Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #30

August 31st, 2009 by Wordsman


Their descent from the Palatine Hill was much less rapid than their climb.  Matthew thought it was ironic that when he had been leading, they charged up the hill like they were being chased by the hounds of Hell, and when he was following Jack, they moved at a gentle pace.  Then, just like everyone else who is too smart for his own good, he started to wonder if this was actually ironic or just one of those things that seemed like irony but that smart-alecks will tell you is just a coincidence or something like that.

Matthew did not have to spend any time figuring out why they were moving so slowly under Jack’s direction, because that was perfectly obvious: he was looking for the cave.  Matthew did, however, start to worry that his diversionary tactic may have worked a little too well.  His friend had hardly spoken since they decided, after fifteen minutes of arguing, that the ruins of the arena or garden or whatever it was had nothing at all to do with the Lupercal.  Matthew was sure that his friend would not find anything, because experts had tried for centuries and failed (and because his friend spent much of his time looking in places where one would be unlikely to find a cave, such as between blades of grass).  He was also sure that Jack would have no idea what to do even if he found it, because his friend knew as much about spelunking as he did about radiology.  Still, the fact that he kept looking so intently was unnerving.

Matthew was never able to decide for sure if his thought was ironic or not, because he was interrupted by a sudden command from his friend.  “Hey, look over there!” Jack said, pointing ahead of them at a long depression in the earth.  “I bet that could be—”

“It is not the Lupercal,” Matthew said forcefully.  He didn’t know whether to grin or groan.  At least they were getting a chance to see another one of the sites he had wanted to visit.  “This is the Circus Maximus.”

“Are you sure?” Jack asked.  “It doesn’t look like a circus.  There’s only the one ring, see?  Circuses have three.”

“That’s not what ‘circus’ means,” Matthew said with a sigh.

“No, I’m pretty sure that it is.  I’ve been to plenty of circuses before, and—”

“I mean, that’s not what ‘circus’ means in Latin.  It’s a race track.  Can’t you tell by the fact that it’s a big oval with raised areas on the sides for seats?  Think of it like the English word ‘circuit,’ not ‘circus.’”

Matthew felt that this explanation would have been completely satisfactory to any normal person, but he saw that his friend remained unsatisfied.  “Look, you know the part in Ben-Hur with the chariot race?”

Jack’s eyes lit up.  “Oh yeah!  Messala was riding a Greek chariot,” he added pointlessly.

“Yes, well, that was a circus.”  This seemed to shut Jack up for a while; presumably he was busy thinking about various other scenes from the movie.  Matthew took the chance to call up in his head scenes from history, trying to imagine what an actual chariot race would have looked like, as opposed to the over-dramatized Hollywood version.  He imagined the crowds in the now non-existent stands, cheering, booing, some of them even throwing things; this was long before the days when an event would be brought to a total halt simply because an errant beach ball bounced its way onto the field.

“So why is it called the Circus Maximus?” Jack asked, when he had finished his internal review of the epic.  Only Jack could manage to compress a three-and-a-half-hour movie into a few minutes.

Matthew opened his eyes.  Was his friend’s grasp of foreign language really so bad that he could not even recognize simple cognates?  “It’s because it was so big.  You know, like ‘maximum?’”

Jack frowned.  “It doesn’t look that big.  I bet the Indianapolis Speedway is at least twice as big as this thing.”

Matthew cringed at the thought that someone could compare ancient Roman chariot racing to modern NASCAR.  The comparison was perfectly apt, but it still made him shudder.  “It was big for back then,” he muttered, knowing that his friend was unlikely to accept such an excuse.

“So you say that Ben-Hur was here?” Jack said after a minute or two of silent thought.

Matthew had not said that, and if he had it would have been utter foolishness.  The chariot race in the movie took place in Judea, not Rome, and the character of Judah Ben-Hur was entirely fictional anyway.  But Matthew was still somewhat tired out from his earlier panicked running, so he did not have the energy to explain this to his friend.  “Sure.”

“And Ben-Hur was friends with Jesus Christ,” Jack continued.  Matthew recognized the look on his face: he was putting things together like a child determined to get pieces to fit into his jigsaw puzzle no matter what their shape.  “And we’re near the birthplace of the founder of Rome, where the headquarters of the Catholic Church is located.”

“Didn’t I already say that this isn’t the cave?” Matthew protested.  “And the Lupercal isn’t the birthplace of Romulus and Remus anyway; it’s where they were cared for by a wolf.”

“So it was still important to them.  And even if we’re not right by this cave, it must be close.  That’s the hill right over there, isn’t it?  He could have easily made a stop there before the race, pretending he just wanted a better view.”

Matthew sighed.  “So where are you going with this?” he asked wearily.  Knowing his friend, not even the sky was the limit.  Aliens featured frequently in Jack’s conspiracy theories.

“I’m not sure . . . yet.  But there’s definitely something here.  Something big.  Something . . . maximus.”  Jack grinned at his little joke; Matthew thought he might cry.

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The Jenoviad Entry #29

August 28th, 2009 by Wordsman

Through the shaft the party squirmed
Twisted torso and limb
Cloud wished instead of Barret
He’d Tifa in front of him

Eventu’lly the three escaped
They stretched and looked around
They were in the Fifth Reactor
And already underground

“Cutting the frontal assault
Makes this more eas’ly done”
Cloud and Barret both complained
“Sure, take out all the fun!”

Yes, their job was simpler
But not quite a cakewalk
There were still a few lame guards
Whom out they had to knock

On a catwalk Cloud saw Jess
Her face was streaked with tear
“Oh,” he said, quite callously
“Uh, why are you still here?”

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Movie Two-Liners Entry #29

August 26th, 2009 by Wordsman

This week’s puzzle:

A businessman gets held up on a trip when his customers insist that he stay longer. He ends up leaving something behind, and an old friend goes to pick it up, but by the time the friend comes back he’s already got a replacement.

Last week’s puzzle:

A person concerned with time and a person concerned with mass become engaged in a problem of creation. They worry when a model parallel to theirs begins to collapse, but in the end, despite expectations, their experiment is a success.

And the answer is . . . ▼

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This Day in History Entry #28

August 25th, 2009 by Wordsman

For Ike, ’twas not a priority
But the French’d not go on ’til ’twas free
The tanks kept changing route
But could not be kept out
And the Nazis surrendered Paris

(NOTE: the final word of the final line should be read “Paree,” the way it is pronounced by speakers of French and pretentious speakers of English. “Route” may be pronounced however you wish, so long as it rhymes with “out.”)

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Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #29

August 24th, 2009 by Wordsman


Matthew was annoyed.  He was annoyed at the figure in gray for distracting him, but he was more annoyed with himself for allowing this mysterious stalker to distract him.  He was in Rome, walking across the top of the Palatine Hill, and all he could think about was some crazy person that was following him for an unknown reason (ordinarily all he had to worry about was Jack, a crazy person who followed him primarily out of force of habit, as far as Matthew could tell).  He was walking through the ruins of the house of Augustus, or possibly Domitian, and he couldn’t appreciate it.  He couldn’t even remember which house it was.

“Hey, what are you looking for?”

At that moment, however, he was mainly annoyed at Jack for noticing how distracted he was.

“I’m not looking for anyo-anything in particular,” Matthew replied, doing his best to sound calm.  “I’m just looking at the ruins around us.  That’s what you’re supposed to do when you visit monuments and other attractions—you look at them.  Did you expect me to spend the whole time on the hill with my eyes pointed down at my feet?”

Jack shook his head.  “No, you’re looking for something specific.  I can tell.”  Matthew had little doubt that his friend would be able to recognize the attitude of someone searching for some particular detail, because it was the attitude that his friend always adopted whenever they went somewhere.  Matthew had no idea what Jack was looking for, though he had always assumed that it was occult symbols or ambigrams or some other ridiculous “clue” to the ancient, international conspiracy he liked to go on about.

Unfortunately, Jack was right.  Matthew wasn’t just taking in the sights; he was looking for the gray-clad figure, but he still did not feel comfortable explaining that to him.  He told himself that his reluctance to share his concerns was a safety precaution, protecting innocent bystanders from his inevitable overreaction.  It was not, Matthew insisted, out of fear that his friend would think he was losing his mind.  Considering Jack, Matthew wasn’t even sure whether being thought insane would be a good thing or a bad thing.

Being harassed by Jack at least kept the thoughts of the figure in gray from dominating Matthew’s mind, which allowed him to remember a few things about their current location and come up with a plausible excuse.  “I’m looking for the cave,” he said.

“The cave?” Jack asked.  Matthew tried to keep from grinning at the glint in his friend’s eyes.  He doubted that he could have picked anything more likely to intrigue him.

Matthew nodded, working to maintain a serious face.  “It’s called the Lupercal.  According to legend, it’s the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf.”  Matthew was surprised to see the light on his friend’s face fade into a confused frown.  “You . . . you do know who Romulus and Remus are, right?”

“Who?” Jack asked.  “I thought they were planets.”

Matthew sighed.  It had always been both disappointing and perplexing to him that his friend knew so much more about the history of various fictional universes than he did about his own.  “They’re the mythological founders of Rome,” he explained, “although some historians believe that Romulus at least may have been an actual historical figure.  They were two brothers abandoned by the river as infants.  They were found by a she-wolf and raised here, in a cave in the Palatine Hill.”

The light returned to Jack’s eyes.  “A cradle of kings . . .”

“Well, one king, anyway.”  Jack looked puzzled again.  “Romulus killed his brother in a dispute.  That’s why the city of Rome is named after him.”

“That’s good, I guess,” Jack said, nodding sagely.  Now it was Matthew’s turn to look puzzled.  “I mean, if the other brother had won, then the city would have been named Reme, wouldn’t it?  That would have been terrible!”

“Uhh, right . . .”

“So where is it?” Jack asked.

“No one knows.  I don’t think there is any way to know for sure about something so tied up with mythology.  They found something a few years back that they claimed was the Lupercal, but some people disputed it.”

“The mystery remains,” Jack said solemnly, leaning on a nearby railing and staring out at the ruins.  “Hey, do you think this could be it?”


“This, right here!” Jack said excitedly, pointing at the lowered area in front of them.

Matthew stared at his friend.  Was there nothing he couldn’t get wrong?  “You do know what a cave is, right?” he asked.  “Caves have ceilings.”

“But this is an ancient cave,” Jack pointed out.  “Maybe the roof eroded away over the centuries and now it’s open to the air.”

Matthew had no counter to this argument.  Any science above about the eighth-grade level was beyond him.  Fortunately, he had another perfectly good objection.  “The walls are clearly man-made.  This isn’t a cave—it’s the ruins of a brick building.  It looks like it might have been an arena or a race track of some sort.”

“But Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome,” said Jack, refusing to be put off his idea.  “They were powerful men.  You think they’d let the cave they grew up in stay as just a simple cave?  They probably went back later to fancy up the place.  Or at least Romulus did.  You said this was Palace Hill, right?  So he came back and turned it into a palace.”

“It is not a cave,” Matthew insisted.  “And it never was.  We’re on top of the hill, not down in it.”

“How can you be so sure?” Jack asked playfully.  “I don’t think you can say that without going down there to check.”

“Forget it,” Matthew said wearily.  “I’ve jumped down into enough off-limits pits for one day.”

Jack grinned.  “I thought you said you were pushed.”

“Right.  I was pushed.”

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The Jenoviad Entry #28

August 21st, 2009 by Wordsman

A minute later Cloud came to
The train was now long gone
Barret groaned. “You
still out cold?
Get up! Time to move on”

“How’re you doing?” Tifa asked
“Your head looks pretty lumped”
Cloud stood up, moaned, brushed himself
“If someone asks, I jumped”

“Reactor’s this way,” Barret claimed
He quickly took the reins
Cloud was busy looking out
For any other trains

They traveled down the dark, damp path
And many tracks they crossed
Until Barret admitted
“Uhh . . . I think we might be lost

“These bars ain’t s’posed to be here!
Now we can’t get to our goal!”
“Well,” said Cloud, “down here I see
A service access hole”

“No way!” said Barret. “I can’t fit
Into that tiny rut!”
But he could see no other way
So he sucked in his gut

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Movie Two-Liners Entry #28

August 19th, 2009 by Wordsman

This week’s puzzle:

A person concerned with time and a person concerned with mass become engaged in a problem of creation. They worry when a model parallel to theirs begins to collapse, but in the end, despite expectations, their experiment is a success.

Last week’s puzzle:

Two disfigured men try to make the world understand the full meaning of their injuries. A lawless man knocks both of them out of buildings.

And the answer is . . . ▼

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This Day in History Entry #27

August 18th, 2009 by Wordsman

Gazing up, past the realm of balloons
Asaph Hall saw a sight to cause swoons
“Look at these, way up here!
We’ll call this Dread, this Fear”
Before then, they weren’t sure Mars had moons

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Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #28

August 17th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Uhh, where are we going?” Jack asked.

Matthew was not thinking clearly.  He was using too much oxygen for running, and not enough was getting to his brain.  He was paying the price for never having been on the track team, never jogging, never owning a treadmill.  Matthew did not believe that even professional athletes were capable of complex thought while running with all their heart, but he figured that they at least could tell where they were going.  In his condition, the best he was able to come up with was: “Up.”

It may be true that the simplest answer is most likely to be correct, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be the most satisfying.  “Can you be any more specific than that?” Jack pressed.  He was no track star either, but he was much better at running and talking at the same time.  It suited him.

“No,” Matthew replied breathlessly.  Even if his brain had been functioning perfectly, his lung capacity would have kept him from producing anything but one-syllable answers.

“Maybe we should slow down for a second and figure out where we are, then,” Jack suggested.

“Okay,” Matthew agreed.  He was running on fumes anyway.  The moment the word was out of his mouth, he came to a sudden halt and collapsed, as if his friend had lassoed his feet and pulled back hard.  Matthew sank gratefully into the grass, very glad that his friend’s suggestion had jolted him out of his running trance.  There was no reason for him to continue, and there hadn’t been for the past several minutes either.  He had lost sight of the person he was chasing a while ago, but he kept running, his legs taking over decision-making powers usually assigned to the brain and propelling him forward for no reason other than the primal pleasure of sprinting.

“So where are we?” Jack asked after some quantity of time had passed.  Minutes, hours, days, something like that.  The sun was still up.

Matthew cautiously opened his eyes.  Then, when that did not immediately make him feel like he was about to vomit, he lifted his head and looked around.  “We’re on the Palatine Hill,” he said after a brief scan.  It was as much news to him as it was to his friend.

“Alright then.”  Jack grinned appreciatively.  “And what’s special about it?”

Matthew rotated into a seated position, treating his legs as gently as possible.  He turned his eyes away from the ruins to face the street.  He forced himself to stare at the blankness of the pavement while he gathered his thoughts.  He knew the question Jack really wanted to ask was, “Why are we here?”  Matthew had no answer to that.  Not one that he was willing to admit to, anyway.  So he answered the question his friend had asked.

“It’s one of the Seven Hills of Rome,” he explained.  “It’s located in the center, and some believe that it’s the first place where people lived here.  Later on it was where many rich and powerful Romans built their homes.  The ruins and excavations you can see are of the palaces of emperors—‘Palatine’ is where the word ‘palace’ comes from.”

Jack nodded.  “I see.”  The look of concern in his eyes faded, replaced by the more common light of mischief.  “So this is where the upper crust lived, huh?  All those scheming politicians sitting up here in their ivory towers and looking down on all the poor schmoes in the Forum over there?”

“Something like that,” Matthew said.  Jack’s description was closer to the truth than usual.

“Sounds like it could be worth a look,” Jack declared, standing and offering a hand to his friend.

Matthew wasn’t sure that he would be able to walk, but when he got to his feet, his legs, though sore, were not as crippled as he had expected them to be.  He continued to stare away from the hill for a few seconds, afraid of what he might see there, but when he finally looked up he saw nothing but ancient walls and seemingly harmless tourists.  No one was dressed entirely in gray.  No one was staring at him.  No one appeared to be beckoning him to follow.

He was . . . “relieved” was not exactly the right word, but it was something close to that.  He was glad that, for a while, he did not have to worry about the identity or purpose of the gray-clad figure, but he did not think that the problem was gone for good.  Matthew was beyond thinking that the person was a trick of his mind.  When he saw the figure in the Forum he had been sure.  It wasn’t a ghost, it wasn’t Jack’s powers of suggestion, it wasn’t a residual character from his Forum fantasy; the person was real, and for some mysterious reason (Matthew was sure it couldn’t be anything good) it was following him.

He couldn’t mention any of it to Jack, not because Matthew was afraid he wouldn’t believe him, but because he was afraid he would.  Jack’s madness was bad enough when he didn’t have anything to go off of other than the crazy ideas in his own head.  Matthew did not want to see what his friend could do with live ammunition.

“Man,” said Jack, staring up at what was left of the upper floors of some ancient noble’s house and then turning back to look at the Forum.  “There wasn’t anything subtle about those old Roman aristocrats, was there?  They were just a bunch of wealthy puppeteers with those . . . you know, those cross things with the strings.  Do you think the common people down there could feel it when the schemers up here stared down at them?”

“Oh, I’ll bet they could,” Matthew answered quietly.  He had felt it himself when he stood in the Forum, and he was not entirely sure that he wasn’t still feeling exactly the same sensation.

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The Jenoviad Entry #27

August 14th, 2009 by Wordsman

On and on they ran and pushed
Their freedom to prolong
Barret started panting
“Who made . . . this damn train . . . so long?”

It would not end; they felt like they’d
Run for a thousand yards
Just when they thought it was done
They ran into the guards

“Wait!  Don’t shoot!” cried Jessie’s voice
“I know this must seem strange”
“Strange?” said Cloud.  “Just how the hell
Did you find time to change?”

“Questions later!” Barret yelled
“I don’t care ‘bout the how
We are all completely dead
If we don’t jump off

“Y-you go first,” suggested Cloud
Who did not like this trend
“I’m the leader,” Barret said
“I stay until the end

“You won’t plummet to your death
This tunnel has a floor”
Then, without another word
He pushed Cloud out the door

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