This Day in History Entry #20

June 30th, 2009 by Wordsman

It was finally time for “So long”
No more to Great Britain they’d belong
It was not just caprice;
Time was up on the lease
So China took control of Hong Kong

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Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #21

June 29th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Hey, who are those guys over there?” asked Jack, after he had determined that there were no clues on the obelisk that he had any hope of understanding.

Matthew followed his friend’s ever-capricious finger with his eyes.  “They’re part of the Swiss Guard,” he answered.  “We went past them on our way inside.  Don’t you remember?”  Despite their colorful uniforms, he was not surprised that Jack had missed them on the way into the basilica.  His friend, eager to look down on the city for the first time, had gone through as quickly as the more sedately dressed security people had allowed, practically sprinting to the top of the dome and causing a bit of distress to the other, less energetic visitors.

“Swiss?” Jack asked, frowning in confusion.  “We’re not in Switzerland.  Are we?”  After experiencing the complexity of the “Rome vs. Vatican City” issue he had accepted that sometimes it was difficult to be sure about these sorts of things.

“No, this is still the Vatican,” Matthew said, wondering how his friend could possibly think that they had crossed a national boundary without leaving the square.  “A long time ago it was common for kings, popes, and other important figures to hire Swiss mercenaries for use as bodyguards.  They served all over Europe.  The king in Hamlet makes reference to having Swiss guards, and Denmark doesn’t even border Switzerland.”

“Hmm . . . so this was a really long time ago?” Jack asked.  If Shakespeare talked about it, he thought, then it must be ancient history.  “Like . . . centuries?”

Matthew nodded.  “The Swiss Guard that protects the Pope was founded in the early 1500’s, I think.  I seem to remember reading about them celebrating their 500th anniversary recently.  They’re the only group that’s still around today.”

Jack considered these facts for a while.  “So what you’re saying is that these guys are some of the last remnants of an ancient secret society?” he asked.

“No,” Matthew replied firmly.  “They’re just bodyguards.  They guard the Pope.  That’s all they do.”  He knew that there must be more to it than that, but he preferred that Jack not see it that way.

His efforts, however, were in vain.  “Guarding the Pope means guarding his secrets as well,” Jack explained patronizingly.  “Look at that tunnel behind them.  I bet it goes underground.”

“That’s entirely possible, but it doesn’t mean that it leads to anything having to do with some sort of ridiculous conspiracy.”

Jack grinned.  “Can’t hurt to ask.”

Matthew was about to comment dryly that he felt that saying no longer applied when one of the people being asked was carrying a halberd.  Then he realized that his friend was actually walking over toward the guards and waving to get their attention.  Shaking his head in disbelief, he followed hurriedly after.

“Excuse me,” Jack announced self-importantly (and, of course, in English).  “As a citizen of the world, I demand to know: does this tunnel, or does it not, lead to the secret oil well underneath this plaza, whose existence this very church has been plotting for centuries to keep hidden from the poor citizens of this fair city?”

Matthew’s eyes widened as he heard his friend speak.  He had no idea if the Swiss Guard were required to learn English, but the hand gestures Jack made to accompany his accusation appeared none too friendly, so it could go badly either way.  “What the hell are you doing?” he whispered fiercely the moment he caught up, removing his hands from his pockets for the first time in order to seize his maniac friend by the arm.

“I’m just trying to get to the bottom of this,” Jack explained loudly, turning toward the nearby crowd waiting to get into the basilica and smiling and waving to show that everything was okay.  The crowd, for the most part, stared blankly back.

“Are you out of your mind?”  Matthew was not sure why he was whispering.  Perhaps, subconsciously, he was keeping his voice down because he thought that speaking too loudly might attract the attention of the guards.  This would also explain why he was trying to hide as much of his body as possible behind his friend’s.  “This isn’t a game!  The Swiss Guard aren’t recruited for their sense of humor!”

“Wait,” said Jack, suddenly lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper.  “Are you saying that our lives are in danger?”

“Yes!”  In other circumstances Matthew most likely would have understood that the Swiss Guard were unlikely to kill a couple of tourists in broad daylight just for acting like idiots.  At the time, however, he was unable to take his eyes off the pointed tip of the halberd.

“Then I guess we’d better run!” Jack announced, breaking into a broad grin and dashing away from the scene as fast as he could.

Matthew stood there, frozen.  Some part of his brain knew that running would only make him appear more suspicious.  On the other hand, it also had the potential to take him far away from the guards and their weapons.  Plus, if he did not run he would almost certainly lose Jack, who had, among other things, the only key to their hotel room.  So he ran, hoping desperately all the while that the guards would not give chase.

The two guards turned their heads slightly, exchanged a brief glance, and then turned back.  They had, in fact, understood every word, but they had no thought of pursuit.  Chase two incompetent tourists through the city?  Who had that kind of time?

No one saw (because no one was looking for) a gray-clad figure crouching on top of the colonnade surrounding St. Peter’s Square.  The figure twisted its head back and forth frantically as Jack and, a few seconds later, Matthew disappeared down a narrow alleyway just beyond the boundary of the piazza.  It held its wrist up near its mouth and said, “Targets lost,” before jumping toward the nearest rooftop.

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The Jenoviad Entry #20

June 26th, 2009 by Wordsman

Barret mumbled, “Actu’lly
Got somethin’ to ask you
It’s ‘bout that stuff, Materia
Just what all does it do?”

“Seriously?”  Cloud groaned loud
His face had fallen flat
“Don’t tell me you did all of this
To wake me up for

“Materia’s this magic . . . stuff
Just one of our world’s quirks
It goes inside your weapons
But don’t ask me how that works

“Materia lets you cast spells
Like Fire, Comet, Toad
Sometimes new skills or better stats
Are upon you bestowed

“There you have it,” Cloud declared
“As easy as I said”
“Yeah right,” said Barret.  “All o’ that
Is way over my head”

“So give me your Materia
And live in ign’rant bliss”
Barret scoffed.  “I’m not so dumb
That I would fall for this”

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Movie Two-Liners Entry #20

June 24th, 2009 by Wordsman

This week’s puzzle:

Three guys run into difficulty when their ride breaks down in the middle of a big trip. They get their co-workers to help out and go through an awful lot of trouble to fix it, but in the end they just pass by their destination without even getting out.

Last week’s puzzle:

A cubicle worker gets into trouble with the authorities because he’s afraid of heights. Later on, after an intensive training program, he can ride in a helicopter, and eventually he learns to fly on his own.

And the answer is . . . ▼

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This Day in History Entry #19

June 23rd, 2009 by Wordsman

In eleven eighty, in Japan
The Genpei War’s first battle began
Yorimasa did flee
And he lost at Uji
But this was not the end for his clan

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Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #20

June 22nd, 2009 by Wordsman


“Ah, finally!” Jack declared as he walked through the columns into the open, circular area.  “Now we’re in Rome!”

“No,” said Matthew, who was following behind him cautiously, keeping his eyes peeled for potential pickpockets.  “This is St. Peter’s Square.  We’re still in Vatican City.  Remember St. Peter’s Basilica, the one we were just inside a minute ago?  The one that’s right over there?” he added, pointing.

Jack frowned.  “Yeah, but I thought that was Vatican City.”

Matthew might have thrown up his hands in disgust if they weren’t deep in his pockets, tightly clasped around his wallet and other valuables.  “You can’t have a whole city contained entirely in one church.  Vatican City is small, but it’s not that small.”

“Oh,” said Jack.  “Well, I guess this is nice too.  What did you say it was called?  St. Peter’s Square?”  He suddenly snapped his fingers.  “Of course!  St. Peter’s Square!  Now I remember!”

Matthew braced himself.  “Remember what?” he asked hesitantly.

“St. Peter’s Square is where what’s-his-name . . . Mike Redmond landed his plane!  You know, back in World War II.  Boy, he sure showed Mussolini a thing or two!”

“That’s true,” Matthew replied, grimacing.  Then he added under his breath, “If you replace ‘St. Peter’s Square’ with ‘Red Square,’ ‘Mike Redmond’ with ‘Mathias Rust,’ and ‘World War II’ with ‘The Cold War.’”  He could have admonished Jack with these facts, but he was honestly impressed that his friend had managed to correctly match World War II with Mussolini, so he stayed quiet.  Instead he tried to figure out how Jack had made the mistake.  Had “St. Peter’s” caused him to think of “St. Petersburg,” which he had then gotten confused with Moscow?  Or were all famous squares the same in his head?  Matthew wondered if in a few minutes his friend would be telling him the story of the guy who stood up to that tank.

“Just imagine it,” Jack went on, staring at the sky and presumably still thinking about the plane.  “It can’t have been an easy landing.  I mean, this place isn’t very big, and it’s not long and straight like a runway, it’s a circle . . . hey, how come it’s called a square when it’s actually a circle?” he asked, turning back to his portable encyclopedia.

Matthew shrugged, pulling up the sides of his pants.  “It’s a problem of translation, I suppose.  In Italian the name is Piazza San Pietro, so a more geometrically-faithful rendering might be ‘St. Peter’s Plaza.’  We call it St. Peter’s Square for consistency’s sake, because we think that all important gathering places in the middle of big cities should be some kind of square: Times Square, Trafalgar Square . . . Red Square,” he added meaningfully.

“Mistranslation, huh?” said Jack, nodding knowingly.  “Happens all the time.  But to think that it doesn’t even really have anything to do with St. Peter.  ‘The Plaza of Sand and Petroleum’ . . . interesting.”

Matthew stared at him in total incomprehension for a few seconds before he understood the error.  His friend spoke no Italian, and no language other than English, for that matter.  He tended to assume that the definition of any foreign word was the same as the English word that was closest to it, or at least whichever similar-sounding word in his native tongue he was able to think of first.  Matthew considered trying to explain this to Jack, but then he saw the gleam in his friend’s eye.

“But what if it’s not a mistake?” Jack asked, halving his speaking volume but doubling the intensity.  He walked back toward Matthew and threw a conspiratorial arm around his shoulder.  “What if it’s a plot to conceal the fact that there’s oil underneath the ground?  It all makes sense.  That’s where the Church gets all its money, from a secret that they have kept since ancient times: an oil well hidden beneath the so-called ‘St. Peter’s Square’ itself, immediately outside their headquarters of Vatican City!  Or, in Vatican City, I guess.”  Jack did, on occasion, remember the things that his friend attempted to teach him.

“Hey, what’s this thing?” he asked, releasing Matthew and crouching down on the ground, staring at a picture.

“It’s a relief,” Matthew explained, thinking that this new discovery was anything but.  “It’s just for decoration.”

“You mean it looks like it’s just for decoration,” Jack corrected.  “See these lines?  They could be pointing toward a clue!”  He stood and looked around to see where the lines were pointing.  It seemed pretty obvious to Matthew that they were just part of the relief, and also that they were aiming in too many different directions to possibly indicate any one place.

Jack, however, did not see it that way.  “What’s that thing?” he asked, indicating the center of the square, one of the hundreds of spots that the lines could be said to be pointing at.  “It looks like the Washington Monument.  Do you think they stole the idea from us?”

“It’s called an obelisk,” said Matthew, “and they didn’t steal the idea from the United States; they stole it from Egypt.  Probably stole the obelisk, too, for that matter.”

“Egypt, huh?” said Jack, his brain working furiously.  Matthew wished he had kept his mouth shut, for he was sure that his friend was now developing an intercontinental conspiracy theory.  Before he could let Matthew in on the details of the new plot, however, he dashed off to more closely examine its inspiration.

Matthew followed slowly, paying far more attention to the crowds full of possible sneak thieves than to his overexcited friend.  His lack of enthusiasm was mostly relative; he was glad to be in Rome (technically still Vatican City), despite his initial misgivings about the trip, and he agreed with his friend that it was a fascinating place.  But Jack was expecting things that could have come straight from a trashy thriller novel.  Things like that, Matthew knew, just did not happen.

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The Jenoviad Entry #19

June 19th, 2009 by Wordsman

Hours passed, the planet spun
And then a new day dawned
Dawn was not a part of day
Of which Cloud was real fond

The night had left Cloud from his bed
Most disinclined to leap
Wedge’s snores had not allowed
The chance to get much sleep

He could have slept in, skipped the job
He could endure the mocking
What he could not handle was
The thund’r of Barret’s knocking

“Get up, you bum!” the big man roared
“No time to lie in bed!
If you don’t come out right now
I’ll bust open your head!”

“What’s the fuss?” the blond man said
“No need to hurry there
It’s not like that reactor
Will get up and go somewhere”

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Movie Two-Liners Entry #19

June 17th, 2009 by Wordsman

This week’s puzzle:

A cubicle worker gets into trouble with the authorities because he’s afraid of heights.  Later on, after an intensive training program, he can ride in a helicopter, and eventually he learns to fly on his own.

Last week’s puzzle:

A young man is forced to leave his home when he discovers there is a problem with his inheritance. After consulting with some associates of his uncle he decides to take care of the problem himself, and some of his drinking buddies join him for a trip down south.

And the answer is . . . ▼

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This Day in History Entry #18

June 16th, 2009 by Wordsman

Instead of war there was a great race
No soldiers; scientists took their place
We were first to the moon
Six years before, in June
They put the first woman into space

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Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #19

June 15th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Feast your eyes upon that, Matthew!  Can you believe it?  We’re here!  We’re really here!  The City of Lights!  The City that Never Sleeps!  It’s been called both the Forbidden City and the Queen of the Adriatic!  This is the oldest city in the world.  It’s almost TWO THOUSAND years old!  Can you even imagine that?  And of course, the world’s oldest city is also its biggest.  There are more people here than in London, Paris, and Moscow combined.  It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?  We’re certainly not in Kansas anymore, I can tell you that.

“But that’s not what’s really important.  After all, we didn’t travel thirty thousand miles just to quote a bunch of statistics, right Matthew?  All that’s just the backdrop for the real reason we came here: adventure.  I mean, when you think about it, it only makes sense.  With all that history there must have been tons of interesting things that happened here over the years.  No one even knows just how many wild stories have been created in this amazing place.  And that’s not all in the past, no sir, don’t you even think that for a second.  A city like this can’t decline like that.  That’s just not the way things work.  Nope, there’s just as much excitement and intrigue here as there always has been, and it’s enough to make those posers like New York and Chicago look like those innocent little villages where everyone knows each other’s name and they’re all inbred and such.  This is the true city of mystery.  That’s what we’re here to find.

“So this is it, Matthew.  The big one.  Rome.”

Matthew sighed.  Matthew sighed often.  He could no longer remember if he had always been such a prolific sigher, or if it was only since he met Jack.  Then, because Jack was observing a rare moment of silence for the sake of their glorious surroundings and because Matthew was not sure where to begin with the forest of errors that had marred his friend’s little speech, he sighed again.  “Actually,” he muttered, “we’re in Vatican City.”

“Oh?”  The viewing platform at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica was packed with tourists, most of whom were carrying on conversations in a variety of different languages, so an uneducated observer might have thought that it was impossible for Jack to have heard what his friend just said.  What that uneducated observer would be unaware of, however, is the fact that they had been friends for so long that they had become almost supernaturally attuned to one another.  One of the benefits of this attunement was that Jack was able to pick out the unique frequency of Matthew’s low, somber tones no matter how much background noise was around to interfere.

“That’s even better!” Jack declared triumphantly a few moments later.  He never let being wrong slow him down for very long.  Jack made mistakes frequently, and he was well aware of this fact.  He also knew that everyone, even a genius, can and does make mistakes.  One of the core principles of his philosophy of life was based on the fact that, while being wrong is unavoidable, if one is able to keep moving quickly enough, then one is at least never wrong for any great length of time.

“Don’t you see?  Vatican City is the headquarters of the Catholic Church.  Always has been, always will be.  They say that Jesus himself started building the city—he was a carpenter, you know—back in the Middle Ages, when he wasn’t busy curing the Black Death and whatnot.  Now, that may not be entirely true, but think about it for a second.  If the truth is even one-quarter of the rumor it would still be pretty damn impressive, don’t you think?  And believe me, there’s plenty more stories where that came from.

“Of course, everyone knows that the Catholic Church is also the most secretive religion on Earth.  Who can guess how many secrets have been sealed within these hallowed walls?  Millions?  Billions?  Like when they pick a new pope, for example.  All the priests and bishops and cardinals and what have you from all over the world come here to this very church to make the decision.  The guards shut and lock the doors, and then they’re trapped in there for weeks, months, sometimes even years, unable to leave or have any contact with the outside world whatsoever until they choose the next leader of their church.  No one knows how they do it.  Is it a battle of wits?  A fight to the death?  Or the greatest rock-paper-scissors tournament of all time?  The new pope swears them all to secrecy, so even after they leave they can’t tell a single soul, living or dead, what goes on in there.  Can you imagine what it would be like to be the first outsiders to discover the truth?  Doesn’t the awesome power of that revelation rock you to your very core?

“See, I read in this book once . . .”

Matthew sighed again.  He had an extremely expressive sigh.  No one could hear it without being moved to reflection and sadness.  No one, of course, except Jack.

“Can we get down from here now?” Matthew asked quietly, when the story of alien abductions and long-lost identical twins reached a point where he could interrupt.  He was not normally afraid of heights, but Jack was in one of his dramatic gesturing moods, and the crowded balcony did not leave him any room to dodge.

“Huh?” Jack asked, glancing at his watch.  “You’re right!” he declared.  “We have so much more to do.  We can’t afford to waste any more time here.

“Just you wait,” Jack said as they descended the awkward, zigzagging staircase on the inside of the dome.  “Something’s going to happen to us.  Something amazing.  Something you never even thought was possible.  I guarantee it.  Rome?  Vatican City?  Whatever it is, I won’t let it let us down.”

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