This Day in History Entry #120

May 31st, 2011 by Wordsman

A squash court, some baths, and a pool
Enough lifeboats to follow the rule
But the gigantic boat
Just could not stay afloat
Proving hubris is not really cool

Event: RMS Titanic first launched
Year: 1911
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #56

May 30th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 蛙の子は蛙 B. 虎穴に入らずんば虎児を得ず

C. 三人寄れば文殊の知恵 D. 船頭多くして船山に登る

E. 覆水盆に返らず

“Not even the wisest can see all ends.”

Not a proverb, exactly, but hopefully it’s some comfort to the weekly KYPC sufferers . . . I mean, contestants.

What do you look for in a proverb?  Theoman likes ’em short and sweet, preferably of the “X=Y” variety.  This must be why he went for A, and his instincts did not lead him astray.  “The child of a frog is a frog,” or, as we like to say, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

A Fan, on the other hand, seems to think that the most important aspect of a proverb is that it be in another language, which means that he would probably do well to learn a few of these.  “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” is certainly true, but it can’t be found on this list.  Neither can “A good beer is a good friend.”  The graduate student’s motto, “To learn is to suffer,” is not located at E, but its cousin can be seen up there at B: “If you don’t go into the tiger’s lair, you won’t get a tiger cub.”  Why you would want to get a tiger cub is left up to the imagination, I suppose.  And it looks like he picked up on A, too.  Guess that one’s pretty easy to recognize across language barriers.

Leaving aside the issue of whether or not Shirley has a grudge against members of the legal profession, I think it would be best for everyone to calm down a little about E.  After all, there’s no use crying over spilt milk, or, to put it another way, spilt water won’t go back in the tray.  Maybe if you put it in a cup or something instead, it wouldn’t have spilled in the first place, but I guess that’s all water under the bridge now.  She also cites another proverb with a lot of applicability for graduate students, most of whom would be rather distressed to learn that “Money can’t buy happiness” isn’t actually true.  In fact, there seem to be a lot of proverbs that she feels miss the mark; perhaps they were put into production without sufficient prior consultation.  Maybe they should have had more people think about these things first, falling back on C, “Two heads are better than one,” or, “When three people come together, they have the wisdom of Manjusri.”  I suppose I can’t blame you guys for not getting one that involves Buddhism.

Dragon thought D looks painful.  And it is, but not because it represents “No pain, no gain.”  D is the Japanese equivalent of “Too many cooks spoil the broth,” but its literal meaning implies rather more drastic consequences than simply having to eat a subpar meal: “Too many captains will steer the ship up a mountain.”  Ouch!

And now it’s time for a little song and dance number.  This week we’re going to be looking at musicals.  Now, for a lot of Broadway musicals, the Japanese equivalent title is not a translation but a transliteration: Cats is Kyattsu, Rent is Rento, etc.  It’s not like we don’t do this in English, too: last time I checked, Les Misérables wasn’t English.  But that didn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, so I decided to render them by their meanings rather than by their sounds.  Half of the shows on this list, though, are given as they typically would be in Japanese.  All of them are from the list of Top 20 Longest Running Broadway Shows of All Time.  Those who can read katakana could choose to show off by identifying the easy ones, but I think it would be more fun to challenge yourself and try something harder.

A. オペラ座の怪人 B. 猫 C. 美女と野獣 D. 惨め者達 E. 家賃

F. 屋根の上のバイオリン弾き

And, finally, bonus points to anyone who can guess the somewhat convoluted string of associations that explains why this challenge is appearing today, of all days.

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The Called Part 14

May 27th, 2011 by Wordsman

What is the purpose of a summer law clerk?  Peter devoted much of his time to trying to answer this question, at least when he wasn’t on YouTube or playing Minesweeper.  “To gain experience,” his academic advisor had told him.  It sounded good on paper, but the primary field in which he was gaining experience was wasting time, and, as a typical American suburbanite, he had been an expert in that field since high school.

Mr. Abrahamson, a partner and the official supervisor of the summer clerks, said it was all about schmoozing.  The only way to get ahead in business is through your connections, so a clerk’s most important job was meeting people.  Peter did meet people, at dinners with clients or at Happy Hour on Fridays.  Unfortunately, these events typically involved free drinks and old bombasts like Wachowsky, who eclipsed lesser personalities like a heavy metal concert next to a poetry recital, so he couldn’t be sure how many of the people he met remembered him.

Mostly he interacted with his fellow clerks, and he didn’t even know them that well.  They carpooled every day, but it wasn’t the best opportunity to strike up a conversation.  Driving in downtown Crescenton during rush hour is a harrowing experience, comparable to skiing a double black diamond course on a mountain made of pure ice, without skis.  It requires full concentration.  Other than that, his main opportunity to get to know them was in the regular baseball tournaments, and baseball wasn’t Peter’s game.  He didn’t like to lose, and he especially didn’t like to lose when the bet was that you had to buy the winner’s lunch.  Peter couldn’t even afford one Surf ‘n’ Turf Special; two was out of the question.

To be fair, he had only been doing the job for two weeks.  Presumably any hidden meaning would not reveal itself until he had been there for at least a month.  Still, he felt unsatisfied.  And on this particular day, he chose to voice his dissatisfaction to the empty Clerk Cage: “I feel like there’s something missing from my life.”

There was one person in the city of Crescenton who would have been overjoyed to hear those words.  Unfortunately, whatever other fantastic talents she may have possessed, being able to understand softly spoken phrases from three miles away and through layers and layers of concrete was not one of them.  And, after all she had been through, it was amazing that she still bothered to listen to anyone at all.

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An Overdue Explanation

May 25th, 2011 by Wordsman

There have been some complaints recently about our newest Friday feature.  Rest assured that I am not simply jerking you around (at least, not intentionally).  There are, so far, two separate storylines, with two separate sets of characters.  They are, however, not entirely unrelated; both take place in the city of Crescenton and its surrounding suburbs, which make up Laragheny County, Ohio.  They may be thought of as two patches, largely discontiguous up to this point, but perhaps some day to be woven together.  As my sewing skills are not the greatest, those of you out there who are expert quilters will have to bear with me.

It seems likely that some of the confusion may be due to the occasionally inelegant way in which I have chosen to divide the stories (story?) up between different weeks.  As a solution, I offer a new page (listed above as “WSPS”) which contains all the entries so far, for those who would like to get caught up and for those who would like to see if they can guess where this is going.

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This Day in History Entry #119

May 24th, 2011 by Wordsman

Oh, its fleece was as white as the snow
And where Mary went, it too did go
Violating the rule
It went with her to school
And the punishment? Well, I don’t know

Event: Mary Had a Little Lamb, a poem by Sarah Josepha Hale, is first published
Year: 1830
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #55

May 23rd, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 嬉 B. 怒 C. 恐 D. 悲 E. 退屈 F. 恥

Time to see just how in touch with your emotions you really are.

Theoman presented an interesting theory of emotion based on happiness, sadness, and anger.  I thought that the elemental emotional states were sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic, but I guess I’m just old-fashioned.  He cleverly spotted the same “element” in B, C, and D (and, if you look carefully, it’s over there in F, too, stretched out tallways).  For the most part, his basic emotions matched up with this set; unfortunately, his choice of order was poor.  In fact it’s B that’s anger, and D that’s sadness.  He can be sad and angry about that, I guess.  He also missed C, fear, which is a pretty primal emotion if you ask me.

A Fan also failed to record a correct answer, though he gets eclecticity points for managing to reference both Men in Black and A Charlie Brown Christmas in the same post.  He also gets sympathy points for misspelling “embarrass” the same way I always misspell “embarrass.”  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Or embarrassed about.  In other words, no cause for F.

Shirley continued her roll, knocking off B, anger, right away.  She also spotted boredom at E (apparently she was not as enthralled by the Bug in Men in Black as A Fan was).  And she even gets a half-point bonus for recognizing that A is not sad.

And apparently if you scare a Dragon its hairs stand on end.  I didn’t even know dragons had hair.

The misfit of the week is A, happiness.  I could make some sort of comment about how you all chose to focus on the negative emotions (except Theoman), but I suppose most of the blame is mine for including only one positive emotion in the list.  It’s hard to stay happy when you’re surrounded by boredom, fear, and anger.  But now you all know how to get to your happy place.

But helping people be properly emotionally adjusted is not my only goal here on KYPC.  I also like to dispense wisdom.  In this case, it’s wisdom of the obvious, trite variety.  That’s right, this week we’re going to learn some proverbs!  Don’t worry–these are all tidbits of wisdom you should be familiar with.  That is, you should be familiar with their figurative meanings.  Someone out there with more familiarity with Japanese could, if he was feeling adventurous, take a stab at their literal meanings as well.  Hey, No Pain, No Gain, right?  And if you miss, it’s all okay: There’s No Use Crying Over Spilt Milk.  Now, once again, I must remind participants not to collaborate on answers.  No matter how much you may think that Two Heads Are Better Than One, in fact this is a case of Too Many Cooks Spoil The Broth.

Is this challenge too difficult?  Is it borderline harassment?  Am I, as I have so often been accused of, simply being sadistic?  Well, let’s just say that The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From The Tree.

A. 蛙の子は蛙 B. 虎穴に入らずんば虎児を得ず

C. 三人寄れば文殊の知恵 D. 船頭多くして船山に登る

E. 覆水盆に返らず

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The Called Part 13

May 20th, 2011 by Wordsman

But a few of them had a soft spot for the clerks, possibly because they too spent much of their time sipping mixed drinks at the Lime or sampling seasonal ales at the Danny Boy, so every once in a while something trickled down.  “It’s just a proofread for Victorino,” Peter explained, holding up a gold doubloon so encrusted in grime that only the most desperate treasure hunter would be excited to see it.

His coworker made a face.  “Yikes.  I don’t know what’s worse: his pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-style punctuation or his misuse of ‘than’ and ‘then.’”

“At least it’s not a Wachowsky,” said the other clerk, having returned from the bathroom.  His tie was adjusted to the perfect balance of casualness and self-importance.  “Can you imagine proofing something he wrote?”

“Wachowsky’s aren’t that bad.”

“I don’t believe it.  Have you heard the man talk?  It’s like a machine gun mated with a thesaurus from the 19th century.”

“Wachowsky dictates everything to his secretary, and she’s been doing it for fifteen years, so she’s the world’s foremost Wachowsky-to-English translator.”

“That’s not the only thing she’s been doing for fifteen years, if you know what I mean.  You ready to go?”

“Yeah.  Keep fighting the good fight against Victorino’s grammar, Pete.”

“What else are us clerks good for, right?”

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This Day in History Entry #118

May 17th, 2011 by Wordsman

Sometimes even the wise make mistakes
And to right them a quite long time takes
But there’s naught to discuss
It was unanimous
“Separate can’t be equal, for god’s sakes!”

Event: U.S. Supreme Court rejects the constitutionality of school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
Year: 1954
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #54

May 16th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. アトリエ B. アンケート C. コンクール D. ズボン E. ピーマン

F. ピエロ

Parlez-vous japonais?

Theoman does, at least, to a certain extent.  But he decided to put aside his knowledge for the sake of fair and honest competition.  If the world was a fair place, this noble sacrifice would have earned him a correct answer.  KYPC is not a fair place, and thus he goes unrewarded.  I can see what you saw about “agreement,” but I don’t know why you linked that to surveys.  Everybody knows that the purpose of surveys is to create divisiveness and spread strife.  So yes, suitably shaky reasoning indeed.  Well done.  In fact, C is konkuuru, or in French concours, or in English, contest.  I mean contest.  Because as we all know, contests are about working together and making sure that everyone gets along.

A Fan may not speak Japanese, but he knows enough French to make pithy statements when the situation calls for it (or even when it doesn’t).  His obsession with flat furniture continues, and this presumably led him to identify not a table, per se, but the only thing on this list that would be likely to contain a table: A is atorie/atelier/studio.  His other answers were not quite so close, at least on the Japanese side of things.  We’ll have to take his word on the French.

Shirley did her best to channel the grizzled veteran, perhaps in an old war movie, which maybe could take place in France I guess?  Whatever convoluted logic you choose to apply, the tactic paid off for her.  She nailed D, the pants (Jp: zubon Fr: jupon), B, the survey (Jp: ankeeto Fr: enquete), and F, the clown (Jp: piero Fr: pierrot).  Perhaps these katakana characters, which have no reason at all to resemble the things they represent, are more easily recognizable than kanji, which have vague and misleading reasons for possibly resembling the things they represent.

E is the bell pepper (Jp: piiman, Fr: piment).  Not much more to say about that, really.

Or maybe there is.  Maybe, deep down, I’m hurt that no one paid much attention to this poor vegetable.  Maybe I’m torn up inside.  Maybe it’s only years of trained stoicism that prevent me from bawling, tearing my hair, and slamming my head down onto the keyboard like a afoj;asjkfaosoug.

Excuse me.  I guess I got a little emotional there.  But don’t worry: you can all get a little emotional too.  Once you’ve recognized the characters for it, that is.  Are you sad that it’ll be a whole week until the next KYPC?  Or happy?  Are you angry about my outburst, or merely embarrassed?  Maybe you’re scared about what the next challenge will be.  Or maybe you’re simply bored of these antics.

A. 嬉 B. 怒 C. 恐 D. 悲 E. 退屈 F. 恥

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The Called Part 12

May 13th, 2011 by Wordsman

Slowly, the two competitors returned to “real life.”  Controllers clattered on the desk.  The TV winked out, and the brilliant blue and green of the ballpark were replaced by the dull brown and gray of a cubicle.  They were no longer ballplayers, nor were they spectators; they were summer law clerks, doing what summer law clerks do best: killing time before lunch.

They were well-prepared for the noonday meal, and had been for much of the morning.  Ties loosened?  Check.  Sport coats removed and ready to be slung over shoulders?  Check.  Boss consulted to make sure they wouldn’t miss anything?  Well . . . they had cell phones in case he really needed them.  It wasn’t like they were firefighters or some other profession that needed to leap into action at a moment’s notice.  All that remained was to decide on a destination.

“The Lime?”

“The Lime.  Hey Pete, we’re going to the Lime for lunch!  You wanna come?”

One cubicle over, Peter Hamlin was staring at another screen, a far less entertaining one.  “No thanks.  I’ve got to finish this.”

The first half of his response was not unexpected.  Peter did not dislike his coworkers, nor was he anti-social, nor was he opposed to a little drinking in the middle of the workday (not for a job like this, at any rate); he was opposed to the price.  Daily dining in downtown Crescenton, especially at places like the Lime of the Ancient Mariner, was beyond the financial capability of someone who had only a summer law clerk’s salary to support him.  Someone who, say, did not have parents who bought him a European sports car for his sixteenth birthday.  Someone who knew of trust funds only as distant, abstract concepts, in the same way that a Siberian may have heard of “summer.”  Not that he was bitter.

The second half of his answer, however, was positively startling.  His colleague regarded him with a face that was three parts shock to one part pity, well-stirred.  “You have work to do?” he asked, as if work were buried pirate treasure or the Loch Ness Monster.  Admittedly, buried pirate treasure is rarer than work for the 12th floor at Huston and Thomas (often referred to as the “Clerk Cage.”)  On the other hand, people actually go looking for buried treasure, so the two end up being found about equally frequently.

Peter had not had any delusions about standing in front of a jury and arguing a case as a mere summer clerk.  He had, however, been under the mistaken impression that he would spend his time doing research and other inglorious but necessary tasks.  The problem was that Huston and Thomas determined annual bonuses by how many hours its employees billed, so the regular associates were reluctant to pass on even the more menial assignments.  There were the bigwig partners, of course, for whom bonuses meant little, but they were never given the menial assignments in the first place.  Their primary duty seemed to be going out to lunch, work that was difficult to delegate.

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