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

After Cecil B. DeMille finished work on his 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments, he 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

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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.

Podcast Episode 270: Kidnapped by North Korea

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kim_Jong-il_in_North_Korean_propaganda_(6075328850).jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1978, two luminaries of South Korean cinema were abducted by Kim Jong-Il and forced to make films in North Korea in an outlandish plan to improve his country’s fortunes. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok and their dramatic efforts to escape their captors.

We’ll also examine Napoleon’s wallpaper and puzzle over an abandoned construction.

See full show notes …

Misc

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Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • Mr. Peanut’s full name is Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.
  • Michael J. Fox is 10 days younger than Lea Thompson and 3 years older than Crispin Glover.
  • Nebraska’s state slogan is “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”
  • Eight-letter words typed with eight fingers: BIPLANES, CAPTIONS, ELAPSING, JACKPOTS, LIFESPAN, PANELIST.
  • “Memory can restore to life everything except smells.” — Nabokov

Nothing Doing

cage cartoon

In John Cage’s 1952 composition 4’33”, the performer is instructed not to play his instrument.

American music critic Kyle Gann discovered this 1932 cartoon in The Etude, a magazine for pianists.

The cartoonist’s name, remarkably, is Hy Cage.