like that -- and I should know, since it was the We're All Dead font), oh, but that wasn't all. It also entailed finding the Italian word or phrase hidden among the dummy Latin text (also hard, since Italian consists in large part of Latin cognates). Getting the right Italian words took Rose forever (especially with the unhelpful hinting she had been receiving, and the bad kerning of the text that made "de cifer" look like one word), but she finally determined that the Italian words read something along the lines of "code with font names and read down column". I noted that this presumably meant that the text had to be encoded with a Vigenere cipher, and she looked none too enthusiastic about dealing with it, so I did the encoding by hand to get the final clue. Tedious.
Now, I know all the puzzles in the Hunt were written by a wide variety of people, but the huge disconnect between the final clue for "Far From Home" and the final clues for some of the others cracked my shit up. A lot of the puzzles to this point had the problem that you'd get to the final clue, and it wouldn't be very specific. One final clue was "QUANTIZED EARLY MODEL OF H" (or something along those lines). Apparently Niels Bohr quantized the first model of hydrogen (whatever that means), so the guys working on the puzzle called in "Bohr". No good. Then they called in "Niels Bohr". Then "Bohr atom". Then we went to the web and found that Schrodinger had also done the same thing, but later -- maybe that was early enough? No. At some point, while calling in yet another possibility, our HQ phone liaison said "We suggest you try 'Bohr theory'." Ken replied, "Uh, is the answer Bohr theory?" "That is correct." Ken hung up and informed us, "The Hunt is now officially running long." Anyway, you generally want to write clues that have only one possible answer. "Far From Home" did not have that problem. Its final clue was: MORE DEADLY, ONE WORD, ADJECTIVE, EIGHT LETTERS. Answer: DEADLIER. Taking no chances that time.
And then there are the puzzles I should have liked, but didn't, because of one problem or another. Like, I thought I would love Sonar and Nerves of Steel because of its punk rock theme, but I kept getting gibberish for the answer, and after spending too much time staring at it, I got very frustrated. When Hunt HQ walked me through my work, I discovered that the reason I had been thinking I was getting gibberish was because the answer was HUERFANA. Where I come from, if your puzzle answer is something as off-the-beaten-track as HUERFANA (the Spanish word for orphan, apparently), you should write a Spanish-themed puzzle around it.
I also liked True Unholy Puzzle in theory, but not in practice. The puzzle was to look at the incomprehensible Inversions-like logos of death metal bands and try to figure out their names. I figured out the second (Luciferion) and the one that's a tattoo (Unanimated), and someone else got a couple others, but after a while, I just got really bummed out looking at long lists of bands with names like "Exposed Intestines" or "Exploded Fetus" or whatever.
Girl wasn't a bad puzzle, just a mysterious one. Why provide us in this puzzle with full-length clips of songs that are (mostly) easy to recognize (and would certainly be possible to websearch off brief lyric snippets), while providing us in other puzzles with tiny tiny tiny snippets of jazz instrumentals or techno songs, which are practically impossible to research if you can't just recognize them off the bat? We had a major techno fan on our team, and even she had to throw up her hands at identfying all the songs from that puzzle.
All that's as may be. In the end, even if the Hunt that Kappa Sig wrote wasn't exactly the Hunt I wanted to solve, I'm glad they got the chance to write it, because running the Mystery Hunt really is a fun thing to do, and they by-god earned the right to do it however they wanted.
I'm piling on the posts today (three already and it's barely 3 AM) because I'm going to Boston this afternoon for the MIT Mystery Hunt and will either be posting very tiny updates or not at all till next Tuesday. One way you could entertain yourself in my absence is by listening to an alternate version of my song "The Ranks of the Undead". The version I posted before was a new wave extravaganza; this is the marginally more pensive guitar-and-vocal only version.
(I do have a loose goal of posting around one new song a week, but obviously going out of town puts a slight crimp in that, which is why you're getting a semi-new song instead. Also on the subject of songs, you may have noticed the newish feature over there in the left-hand column, a list of MP3s currently available for download.)
Another thing you could do, if you're feeling ambitious, is to solve some puzzles I wrote for last year's Mystery Hunt, which had a Matrix theme. I suggest these two interconnected puzzles: the first is a cryptic crossword and the second is a Labyrinth; the Labyrinth puzzle will give you a one-word answer; the cryptic crossword will give you instructions on how to modify the answer to the Labyrinth puzzle to get a longer answer. Links to the puzzle solutions are in the upper right corner of each page, if you give up. (Note that Mystery Hunt puzzles often have gimmicks that are not explicitly explained in the instructions, so...you've been warned.)
Or you could just read the long entries posted below.
So Netscape is doing this publicity thing where they're selling first-name-only e-mail addresses on eBay. So if you dream of being Josh@netscape.com -- even if your name is Martina -- you can put in a bid towards a magic dream land where the first half of your e-mail address does not end in "23752" or something.
Anyway, Netscape Shmetscape. The thing I find interesting is looking to see which first names made the cut. Like, say...to take a name entirely at random...Francis? Whoops. Not there. Chas, 4 variations on Deborah, Lora, Pammy, and a multitude of nicknames for William, yes, but no Francis. Well, let's check my middle name, Joseph. Oh -- also not there. Frank Joe Heaney, if you're out there, now is your moment.
The whole Francis/Frank thing has bedeviled me for most of my life in one way or another. I am, in fact, Francis Joseph Heaney III. But my father and grandfather both traded in "Francis" for "Frank" at some point in their lives. As a kid, I just assumed that was what happened when you grew up and your name was Francis -- you changed it to Frank. As I actually got older, naturally I realized this wasn't the case, and I started wondering why my progenitors had both seen fit to change theirs. I figured it was because they couldn't hack it. You think it's easy being named Francis? Think again!
Because, let me tell you, it isn't only kids who think that people named Francis naturally want to be called Frank. It is a lot of people. It's kind of amazing how many people will get introduced to me and immediately start calling me Frank, without asking if I prefer being called Frank or anything. They just jump right in. It's weird.
But feel free to call me Franny McFrannerstein.
I was cleaning about my Yahoo mail today (I've been scraping along at around 96% of the inbox's capacity for quite a while now), and I found three haiku I submitted to Archie McPhee's Halloween Haiku contest way back in 2002.
Sidebar: Odds are you don't know about my haiku history, so this is an opportune moment to ramble on about it. I used to be a big contributor to the Spam Haiku Archive, and many of the poems I wrote for it were reprinted in the book "Spam-Ku: Tranquil Meditations on Luncheon Loaf". By virtue of being someone who checks his e-mail obsessively, I was also the first to answer the call to be interviewed for this article.
But that's not all! I am also one of the contributors to the "error message haiku" which made the e-mail rounds -- usually without attribution -- a few years back. Mine was also one of several of those haiku read into the record of the Microsoft antitrust trial, another example of me controlling the world from behind the scenes. That's right; it's me and the Jews, baby. First Microsoft, then igry.
So I write a lot of cheesy hack haiku is what I'm saying. Anyway, here are the winners of the Archie McPhee contest, and the three haiku I submitted, for your delectation. Note the seasonal reference in the first one, for full haiku cred.
Store-bought plastic suit
Cannot keep out the fall chill --
Mask still makes me sweat
Apple in my bag
Glowing red like a stoplight:
Razors lurk within
My dead mother's ghost
Knocks bookshelves over if I
Go out with no coat
In the same vein, here are three zombie haiku I submitted to a Goats competition:
In monsoon season
When I rise up from the earth
My clothes get muddy
Like a bird's delight
In the first worm caught in spring --
Brains of an infant
I walk the wide earth
Barefoot through the deepest snow,
Lacking nerve endings
"Bit playa". I'm not going to have much occasion to use it, but oh how I wish I did.
Smallpox or not, this news item does imply that my alma mater needs to tidy up more often.
I recently picked up Ian Anderson's solo album of a few years ago, "The Secret Language of Birds" (yes, yes, the singer from Jethro Tull, go ahead and laugh it up, laugh at the guy who still likes prog rock...but for anyone out there who has spent any time as a Jethro Tull fan, this CD marks the end of a 22-year lull with the best work Ian has done since 1978; it took me this long to buy it because I had long since given up on him, but it seems like he's found the muse again). Anyway, whoever was in charge of the sticker on the front of the CD seems not to understand the meaning of the word "hidden":
Scott Miller of the Loud Family (one of the more criminally underappreciated bands of the '90s -- "Days for Days" and "Attractive Nuisance" are CDs everybody needs) has a mostly weekly column where he answers questions from his fans. (I've written a few questions, which you can find by flipping through the archives and text searching for "Francis", if you're particularly interested, though I warn you they're not inherently interesting questions to non-fans.) Anyway, in the second question of his latest column (find the Jan. 12th entry if you're reading this in the future), he answers a Jesus-boosting spam letter as if it were a real query, taking it as an opportunity to free-associate about religion. Very entertaining, in a brainy way.
(Thanks to Boing Boing for the link.)
"Igry" made its debut in the media this week, appearing in Entertainment Weekly's "What to Watch", their weekly TV summary, now manned by my friend and former News Quiz nemesis, Tim Carvell, in his capsule review of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", which makes Tim "igrier than anything else on television." Excellent. Roll on, you mighty, igry river!
I'm working on a themed mix CD of songs sung by women or songs about women ("Song for Myla Goldberg" by the Decemberists, e.g.), so I did a web search on "songs about famous people", and this came up. In the style of hymns, each song is titled with its first line. Unlike most hymns I can recall, these titles are frequently cut off in some very awkward places ("O Martin Luther King, Soul-Love Of", for instance -- which, when you take it out of context, kind of sounds like an index entry in some very spacy biography of the Reverend -- or "Immanuel Kant, Immanuel Kant! Your").
Clicking on any of the song titles gets you sheet music with the melody and lyrics (although sometimes he reuses the melody for a previous song, in which case the new lyrics appear below the music). I recommend "One Two Three Bullets Free. One Two", and his ode to cellist Pablo Casals, which notes that Pablo is "charmingly short in earth's body-height".
Sri Chinmoy also seems to be a fan of running, so if there are any names on the list you don't recognize (Don Ritchie? Bill Rodgers?), then they are probably runners.
Are you a brilliant lyricist, but a terrible singer? Now you can have the greatest voices in music singing your lyrics. The database still lacks many words (like "cheese"), but it is still very entertaining, even if only to test your speed song-recognition skillz.
(Thanks to Jon for spotting the link at http://www.newsfromme.com.)
Apparently it's all about catalogs this week. Today I received the Walter Drake catalog; exactly how I got on their mailing list is a mystery, because I have never bought anything from them, nor am I likely to. Amid the various items that depress me because they evoke images of desperate, futile thrift (such as Tupperware-style containers specifically designed to store a stack of Ritz crackers) are some mysterious objects indeed. Let's explore them together, shall we? [Cue cheerful filmstrip music.]
My mind is almost unable to simultaneously register all the things that are wrong with the Lemon and Lime Ice Cube Trays. They produce lemon and lime wedges...embedded in ice. Firstly, isn't sitting uncovered in the freezer going to make the lemon slices a little less than fresh? Then we have the product description: "Add a Splash of Lemon or Lime Anytime!" Um...do I not have the power to add a splash of lemon to my drinks without first sticking the lemon into a cube of ice? It seems like there is a superfluous intermediate step being introduced here somewhere. And in my experience, simply dropping a slice of lemon into your drink doesn't really add a lot of lemon flavor; one has to squeeze the lemon. But it seems to me that my ability to squeeze a lemon would be severely impeded if half of my lemon were encased in ice. Furthermore, the description also trumpets, "Ends sticky serving!" This product seems to promote sticky serving, as far as I can tell, since I expect most people are going to retrieve these mutant lemon-and-ice-cube hybrids by picking them up using the exposed bit of lemon as a handle. And you still have to cut the lemon at some point to get the slices into the ice cube tray, so even if you manage to get the cubes out in a non-sticky fashion, you're still getting sticky, you're just doing it sooner. You haven't contradicted The Law of Stickiness Conservation or anything.
Whew. That was the dumbest product ever. And I'm going to follow it up with the dumbest advertising claim ever. Go look. I'll wait. Okay. Yes, that's right, you won't have seen this particular product on TV, but you might have seen something similar and thought, oh, I'd like to get that, but I wish it weren't being advertised on TV. This product is for you.
You have to admire the honestly of that "Almost Seen on TV" sales technique, though. Here's another fine example of truth in advertising. "Each glove costs less than 3 cents". That is absolutely correct. Each glove costs 2.99 cents. Or to look at it another way, if you buy 99 gloves at 3 cents each, you get the 100th glove for only 2 cents.
Are you ever tempted to buy a mysterious bag of junk and root through it to see what treasures you might find, only to end up with a lot of things that are entertaining for five seconds but that you kind of don't want and certainly don't have anywhere to put? Someone has saved you the trouble.
The only item in the bag that I know I owned is the pencil-shaped pencil sharpener (although mine didn't say "Reebok" on it; I wasn't a particularly brand-name oriented kid). But I am impressed with the Rice Krispies ponytail holders, although I kind of can't believe that they date from as late as 1984. They seem more 1950s to me.
But if you only see one cereal promotional item from a bag of junk this year, see the Captain Crunch flying disk dealie, and then go read its patent application. You'll never look at a toy that utilizes a resilient elastic impeller to spin and propel a circular disk having aerodynamic characteristics whereby the user can easily control the path of flight of the circular disk in the atmosphere the same way again.
(Thanks to Debby for the link.)
Future sig line of the week: "If nitrogen was tiny spiders you'd be really unhappy until you died." Read more.
So I was at one of our neighborhood's various corner stores the other day when I noticed some new snack products from Jell-O. They're little bags of colored gummy sugar wads, of course -- but they're meant to be played with. One of the bags has a tic-tac-toe board on it, another depicts a 2-D Mr. Potato Head stand-in (the gummy pieces in that one are little ears, noses, etc.), and the third is...Jell-O Checkers.
Yes, I bought a Jell-O checkers packet for science. So let's examine the various weird things about the design.
You will notice that one corner of the board is covered up by the Nabisco logo. I guess the logo has to go somewhere, but shouldn't it go on a square that's not used in the game? Then there is the "open here" arrow. Following the directions and opening the pack by tearing at the arrow gives you a big rip across the middle of your checkerboard, which is just more aesthetic woe for the grape side of the board.
Most problematic is the unusual size of the board. It's 6x5, instead of 8x8. With this board width, I suspect that there is a inequity built into the game, and that the grape player has an advantage over the strawberry player. Look at the row of squares in front of each player's front rank of pieces. Grape can immediately move both of his front pieces to the edge of the board, where they cannot be captured, whereas Strawberry has no safe place to which he can move any of his front three pieces on their first move.
The checkers rules given on the back of the package also leave out one of the more important checkers rules: that if it's possible for you to make a capture on your turn, you must make one. (If you have a choice of captures, you can decide which to take, but you must take one of them.) I'm not sure how that would effect the gameplay. I suspect it would make draws more likely, since a player's pieces would move up behind his uncaptured pieces, clogging up the board. Jell-O gets around this problem by saying "The color that has the most pieces left on the package wins!"
The rules on the package also fail to fully explain proper checker movement, simply saying, "Take turns moving one piece at a time diagonally on the black squares." They don't say that the pieces can only move forward until they reach the opposite end of the board, at which time they become kings and can move in all diagonal directions. They assume that everyone knows about these things. I mean, probably everyone does know these things, but that's no excuse for such laxness.
They do have a nice bit of product design on the vile-tasting checkers, though, for people who do know about checkers becoming kings -- a tiny little crown:
Finally, Jell-O exhorts children to "Be creative! Make up your very own way of playing Jell-O Checkers!", perhaps not realizing that they have already made up their own set of non-standard rules. I'd be curious to see an actual analysis of the game with all the ambiguities taken as real rules (players don't have to make a capture if they don't want to; pieces can move backwards without reaching the back row; and so on) to see just how unequal the game really is. Any takers?
Ever get into an argument with someone over the correct pronunciation of J.K. Rowling's name? Then you're going to love this website. It doesn't list everybody whose name you might get confused about -- like, Jorge Luis Borges, say, or Jonathan Lethem (whose name I have apparently been mispronouncing all this time; it's got a long E in the first syllable, not a short E). But it's still pretty impressive in the mere fact of its existence, because this is really a colossally useful thing. There have been a surprising number of times when I've tried to look up the pronunciation of someone's name online and come up with nothing. There is also a list of pronunciations for business names.
Also note that Seamus Heaney pronounces his last name differently than I pronounce mine -- a fact which has frequently made me wonder if my family has just been getting it wrong all this time.
(Thanks to Tahnan for the links.)
Boy, radio has apparently come a long way since I was a teenager. While I was on the treadmill at the gym, I heard this exchange (paraphrased slightly, of course) on the radio station that was playing over the sound system:
Obviously high-school age girl: Hello, I have a request?
Girl: Could you play that song...I don't remember the name. That new reggae song?
DJ: (Who has no idea what song she is talking about and clearly couldn't care less) That new...reggae song.
DJ: You like reggae?
Girl: Oh yeah.
DJ: Do you let the guys dance all up in your ass when the reggae comes on?
DJ: (speaking as a boorish American would to a foreigner) Do you let the guys...dance all up in your ass?
Girl: It depends.
DJ: On what?
Girl: On how they look.
DJ: Okay, well, that's a fair answer. Do you like it when you feel their pee-pees get all hard?
DJ: Do you like it when their pee-pees get all hard on your ass?
(Long pause. No response.)
She had apparently hung up at that point, and he then played "Love Will Save the Day", which is, of course, neither a new song nor a reggae song.
But if I report this as spam, will Bayesian filters start thinking that people who are merely trying to send me dadaist poetry are actually spammers?
people say In the vain laughter of folly wisdom hears half its applause.
Outland, William II
webmaster@[gay porn site]
To pity distress is but human to relieve it is Godlike.
P.S: happy new year!
This spam, incidentally, was sent by "Infatuation C. Nit", so if you're looking for a good rock and roll pseudonym, there you go.
I love it when a webcomic really takes advantage of its medium.
Recording all the songs for "We're All Dead" has gotten me back into the swing of recording my songs, which I haven't really done for a while. (Such is the curse of dilettantism; you spend a few years honing your four-track recorder technique, then the next thing you know, the four-track is in the closet and you're spending all your time writing cryptic crosswords.)
The song I finished up today is one that I wrote for a fund-raising event. My friend Jason St. Sauver recently created a show based on the various retellings of the Dracula story, so when he asked me to play a few songs at the fund-raiser for the show, I thought I'd write a new song on the subject of vampires. It appears here for your downloading pleasure (in a tarted-up arrangement that will probably startle anyone who has heard it in its usual acoustic-guitar-and-vocal garb). It's called "The Ranks of the Undead".
I like my mash-ups pretty well, but if you want to hear some of the best examples of the genre, go here. He's been keeping most of his tracks offline, but the most-requested mixes have been re-posted, and will be available until the 5th. I particularly recommend "Ray of Gob" (Madonna vs. the Sex Pistols) and "I Wanna Dance With Some Bono" (Whitney Houston vs. U2).
Despite the proliferation of people owning bumper stickers that praise their children's accomplishments, I suspect we're not likely to start seeing any bumper stickers that read "My son looks like a monkey."
(Thanks to Carrie for the link.)
I moved to a new neighborhood a couple months ago. It has good points (many stores stocked with mysterious Polish snack foods), bad points (lack of restaurants within walking distance), and...this car.
Note that the car has both a rear spoiler and lightning bolts on it, so it must be able to go very fast indeed.