The Next Day Part 7

April 27th, 2012 by Wordsman

“Like I said yesterday, you need to break me out of here.  And, as I demonstrated yesterday, that’s not going to be so easy.”

“Sorry about that.”  Peter didn’t know if a muffin was an appropriate way to apologize for making someone run into an invisible wall.  It wasn’t a situation he found himself in often.

The woman chuckled.  “At least you only had me do it once.  You have no idea how many times I tried it before I believed.”

“And this jailbreak,” Peter said, gazing at the old flute as if it were something completely unfamiliar.  “It’s going to involve some sort of song with weird, inexplicable powers, isn’t it?”

She watched him closely for signs of sarcasm before proceeding.  “How did you know?”

“Otherwise you wouldn’t have bothered teaching me one yesterday.  It was a pretty ridiculous plan.  There were any number of simpler ways to get you out of those handcuffs, and you had hours to think of one.  But you decided to go with the preposterously complicated strategy because you knew that I would need to become familiar with this sort of thing anyway, and also as a test to see if I could handle it.”

She grimaced and decided not to tell him that she really hadn’t been able to come up with a better idea.  “You’re a lot smarter today than you were yesterday.”

“Anyone’s smarter when they’ve had time to think things over,” he replied drily.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that.  I’ve had all the time in the world to think about my situation, and as you can see, I haven’t made a lot of progress.”

“And why is that?  You say that music is the way to escape, and music seems to be your field of expertise.  So why are you still here?”

His tone was casual, but his questions had a strong, demanding force to them.  He seemed so different from the helpless youth of the day before that the woman was put on guard.  The interrogation wasn’t outright unpleasant, but it was a little unnerving.

“There are two reasons, I think.”  The woman spoke very hesitantly, afraid of stretching the belief of her only potential helper to the snapping point.  She wasn’t quite sure why she believed these things herself.  “Keep in mind that I don’t know who put me down here or why, so I’m sort of guessing, here.  But the first reason’s obvious: I don’t know the right song.  There’s a lot of music out there that can . . . affect the world in ways beyond the ordinary, and I know . . . more of it than I can remember offhand.  But I sure don’t know any ‘Subway Station Escape Song.’”

“And you think that I do?

“I think that someone does.  But you can work on that later.  Because the other problem, I think, is that we’re going to need more people.”

Peter frowned.  Part of the reason he had agreed to help was that he had naively believed that no one else would have to know about it.  “How many more?”

“I’m not sure.  But I do know that some songs are too potent to be performed by one person.  Whatever’s holding me in here is a doozy.  I don’t think a solo number’s going to cut it.”

“And where do you suggest I find these other band members?”

* * *

“Hey, Dizzy.  I was wondering . . . I mean, if you had the time . . . would you be interested in helping me out with something?  Playing your trumpet, that is.  It’s no big deal or anything, but I need some musicians for this project, and . . .”

Of course Peter didn’t actually ask his sister.  He didn’t learn that he would need to look for additional musicians until the following morning.  But even if he had known, he probably wouldn’t have asked her.  It may have been partly out of jealousy and a desire to not be overshadowed.  Deep down he understood that any halfway competent musician would be better than him, but . . . he just didn’t want it to be his sister.  On the other hand, even Peter had enough musical sense to realize that flute and trumpet would make a pretty poor duet combo.

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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #98

April 25th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 喬治·沃克·布什 B. 比爾·克林顿 C. 理查德·尼克森

D. 林登·约翰逊 E. 本杰明·哈里森 F. 湯瑪斯·傑佛遜

Yup, it’s Wednesday again.  Let it never be said that the pleas of my readers fall on deaf ears.  That’s assuming, of course, that I would have been ready to get this out on Monday anyway.

Theoman returned to his old friend, logic.  And why not?  From a logical perspective, A was so obvious.  It has to be LBJ, because he’s the only one with three names.  Well, three full names, certainly.  I mean, the “W” in George W. Bush is just a letter, right?  It doesn’t stand for . . . oh wait, no, that was Truman.  The W is for Walker, which means that the A is for Bush.  But surely logic wouldn’t fail him a second time!  These characters are intended to represent sounds, so if you see two names ending with the same sound and two answers ending with the same character, you must have a match!  Because there are only two presidents on this list whose names end with “-son” . . . no, no, don’t be ridiculous, “Nixon” is spelled with an “x,” so it’s not . . . oh.  I guess it is.  Theoman still had a 50-50 shot at Benjamin Harrison, and you would have thought that after logic failed him luck would swoop in to pick him back up, but that’s not the way it works, apparently.  However, youthful sentimentality and 100% subjective observation paid off in the end: he found Clinton, whom A Fan called great and Shirley called attractive, at B.  You know, B for Bill.

A Fan sat right down in his director’s chair and, as usual, immediately began casting.  We don’t doubt that John Travolta would have made an intriguing Thomas Jefferson, or that Philip Baker Hall could have handled the role of Dubya.  We are also very curious to see a TV series that features Walter Cronkite as George Washington, Mario Cuomo as Martin van Buren, Billy Graham as James Garfield, and Colin Powell as Taft.  As usual, A Fan impresses more with his capacity for tangential thought than with his accuracy, though he did manage to track down LBJ at D (presumably by shouting “Hey, Hey!”)  Also, John Adams was the best character in 1776, but he couldn’t compare to Morley Safer’s Adams in The American President.

Shirley continued the trend of each participant getting one answer correct, though she may be disappointed to learn that her intuition served her best at A, George Walker Bush.  But her descriptions weren’t all so far off.  She called C, the one that looks good in the beginning but troubled at the end, LBJ, but couldn’t that description apply equally well to Nixon?  F, the cute one, may not be Bill Clinton, but Thomas Jefferson was certainly a looker in his day as well, or so 1776 would have us believe.  Also, he played the violin.

E is Benjamin Harrison, a shining example of the Era of Forgettable Presidents (1865-1901).  I wonder why he was included in this quiz . . .

I’m giving my lovely assistant the week off, so we’re back to Japanese this time around.  This week we’re going to try something different.  I’m sure you’re all tired of simply passively picking characters; wouldn’t you rather create some of your own?  Don’t worry, there won’t be too much creativity involved: I’ll give you the parts, and you simply have to put them together.  Here is a list of kanji parts that have the following meanings (in order): rice field, heart/mind, metal, bird, stand, sun, tree, and village.

A. 田 B. 心 C. 金 D. 隹

E. 立 F. 日 G. 木 H. 里

Of course, you are more than welcome to create any sort of combination, with whatever meaning you choose to assign to it.  But for those who like something to shoot for, you can try to build me characters with the following meanings: bell, think, sound, and gather.

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This Day in History Entry #168

April 24th, 2012 by Wordsman

To see clearly out into space
You must put yourself in the right place
Just beyond the Earth’s bubble
We set up the Hubble
Got that atmosphere out of our face

Event: The Hubble Space Telescope is launched
Year: 1990
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The Next Day Part 6

April 20th, 2012 by Wordsman

“So, are you going to tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“What you were really doing with Mom’s flute yesterday, of course.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be meeting your friends?”

“There’s no rush.  Most of them have older siblings, too.  They understand that it’s important to take some time out of every day for harassment.”

“How about I list all the things that I didn’t do with the flute, and you can figure it out from that?”

Peter had no intention of telling Dizzy what really happened to him that day.  It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her, or that he was afraid she wouldn’t believe him; on the contrary, he was a little worried that she would believe him.  They just weren’t that close.  They got along well, they teased and they bantered, but it’s hard to have an “I tell you everything and you tell me everything” sibling relationship when you’re six years apart in age, especially when there’s no domineering older sibling against whom it becomes necessary to join forces and bond.

“That sounds pointless and potentially disgusting,” she said, glancing at her watch.  “And ordinarily I would be all for it, but you’re right; I don’t have the time.”

“You’re just going to let me get away with it?  I could be using this flute to commit crimes or something.”

“They’re not crimes if you don’t get caught,” she answered coolly, leaving Peter to wonder what exactly his little sister was going out to do on a Friday night.  He was also briefly distracted by the image of the old woman in handcuffs, preventing him from getting in the last word.  The honor thus fell to Dizzy.  “But I don’t think you could be getting in too much trouble.  You are my brother after all.  Just remember: if you break that flute, Mom’s going to be really disappointed.”

He thought of Mr. Abrahamson and his inaudible fury.  For most people, disappointment was a tame, barely noticeable emotion.  In the hands of some, however, it was a devastating, soul-crushing force.

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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #97

April 18th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 阿不思·鄧不利多 B. 芙蓉·德拉库尔 C. 哈利·波特 D. 赫敏·格兰杰

E. 罗恩·韦斯利 F. 西弗勒斯·斯内普 G. 汤姆·里德尔

Apologies again for not getting this out until Wednesday.  I’m certainly not winning any awards for consistency this month.

Theoman had a good idea, but unfortunately it was thrown off by a few discrepancies between the Chinese versions of the books and the English ones, such as the fact that the Chinese Book 1 is pretty much entirely about Fleur Delacour, or that Harry himself doesn’t actually appear until Book 5.  Hmm . . . my lovely assistant appears to be telling me that I’m making things up again.  On a more serious note, doesn’t Dumbledore appear before Harry anyway?  Still, despite his handicaps, Theoman managed to stumble across Hermione at D.  In conclusion, the spell checker’s seeming capriciousness can be explained by the fact that “Severus” is the name of a Roman emperor and “Albus” isn’t, and by the fact that “Hermione” is a name invented by J.K. Rowling that had never existed previously.

Shirley, as far as I know, has never read the books, but she knows her stereotypes well, spotting Hermione, the smart one, at D and Ron, the sidekick, at E (raise your hand if you kind of wish Ron had been kicked in the side a little more in the books).  I, personally, also feel inclined to give her credit for identifying Severus Snape (F) as the most heroic character in the books, and also for pointing out that Harry Potter (C) is basically just a pretty boy.  And if we’re thinking about the movies, calling Dumbledore (A) the mean teacher might not even be that far off, though we agree with A Fan that he got slightly better after he died (we’re assuming here that A Fan was referring to the death of the character, not the actor).

A Fan, shockingly, decided to turn the conversation to movies.  He makes a good point about Alan Rickman, though he seems to have him cast as Fleur Delacour (B), which I might call a curious choice.  Daniel Radcliffe, on the other hand, would have made a much better Dumbledore than Michael Gambon.  Alan Rickman would have, too, for that matter.  Or Bruce Willis.  Or anyone else from the cast of Die Hard.  But I digress.  A Fan almost correctly identified E as Ron Weasley, but then he seemed to be saying that Rupert Grint grew up to be a pretty okay actor, so I can only assume he was thinking of someone else and simply got confused.  And the duel between Harry and Voldemort was ruined by sunspots.

G is Tom Riddle.  Wasn’t he basically just misunderstood?

Remember that part in the first book when someone made a flag that said “POTTER FOR PRESIDENT,” and it didn’t make any sense, because why would kids from England want to be president?  Well, after that not-at-all tenuous segue, the puzzle provided for this week by my lovely assistant is about U.S. presidents.  I know we did presidents once before, but there are two key differences: 1. these are in Chinese, and therefore actually mean something to someone other than me, and 2. these are not merely the first presidents but are in fact the greatest presidents, each one of them the absolute best at what he did.  We have the president who opened up relations with the most Chinas (well, communist Chinas, anyway; Richard Nixon).  We have the only president to share a last name with a president who was impeached and not be impeached himself (LBJ).  We have the president who survived the most pretzel-induced choking incidents (George W. Bush; isn’t it funny how that joke never gets old?).  We have the president who was the best saxophone player (Bill Clinton; little-known-fact: John Adams also played the saxophone, but he was terrible at it, primarily because it wasn’t invented until twenty years after he died).  We have the president who holds the record for most high schools named after him in western Bloomington, MN (Thomas Jefferson).  And, finally, we have the president who holds the record for greatest percentage increase in length of term from the previous president of the same last name (Benjamin Harrison, whose time in office was approximately 4600% longer than William Henry Harrison’s).

A. 喬治·沃克·布什 B. 比爾·克林顿 C. 理查德·尼克森

D. 林登·约翰逊 E. 本杰明·哈里森 F. 湯瑪斯·傑佛遜

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This Day in History Entry #167

April 17th, 2012 by Wordsman

On Day Three, things began to go bad
They told Houston a problem was had
All that could go wrong did
Even dropping off grid
But they made it–now isn’t that rad?

Event: Apollo 13 returns safely to Earth
Year: 1970
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The Next Day Part 5

April 13th, 2012 by Wordsman

“Besides,” Peter added, “who could sleep when they had just learned that there are magic songs that can control people’s minds?”

“Is that sarcasm?”

“It’s . . . not entirely sarcasm.”

While he slept on the fold-out couch in his parents’ living room, Peter had had a dream.  He dreamt that he was in Paris.  The setting of the dream was quite clearly the alleyway behind his old dorm, but for some reason in the dream he thought—no, he knew that it was Paris.  He was talking to David, who had been his friend in the third grade and whom he had never seen since.  David left, and all of a sudden Peter realized that he had something very important to tell him, so he ran after him.  While he ran, someone said, “Look out!  There’s a fire!”  Peter turned, and saw smoke in the distance, and he immediately thought, That’s not Uncle Jim’s house.  (Naturally, there was no sensible reason for Peter to think that Uncle Jim’s house would be on fire.  Nor was there any reason for him to think that he had an uncle named Jim.)  Peter passed the Eiffel Tower, which had a large clock on it.  The clock read 3:57 AM.  Then Big Ben started ringing, and Peter thought, I bet I’m about to wake up.  Then he ran for a while longer.  Then he woke up.

When he had collected his thoughts, Peter decided that, after all the interesting things that had happened to him the day before, it was really stupid of him to have had a dream like that.

“So are you going to be carrying that around all the time now?” the woman asked, pointing to the flute—out of its case, already assembled—in his right hand.

Peter spun the flute absent-mindedly.  “You never know when you’re going to need to summon the squirrels of Simon Park to your aid.”

“Now that was sarcasm.”

“Yes.  One hundred percent.”

“So . . . what’s Simon Park like, anyway?”  The woman cast a reflexive glance toward the stairs.

Peter was temporarily torn.  Reassure her by telling the truth?  Or would the knowledge that the world above ground wasn’t so hot either break her mentally?

“It’s a park,” he said with a shrug.  Ever the strategic liar.

She nodded.  “It’s just a little odd that I’m called ‘The Old Woman of Simon Park Station’ and I’ve never even seen Simon Park.”

He chuckled.  “What’s so funny?” she asked.

“You’re sealed in a subway station by an invisible, inexplicable force, you assault and then teach strange musical hypnosis techniques to strangers, and that’s what you think is odd?”

The woman smiled.  It was good to talk to someone.  Not to pitch him on a quest or try to explain herself: just to talk.  But talk wasn’t going to get her out of there.  “Don’t forget: I eat mystery muffins.  Odd is in the eye of the beholder.  Now did you come here to offer me treats and make small talk or did you come to discuss business?”

“Both.”  Peter looked at the ground, hesitated, and then sat down anyway.  He was still wearing the grungy clothes he had changed into to go home for dinner: no great loss.  “When I start a new job, I like to find out what I’ll be doing as soon as possible.”

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This Day in History Entry #166

April 10th, 2012 by Wordsman

To compete with his rivals in Spain
Past the ‘Lantic James One spread his reign
By his say, ‘cross the Pond
A new colony dawned
But ‘twould cause his successors some pain

Event: The Virginia Company of London, which would later establish the Jamestown Settlement, is established by royal charter
Year: 1606
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #96

April 9th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 芝士蛋糕 B. 酸辣湯 C. 冰淇淋 D. 鍋貼 E. 三明治 F. 罗非鱼

G. 華夫餅

Is it still Monday?  Excellent.

We’re going to mix it up a little and go choice by choice this time rather than person by person.  Why?  Because I said so, that’s why.

A is, perhaps, either waffles, Hot and Sour Soup, or ice cream.  Seems to have kind of a desserty feel, except for the Hot and Sour Soup.  Analysis of the meanings of the characters gives us: a lawn, a gentleman (sorry, Theoman, it’s the other one again.  “Earth” is short on top and long on the bottom), something having to do with bugs, and something having to do with rice.  Clearly this is ice cream: the gentleman is lounging on his lawn, swatting lazily at bugs, and eating ice cream . . . but, since he’s lactose intolerant, it’s actually rice cream.  See how logical that was?  Also, A Fan said it was ice cream, and he gave the best reason.

What’s that, lovely assistant?  A is actually “cheesecake”?  I don’t even know what I’m talking about?  Oh dear . . . sorry, A Fan.  I fought for ya.  Although I suppose I did say it was desserty.

Well, let’s see if we have better luck with B, a mix of ice cream, potstickers, and tilapia.  This particular combination can only mean that we are on Iron Chef, where Tilapia Potsticker Ice Cream is not only a popular creation, it was even the secret ingredient once (I’m pretty sure that’s true).  Now, as we all know, the coolest Iron Chef was Chen Ken’ichi, who was Iron Chef Chinese, which means that B must be the most Chinese-sounding of the answers.  Obviously, then, this is waffles.  Just kidding.  It’s Hot and Sour Soup.  See?  That first character means sour, and the last one means soup, because it’s water standing next to the sun.  That’s how I make soup at least.

My lovely assistant confirms that this time I’m actually right, so let’s move on.

In C, Theoman thinks he sees water.  In fact, he sees it not once, not twice, but thrice.  Clearly there’s a whole lot of water going on here, as is reflected in the answers of tilapia, tilapia, and Hot and Sour Soup.  But do you know what’s even more watery than water?  That’s right: ice!  Ice is solid water, and as everyone knows, the solid versions of things are always denser than the liquid ones, so this is ice cream.  Shirley’s little man had enough sense to give up on fishing and go grab a cone instead.

D is short, sweet, dense, and shaped like a waffle iron (?).  A careful analysis of the characters reveals one meaning “pot” and one meaning “to stick.”  As I have no idea how to interpret this, I will move on to E.

While I agree with Shirley that E has a somewhat cold feel, it’s Theoman and A Fan who are on the right track this time around.  If there’s a better way to represent the prototypical sandwich than that first character there, I don’t wanna hear it.  And those latter characters are just thrown in for fun, I guess.  For the coldness, presumably, since sandwiches can be cold . . . or hot (did we have an argument about this in Scattergories once?)

In the name of sanity, I should also point out that the first character in E is the number three, which is pronounced “san.”

Theoman has the best justification for F, based on his use of the word “pointy,” but it’s not quite enough.  Nor was the process of elimination successful.  Nope, here we have St. Peter’s fish, one of the hundred or so species called tilapia.  In Theoman’s defense, it could very well end up in a bowl with a spoon.  In Shirley’s, you could maybe even eat it covered with syrup, though personally I like it with white pepper and just a little bit of soy sauce.

And, last but not least, we have the cheesecake sandwich.  Man, those French really know how to cook.  Sadly, to the detriment of our tongues but the benefit of all our arteries, there is no such thing as a cheesecake sandwich.  There is, however, such a thing as a waffle, so life isn’t all bad.

And now for this week we have characters from the Harry Potter series.  Included in this list are Ron Weasley, Fleur Delacour, Hermione Granger, Harry Potter, Tom Riddle, Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape.  Or, for those less familiar with the series, we have the Loyal Sidekick, the Pretty One, the Smart One, the Hero, the Villain, the Old Wise Guy, and the Mean Teacher.

A. 阿不思·鄧不利多 B. 芙蓉·德拉库尔 C. 哈利·波特 D. 赫敏·格兰杰

E. 罗恩·韦斯利 F. 西弗勒斯·斯内普 G. 汤姆·里德尔

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The Next Day Part 4

April 6th, 2012 by Wordsman

Peter’s mom had no objection to him spending the night, because it is the secret goal of every mother to get her children to spend as many of their hours as possible under her roof.  As soon as dinner was over, she set about fixing up the living room couch for him.  Peter’s old room had been converted into what his father called a “study,” which was basically code for “book storage.”  His father owned more books than some small libraries; storing them was a never-ending, Sisyphean battle.  His mother—who had nothing against books, per se—would always try to get rid of some at garage sales, but Dad would always snatch them up before anyone else could get their hands on them (really, it was a doomed strategy to begin with, because the average garage sale patron would have no interest in the kind of books he tended to collect).

“But you haven’t read that one in thirty years!” Mom would cry.  Dad would just give her a look to say that she had completely missed the point.

Peter’s sleeping in the living room immediately after dinner did not present a problem either.  Mr. and Mrs. Hamlin were both believers in the “Early to bed, early to rise” system, and it had ended up being a late meal anyway.  Dizzy’s schedule was considerably more irregular, but she was going out with her friends.  She did not go out directly, though.

“You lied to Mom.”

Peter was lying on the couch, scratching Cicero, who was making a rare appearance.  Earlier in the day he would have been in no mood for this kind of banter, but dinner had refreshed him.  “What do you think I lied about?”

“Any number of things.”  Dizzy was leaning on the back of the couch; her preposterous amount of hair was draped down onto it.  A casual flick of her head would easily have sent Cicero scampering back to the safety of the basement.  It might even have knocked Peter clean off the couch.  “Your saying that you were late to dinner because you were stuck at work didn’t have a lot of verisimilitude.  But I’m talking specifically about why you borrowed her flute.”

The flute had not been a subject of major inquiry at the dinner table.  Mom had started off by telling him that he looked like he wasn’t eating or sleeping enough (and, on this particular occasion, she was quite right).  Then she had demanded—politely, of course—an explanation for his lateness.  Much later on, and quite casually, she had inquired regarding the whereabouts of her flute.  Equally casually, Peter had responded that he felt the sudden urge to try playing again, and that he was considering taking lessons, and that he had borrowed the flute to practice a little, so as not to completely embarrass himself in front of a new teacher.

“Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with lying to your parents,” continued Inspector Dizzy.  “I certainly do it all the time.  It’s how the system works.  But I don’t think it’s fair to let you go around thinking that you’re actually getting away with it.”

“Mom seemed to take me at my word.”

“She’s your mother.  It’s her job.  She’s been pretending to take you seriously since before you knew how to talk.  I don’t think she believed you any more than I did.  She just was too polite to say anything about it.”

“Whereas you, clearly, are not.”

“No such thing as politeness between siblings.”

“Nor honor among thieves.”  The average person, when caught in a lie, thinks he has two options: cover it up with another lie, or give up and tell the truth.  A cleverer person knows about option three: cover up the lie with truth.  “I needed the flute to help a friend.”  Okay, so the “friend” part may have been a bit of a stretch, but the rest was true.

The mountain of hair shifted.  Cicero skedaddled.  “What kind of friend could you help by playing the flute for him?”

Peter decided not to comment on the “him.”  “So I’m really that awful, huh?”

“I never said that.”

This was true.  In all their years of good-natured (well, largely good-natured) sibling rivalry, Dizzy had never once insulted his musical talent.  Peter’s decision to give up on the flute was more about what people didn’t say than what they did.

Rather than thank his sister for her years of silent support—or at least, years of not actively trying to sabotage his confidence—he decided to go with another obscuring truth: “Did I say anything about playing it?”

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