This Day in History Entry #146

November 29th, 2011 by Wordsman

Just a small tube with foil wrapped ’round
Was used first for recording a sound
Then came records; then tapes
CD’s did our way traipse
Nowadays, data’s how music’s bound

Event: Thomas Edison first demonstrates his phonograph
Year: 1877
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #81

November 28th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 碇 B. 磯 C. 砲 D. 碁

E. 磨 F. 妬 G. 砂 H. 砕

The website isn’t really cooperating with me right now, so we’ll see whether or not this actually gets posted.

Perhaps our knowledge of kanji can tell us what we are meant to be. For instance, Theoman would make a pretty poor apothecary, because he tries to grind up his medicines using an anchor (A). On the other hand, he might be a pretty impressive player of Go, because he sees the entire beach (B) as his board. Other than that, he easily recognizes cannons (C) and jealousy (F), so . . . pirate, I guess?

In other news, A Fan is back–or is it that he never truly left? As usual, he does his best to test the boundaries of relevancy. B could be Captain Kangaroo, provided that he is captain of a ship, and also provided that he has run his ship aground on the beach (maybe he, too, disagrees with the prevailing belief that ships are meant to be crewed). F is in fact Mr. Green Jeans because he is green with envy, presumably based on his desire to throw Captain Kangaroo overboard and usurp his position as Captain of the grounded ship. Bunny Rabbit and Mr. Moose are blatant rip-offs of Bugs Bunny and Bullwinkle, respectively, and will thus not be acknowledged here.

That poor anchor. First Theoman tries to use it in his mortar, and now Shirley is attempting to load it into a cannon. Well, at least it can’t be said that it doesn’t lead an interesting life. Shirley is, however, the only one who knows a good beach when she sees it, but she is also familiar with the darker side of life: smashing and crushing (H). Also of note is the fact that both Shirley and Theoman seem to favor a magnetic Go board, though the actual magnet is . . . oh hell. Looks like I actually forgot to put the magnet character up there. I instead accidentally substituted a character meaning “sand” at G. Magnet looks like this:

And E is for polishing. Or brushing your teeth.

Anyway, since words seem to be such a big deal around here, this week we will be looking at characters containing the element that means “word.” Their meanings include: punishment, to vow, to crawl, to examine/diagnose, prison, to attempt, glory, and the question word for who.

A. 試 B. 這 C. 診 D. 誉

E. 獄 F. 罰 G. 誓 H. 誰

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Consequences Part 14

November 25th, 2011 by Wordsman

Peter walked up the stairs slowly, one at a time, but not because he realized just how dangerous his earlier descent had been.  With every step, he worried that his mind would once again be assaulted by that hateful tune, but it never came.  The preposterousness of the woman’s explanation was gradually being outweighed by the fact that the behavior of the earworm was completely consistent with what she said.

Perhaps the strangest thing about it was that he couldn’t remember what the song sounded like.  His usual experience with music stuck in his head was that any related thought would trigger a relapse.  Even when he worried about it returning, something that would usually guarantee that it did, it didn’t come.  He had heard it hundreds of times that very day, but now when he tried to hum it, he couldn’t figure out the notes.

Peter did not find this reassuring.

What he did find reassuring was the sunlight, and being outside again, and the fact that Simon Park was pleasantly quiet.  It was as hot as you’d expect of an afternoon in late June, and he was still wearing his suit, but a little sweat was nothing compared to what he’d been through.  For a moment it was just another Friday, and he was simply going home early from work.

But, like most moments in the sun, it didn’t last.  This was no ordinary Friday, for so many reasons.  For one thing, he was going home because he had a job to do.  For another, the home he was going to was not the usual one.

As he crossed Simon Park—which did not take long, because it was really more like a glorified courtyard—he thought about the woman.  He asked questions that many people had asked before: Who was she?  What was she doing there?  He was, however, only the third person to give serious consideration to the answers.

She was a suspicious character, and not just for the obvious reasons.  He may not have been having his best day, but Peter still did his best to size up his opponent (or co-conspirator, or boss, or whatever she was); he had been trained by a father whose work constantly reminded him that surface explanations are not always (or even often) the most accurate.

First, her description of the magical “Song of Mastery” was surprisingly undetailed; one would ordinarily expect a magician or other con artist to have a more elaborate tale to support her tricks.  What did she have to gain by feigning ignorance?  Or was it feigned?  Second, the little “mission” she had assigned for him was tossing him right in the deep end.  Everyone knows that if you’re trying to gain someone’s confidence, you start with little things and then work your way up until the mark is so tightly bound to you that he can’t escape.  You don’t throw the cub off the cliff right off the bat and expect him to crawl back to you.  Third, she wasn’t a great actor.  Although she was famous as . . . that is, famous on the internet as . . . well, she was once mentioned on a blog with more than a hundred followers as “The Old Woman in Simon Park Station,” but it didn’t feel right.  She looked old, but she didn’t act old.

After weighing the information, Peter laid out the possibilities: she was a very bad confidence trickster (50% chance), she was an advanced confidence trickster who knew the usual methods won’t always work (35% chance), or she was on the level (15% chance).

All skepticism aside, though, she seemed to be in genuine distress.  He figured it would take serious commitment to handcuff oneself to a garbage can in a subway station, and he didn’t see what she could possibly gain that would make it worth it.  Maybe her aim was to use him to distract the police, but he doubted that he could occupy enough officers for long enough for someone to accomplish much of anything.  And if she thought he might actually succeed, then she was less intelligent than he had given her credit for.

His assessment was put on hold when he reached the other end of the park and had to cross the street.  One more block of brisk walking in the summer heat brought him to the entrance to the Carmine Street Station.  As a matter of fact, Peter had been riding the subway about once a week since the beginning of the summer.  Simon Park was the closest station to his apartment, but he had never been in it before that day; it was on the Green Line, which could only take him downtown or out east.  If he wanted to go out to the western suburbs, he needed the Red Line.

As he walked down the treacherous, poorly-lit stairs, Peter wondered if any of this would have happened to him if his family lived in, say, Forest Heights instead of Park Prairie.  If he was a regular Green Line rider, then he might have met the woman before.  Maybe he would have learned to avoid her.  Maybe he would have a car and not need to ride the subway, since everyone knew that all the kids from Forest Heights were cake eaters whose parents bought them anything they wanted.

He strolled through the station—keeping a careful eye out for any mystery women who might be lurking around the pillars—and got on a westbound train.  Since there wasn’t much else to do on the seventeen-minute ride, he spent the time wondering what it would have been like to go through middle school never being taunted by the kids from other suburbs for living in “PP.”

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This Day in History Entry #145

November 22nd, 2011 by Wordsman

By his enemies, Edward was feared
But his sailors, they say, volunteered
To go lie, cheat, and rob
‘Til a hero named Bob
Brought an end to the mighty Blackbeard

Event: Lieutenant Robert Maynard kills the pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard
Year: 1718
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #80

November 21st, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 芸 B. 英 C. 落 D. 葉

E. 芋 F. 苦 G. 芥 H. 若

Finally, Theoman has solved the age-old question: “What is a potato?”  Answer: it’s a rock with grass on it.  I salute him for this ground-breaking philosophical achievement, though I would recommend that my other readers stay away from his “potato soup” in the future, especially if you don’t have dental insurance.  But H, in fact, is not a potato: in failing to recognize that the bottom portion of H is not “rock” but “right” (as opposed to “left”), Theoman made one of the classic blunders of youth.  Pain (F) apparently reminds him of England, and Art (A) is trashy.  He believes that to fall (C) is to suffer, but his suffering was not total: in the end, on one of his throwaway answers, he correctly picked D as “leaf.”

A(nother) Fan’s response makes a little more sense grammatically when one remembers that the way the issue was phrased in the episode was actually whether or not it is common maritime practice for a ship to have a crew.  His potato, sadly, has rolled off the quarterdeck of A and landed in E, the bilge.  Probably not very appetizing, but then again, when you’re at sea, what other choice do you have?  Better than a rock with grass on top, at least.

Shirley looks to lead the kanji in uprising against their tyrannical oppressors, though she might want to finish learning their names first.  But what sort of radical revolution is she fomenting?  Well, she thinks art (A) is feckless, and she doesn’t seem to care much for England (B), which she called trash.  She wants the government to fall (C) because it is responsible for the people’s suffering.  And she called F (suffering) a fall, so perhaps they are one and the same?  Sounds rather Marxist to me.  And she thinks trash (G) is art.  So, in conclusion . . . well, I don’t really know what this movement is up to, but I would advise locking your doors and windows in the near future.

Man, all that talk about potato/rock soup made me hungry.  Let’s see what else we can make out of rocks.  We can make: jealousy, grinding/polishing, the beach, smashing/crushing, a cannon, an anchor (looks like we’re also following Another Fan’s nautical theme), a magnet, or the game of Go.  Hmm.  Sounds like a violent bunch.  Be careful.

A. 碇 B. 磯 C. 砲 D. 碁

E. 磨 F. 妬 G. 砂 H. 砕

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Consequences Part 13

November 18th, 2011 by Wordsman

She immediately perked up as though buoyed by a mysterious muffin left by an unknown benefactor.  “What did you play?”

He hesitated a bit.  “Flute.  But I haven’t touched it since high school.”

“I bet you could still play if you tried.”  She sat up straighter.  Her eyes were bright.  She had found him.  After asking thousands of people, she had finally found the one who was going to get her out.  His only qualifications were that he had answered “I used to” to her second question and given an inconclusive response to her first, but she had lowered her standards considerably since she started.  She certainly wasn’t going to let the guy get away just because he was a little out of practice.  “Do you still have it?”

“Not with me.”  The flute he used had once belonged to his mother.  He couldn’t imagine that she had sold it.

“Go get it.”

“Now wait.  I haven’t agreed to anything yet.”

Despite its surprising success the first time, the woman was doing her best to keep herself from resorting to slapping him again.  But she was excited, more excited than she had been . . . ever, as far as she could remember.  With very great effort, she reminded herself that, unlike her, he was new to the whole situation and would need time to absorb it.

“I’m not asking you to do anything other than get the flute.  You don’t have any problem with that, right?  It’s what I want you to do, so you should be able to leave without being bothered by the Beherr—I mean, the Song of Mastery.  Just run the errand, take some time to think about everything, and come back here.  I’ll be waiting.”

It sounded simple enough.  Like most people with common sense, he had a deep distrust of things that sound simple.  But he did want to help the woman if he could, and he didn’t have anything else he needed to be doing.  After the ridiculous display he put on, he thought it was best not to try going back to work.  Hopefully the weekend would give him time to come up with an explanation for his behavior.  He did not expect this explanation to contain the word “Beherrschunglied.”

“You could be waiting a while.  I’m not sure where it is.”

She sighed, but she was smiling afterwards.  “You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting,” she said, forgetting that she had screamed the exact amount of time into his face earlier that day.  “I can wait a little longer.”  She tried to lean back and smacked her head against the garbage can.  “But don’t take too long, okay?  This really isn’t as comfortable as it looks.”

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This Day in History Entry #144

November 15th, 2011 by Wordsman

“I am tired of all these lampoons
I discovered a number of moons!
Plus I found infrared
But when that planet’s said
You all laugh like a gaggle of loons”

Event: Birth of William Herschel, who discovered Uranus (tee-hee!)
Year: 1738
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #79

November 14th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 肯 B. 青 C. 服 D. 有

E. 朋 F. 育 G. 肌 H. 脅

I see a ba-ad moo-oon risin’ . . .

“There cannot be two suns in the sky; there cannot be two Emperors on Earth,” certainly sounds like something an ancient Chinese philosopher would say, and maybe it even is.  But what about two moons?  Theoman saw two moons and immediately agreed, which means he probably won’t be writing the next Art of War anytime soon.  Perhaps he can find the shoulder of a friend to cry on–I assume that failing to get the right answer in KYPC is devastating to the point of inducing tears.  These two moons may not agree about much, but they’re still good pals.

Dragon had the gall to point out a possible labeling mistake, but I’m going to pretend that was obviously just a philosophical statement I was making about the possible merits of using a supposedly ideographic writing system.  She correctly identified the top part of B as a sweet hat, but she forgot that sweet hats are almost inevitably blue, which means that B is blue.  I’m not sure why she thinks the moon would be friends with a footstool with a tail, and anyway, that thing above the stool is a hangar, being used to hold up the new article of clothing that the moon is working on.  The moon in D is also wearing a hat, but not a very exciting one.  It just sort of sits there.  It merely exists.  What I don’t understand, though, is how she failed to recognize that the top part of F is also a hat, and not Hyacynthoides non-scripta. It is, in fact, the Sorting Hat, about to be placed on the head of a young student with disturbingly long sideburns–as we all know, the Sorting is an important event in the raising of a young witch or wizard (also, this character is part of the word for “education”).  But she did get one right: G is indeed “skin.”  I feel like there should be some kind of myth about the moon shedding its skin as an explanation for the phases of the moon.  Maybe Dragon can write one.

Shirley’s guess was not correct, but she does win the award for best justification this week.  Also, those more familiar with characters would probably describe this moon as “the Sun, but with legs,” rather than “3 horizontal bars . . . joined by vertical lines on each side.”  But perhaps we’ll learn about the Sun another week.

Could some kind soul, perhaps one who knows more about East Asian characters and computers than he does, please help A(nother) Fan set up his browser so as to display them properly?

A is agreement, and H is threatening.  I put them at opposite ends because I figured they might have trouble getting along.

Let’s try another round of the radical game (as Theoman pointed out, these parts are called “radicals,” at least when they are used as an identifying element of the characters in which they find themselves).  Unless you live somewhere crazy like the entire half of the Earth that is south of the equator, you’ve probably noticed a lot of falling leaves recently.  So let’s learn about the radical that appears in the character for “fall (the verb)” and the one for “leaf”: the grass radical.  The meanings of the other six are: potato, trash, art, England, suffering, and youth.

A. 芸 B. 英 C. 落 D. 葉

E. 芋 F. 苦 G. 芥 H. 若

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Consequences Part 12

November 11th, 2011 by Wordsman

Around them the daily routine of Simon Park Station continued as ever before.  The regular passengers had gotten used to the old woman and her bizarre habits a long time ago.  She sat on the floor, and sometimes she talked to people.  Sometimes the people talked back—both in the neutral sense of “talk back” and the negative sense.  They always walked away in the end.  From their point of view there was nothing new going on.

But the woman saw something different.  She saw a person who listened to her proposal, considered it, and then gave an answer that proved he had actually been paying attention.  She saw a man who chose to fight the Beherrschunglied because the alternative went against his principles.  It was kind of heroic, when she thought about it.

Of course, she might have only seen these qualities because the alternative was watching the best chance of getting out she had found in eight months of searching walk away.

“And what about after that?” she shouted.

The angry approach hadn’t worked—well, technically it had, but not in a way that seemed possible to duplicate.  So she fell back on the usual.  It had never worked before, but there’s a first time for everything.

“You want to go home and forget about everything that happened today?  After the way you described it, I suppose you probably would.  And maybe you’d be happy, for a while.  You’d get back in your routine, go to work every day—you look like someone whose job doesn’t change much.  You could live a life without risking being arrested, without crazy old women telling you what to do, without angry German music stuck in your head.  But what would you have instead?”

Peter stopped.  He couldn’t tell you exactly why (then again, considering the day he’d had, you’d be lucky if he could tell you his own address or phone number).  Maybe the woman’s words struck home; maybe he couldn’t stand the thought of spending the whole rest of the summer killing time in the Clerk Cage knowing that he gave up the chance to do something else.  It could be that he remembered that the reason he wanted to be a lawyer was not simply to show off his speaking skills but also to help others.  Of course, it’s also possible that, as he approached the exit, the faintest hint of the tune began to reverberate at the back of his mind again.

He walked back to where the woman was seated and squatted down, trying to ignore the smell of the garbage can.  “Look, I’d like to help you.  I don’t know what you did to get in trouble with the police, but whatever it is, I’m sure you don’t deserve to be locked up and then abandoned here.  But you’re asking me to go into a building full of cops and steal something that belongs to them.  I don’t think you’ve got the right man for the job.”

We’ll find out for sure in a minute, the woman thought.  “And if you could get someone else to do it for you?”

“I don’t see how that’s any better.  You’re just adding a conspiracy charge on top of things.”  Still, his curiosity could not be denied.  “What are you talking about?”

“The Beherrschunglied.”

“Can’t we just call it by the English name?”

“Fine.  The Song of Mastery.”

“The song that you used on me—”

“Not intentionally!”

“—to force me to do what you want.”


“But I don’t know it.”  This was only one of many problems with her suggestion.  It was the most obvious, however, so he felt he might as well start with it.

“I can teach it to you.”  She took a deep breath.  This was it.  “Can you play a musical instrument?”

“No.”  But, on this one occasion, as he watched her head sink gloomily onto her chest, he felt compelled to tell the whole truth.  “I mean, not anymore.”

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This Day in History Entry #143

November 8th, 2011 by Wordsman

Not the the first to observe, or appraise
But the first to submit–that’s what stays
Others may have a claim
But Will gave them a name
And some even called them “Röntgen Rays”

Event: Wilhelm Röntgen stumbles upon and begins to study what he would later name X-rays
Year: 1895
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