In a Word

viator
n. a wayfarer; traveler

nocuous
adj. likely to cause harm or damage

fulminant
adj. exploding or detonating

aggerose
adj. in heaps

British director Cecil Hepworth made “How It Feels To Be Run Over” in 1900. The car is on the wrong side of the road. (The intertitle at the end, “Oh! Mother will be pleased,” may have been scratched directly into the celluloid.)

Hepworth followed it up with “Explosion of a Motor Car,” below, later the same year.

In a Word

epinician
adj. celebrating victory

rovery
n. an act of straying in thought

peripeteia
n. a sudden turn of events or an unexpected reversal

algedonic
adj. pertaining to both pleasure and pain

In the 1934 US Open Championship at Merion, Philadelphia, [Bobby Cruickshank] was leading after two rounds and going well in the third round. His approach to the 11th hole was slightly spared and to his dismay he saw the ball falling short into the brook which winds in front of the green.

The ball landed on a rock which was barely covered by water, rebounded high into the air and landed on the green. Cruickshank jubilantly tossed his club into the air, tipped his cap and shouted ‘Thank you, God.’ Further expressions of gratitude were cut short as the descending club landed on top of his head and knocked him out cold. He recovered his senses but not the impetus of his play and finished third.

— Peter Dobereiner, The Book of Golf Disasters, 1986

Dunsany’s Chess

dunsany's chess

Lord Dunsany, the Anglo-Irish fantasy writer, proposed this alarming chess variant in the 1940s. Black has his usual army, but he’s facing an onslaught of white pawns, without even a king to attack. But he has the first move, and White’s pawns are denied the customary option of advancing two squares on their first move. To win, Black must capture all 32 white pawns; White wins by checkmating Black.

You can experiment with it here, and you can play a close variant, called Horde, on the Internet chess server Lichess.

Buried Treasure

Cecil B. DeMille’s 1959 autobiography contains an odd passage: “If a thousand years from now, archaeologists happen to dig beneath the sands of Guadalupe, I hope they will not rush into print with the amazing news that Egyptian civilization, far from being confined to the valley of the Nile, extended all the way to the Pacific coast of North America. The sphinxes they will find were buried when we had finished with them and dismantled our huge set of the gates of Pharaoh’s city.”

He was referring to his 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments — after shooting was finished, he’d had the massive sets buried where they’d been built, in California’s Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes. It’s not clear why — possibly he lacked the funds to remove them and didn’t want other filmmakers to use them. The sets included four Pharaoh statues 35 feet tall, 21 sphinxes, and gates 110 feet high, forming an ersatz Egyptian civilization for modern archaeologists to uncover.

Their time is limited. “It was like working with a hollow chocolate rabbit,” Doug Jenzen, executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center, told the Los Angeles Times of one dig in 2014. “These were built to last two months during filming in 1923, and these statues have been sitting out in the elements since then.”

Now Showing

This is neat — Eric Harshbarger finds that a list of the 12 top-performing movies in the U.S. last weekend (Dec. 13-15, 2019) contains all 26 letters of the alphabet:

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL
FROZEN II
KNIVES OUT
RICHARD JEWELL
BLACK CHRISTMAS
FORD V FERRARI
QUEEN & SLIM
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
DARK WATERS
21 BRIDGES
MIDWAY
PLAYING WITH FIRE

The top 8 alone contain all the letters but P.

(Thanks, Eric.)

An Urgent Question

Based on a James Blish short story, The Beast Must Die (1974) is a curious twist on the Clue genre: A millionaire invites a group of people to a remote island and reveals that one of them is a werewolf, and they must work out who it is.

The movie includes a 30-second “werewolf break” near the end, in which the audience are asked to guess the werewolf’s identity based on the clues.

Cross Words

https://www.flickr.com/photos/waffleboy/25098716017
Image: Flickr

Binghamton University English professor Michael Sharp has been blogging about the New York Times crossword puzzle every day since 2006 under the name Rex Parker. He downloads each puzzle when it becomes available at 10 p.m. and typically solves it in 3-10 minutes.

His blog, Rex Parker Does the NY Times Crossword Puzzle, has become so popular that there’s now a metric website that analyzes his opinions:

  • “Rex doesn’t like Sundays”
  • “Rex doesn’t like April”
  • “Rex doesn’t like the year 2017”

“It’s like a little present,” he told the Chronicle of Higher Education last year. “You have no idea what’s in there. And if you’re lucky, something weird or strange or funny is in there. And you get to unwrap this little present every day that will make your brain light up in weird ways if it’s done right.”

(Thanks, Laura.)

The Fog of War

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%98%D0%B3%D1%80%D0%B0_%D0%B2_%D1%88%D0%B0%D1%85%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%8B_%E2%80%94_%D0%9B%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BD_%D1%81_%D0%93%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BC_%E2%80%94_%D0%92%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B0_1909.jpg

Franklin K. Young worked out a way to apply battlefield principles to the chessboard. Unfortunately, his description is incomprehensible:

The normal formative processes of a Logistic Grand Battle consist, first, in Echeloning by RP to QR4 and then in Aligning the Left Major Front Refused en Potence by the development of QKtP to QKt5, followed by Doubly Aligning the Left Major Front Refused and Aligned by developing QRP to QR5.

The final and decisive development in the formative process of a Logistic Grand Battle is the transformation of the Left Refused Front Doubly Aligned into a Grand Left Front Refused and Echeloned by the development of QRP to QR6.

Chess historian Edward Winter quotes a 1909 parody by P.H. Williams in Chess Chatter & Chaff:

White here takes the opportunity of duple deployment of bolobudginous hoplites, by mutual transposition of kindred hypothetics — the one in enfilade, the other in marmalade. This example of Tyntax involves duodecimal parabaloidic curves, whose radii are in strict parallelism with the dyptic hypotenuse. (Note: These terms will be elucidated when the author has discovered meanings for them, in a glossary of 457 pages.)

The system was still obscure when Young died in 1931, but perhaps you can make sense of it: His works are here.