This Day in History Entry #133

August 30th, 2011 by Wordsman

Though their time is soon coming to close
In the eighties these craft first arose
Now a long-deserved rest
Seems like it would be best
How will we get to space, d’you suppose?

Event: Discovery, the third Space Shuttle orbiter to go into space and the first to be retired, has its maiden launch
Year: 1984
Learn more:
Recent Event: STS-135, the final Space Shuttle mission (Atlantis): July 8 (Launch), July 21 (Landing)

Posted in This Day in History | No Comments »

Know Your Picture Characters Entry #68

August 29th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 明智光秀 B. 石田三成 C. 織田信長 D. 徳川家康 E. 豊臣秀吉

Well, Theoman got them all right again.  However, my guess is that this one actually required a little guesswork and figuring out on his part, so he may be awarded a modicum of praise.




Anyway, on to A Fan, who for some strange reason doubts the historical accuracy of video games.  What about Space Invaders?  That actually happened, didn’t it?  Anyway, he picked A to be Tokugawa because he thought it looked like a winner.  I think the person who had this name must have thought so too, because he believed that he could rule Japan.  History, however, had other plans.  A is the backstabbing Akechi Mitsuhide.  Also, his identification of kamikaze as a significant force in Japanese history (and also as having nothing to do with this period) is correct: this “divine wind” was a typhoon that blew away the invading Mongol fleet in the late 13th century.  D is not Toyotomi, nor Toyota, but we’ll give partial credit because it does start with ‘To.”  Finally, A Fan chose to rely on the movies, which, unlike video games, are 100% historically accurate, all the time, every time.  Just to be clear: none of these are Tom Cruise, and, like the kamikaze, “The Last Samurai” is set in a period far distant from the one currently under discussion (though it was roughly 300 years later instead of 300 years earlier).

Fortunately, Dragon stood up to defend video games and their impeccable historical accuracy.  She conclusively proved that they get all the facts right by getting A right . . . err, wait, no, she didn’t.  Well surely B . . . nope.  How about C . . . looks like not (though I think we can all agree that, had one been available at the time, Tokugawa Ieyasu would have chosen to wield a spear that also fires cannonballs, shoots lasers, and serves as a flamethrower).  Aha!  E!  She got E correct!  It’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  This conclusively proves that Samurai Warriors–and, by extension, video games in general–is precisely 20% historically accurate.

Last came Shirley, who put her knowledge of European history and innovative spelling techniques to work in solving the puzzle.  And . . . she got roughly the same results as Dragon, who based her guesses on the video game.  Oh well.  Shirley correctly picked out Ishida Mitsunari as B; the loserest-looking characters for the member of the list most famous for being a loser.  She also got two out of three in her picking A, C, and D as the 3 unifiers, though she jumbled them up a bit and also tossed in Akechi Mitsuhide, who simply believed that he had a chance to be a unifier.  But hey: Hideyoshi thought he was destined to conquer Korea, China, and India.  These folks aren’t exactly boasting sanity in spades, here.

Now, over the years (hey, it’s been more than one year!), there are several topics I’ve considered for KYPC but had to drop because the answers would all be written in katakana, the series of phonetic characters often used to represent non-Japanese names and other words.  For one thing, this would be unfair–well, more unfair than usual–since Theoman can handle them swimmingly and I think Dragon may know a few.  For another, using characters with no supposed “meaning” component would defeat the purpose of the exercise, right?  But I think after 67 weeks we’ve pretty well proved that these self-contained “meanings” are at best obscure.

Way way back, before things like katakana and hiragana were developed, the Japanese had nothing but Chinese characters to use to write words.  There was a system of kanji that were used essentially the same way that katakana are used today (except that they could be used for pretty much any word instead of a specific subset of words); these were called man’yogana.  They’re no longer used, of course, but I figure: why should that stop us?  So let’s try it.  The first experiment in Know Your (Really Phonetic But They Look Like) Picture Characters will be simple: common names.  I have selected the names “Shirley” and “Theodore” for obvious reasons, and then at random I decided to toss in “David” and “Abigail.”  Choose whichever one of these names appeals to you most, for whatever reason, and try to locate it.

A. 代衣鼻特 B. 之意藤憶留 C. 子也阿里伊 D. 安弥義依流

Posted in Know Your Picture Characters | 5 Comments »

Consequences Part 1

August 26th, 2011 by Wordsman

As Peter dropped down onto the subway seat, and the doors slid roughly shut behind him, he could not shake the feeling that not all was right with the world.  Being woken up against one’s will at four in the morning is a crime that no just, caring universe would permit, but he thought that there might be more than just that.

The encounter with the woman was unsettling but not entirely unexpected; as his father liked to say, you can’t have a city of a million and a half people without getting a few unusual characters thrown in.  And it seemed like he had made a clean getaway.  But as the train pulled out of the station, he couldn’t help but wonder: was it an escape, or a retreat?

Peter Hamlin did not run from a fight.  Even on days when he hadn’t spent hours giving a speech persuading people to charge the Black Gate of Mordor or march on Washington or turn their car into a cake, he liked to think that he did not back down from a challenge.  He really didn’t understand the woman’s situation; after all, she hadn’t done a very good job of explaining her problem and was probably crazy to boot.  He had no idea whether he should be fighting against her or the people who wronged her, whoever they were.  In either case, it was hard not to see leaping on the subway just as it was leaving as a way of avoiding the issue rather than facing it.

He told himself that the woman had nothing to do with him, that she probably gave that same crazy speech to everyone who walked through there.  You have to pick your battles, and he had gone for the one he felt had much more to do with his own future.  Peter finally took the glance at his watch that he had first attempted when the woman snagged his arm.

7:56.  He wasn’t going to make it.

No wonder the train was so empty; ordinarily he shouldn’t have been able to sit down, much less have a bench all to himself.  He was going to have to face the wrath of Abrahamson.  He had no idea what it would be like, because none of the clerks had dared to be late before.  His lack of information, however, did not stop him from imagining what fate awaited him when he got off the elevator on the 12th floor.  A lifetime of service as a chained oarsman on an ancient Roman galley?  Or worse, a life sentence to be spent proofreading everything composed by Misters Victorino and Wachowsky?

It would be safe to say that his lack of sleep was affecting his judgment and preventing reality from getting much involved in his imagining the potential punishments.  Sulfur and brimstone may have even made an appearance.

With a groan he dropped his head into his hands—so forcefully, in fact, that it hurt, at least on one side.  He held his left cheek, which still stung a bit from the slap.  That little old woman sure packed a wallop.  His ears were even ringing.

Or was it just ringing?  Between the sound of his own thoughts and the rattling of the train on the tracks, he thought he could just recognize a tune echoing softly.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

He looked around to see where the sound was coming from, but he couldn’t spot any obvious source.  The itinerant musicians and obnoxious stereo-toting teenagers didn’t usually start to ride the rails until later in the day.  The car was so empty that it would have been blatantly obvious if someone was singing, whistling, or even humming, but the other passengers were just as sullenly inactive as one would expect on a pre-8 AM train ride.  It certainly wasn’t being produced by the PA system, which only ever spat out things like: “MFYXT (static): BRRPON BEEEEEEEEEP” (NEXT STOP: THIRD AND WALKER).

If it wasn’t coming from outside his head, then there was only one other possibility.  It didn’t seem very likely either, because Peter couldn’t think of any place he had ever heard the tune before.  He supposed that was often the way when you get a song stuck in your head, but no matter how hard he thought about it, he couldn’t identify its origin.  It wasn’t from a movie.  It wasn’t a song that regularly came up on the radio in the carpool.  It wasn’t the annoying jingle from an even more annoying TV commercial.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

The tune itself wasn’t particularly unpleasant, but it was short, and it kept repeating over and over again, and the more he heard it the more it got on his nerves.  Where did it come from?  Peter was positive he had never heard it before, not even as the background music from a cartoon he had watched in elementary school, which had  lain dormant for the past fifteen years before suddenly reappearing that morning.  He did another, more thorough check for external sources, looking out the windows, under his seat, into the creepy room at the end of the car that seems like it should have someone in it but never does.  He even searched the other passengers (from a distance—thankfully he wasn’t that out of his mind) for headphones, thinking it was possible that someone had turned them up to an eardrum-rupturing, blood-vessel-bursting volume that could be heard across the car, but no luck.

And as he searched, he could swear that the tune was getting louder.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

He tried humming another song, otherwise known as the Escalation Method of Song Unsticking.  The ones he tried were real doozies, too, tunes so horrifyingly catchy that it would be inappropriate to repeat them here.  But no matter what he tried, the moment he stopped humming, the mystery tune came back, louder than before.  He wasn’t even sure how a sound that was only inside his head could be louder or softer, but it was definitely louder.

After a couple minutes he gave up.  The only way to get a song out of your head, he decided, was to think about something else entirely.  So he stopped humming other things and focused on baseball: a depressing topic for a Crescentonian, but also one that it was really easy to get worked up about.  Surely, with his mind distracted by thoughts of how terrible the Gems were, the unknown tune would eventually work its way out of his system, right?  Right?

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum, bum ba da dee-da deee, dee-da deee, dee da ba buum

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This Day in History Entry #132

August 23rd, 2011 by Wordsman

A true legend of the silver screen
Back when musicals still ruled the scene
He could daydream in France
And ‘cross Scottish moors dance
And still prance in the rain in between

Event: Birth of Gene Kelly, star of such famous Hollywood musicals as An American in Paris, Singin’ in the Rain, and Brigadoon
Year: 1912
Learn more:

Posted in This Day in History | No Comments »

Know Your Picture Characters Entry #67

August 22nd, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 青懸巣 B. 鰭条 C. 高麗鶯 D. 国民 E. 真旗魚 F. 勇士

Theoman once again has stumbled into one of the classic blunders of kanji learning.  He saw the second character in F and immediately thought, “Aha!  I recognize that character!  It means ‘earth!'”  However, he was dead wrong.  ‘Earth’ is a completely different character, which looks like this:

See?  Here, I’ll put them next to each other so you can see the obvious differences:

土 士

See?  Totally different, aren’t they?  See how on one the upper crossbar is shorter than the base and on the other it’s longer?  That’s a difference that’s just painfully easy to recognize, don’t you think?  And, since these two kanji are so radically different, it would make perfect sense for them to have entirely unrelated meanings, right?  For example, the one on the left means ‘earth’ and the one on the right means ‘person,’ generally used for people with some significant societal function like scholars, doctors, warriors, etc.  And thus we see that Theoman, in addition to making one of the classic kanji blunders, has also made one of the classic KYPC un-blunders, for while F has nothing at all to do with ‘earth,’ it is indeed the Atlanta Braves.  His identification of D as the Washington Nationals is, as he said, quite boringly correct, though he slipped up a bit on A, identifying the first character as being a color but not paying quite enough attention to which color it is.

Shirley was hoping for a sweep after she did so well on last week’s west coast road trip, but it wasn’t meant to be.  Disturbing D is not the Yankees but the Nationals, though given Shirley’s views on congress, perhaps this fits just as well.  F is not the Red Sox, but kudos to her for cheering them on against the Evil Empire.  Damn those Yankees for using their filthy money to give huge contracts to those two free agents, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, last winter.  Hey, wait a second . . . Interestingly enough, she picked B as the Mets because it’s so short, and B is in fact one of the three MLB teams to be only four letters long.  It’s just not the Mets.  B is the Tampa Bay [Devil] Rays, with their stupid name and their awful stadium, about which A Fan likes to make incomprehensible French (?) puns.  Finally, I find it curious that Shirley thought E looked cold, because E is the Florida Marlins, who play in Miami (not cold) and have a fine stadium, as far as I know, except that they forgot to put fans in it.

Speaking of missing fans, we were delighted to see A Fan get in under the wire this week, just as he was presumably delighted to see that the wire had been moved back about 12 hours due to laziness unforeseeable circumstances.  He was so excited, in fact, that he posted four times.  I like the enthusiasm, even though he didn’t get any answers correct.  A Fan may not have much of a batting average, but he always plays with effort, diving for those balls he just misses up the middle and sliding headfirst into first base.  We have therefore dubbed him the “Nick Punto of KYPC.”

A Fan appears to judge baseball teams based almost entirely on the degree to which they are located in New York City.  Thus the Yankees and Mets are irredeemable, and the Phillies, only a couple hours away, are in dangerous territory.  We salute him for being the only contestant to mention the once-great Baltimore Orioles, who are not at F but are actually in the quiz; you’ll find them at C.

Oh yes, to get back to A, just in case you haven’t figured it out, these are not the Boston Red Sox but the Toronto Blue Jays.  Go Bautista!

Okay.  By this point, I’m sure you’re sick of baseball.  Heck, it’s August, so everyone who doesn’t live in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix, or San Francisco has every right to be sick of baseball.  Let’s find something new to talk about.  Let’s see . . . weather?  No, we already did that.  I know!  We’ll talk about famous warlords.  That’s something people make small talk about, right?

After the power of the shogunate collapsed in the mid-15th century, Japan was essentially ruled by daimyo, feudal lords who constantly battled their neighbors for territory.  Let’s learn about a few of the more famous ones from the end of the Warring States Period (in other words, the latter half of the 16th century).  In this period we have the Three Unifiers: first was Oda Nobunaga, who conquered much of central Japan and seemed poised to take the rest until he was betrayed and killed by his retainer Akechi Mitsuhide.  Next came Nobunaga’s vassal, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who defeated Mitsuhide and took over where his former master left off, taking over all of Japan but dying before he could pass it on to his young son.  Last came Tokugawa Ieyasu, who took control of Japan for good when he defeated his rival, Ishida Mitsunari, at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600.  See if you can sort out these five.

A. 明智光秀 B. 石田三成 C. 織田信長 D. 徳川家康 E. 豊臣秀吉

Posted in Know Your Picture Characters | 4 Comments »

The Confluence Part 12

August 19th, 2011 by Wordsman

Wrong move.  The woman slapped it away so hard you could see it spinning through the air—at least, you could have if you were able to pull your gaze away from the two orbs of rage in the middle of her face.  “ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?  I’m not asking for your money!  I’m not looking for spiritual salvation, I don’t want to be psychoanalyzed, and I couldn’t care less who wins this year’s World Series!  I want freedom! I WANT TO GET OUT OF HERE!”

This declaration was punctuated not so much by an exclamation point as it was by the woman’s wrinkled palm, which struck Peter’s cheek with a SMACK that reverberated so loudly it surely must have registered on the USGS seismometer in Morgantown, West Virginia.

She never would have slapped him if she wasn’t so worked up.  For one thing, she was not a violent person by nature.  For another, if she hadn’t been motivated by the all-consuming wrath that had developed from being ignored for weeks and weeks, she might have remembered to do her math.  One hand to knock the wallet away.  A second to smack him in the face.  No hand left to hold onto his arm.

Peter was off and running.  The woman sagged.  The demon of anger slowly left her.  She once again understood that slapping people around is probably not the best way to get them to help you.  As one final meaningless gesture, she called after him half-heartedly: “You’ll be back!”

The young man, unlike ninety percent of the people she encountered in Simon Park Station, actually took the time to respond.  “Not likely!” he shouted back, just before jumping onto the subway as the doors were closing.

The woman leaned back against her pillar, ready to sink down and await the next rush.  Except she couldn’t.  This time, someone was holding onto her.

She turned, and the first thing she saw was the smile.  It was a smile of triumph—no, it was more than that.  It was a wicked smile.  It was a smile that should not be allowed.  It resembled nothing more than the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, just before their faces started melting.  The woman couldn’t remember whether or not she had seen that movie, but anyone who had could have told her the description was perfectly apt.

It was only after taking in the awful smile that she noticed the uniform.

“Now that,” said Officer Tang, who was only able to restrain her giddiness because of her years of training (and even then she didn’t do a great job of it), “was Assault.”

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

This Day in History Entry #131

August 16th, 2011 by Wordsman

Joseph Kittinger’s number to beat
Is one-hundred-and-two thousand feet
From that distance he fell
Landing quite safe and well
Though the plummet was certainly fleet

Event: Joseph Kittinger sets the record for highest, fastest, and longest skydive
Year: 1960
Learn more:

Posted in This Day in History | No Comments »

Know Your Picture Characters Entry #66

August 15th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 運動選手 B. 警備官 C. 神父 D. 天使 E. 船乗り F. ペテン師

Ah, poor Theoman.  He blundered into an age-old trap: assuming that katakana are your friends.  Yes, most of the time, these angular characters are simply a funny way of writing English words, but every once in a while you stumble across one of more arcane origins.  Case in point: even I don’t know what the peten in F’s petenshi means, but I doubt it’s “pattern.”  This tricksiness seems entirely appropriate for F, the ever-capricious Brook–I mean, Los Angeles Dodgers.

Shirley struggled a bit against the Central Division last week, and apparently she doesn’t follow the West, so she probably had a lot of difficulty this time around.  Let’s see . . . first guess, wrong (though she can perhaps take comfort in having made the same mistake as the contestant who actually knows some Japanese); second guess, wrong; third guess, wrong; fourth guess . . . correct?  Yes, C is the San Diego Padres (literally “god father(s)”).  Okay, so she got one, but anybody can get one.  I bet she missed on her next . . . nope, D is The The Angels Angels of Anaheim.  Alright, alright, but these streaks usually die out eventually . . . or not.  Shirley finished strong this week, matching all her final three guesses, for E is the Seattle Mariners.  I guess she knows the West better than she thought.

A Fan’s slate wasn’t quite as impressive, although he did correctly identified those pesky Dodgers, the one that threw both of his fellow competitors.  Our unguessed teams this week were A, the Oakland Athletics, and B, the Texas Rangers.

Okay, Eastern division: Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees (AL), Braves, Marlins, Mets, Nationals, Phillies (NL).  You know the drill.

A. 青懸巣 B. 鰭条 C. 高麗鶯 D. 国民 E. 真旗魚 F. 勇士

Posted in Know Your Picture Characters | 6 Comments »

The Confluence Part 11

August 12th, 2011 by Wordsman

The realization that you’ve wasted months of your life in a pointless exercise can lead to a wide variety of emotional reactions.  Some people are overjoyed; they find it quite liberating to discover that there’s no longer any point in going through the normal routine.  These people, though, are not by any means typical.  A much more common response is to sink into despair, to lament the loss of precious time, to wonder how you can possibly go on when everything you thought made sense suddenly doesn’t.

The old woman opted for a third option.  Her grip tightened.  “No, you don’t think, do you,” she said, lowering her voice to a whisper so that the following crescendo could be all the more dramatic.  “You people never do.  Your minds are fixed on one thing: get to the train, get to the train.  Drop your hat?  Leave it behind so you can get to the train.  Spot an old friend walking the other way?  Lower your head so you can get to the train.  Get interrupted by a woman with a simple question who only wants someone to stay and listen for a minute or two?  Ignore her.  Get to the train, get to the train, get to the goddamn train!

“I sit here every day and I watch people go by and you know what I see?  I see a thousand people standing within ten feet of each other, each in her own separate world.  You wear headphones so you don’t have to listen.  You stare at your phones so you don’t have to look.  You cover your mouths and noses—even though it doesn’t smell that bad—so you don’t even have to breathe!  You love your routine so much that you seal off your senses, just in case there might be something out there that could shake things up!  It seems like your sense of touch is the only thing you haven’t figured out how to shut off.  And if physical pain is the only way to get through to you people, then that’s what I’m going to have to use!”

You might find it odd that Peter Hamlin, who had never met a situation he couldn’t argue his way out of, would sit there in silence while this little old lady rained abuse on him.  You could say it was because he was still half-asleep.  You could blame the fact that part of his brain was still operating under the impression that he was being mugged (he certainly hadn’t come up with any more likely theory to take its place).  Really, though, he was simply stunned.  He was learning—as was the woman—that all the prepared speeches in the world are no match for an extemporaneous tirade driven by an overflow of genuine emotion.

“All I’m asking for is a few minutes.  You all think that a few minutes of your time are more precious than anything!  That just a couple minutes’ delay would upset your schedule, throw your ‘harmonious balance’ out of whack, and ruin your day.  A couple minutes!  Do you have any idea how long I’ve been down here?  Two hundred thirty-three days!  You’d better believe my harmonious balance is out of whack!  I’m starting to forget what the outside world sounds like!”

Speaking of the music of the underground, the woman’s voice—despite its phenomenal volume—could not drown out the noise of the train pulling into the station.  Amidst the sea of confusion, dotted with islands of desire to apologize for offenses he had never committed, a beacon shone out in Peter’s mind: get to the train.  It blasted through the clouds of guilt formed by doing exactly what this woman (This crazy woman, the beacon corrected.  This raving lunatic who doesn’t know what she’s saying) was complaining about.  He was still operating under the mugging hypothesis, so rather than giving one last, desperate, pointless tug, he reached down with his other hand and pulled out his wallet.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

This Day in History Entry #130

August 9th, 2011 by Wordsman

Caesar’s troops were sure feeling the blues
For they lacked supplies, numbers, and shoes
Pompey went for the kill
But as he charged downhill
He learned that they had nothing to lose

Event: Battle of Pharsalus: Julius Caesar defeats Pompey the Great (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) at Pharsalus in the last battle between the two former triumvirs
Year: 48 BC
Learn more:

Posted in This Day in History | No Comments »

« Previous Entries