This Day in History Entry #155

January 31st, 2012 by Wordsman

“Now, this sure ain’t no cruise in no blimp!
On the luxuries we’ve had to skimp
There’s no wind in your face
Just the darkness of space
And the pilot? Uh, well, he’s a chimp”

Event: Ham the Astrochimp becomes the first American (technically, Cameroonian) chimpanzee in space
Year: 1961
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #89

January 30th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 医者 B. 運動選手 C. 会計士 D. 教師 E. 警察官 F. 芸術家

G. 販売員

Theoman appeared to be on the right track, guessing what sounded like a list of professions, which these in fact are.  However, as he failed to identify what exactly he was guessing, we have no choice but to assume that he believed these were the names of the rooms in Clue, and thus we can award him no points, for these are in fact the names of possible professions in the game of Life.  All kidding aside, he made the unfortunate mistake of attempting to be too up-to-date.  I can only assume that he, like I, looked up the list online, but I, unlike he, chose to ignore any profession on the list that I could not recall being in the game when I played it as a kid.  Fortunately for him, only two of his guesses–hairstylist and mechanic–were unfamiliar to me.  Unfortunately for him, it seems that most of these characters were unfamiliar to him.  While all of his other guesses do appear on the list, only the Doctor, A, is in the right place.  And he left out the teacher and the artist, two of the most important (and thus least well paid) jobs.

As usual, A Fan tried to hedge his bets by guessing a little bit of everything (and throwing in a bunch of stuff about movies that is totally unrelated).  Or is it?  Was his calling the doctor Moneyball a reference to Scott Hatteberg’s supposedly career-ending ruptured elbow nerve?  Or how about calling E, the police officer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?  I don’t know anything about the movie (other than that it was panned by, but that certainly sounds like it could describe the job.  The connection between F, the artist, and Midnight in Paris is obviously appropriate, even more so than if he had said The Artist.  I am biased toward the former because it contains something that I frequently find to be a key element in movies: words.  In conclusion, Hugo probably should win, which means that it has no chance.  At least they only nominated nine movies for Best Picture this year instead of ten.

Shirley, following A Fan’s lead, decided to go her own way, and for some of her answers we don’t even have to stretch that much to make them sound right.  Her inclusion of the doctor as something to throw away is presumably yet another comment on the pain of knee surgery.  B, the athlete, is most definitely something you would find at a football game.  I believe I have done my taxes while watching TV before (I may have even done them while falling asleep); would C, the accountant, do the same?  Let’s hope not.  I thank my lucky stars that I teach at the college level, because if I had to listen to little kids scream “TEACHER!” (D) all day, I’d certainly lose it.  Are there police officers in the sky?  They have helicopters, I suppose.  Sounds like a good candidate for a classic Scattergories argument.  “Artist” for “things you are allergic to” sounds like too much of a stretch for me, but I give an unqualified thumbs up for the answer of “salesperson” (G) in the category of “things you are afraid of.”  There’s a reason I don’t own a landline phone.

Okay, this time I’ll be more specific.  We’re going to do a set of things from one of the other games, a set of things that would be of particular concern to one of the kinds of people on this most recent list (that is, they would be if they were actual things and not just a bunch of puns or other silly jokes).  Still a bit of a noodle scratcher?  Try lying down for a while.  I hear that’s good for what ails you.  Don’t take my word for it, though; I’m no . . .

A. 傷ついた心 B. こむら返り C. 尺骨神経 D. 書痙 E. 脳の凍結

F. 喉仏

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The Mission Part 4

January 27th, 2012 by Wordsman

He’s taking too long.

Peter was not looking at his watch, so he did not know that it had taken him less than five minutes to decide that the hastily laid scheme of squirrel and man had gone awry.

He was standing across the street from the station, trying to look nonchalant, and therefore assuming that he looked like he was plotting a crime no less serious than high treason.  Four minutes and thirty-seven seconds earlier, he had arrived outside the building and thought at the squirrel: Go inside, get the key, and come back here.  He even imagined a key as he thought it, just to be sure, though it was only after sending in Rocky that he realized he had no idea what a handcuff key looks like, or whether it would bear any resemblance to the common house key he had visualized.

Now he was plagued by regret, that uniquely horrifying blend of remorse and anticipation known only to a secret admirer who has dropped a letter with his name on it into the mailbox and immediately afterward starts trying to jam his arm into its depths, desperate to take it back.  He tried willing Rocky to return, but the squirrel would not appear at the open window where he had originally darted in.  Maybe he was out of range.  Or maybe . . . something worse.

“They can’t arrest a squirrel” was sounding dumber by the second.  He wondered what he might do if he stumbled on a small animal stealing his keys.  And what if they weren’t just keys to a house or an apartment, but something far more important?  What if the squirrel evaded capture and was out of reach?  What if I had a gun . . .?

Peter wasn’t about to run off and join PETA, but he still would have felt bad if the squirrel came to harm and it was his fault.  He felt a strange bond of kinship with the rodent; they were both being manipulated by the same evil song.  And then, there was always the risk that the cops would see Rocky and think the same thing Peter did: that no normal animal would come in to steal keys if it was acting on its own free will.  And then they would look out the window and see the guy across the street, with his hands in his pockets, whistling, as if whistling could make a person look innocent anywhere outside of a 1930’s cartoon . . .

His mind was made up.  He was going in after him.  Leave no ma—no squirrel behind.

The man at the front desk inside was thoroughly distracted by the telephone and might not have noticed Peter even if he shouted.  Peter considered this a stroke of luck.  He did not want to talk to anyone, because he could not imagine that conversation going well (“Excuse me, have you seen my squirrel?”)  He crouched down, both to avoid being seen and so that he could get a better view of the station as Rocky would see it.  Where could he have gone?

He crept past the desk and into a hallway, already preparing the defense that there were no signs explicitly telling him that he couldn’t go that way (at least, none that he could see from his squirrel’s-eye-view).  He may have been talking to himself.  When you’re sneaking around the police station looking for your lost squirrel, there really isn’t any point in pretending you’re not insane anymore.

A human can imitate a squirrel’s view of life by bending the knees and leaning forward, but he can only go so far.  The vast differences in stature remain.  Because it is small, a squirrel can be low to the ground and still look up.  Peter was all but forced to look down in that position, which was probably why he crashed into a pair of legs only a minute or two into the search.

After noting the unmistakable dark blue of the uniform pants, Peter looked up, past a respectable gut, into a wide, light brown face with receding black hair and a rather unruly mustache.  The face looked neither enraged nor pleased; it was simply weary.

Well, Peter thought, the 5% of his brain that wanted to remain optimistic somehow drowning out the 95% that wanted to run, at least that solves one problem.

“Does this belong to you?” the officer asked.  He was holding a frantic Rocky by the tail.

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This Day in History Entry #154

January 24th, 2012 by Wordsman

Yes, his madness was a tour de force
As he made into Consul his horse
Soon he misplayed his cards
Got killed by his own guards
Who then turned to his uncle, of course

Event: Roman Emperor Caligula is killed by the Praetorian Guards, who then proclaim Claudius Emperor
Year: 41
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #88

January 23rd, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 飴国 B. 御免 C. 手術 D. 人生 E. 手掛かり F. 独占

Clearly, the secret point of this challenge was not to make any real attempt at identifying the games but simply to spend the whole time talking about whether or not we like(d) them.  Well spotted, A(nother) Fan!  His comments on Operation were highly insightful and vastly understandable, especially to those of us not blessed with an overabundance of manual dexterity as children.  As for Life, on the other hand, he seems to have missed the point (I’m just talking about the game . . . right?)  Even at a young age, we players were able to discover pretty much right off the bat that going to college was an absolute waste of time.  All it did was allow you access to a couple of extra careers, and since career choice was random and the salary unrelated to said career choice, this was exceedingly pointless.  And you got stuck with loans!  Skipping college was a no-brainer.  Really, though, if you want to avoid “difficult” decisions like that, you’re better off sticking with Candy Land, which I for one was still playing in college (apparently I failed to learn the lesson that Life was trying to teach me).  Although there was, perhaps, less woofing involved.

But I suppose we should give him a more objective score as well, to see whether or not his claim about blindness enhancing his other senses (or at least his results) has any merit.  He’s one for six (or one for five if you consider that he only made five guesses with any chance of being correct), picking up a correct answer at E.  Looks like he’s better at Clue than he remembers.  Still, it’ll be hard for him to take too much joy in the victory, as he identified the much-maligned Monopoly (F) as his beloved Bridge.

Shirley’s opinions were a little more subtle, but we can still tell what she likes (the intrigue of Clue, the simplicity of Candy Land, the absurdity of Life) and what she doesn’t (the facelessness of Sorry, the interminability of Monopoly, anything under the sun related to the word “operation”).  Her guesses, too, were more subtly correct, which is a polite way of saying that they were wrong.  The second character in A, now that I think about it, does look a bit like one of those awkwardly shaped pieces in a too-small hole, but this is actually a country; the “Land” of “Candy Land.”  Presumably Shirley doesn’t want the weight of a whole nation on her new steel knee, so she’ll be okay being wrong about that one.  We can clearly see the butler in B raising up a knife to do violence to . . . some sort of complicated clockwork mechanism, it looks like, though that would seem to provide for a pretty poor mystery.  Anyway, as we all know, all butlers are British, and all British people are exceedingly polite, so it only makes sense that he would say, “Sorry” after doing the deed.  Shirley, however, says “Sorry” when presented with C, the Operation.  And D, the simplest one, is of course Life.  Just as it should be, right?

(Pause for laughter)

Theoman quietly picked up three correct answers.  This is a kid that you never want to let be the banker.

I’m still in a bit of a gaming mood, so this week’s challenge won’t stray too far.  We’re going to be working with a set of things from one of the games we just finished talking about (and no, I’m not including Bridge).  However, here’s the trick: I’m not going to tell you which game.  You have to guess that for yourself.  I will provide a couple hints, though: remember that KYPC has already had quizzes on the murder weapons from Clue and the playing pieces from Monopoly.  Presumably the Wordsman isn’t that repetitive.  Also, let’s give me a little credit and assume that I’m not going to present you with something as boring as the array of colors or numbers featured in Sorry.

A. 医者 B. 運動選手 C. 会計士 D. 教師 E. 警察官 F. 芸術家

G. 販売員

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The Mission Part 3

January 20th, 2012 by Wordsman

Peter glanced around to make sure no one was watching.  Then he bent down and whispered to the squirrel, “Run up that tree.”

The squirrel turned around and bounded up the tree like it was being chased by a rabid dog.  It settled on a low branch and looked back at Peter with that same focused stare.  It was almost eerie, like watching a swarm of gnats fly in a single-file line.

He refused to be convinced by this demonstration.  Running up trees was something that squirrels did all the time.  It was entirely possible that it had decided to race up there on its own, and that the timing was a mere coincidence.  In order to prove it, he would need to convince the squirrel to do something it would never do normally.  Since Simon Park already had one resident who had made a name for herself shouting at trees, Peter chose to think his next command rather than say it out loud: Sing the alphabet song.

The squirrel did not open its mouth and start belting out, “A, B, C.”  It simply continued to stare at him.  It may have just been his imagination, but he thought he could see it shaking its tiny head slightly, as if to dislodge a pesky insect . . . or piece of music.  But the test was a failure.  Peter assured himself that his mind was simply running wild, and that he had no ability to command small rodents to do his bidding.

Unless, he thought, now playing the devil’s advocate’s devil’s advocate (as only a lawyer can), it just can’t obey commands it can’t comprehend.

Peter wrestled for a while with the idea of a command that would be meaningful to the squirrel but still be something it would never do on its own.  After rejecting a number of possibilities as too cruel, he noticed one of his fellow street musicians a little ways along the path.  He was a saxophonist, but at the moment he was taking a food break instead of performing.  The man was eating a large sandwich and making an extremely slovenly job of it: scraps of lettuce and other vegetables, bits of bread, and slivers of meat were scattered around, in, and on his open case.

Run over there, jump into the case, and bring back a coin—one of those shiny metal round things, Peter commanded, before he even really knew why.

As the squirrel dashed off, he realized that there was probably more to the order than a subconscious desire to commit petty theft.  No ordinary animal, he reasoned, would ever run into a veritable feast like that and come back bearing one of the few items that could not possibly be construed as food.

He watched the squirrel—which he had decided to name Rocky—race over and leap into the case.  The musician was distracted trying to negotiate his way through a large meatball and noticed nothing.  A moment later Rocky bounded back, bearing in his (or her—Peter had no idea how to tell with squirrels) mouth a small, shiny metal round thing.  He reached down.  It was a nickel.  He felt a little sorry for the musician.

Then Peter laughed.  What a joke!  The song worked exactly as the woman said it would, but he was so bad at it that it only worked on small animals.  “What am I supposed to do?” he muttered.  “Have this squirrel break into the police station and—?”

It was then that Peter had the stupidest idea he had had all day.

He had had plenty of bad ideas so far, ranging from the inconsiderate (practicing the Speech before sunrise) to the harmless and silly (looking up old annoying commercial jingles on YouTube) to the downright suicidal (running across busy streets without looking), but none of those had been quite this stupid.

It started with a simple thought—They can’t arrest a squirrel—and ended with an image of Rocky bounding toward him, holding a key just as skillfully as he had held the coin a moment earlier.

Even stupider, however, was that he decided to go for it.  Those that knew him—family, friends, less-tipsy coworkers—would have never expected such as decision out of Peter Hamlin.  Then again, maybe it wasn’t really Peter Hamlin calling the shots.  After all, the real Peter Hamlin slept on a normal schedule, worked eight-to-four (three on Fridays), and was a law-abiding citizen.  This man, on the other hand, was manipulated by sounds that existed only inside his head, fraternized with undesirables who got in trouble with the police, had already broken several laws (most of them traffic laws) that day, and commanded the loyalty of squirrels.  Perhaps the stupidest idea of all would be thinking that these two were, in fact, the same person.

Before he could talk himself out of it, Peter—or someone who looked a lot like him—set off for the police station.

The saxophonist had finished his late lunch/early dinner and promptly returned to plying his trade.  He did not even bother to rinse his mouth first, causing woodwind teachers everywhere to wince at the damage he was doing to his reed (they may or may not have been comforted to learn that the reed was already well past its prime and smelled strongly of baloney).  While his attention had been elsewhere for the food break, during the performance his eyes were fixed on his case, which was why he saw a squirrel run up, drop in a coin, and sprint away.

“Damn,” he said, pausing in astonishment.  “I’m even better than I thought.”

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This Day in History Entry #153

January 17th, 2012 by Wordsman

This great man first appeared on a pier
Sans the spinach he later held dear
He put Bluto to sleep
Even owned a pet jeep
All in all, quite the sailing career

Event: Popeye the Sailor first appears in E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre
Year: 1929
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #87

January 16th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 決 B. 法 C. 汚 D. 沿

E. 汁 F. 泊 G. 汗 H. 汝

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to . . . read?

Actually, it looks like a fair amount of reading went on this week, at least in comparison to last week.  But what about comprehension?  Theoman’s lack of inspiration doesn’t bode well, but let’s see how he did in his showdown with A(nother) Fan.

A: A(nother) Fan, newly blessed with the gift of sight, spotted a pair of legs and thought, “Aha!  This must mean to run alongside!  That would make a lot of sense!”  Yes, I suppose it would.  But he who expects kanji to make visual sense is, unfortunately, a lot like our ancient mariner: out of luck.  Theoman, in his less inspiring but much more logical fashion, took the first round handily: will this be how the contest is DECIDED?

B: No technical right answers on B, so let’s get subjective.  B is, in fact, THE LAW (originally the Buddhist Dharmic Law, but applicable today in a greater variety of situations).  Based on that, we’ll assume that A(nother) Fan would prefer to be wrong when he referred to it as “pollution.”  Plus, Theoman makes a good point: legalese is often so incomprehensible that they might as well be using words like “thou.”  A point to him.

C: A close call here between the two attempts to land near POLLUTION (not generally a good idea to start with).  Theoman’s guess of sweat makes a lot of sense, but we have to give the edge to A(nother) Fan here: some kind of a decision needs to be made.

D: A(nother) Fan thinks that the law is something one should RUN ALONGSIDE.  Theoman, on the other hand, thinks this is the manner in which one should sleep–presumably this would lead to one being outside overnight.  As it is currently January, we award the victory to the Fan.

E: A(nother) Fan may also be a fan of archaic SOUPS, but no matter how good they are, it’s no match for the real thing.  Theoman picks up another right answer the old-fashioned way: actually knowing what he’s talking about (or at least making it seem like it).

F: Since, unlike we usually have in our head-to-head matches, there were no ties this time around, we will combine the contestants’ answers to create one: when one is on the run from the law, one SPENDS THE NIGHT in a cold sweat.  Good team effort.  No points awarded.  See where teamwork gets you?

G: Here we have SWEAT.  Is it pollution?  Is it soup?  Not much of a choice here.  Let’s give a point to Theoman and avoid A(nother) Fan’s kitchen.

H: A(nother) Fan takes the final round on an Accidental (?) Innuendo Point (did he realize that the right half of the character means “woman”?  We may never know.)  It was too late, however, to grant him victory.  Theoman takes the cup by going 4-3-1, and also by coming up with two “real” answers.  Kudos!

Maybe Theoman’s lack of inspiration is only to be expected.  After all, we’ve been working with radicals for quite some time now.  If we keep this up, sooner or later one of us is going to end up the leader of a group of guerrillas (or even, perhaps, gorillas) in the middle of some godforsaken jungle.  To prevent this unfortunate fate, we will switch back this week to a more traditional puzzle, to a simpler time.  These thoughts of youth have led me to the subject of board games.  We’ve done board game pieces before (no, really!  We have!  Look it up!) but never focused on the titles of the games themselves.  Again, as we’ve done in previous puzzles, the answers will not be the actual names used for the games in Japanese but direct translations of the English titles, because it’s more fun that way (and also makes the answers harder to look up).

Our games range from the blissfully simple (Candy Land) to the dastardly (Operation).  If you’ve got an hour or two, why not sit down for a game of Life?  If you’ve got an entire day–or you’re willing to cheat–maybe you can take on Monopoly.  Or maybe you don’t have the first Clue what to do.  If that’s the case, well, then I’m Sorry.

A. 飴国 B. 御免 C. 手術 D. 人生 E. 手掛かり F. 独占

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The Mission Part 2

January 13th, 2012 by Wordsman

It was not the most annoying thing that had happened to him that day.  It was not even the most annoying music-related thing.  But it bothered him.  So he stood there and played the Song of Mastery over and over again, not because he was trying to manipulate anyone’s mind, not because he was trying to rescue the old woman, but simply because he wanted to get better at it.

And he did.  The eight years’ worth of memories hadn’t been erased; they were simply buried and took time to dig up again.  Gradually it came back to him: the flow of his fingers, the positioning of his mouth, how and when to breathe—soon he was doing these things almost as naturally as, well, breathing.  After an hour or so, he even began to think that maybe the song was good enough to take over someone else’s head—in a crazy, alternate fantasy universe, that is.

Completely out of breath from his first extended performance in six years, Peter lowered the flute and looked up.  It was getting late: only an hour or two left before the sun started to sink behind the roof of Simon Park Village.  A quick scan of the park showed that no one seemed to be suffering from the effects of his song, though he realized that even when the old woman had done it, he had been a ways away before picking up the horrid tune, and presumably she was better at this than he was.  He decided to pack it up, go back down to call the woman’s bluff, and then, with any luck, go home and get some sleep.

And he might have done just that if he hadn’t happened to look down and see the squirrel staring up at him.

Being watched by a squirrel was nothing new to Peter.  He had been observed by many before.  He had even once in college gone squirrel fishing, which is a lot like regular fishing in that you drink beer and don’t catch much.  But the look in this squirrel’s eye was different.  Peter didn’t even know that squirrels could have looks in their eyes.  It was staring so intensely, so fixedly, refusing to be distracted by anything else.  It was, Peter thought, waiting for something.

“No . . .”

He walked toward the subway station entrance.  The squirrel followed him.  He stopped.  It stopped.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #86

January 10th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 匠 B. 折 C. 丘 D. 近

E. 芹 F. 所 G. 祈 H. 兵

I’ll spare you some kind of bad pun about having an axe to grind.

Theoman is more perceptive than I am, because he thinks the axe radical actually looks like an axe.  And his memory’s not bad either: he remembered the “grass” radical in E and assumed (correctly) that this must be parsley, because parsley tastes pretty much the same as grass.  He may even have a sneaky sense of humor, but we can’t be sure–did he know that the left side of B was the “hand” radical when he said that it looked touchy-feely?  We’ll assume for his sake it was a joke, because his actual guess was incorrect.  There were two things on this quiz that you do with your hands: fold and pray.  B is the former.  And while H is not prayer, as he guessed, we do award him a bonus point for correctly using both “it’s” and “its” in the same almost-sentence.

But Theoman seems to have had an unfair advantage this week in that he was able to use his eyes.  A Fan, unable to see, tried to hear the kanji instead.  Did it work?  Well, he found Joe “Hill,” at least, at C.  I guess the labor movement lives on after all.  Can we give him partial credit for using a Simon and Garfunkel song (technically, just the lyrics, not the title) for A, which, as it turns out, means “artisan”?  Is “The Gambler” truly as ubiquitous and useless as parsley, E?  Did he go to Google for G not just because of the letter connection but because otherwise he didn’t have a “prayer” of coming up with a song containing that word?  Maybe, like his dog, A Fan’s sense of hearing is better than his sight after all.

Shirley felt powerless (haha) to deal with this quiz, but she forged valiantly forward regardless.  She was close on B, seeing “folding” and assuming that these were hands clasped in prayer.  And speaking of close, no one got that close to “close,” D.  She tried to bring one of her favorite techniques, innovative spelling, into play at F, but it didn’t quite pay off.  Unfortunately, standard spellings would have served her better.  The “P” here stands not for “Pholding” but for “Place.”  And last came H, which, between the three contestants, was identified as a prayer at a place on a hill.  Sounds appropriate for the lonely soldier, don’t you think?

Since it’s mid-January, I was going to test you folks on the ice radical, but tells me it’s currently 38 degrees, so it would all melt.  I guess we have to do water instead.  Here we have soup, pollution, sweat, an archaic way to say “you” (sort of like English “thou”), decide, run alongside, spend the night, and law.

A. 決 B. 法 C. 汚 D. 沿

E. 汁 F. 泊 G. 汗 H. 汝

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