March 31, 2004

Robots vs. Radosh

Sorry, Daniel...I guess I should have known that R. Robot wouldn't respect your opinions, whether or not they were totally made up.

(Via Language Log.)

Posted by Francis at 02:16 PM

What's the 419?

Getting your first e-mail in which someone from Nigeria purports to need your assistance regarding a sum of tens of millions of dollars is practically an Internet rite of passage. (I remember where I was when I received my first such e-mail: sitting at my computer.)

The con involved in such e-mails is called 419 fraud, named for the section of the Nigerian penal code which deals with such schemes. (The same sort of scam is run from any number of countries now, but Nigeria got there first, dammit.) I've run across several web sites over the years in which people respond as if they are suckers, in an attempt to string the con artist along as long as possible, and those can be pretty entertaining, but I've just found out about a site featuring people who really take it to the next level. They convince the con artists to pose with goofy props or signs, and then send in the photos:


Here's a particularly enjoyable exchange with a con artist who really takes his modeling gigs seriously. Be sure to stick around for the second photo.

(Via the incredibly-unsafe-for-work ErosBlog.)

Posted by Francis at 01:52 PM

Meanwhile, on the computer next door

Check out Rose's blog today for a report on some furs you can purchase if you are wealthy, have no taste, and wish everyone around you to know these two facts.

Posted by Francis at 03:02 AM

Get lost

Here is an excellent collection of interactive mazes (and other puzzles) to sap your productivity. I particularly enjoyed this set, even though my brain melted in the course of solving puzzle 10.

Posted by Francis at 01:23 AM

March 30, 2004

Girls seldom make passes at men in 3-D glasses that's why those men turn to girlie magazines. (Have I accidentally stumbled upon anyone's fetish? You can buy them here. Also noteworthy: a giant naked 3-D babe on the moon. Now if only Kubrick had been working on that instead of "Eyes Wide Shut", huh? That would be a movie. I could see Nicole Kidman as the giant woman and Tom Cruise as one of the tiny astronauts -- I mean, the proportions are already pretty close.)

Posted by Francis at 06:53 PM


Does it get more awesome than this? A California man built a monorail in his backyard. It took him five and a half years to complete. Who says geeks can't be handy?

(Via Utopia With Cheese.)

Posted by Francis at 09:36 AM

March 29, 2004

Proposed t-shirt logo for the Democratic convention

Shiva punishes the evil elephant.

Posted by Francis at 04:53 PM

More on mash-ups (actual news this time)

Apparently my favorite creator of mash-ups, Go Home Productions, will be producing an official early-Bowie-vs.-late-Bowie mash-up for the next single from "Reality". Sweet.

Posted by Francis at 02:31 PM

March 28, 2004

Get this meandering screed started

I belong to a club. Music Club. (The first rule of Music Club is don't talk about Music Club, unless you want to.) We get together approximately once a month and play songs on a selected theme, and then we burn those songs to a mix CD for all participants. This month's theme was "songs about parties". (Tracklist here.) I chose Life in a Blender's charmingly dirgelike "Party Soon", and when we were playing some of our backup songs, I brought out "Pinkarama", a mash-up of Pink's "Get This Party Started" vs. the theme from Futurama. Daniel hated it, but Daniel is no fan of mash-ups, which is a nice way of saying he's wrong wrong wrong. Or such is my opinion on the matter.

He's by no means the only person I know who's dismissive of mash-ups as a genre, and I'm not sure why -- no one seems to feel it's controversial to enjoy remixes, and mash-ups are essentially underground remixes. Obviously a large percentage of the mash-ups that get produced are crap, but that's like dismissing pop music just because some pop musician wrote a song like "Get This Party Started".

That's right, I don't much care for the original Pink version of "Get This Party Started" (and I don't actually know if Daniel does either; I just know he likes the original more than the mash-up). Could be because I had managed never to hear the original before I heard the Futurama version. The Futurama version of the song is greatly sped up from the original, you see, so now whenever I hear the original, I can't help thinking it sounds waaaay too slow.

Anyway, you can decide for yourself who's right (but I'll give you a hint -- it's me), by downloading the song here, for a limited time (which is now over).

Posted by Francis at 11:34 PM | Comments (3)

March 27, 2004

This is probably going to happen to me someday

A man in Ann Arbor was severely injured in a shushing incident. Oh, wait, did you hear that? I think that was the death rattle of civility.

The victim told police he and his wife were watching the movie at the State Theater at 8:30 p.m. when they were distracted by talking behind them. He said he turned and motioned for the man to quiet down, and then the man began coughing in his ear and kicking his chair, reports said.

The victim reported the man eventually spit on him and threw popcorn, so he got up, turned around and said, "Excuse me." The victim said he was punched in the face and thrown down the stairs and into a banister.

So that's all pretty bad. But here's the thing that gets me about this whole story: the psycho guy was talking during the movie, yes? So he must have been talking to someone. I like to imagine he was on a date. Because I bet he would been saying to his date as they fled the theater, "Did you like how I showed that asshole who was shushing me?", and women love that sort of thing.

(Via Chris Null)

Posted by Francis at 12:10 AM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2004

She'll see you and raise you (if you are buttocks)

Here's a site that Rose found, wherein some savvy entrepreneur has realized the potential in identifying a new thing for women to feel self-conscious about. A female entrepreneur, if you were wondering. (Is there a term for that? "Entrepreneurix"?)

The product is the "biniki" -- a bra for buttocks. Do you even need me to tell you this site is not safe for work? You people with jobs will just have to wait.

Rose also directed my attention specifically to the "History" page, which features these unempowering-in-the-extreme paragraphs:

There is the completely unacceptable common place occurrence of women walking on the beach or poolside with both cheeks hanging out. Women are far more attractive when supported. Better to turn heads to admire.

What is it with this obvious absence in the marketplace of a structured, supportive piece backside uplift-gear? The backside is a beautiful part of the human body when supported and properly framed by interesting bottom hugging clothing. One sign this way of viewing the entire body is finally here is the acceptance of many sports and entertainment personalities. Some even use the highlighting of their notably well formed buttocks’ as self-defining assets.

Having great buns has long been an attraction many men count on. Only now is the ordinary female sitting down cushion gone up front, now actually competing with the long unchallenged brassiere shaped and held bosom, to become an equal and acceptable symbol of beauty in a woman.

As for me, I feel like it would be easier to judge the success of her product if the women in the before-and-after photos were actually wearing pants.

Posted by Francis at 10:58 AM | Comments (3)

And if you act now, we'll throw in a Cranio-Noogie for half price

I would just like to point out that Sacro Wedgy is a terrible, terrible product name.

Posted by Francis at 08:37 AM | Comments (2)

They haven't started shooting the movie yet, so right now the trailer merely consists of a guy dancing around wearing Underoos

Great news for comic book fans who are very good with delayed gratification! They've announced the release date for "Spider-Man 3"! No, no -- not "Spider-Man 2". "Spider-Man 3". That'll be in May 2007, so make a note in your calendar that when you buy a 2005 calendar, you should put a note in it to the effect that when you buy a 2006 calendar, you'll want to make a note about the opening date of the movie in your 2007 calendar.

Posted by Francis at 12:25 AM

March 25, 2004

Make sure your cat gets enough sun

Speaking of bonsai kittens, we have one of our own. Here you can see Twyla being trained to fit in a flowerpot (although her tail may need to be cut back):



Posted by Francis at 11:14 AM

She'll be playing SpongeRoberta SeeThroughPanties. Thank you. I'm here all week.

Scarlett Johansson, recently nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Most Difficult to Spell Actress, will be voicing a character in the upcoming SpongeBob movie.

Posted by Francis at 10:35 AM | Comments (2)

March 24, 2004

A song ideally suited to your busy schedule

...because it's 27 seconds long. It's yet another song from the long-ago Shimmy Disc session. Download it now and explore the mysteries of "Five Fat Guys".

Posted by Francis at 02:58 PM

He's Dennis Miller, and I'm not...thank God

Boing Boing today links to a New York Observer story which details Dennis Miller's utter failure to interview his ideological opposite, Eric Alterman, on his talk show. Dennis Miller has always been shallow, of course, but that wasn't such a big deal when all he was doing was making snarky jokes about headlines. Put him in a position where he actually has to debate someone, and he just can't hack it. The usual modus operandi of conservative talking heads -- that is, to never let one's liberal guests get a word in edgewise -- is irritating enough, but Dennis Miller has managed to find something even lamer: not responding at all.

The whole segment is available to watch here.

Posted by Francis at 01:35 PM

And 17 years later, it sinks in

After an episode of our favorite new show of the year, "Arrested Development", conversation turned to attempts to remember which roles exactly Jason Bateman had played during his child star days. And it occurred to me -- didn't Jason Bateman play the lead in "Teen Wolf Too"? Not being especially preoccupied with anyone besides Michelle Pfeiffer or the more age-appropriate Jennifer Connelly at the time, I didn't pay so much attention to the nuances of the casting choices for a sequel to a movie that was crappy in the first place, but now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say -- how lame is that? Michael J. Fox doesn't want to come back for the role, so they go from Justine Bateman's brother on "Family Ties" to her brother in real life? The sad thing is, those producers probably thought they were brilliant.

I was reminded of this because Jason Bateman is interviewed in the current issue of the Onion.

Onion: What was your first commercial?

Jason Bateman: Um... I think I did, like, Honey Nut Cheerios or something. I had to pretend to see this fucking bee flying around all over the place. I thought I was in the middle of Hollywood magic.

He also reports that "Wilford Brimley was a pain in the ass." Dude, why don't you talk smack about someone who's still alive to defend himself? Oh. He's still alive? I guess those Quaker Oats really are healthy.

Posted by Francis at 04:48 AM

March 23, 2004

I love that scene where Roger Moore dies and morphs into Timothy Dalton

There's good news for two Brit icons this week. First, Pierce Brosnan will continue playing James Bond after all. (Here's a link, though it might not be active by the time you get there. The upshot is that the reports of Pierce not being brought back for a fifth film were actually feelers by the studio, and the ensuing avalanche of protests convinced producers to stay the course.) The plots of all Bond movies being largely interchangeable, my interest in them can generally be directly correlated to the charisma of the actor playing 007 (and, nowadays, to my curiosity to see whether John Cleese will be better used than he is in the Harry Potter movies). I think Brosnan makes a swell Bond...though, of course, I'm one of the five or six people who liked Timothy Dalton, so I might not be a good bellwether for the nation on the Bond issue.

As for the other item -- Doctor Who is finally returning to television, after 15 years (not counting the abortive attempt to bring it to the US in 1996). Taking the role will be Christopher Eccleston, who seems like a fine left-field sort of choice. He's not someone whose face I could immediately call to mind, but it turns out I've seen him in several excellent films (Shallow Grave, Let Him Have It, 24 Hour Party People), so I'm pretty psyched, even though the fellow who would probably have been my dream casting choice for the role -- Richard E. Grant -- was also under consideration but didn't make the cut. Ah well. Maybe he'll be the next regeneration. Probably not the next Bond, though.

Posted by Francis at 01:10 AM | Comments (1)

March 22, 2004

There's always room on your shirt for Jell-O

I'm just sitting here trying to come up with crossword themes while a cat butts its head into my heads as I try to type, and I look over at Rose's computer and see an Olympic pin shaped like a bowl of Jell-O. I assume most of my readers will share my nonplussedness at the existence of such an object.

Apparently Salt Lake City wanted to commemorate its culinary heritage when the Olympics came to town. And apparently Utah has a thing for green Jell-O. (Actually, I kind of want that last one.)

While we're on the subject of Jell-O, if you'd like to relive those carefree days before cultural sensitivity, here's a recap of a 1950s Jell-O commercial that's narrated in a thick mock-Chinese accent.

Posted by Francis at 10:29 PM | Comments (2)

It's my lack of parity, and I'll cry if I want to

I bet this would be more fun if the fifth level weren't impossible. No, I mean literally impossible. Unless I'm miscalculating, parity issues mean the fifth level of the game can never be completed. I suspect it's a subtle prank meant to make people crazy.

(Via Little Fluffy.)

Posted by Francis at 01:00 PM | Comments (2)

Puzzling evidence

I've had two more hits that tantalizingly seem to provide more information about this entry of a few days ago, but, in the end, still provide no answers:

monkey car anti-theft system joke
antitheft monkey video

So these people are looking for something humorous, and apparently there's a video involved. And at least four people know about it. (That's right, four; I also had a hit on "antitheft monkey", but that provides no new data.) But I have been through the Google searches for all these queries -- easy to do, since they don't provide very long lists of hits -- and I get squat.

Apart from filling me with thwarted curiosity, the other thing this mystery does is to make me very impatient for the NewsRadio DVD sets to start appearing (even though I know the "Super Karate Monkey Death Car" episode won't be on the first collection).

(Update: Mystery solved; see the comments)

Posted by Francis at 09:01 AM | Comments (3)

March 20, 2004

If music is the new pornography, then lyrics are the new letters to Penthouse

When the New Pornographers' first CD came along, the lack of a lyric sheet was the cause of much sadness in our household, as there had not been a CD in a really long time that so demanded to be sung along with (perhaps while jumping up and down). The songs also seemed designed to thwart easy comprehension, as we teased out oblique but compelling lyrical snippets like "The tune you’ll be humming forever, all the words are replaced and wrong, with a shower of yeahs and whatevers, you trade me away long gone" -- no story songs here, to help you figure out what might have been being sung in this or that song's incomprehensible section.

Anyway, salvation has arrived. Lyrics to both "Mass Romantic" and the New Pornographers' slightly weaker but still respectable follow-up "The Electric Version" have made their way online, apparently not through one headphone-clad fan's determination but via the source. (The not-as-well-formatted version of the lyrics here and here are non-obviously -- almost clandestinely -- linked from images in the band's bio on their record label's website. The other set of links make for much easier reading, which is why they get first billing.) The reliable source makes it hard to argue, but Rose and I kind of prefer our mondegreen of "you told me I could order the moon, babe, just as long as it's you what I want" to " long as I shoot what I want".

Anyhow, the upshot of all of this is, apologies to Daniel and Gina downstairs if the sound of jumping up and down is keeping them awake later tonight.

Posted by Francis at 08:47 PM | Comments (1)

Hover story

Who doesn't love seeing pictures of things in midair? (The coin pictures are probably the most successful, although I love that someone had the impulse to throw a bunch of lentils in the air and photograph them.)

If you want your own midair photos, there are several alternate ways of approaching the problem, such as making your subject (like, say, a frog) float in place via the use of powerful magnets, or just redefining your terms.

Posted by Francis at 04:32 PM

March 19, 2004

Fucking fuckity fuck fuck

Boing Boing has updates on the Sandra Tsing Loh affair (and other stuff about the Fucking Communications Commission). If someone wants the short version of the aftermath of Loh's firing over an unbleeped "fuck", go here and be appalled at statements like this:

"When I made the decision to cancel 'The Loh Life,' I was not in possession of all the facts regarding this unfortunate incident, specifically that it had been Sandra's practice to leave instructions for her engineer to bleep out certain words, and that this practice had never before gone awry," said [KCRW general manager Ruth] Seymour.

God forbid someone should get all the facts before they fire someone! I agree entirely with Sandra's decision not to accept their offer to hire her back; how could you possibly work for someone who had been such a jerk to you?

Also in FCC news, Eric Berlin points out that if Howard Stern is obscene, then Oprah is too.

Posted by Francis at 03:23 PM

March 18, 2004

Referral logs = hilarity

Sometimes I just want to write blog entries to answer the questions that people who reach my blog are clearly trying to have answered. (Kind of like an advice column that would solve problems overheard from people talking on cell phones: advice for people who didn't ask for it.) Take the guy searching for "installing morrissey font". He would have done better to just search for "morrissey font", and he would have found this link to a font based on Morrissey's handwriting. Although he probably wouldn't know how to install it.

So that's a pretty niche thing to be searching for, but at least it's comprehensible. Fonts. I like fonts. Maybe not fonts of Morrissey's handwriting, but whatever. Sometimes, though, I have no idea what people could possibly be looking for. Like this Google query:

antitheft device monkey

A...device to prevent people from stealing your monkey? Or maybe a monkey that's used as an antitheft device? Like, you train it to watch your car, and if someone starts trying to break in, it jumps on them and starts screaming and screaming and screaming and pokes them in the eye, etc. I think such a system would be much appreciated by one's neighbors over the traditional five-minute siren that goes off if sunlight bumps into the fender.

Posted by Francis at 10:57 PM | Comments (2)

I know you'll be surprised by this news, because hard-line conservatives are normally so tolerant, but...

The Bush administration has apparently totally given up on getting any support from the Log Cabin Republicans since they came out of the closet on supporting an anti-gay-marriage amendment. Now they're claiming that it's perfectly okay to fire federal workers for being gay. Seems they're claiming a legal distinction between sexual orientation and sexual conduct. So a guy can have sex with as many other guys as he wants, as long as he's not gay. Gotcha. I look forward to the inevitable hearings on this matter: "Well, it depends on what your definition of 'ass-fucking' is..."

(Via Wonkette.)

Posted by Francis at 04:23 PM

Everyone knows her as Nancy

We'll see how long I can keep the Beatles theme going. Anyway, from Irregular Orbit (via Incoming Signals) comes this choice bit of surrealist entertainment: Five-Card Nancy, a game in which players construct a stream-of-consciousness Nancy comic strip, one panel at a time. The website is for solitaire play (although there's nothing stopping you from making it a multi-player event); here's the comic I generated when I played (and one that holds together surprisingly well):


Posted by Francis at 02:05 AM

March 17, 2004

Well, here's another clue for you all -- the adorable orange stuffed rhino was Paul

More finger puppets, perhaps even more bewildering than the last ones. (This page gives some context...but it's still weird.)

Posted by Francis at 06:01 AM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2004

It did! It did get me a lot of hits from pervs doing Google searches!

I get a lot of...I don't know if it has a term, actually...comments that aren't actually from people who read the blog; they're actually spammers who post things that look vaguely like comments but link to porn sites or the usual sorts of sites that spam links to. This increases the number of pages that link to their sites and increases their prominence on Google. I always delete these comments right away, of course, and ban the IP addresses.

Previous people posting -- oh, let's just coin a term for it right now -- spamments have gone with saying things like "nice site" or "me too", or even cutting and pasting text from other people's blogs. But the person who spammented on this entry didn't even bother trying to trick me into thinking they were a real commenter. Here are some choice excerpts (misspelled, weirdly phrased, or just freaky) from their huge comment, with links removed, naturally:

beastiality and animal sex stories here. sweet dogs sex,horses sex,pigs fucking,snakes sex, dogs oral job, horses blowjob
young transexuals here!
pokemon sex
asian beauties, sweet asian girls get fucked. chinease sex. enjoy them
great cocks of the huge gays

I don't know about you, but I've seen all the Pokemon sex that I need to see.

Posted by Francis at 02:22 PM | Comments (2)

Shrill harridan delights clueless hipsters

I don't want to turn into one of those cranks who rants about "kids today", so -- what is it with people my age and younger and their tolerance of the poundingly unfunny Joan Rivers?

"In a dishonest society, Joan says what everyone else is thinking but would not dare utter."

Really? I'll tell you what I'm thinking: Joan Rivers is not funny. It's not funny because it's true!

Posted by Francis at 02:20 AM | Comments (1)

Do not taunt Happy Fun Sprinkler

Another memorable bit of signage from the crossword tournament was this warning posted in our hotel room:


From the coat hanger pictured in the graphic, I can only assume that the Stamford Marriott's decision to have coat hangers that can actually be removed from the closet backfired at some point when someone decided that the sprinkler was more conveniently located to the bed. Since hotel rooms are so large, and walking across them can be quite tiring. You know.

Posted by Francis at 01:53 AM | Comments (2)

Science has proved that dinosaurs are hilarious

The latest installment of Dinosaur Comics is very funny, but if you've never read the strip before, you'll appreciate it more if you read a few strips from the archives first. If you want to start all the way at the beginning, start here, and when you've had your fill, skip ahead to Monday's. If you have less patience, start here instead, and read the next four comics.

Posted by Francis at 01:21 AM

March 15, 2004

It's not about crosswords! But it's still geeky.

While going through my referral logs today, I discovered that aliens are reading my blog. And here's where to go for instruction if you'd like to read the aliens' blogs in return. Perhaps this will go a little way towards improving relationships between our species in the aftermath of the Rikchik-Human war (bottom of this page).

Posted by Francis at 04:47 PM

In which I attempt to fix the barn door

Scott Weiss (10th place overall, 2nd place in the B finals) has had the best idea so far for fixing the C final controversy: have the three people who should have been onstage replay the C final (with a new puzzle, obviously) at next year's tournament.

I think this is an extremely worthy idea, and the only one that solves the many problems involved. Like, when someone finishes in the top three of the C division, they get promoted to the B division. But do the people who finished in the top three get promoted even if they didn't compete in the playoff? Then you're in my situation (I got promoted to the A division without ever playing in a playoff round, finishing 10th overall in 1998, but 4th in the B division) -- a situation which they've deliberately tried to avoid having. What about if you don't promote them? They did earn their place in the higher division. It's a no-win situation.

So I vote strongly for a rematch next year on the Friday night before the tournament; and both to ensure that all three contestants attend next year for the rematch, and by way of apology for the colossal screw-up, I think all three of them should have their tournament fee comped.

Posted by Francis at 01:01 PM | Comments (8)

Geek scandal goes national

The AP wire has picked up the story about the scoring snafu (though the Jennifer Turney issue still isn't mentioned). You can read it in Newsday, although the article has a little bit of that playing-telephone problem, implying that the problem affected every contestant's score, when it only really affected about 20 (although it delayed everything):

The problem began Saturday when the students helped with the scoring of the sixth puzzle by watching a big digital clock and jotting down contestants' finishing times.

Students mistook the numbers that showed seconds for the numbers that showed minutes.

See, that makes it sound like all the students made the mistake, when I believe it was only one student. And, later:

About 500 contestants were told of the mistake Sunday and were asked to estimate how much time was left when they finished their sixth puzzle.

...which totally makes it sound like all 500 contestants scored themselves on puzzle 6. The Stamford paper does a much better job of explaining the somewhat more limited extent of the problem.

In the Stamford Advocate article, Will Shortz says, regarding the scoring problem, "That's never happened before." But, of course, it would have been impossible for it to happen before, since this is the first year we had a digital clock keeping time. In previous years, big ol' analog timers were used, and Will held up numbered cards which indicated how many minutes were left, so there was no potential ambiguity.

Posted by Francis at 12:46 PM | Comments (11)

March 14, 2004

The thrill of being 13 places away from victory

So I didn't do that badly at the crossword tournament after all (despite my ungodly slow solving time for the extremely unsatisfying puzzle 5) -- I placed higher than I did in 2003, in fact. By a hair. Last year I was 15th; this year I was 14th.

Now that the standings have been posted, one of the tournament mysteries is cleared up, though not especially satisfactorily. Jennifer Turney, you see, was leading the C division by a wide margin after 5 puzzles. (Normally, on Sunday morning, the scores for the first 6 puzzles are posted, but since we had the high school student problem, the round 6 scores got delayed.) After puzzle 7, when the C division finalists were announced, she wasn't mentioned -- not even after two finalists turned out to have left already and were replaced in the playoff round by the 4th and 5th place finishers. I almost said something about it, but I thought -- well, she's not saying anything, maybe she made mistakes in the last two puzzles and knows it. And anyway -- we had already waited an extra hour and a half in a very claustrophobic room for the scores to be tabulated. It was a horrible concept that we might have to wait still longer while yet another problem was sorted out -- so I didn't fuss. Now I guiltily wish I had, as it turns out that the problem was that no score was entered at all for her sixth puzzle. I feel like the Supreme Court or something. The recount must be stopped because it would throw the tournament into turmoil! Sigh. Kind of a fiasco. Maybe Daniel Okrent (73rd place) can investigate.

Posted by Francis at 11:00 PM | Comments (5)

March 13, 2004

Ooh, check me out, I'm blogging remotely, I'm so cool

So here I am at the crossword tournament; I'm clearly not having my best year, but I doubt I've embarrassed myself, either.

One of the many puzzle handouts was a contest crossword which asked you to write a knock-knock joke on the back of the crossword. I thought I should write an original knock-knock joke for the occasion, so this is what I came up with:

Knock knock.

Who's there?


FDR who?

If the art of raising the dead weren't fictional, it would actually be possible for Franklin Delano Roosevelt to be knocking on your door.

In addition to crosswords, a lot of games get played at the tournament. I just finished a game of Cluesome, a game for a large group in which you try to come up with a clue that will be solved by at least one person, but not more than half the number of people playing. So you're going for obscure, but not too obscure.

I find the game entertaining since I hardly ever know the right answers, so I just spend most of my time making up cheap jokes. For instance, someone gave the clue "Tiffany case title". I had no idea what that meant, so I guessed "U.S. vs. 'I Think We're Alone Now' ". (The real answer was "Diamonds Are Forever", a movie featuring the character Tiffany Case.)

There has been one significant glitch at the tournament this year, and one which seemed pretty predictable. Before puzzle 6, Will Shortz announced that a group of high school students had volunteered to collect papers for that round. We were a little concerned about that over in my corner, and for good reason, it turned out -- some of them wrote incorrect solving times on answer sheets, potentially throwing the tournament rankings out of whack. So if I don't make the top ten, I'm blaming the high schoolers.

Posted by Francis at 11:20 PM

March 12, 2004

Hmm...the Pentel Quicker Clicker or the Bic Erasable?

Blogging will be light to nonexistent over the weekend while I am off at the yearly crossword tournament in Stamford. Wish me luck.

Posted by Francis at 12:17 PM | Comments (2)

Normally, after I cut up a fish, no one asks me to put it back together

...but that would probably still be easier than this Escher-style Rubik's cube. (That's from a page of collected sundry variations on the cube; another highlight is this cube for the blind.)

But speaking of Escher-style material, did you know that the Linux penguin tesselates with just a little tweaking?

Posted by Francis at 06:31 AM

New Zork City

Litte Fluffy has uncovered two quick fixes for those of you who share my love for adventure games (and surrealism, and sophomoric humor).

"Which-Way Adventure" is a game with a truly screwed-up sense of humor, and one which is not afraid to stick you in an endless loop from which there is no escape, so don't be afraid of your "refresh" button. I spent an embarrassing amount of time going through the different possible endings to this game.

"Samarost" is a quick, gorgeous little game whose puzzles do not always follow an especially linear sort of logic, but are satisfying nonetheless. (The creators of the game are also responsible for some other things which are also quite attractive, if not as interesting: "Pantry", an interactive graphics page which doesn't do all that much except make you wonder where all those vaguely familiar musical samples come from (Bjork), and "Rocketman", a super-easy micro-mini-adventure designed for Nike.)

Both games require (or are immensely improved by) sound, reducing their usefulness as secret office distractions.

Posted by Francis at 12:32 AM

March 11, 2004

A plague upon your house party

This started out as an update to the entry below, but then it started getting long enough that it seemed like it ought to be its own entry.

With all the talk of microbes and parasites, how could I forget about the finger puppets and plush toys based on the ten plagues of Passover? You definitely need to check out the larger image of that second one. I also love this line from its product description: "This plush yellow plagues bag contains representations for all of the plagues (not necessarily in the correct order)". How exactly would a bag of ten stuffed toys have any particular order?

If the stuffed plague toys are a little too high-end for you, there's always this crappier set of toys whose plague connections sometimes seem like a little bit of a stretch. What is the sticky hand supposed to be? Boils? Because they might make your hand sticky if you pop them? I don't know. And, personally, I think a rain of ping-pong balls would not really be quite as devastating as a hailstorm. It would be pretty cool, actually, although the ping-pong balls wouldn't bounce very well on the desert sand. They'd ricochet off the pyramids nicely, though.

Anyway, if I'd been designing that set of toys, I would've included a tiny snowglobe of screaming Egyptians for that plague instead. Something along these lines, perhaps.

Posted by Francis at 03:29 PM

We'll always have parasites

If stuffed microbes aren't enough for you, you can now enjoy a product line of Hello Kitty-like parasites whose publicity material is written in what I can only assume is a deliberate dialect of Engrish:

One day Holly was the lonely girl with not the friend. But she notice a feeling of itching on her head so she must attend doctor. The doctor tells of the infection of many parasites. He give the pills for removal of parasites to Holly, but Holly is sad. Why to kill the parasites? So she gave each of them a name and became happy. The Parasite Pals give some irritation but much fun and love is to be shared.

One of the parasites is actually a beneficial one (Blinky the eyelash mite), but I just don't know about the other ones, like Tickles the tapeworm, who doesn't so much seem like such a fun friend to have around (even if "he is always making jokes to tell"), as this movielet would seem to corroborate.

Posted by Francis at 02:36 PM | Comments (2)

You just haven't colored it yet, baby

Remember Marvel Comics' old "What If?" series (like, "What if Peter Parker had been bitten by a radioactive monkey instead of a spider?", that sort of thing)? Well, let's imagine a world in which Marvel Comics featured alternative rock stars instead of superheroes, and also published coloring books instead of comic books. You might get an issue of "What If?" which asks the question, "What if Morrissey had to get a day job?"

So what do you think is a better color for Morrissey -- gray or mauvelous?

Posted by Francis at 01:28 AM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2004

You put the lotion in the basket and you mix it right up

Of course I love people writing musical comedies from non-comedic source material, so, as Columbine correctly predicts, "Silence! The Musical" is right up my alley.

Publicizing them is kind of a tricky thing, though, since the more people find out about their site, the more likely it is that someone who actually owns the rights to "Silence of the Lambs" will slap them with a cease-and-desist order for selling CDs. Mind you, I think it's all covered under fair use and parody and all that, but try telling that to a litigious Hollywood studio.

Posted by Francis at 04:15 PM

March 09, 2004

See, the way to get polls to come out the way you want is to get rid of all those pesky other choices

Daniel Radosh pointed me to another doomed poll from the American Family Association; the link wasn't working when I first tried it, but when another friend e-mailed me the link, I tried again and got through.

Daniel had reported the results as of 5:35 PM as:

John Kerry 91.06% 2,456 votes
George Bush 3.19% 86 votes
Ralph Nader 5.75% 155 votes

Six hours later, those results had changed to:

John Kerry 90.25 % 18,004 votes
George Bush 3.48 % 694 votes
Ralph Nader 6.27 % 1,251 votes

From 91.06% support to 90.25%? See -- Nader really is stealing votes from Kerry!

Posted by Francis at 11:50 PM

March 08, 2004

Boys who test boys who like girls who test girls

Of Charm and Strange discusses a test that will help you figure out which boys you like. I'd tell you about the liking-girls version of the test, but it crashed my browser halfway through. I can tell you that I could not tell the difference between most of the body types that they tested me on.

Posted by Francis at 06:27 PM | Comments (6)

Eggcorns Weekly

I spotted a classic eggcorn in the post-Oscar issue of EW (coming next month: the special post-Oscar withdrawal double issue), in Lisa Schwarzbaum's lukewarm review of Hidalgo:


The rein/reign error does get made all the time. But this is in a review of a movie about a horse.

Posted by Francis at 04:50 PM

March 07, 2004

Crosby, Shiv, Stash and Gun

Of course it doesn't surprise me to hear that David Crosby got busted on charges of possessing marijuana. But a knife and a gun? Like, since when do hippies carry weapons, man? Of course, this is the guy who wrote

Oh, I tell you baby this increases my paranoia
Yeah, like looking in my mirror and seeing a police car maybe it shouldn't surprise me that this is what that paranoia evolved into.

Posted by Francis at 12:14 PM

This American Prudishness

Sandra Tsing Loh, a frequent contributor to the finest radio show of our generation (This American Life, of course) was fired from her radio commentary job in LA because a radio engineer neglected to bleep the f-word from one of her radio segments.

Firstly, it's an outrageous firing because Sandra Tsing Loh is about as culturally far as you can get from, say, Howard Stern. Secondly...breathes there a person on the planet who has not heard the word "fuck"? And, as was discussed recently on the National Puzzlers' League e-mail list -- why exactly does bleeping an obscenity suddenly make it acceptable? It's not like everyone in the world isn't supplying the word for themselves when they hear that bleep. So you're allowed to make someone think the word "fuck", but you can't say it.

I think I join most of Sandra's listeners when I say "Fuck KCRW."

(Another thought: what exactly are people being protected from when the word "fuck" is censored? The content of the thought is permissible; substitute "have sex with" for "fuck", and it's radio-ready.)

Posted by Francis at 12:01 PM | Comments (3)

March 05, 2004

These boots were made for moping

Pitchfork reports that not only is Morrissey finally readying a new album (it's been so long since the lame one he put out last time that I'm actually looking forward to it; good timing!), he has written a song for Nancy Sinatra. Awesome.

Posted by Francis at 08:26 PM

They Might Be Falsehoods

Apologies to the five or ten people who have landed here searching on " 'Indestructible Object' + tracklisting". I was under the impression the upcoming They Might Be Giants EP was going to feature 4 new songs, but it turns out one of those songs, "Art", was a typo for "Ant", a b-side from the Flood era, revamped with a big ol' horn section. (Article about it is here, if you scroll down.)

Posted by Francis at 06:44 AM

March 04, 2004

We're Still Dead

It's awesome that people are still writing about my musical, but why is it when people link to reviews of the show, they always link to one of the lame reviews? Maybe the problem is that our New York Times review is hard to find; the Times seems to shield its articles pretty well from search engines.

(Thanks to Eric Berlin for spotting the write-up. And no thanks to him for getting me hooked on all those cruel movie quizzes.)

Posted by Francis at 10:38 PM

And Scalia wanted to make it retroactive, so nobody could go back in time and persuade his mother to abort him

Hard to believe, I know, but there are actually people still out there on the fence about whether to vote for Bush or Kerry. On the one hand, Kerry doesn't have the most impressive record as a legislator. On the other hand, Bush's ostensible interest in stopping terrorism apparently doesn't extend to catching terrorists, he's bankrupting the country and dismantling civil rights, he winks at members of his administration blowing the cover of a CIA agent (one who was involved in anti-terrorist activities, mind you), and he dreams of writing discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. So you can see how someone might be conflicted.

But those still on the fence could always read about how close the Supreme Court came to overturning Roe v. Wade in 1992. Seriously, people. Vote Democratic, for the Supreme Court's sake.

Posted by Francis at 04:18 AM | Comments (2)

Remember those unusual creatures we used to call moderate Republicans? They're radical lefties now.

This article points out that many of the judges currently being derided as "activists" by GOP anti-gay-marriage yahoos were, in fact, appointed by Republicans.

Posted by Francis at 02:02 AM

Geeks gone wild!

And it's not even spring break yet. Enjoy this message board thread, which starts out as one odd sci-fi geek thing on page 1 and transforms into a whole other thing by page 2.

(Via Wigu.)

Posted by Francis at 12:56 AM

March 03, 2004


Hundreds of people
Will be blogging the Oscars
But none in haiku!

Ain't that the truth.

Posted by Francis at 02:23 AM

A Blotcher on their record

If you're tired of hearing about Peter Landesman, relief is on the way, as I expect we're going to see Daniel Okrent start focusing on the firing of Times freelancer Jay Blotcher instead. Apparently they felt the fact that he was once a member of ACT UP meant that it was impossible for him to be impartial.

Or maybe the New York Times is still steamed about ACT UP founder Larry Kramer's accusation that they didn't report aggressively enough on AIDS in the early '80s.

(Via the other James Wagner.)

Posted by Francis at 01:10 AM | Comments (3)

Fire in the hole

Another story you won't see on the Department of Homeland Security show: taking over two hours to evacuate people stuck on the subway due to a track fire.

Oddly enough, the fellow standing in the light and wearing shades in this photo taken during the long wait is my friend Jim Wagner. Who is a different Jim Wagner than the guy whose blog it is. Maybe everyone on the train was named Jim Wagner! How Fortean would that be?

(Found via Gawker.)

Posted by Francis at 12:36 AM

Maybe it should be called an Averagemarket

Today I passed an unfortunately named business: the Grade Fair Supermarket. It's not as good as the Grade Excellent Supermarket, but at least it's not as bad as the Grade Poor.

I was at a loss as to why anyone would give their store such a name, but I think it's an attempt to capitalize on the similarly named Trade Fair Supermarkets. I've never lived in a neighborhood that had one of those, but apparently some people have heard of them.

Still, it's an ill-conceived name. I don't consider supermarkets as being in charge of grading my food (I'd like to imagine that the FDA is still on the job in that regard), so it's never occurred to me to wonder whether they're doing it fairly or not.

If there are any other grocery entrepreneurs out there who are trying to think of names, here is a list of other possible grocery store names which differ from "Trade Fair" by one letter:

Trace Fair
Trade Hair
Trade Lair
Trade Fail

Posted by Francis at 12:25 AM | Comments (1)

March 02, 2004

For relaxing times

Hopefully the "Lost in Translation" DVD will offer English subtitles for Japanese dialogue, but in case it doesn't, here's a translation of the Suntory whiskey scene.

Posted by Francis at 04:34 PM

That's like Charlize Theron discriminating against someone for being too tan

Dick Clark apparently really is under the impression that he never ages.

Posted by Francis at 02:20 PM | Comments (1)

I hope people are enjoying these songs, because I'm just going to keep posting them

Here's another song from the Shimmy Disc sessions, "Rita Hayworth", an idiosyncratic little number about the differences between Rita Hayworth and Pablo Picasso, sort of. It features Kramer on bass, Scott Prato on electric guitar, and Kyle Lapidus on clarinet. Practically a whole band! This song always sounded kind of unfinished without drums, so, with the benefit of modern technology, I added some.

Posted by Francis at 07:22 AM | Comments (3)

March 01, 2004

ABC's new slogan: "Willful Ignorance is Strength"

So as many of you are presumably aware, ABC recently revived "Millionaire" for a sweeps run. How is it doing? Well, ABC recently announced that on its Thursday airing, Millionaire was "the top-rated non-NBC/CBS program in prime time". came in third is what they're saying. Okay then.

Posted by Francis at 07:14 PM

He finally put his money where his mouth was on that "Better dead than red" thing

The Oscars were mostly politics-free this year (guess it was that 5 second delay), but there was what I suspected was an extremely subtle moment of commentary: in the yearly tribute to recently deceased film luminaries, Elia Kazan appeared immediately before Leni Riefenstahl.

Posted by Francis at 05:11 PM

Also coming this fall: "That Darn Fag"

I learned from Best Week Ever that there's a TV series in the works based on the Department of Homeland Security, and in a triumph for lovers of propaganda, it's endorsed by Tom Ridge and President Bush.

I expect we won't see episodes featuring agents complaining about how underfunded their department is, or terrorists getting through US defenses in New York because of illogical apportionment of funds.

Maybe this will spark a revival of that long-forgotten show "Buck McCarthy: Anti-Communist Avenger!"

Posted by Francis at 05:07 PM

Please don't tell my penguin about this

There's another hack of the penguin batting practice game that was all the rage in my apartment for an hour or two last month. This one makes the club used by the yeti much bigger, much spikier, and much more likely to cause penguin decapitation.

(Via Little Fluffy.)

Posted by Francis at 12:32 PM