Cross Words

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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

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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.

Metal Fatigue

ebsen tin man

One last Wizard of Oz anecdote: Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man, but nine days into production he was in Good Samaritan Hospital with blue skin and labored breathing. He’d spent four weeks in rehearsal, where, after many makeup tests, they had powdered aluminum dust onto his face and head. “One night, after dinner, I took a breath and nothing happened. They got an ambulance and had me down to Good Samaritan for a couple of weeks. My lungs were coated with that aluminum dust they had been powdering on my face.” Apparently it had caused an allergic reaction.

After two weeks of waiting, producer Mervyn LeRoy replaced Ebsen with Jack Haley, who was not told what had happened, though the makeup was adapted to a paste. Haley wasn’t even asked if he wanted to play the part — 20th Century Fox simply loaned him to MGM. “The type of contract I had, I had to respond to their commands. I had no choice. I was under contract, and they could lend me to any studio. It was the most awful work, the most horrendous job in the world with those cumbersome uniforms and the hours of makeup, but I had no choice.”

(From Aljean Harmetz, The Making of The Wizard of Oz, 1977.)

Character Study

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Margaret Hamilton on the Wicked Witch of the West:

[There was] a feeling inside that you get. One word: skulduggery. She enjoyed every single minute of whatever she was doing, whether she was screaming or yelling about the fact that Dorothy had those slippers, or sending the monkeys after them all. And the other thing was her utter and complete frustration. She never got what she wanted. She didn’t want Dorothy and she didn’t want any of those other characters. She just wanted those slippers. And today, according to law, she probably would have had them. They were her sister’s, and she would have been in line to inherit them. But she didn’t get there fast enough.

(From Aljean Harmetz, The Making of The Wizard of Oz, 1977.)

In a Word

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belute
v. to cover with mud or dirt

lutose
adj. covered with mud

squage
v. to dirty with handling

Every regulation major league baseball, roughly 240,000 per season, is rubbed with “magic mud” from a single source, a tributary of the Delaware River. It’s harvested by a single man, 62-year-old Jim Bintliff, who keeps the precise location secret even from Major League Baseball.

“I know the mud,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I’m the only one on the planet who does.”

(Thanks, Peter.)

Also-Rans

Japanese racehorse Haru Urara became “the shining star of losers everywhere” when she racked up a record of 0 wins and 113 losses in the early 2000s. In the face of a national recession, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, “The horse is a good example of not giving up in the face of defeat.” For the horse’s 106th race, Japan’s premier jockey, Yutaka Take, was brought in to ride her. She placed 10th out of 11.

British Thoroughbred Quixall Crossett ran to 103 consecutive defeats in the 1990s. Assistant trainer Geoff Sanderson said, “He got the most tremendous cheer you’ve ever heard on a race course. … The horse doesn’t know he gets beat because he gets a bigger cheer than the winner.”

American Thoroughbred Zippy Chippy retired in 2010 with a lifetime record of 0 wins in 100 starts, though he did once outrun a minor league baseball player. Racing historian Tom Gilcoyne said the horse “hasn’t done anything to harm the sport. But it’s a little bit like looking at the recorded performances of all horse races through the wrong end of the telescope.”