This Day in History Entry #173

May 30th, 2012 by Wordsman

First intended to new farmland gain
This new act brought us nothing but pain
Gave Republicans life
Cause of no end of strife
In the end, split the country in twain

Event: The Kansas-Nebraska Act is signed into law
Year: 1854
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #101

May 29th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 百人一首 B. 百科事典 C. 八百屋 D. 百花繚乱

E. 三百代言 F. 百姓読み G. 百尺竿頭 H. 百日咳

Alright, I suppose it’s time to get cracking on this again.

Theoman recognized a lot of kanji here.  But was it enough to help him out?  Let’s see.  He starts off strong, at least: A is the Hyakunin Isshu, the collection of “One Hundred People, One Poem (apiece),” believed to be put together by perhaps the greatest medieval authority on Japanese poetry some time in the 13th century.  And B is, well, sort of right.  It does represent the highest achievement . . . if you’re Denis Diderot, that is.  This “dictionary of a hundred subjects” is in fact an encyclopedia.  Unfortunately, the identification of C as “something with 800 pages” is clearly wrong, because, as everyone knows, when they were first making encyclopedias, there were no pages.  Pages had not been invented yet.  Books were written on scrolls.  Also, encyclopedias were very short, because there was nothing to put in them.  I mean, come on, they didn’t even have TV.  Also, there is the minor matter of the last character in C meaning “shop.”  This is the greengrocer, because there are precisely 800 kinds of fruits and vegetables.  Go ahead.  Count them.  And the second character in D is a flower, giving D the meaning “a hundred flowers twisted into chaos.”  Without further comment, we will note that this means a gathering of beautiful women and move on.

But Theoman wasn’t done with just the top row.  The final character in E is in fact a “word” (I should know, right?), and as we all know, words are the favorite tool of the unscrupulous lawyer.  They use three hundred of them, and then they throw in that third character, which has a lot of different possible interpretations and I’m not sure what it means here.  Again, clearly a lawyer’s work.  Theoman’s kanji knowledge betrayed him again in F, because that second character doesn’t really have much to do with women despite having that radical in there: this is a “family name,” one of the “hundred names,” which in Chinese is a way to refer to the peasants.  And, because what works for China works for Japan (and even when it doesn’t, they do it anyway), they borrowed it over.  F is a “peasant’s reading,” because, as we all know, peasants have strange ways of reading kanji (though not nearly as strange as those of KYPC participants).  I hope Theoman didn’t really think that G, the ultimate achievement, is being an unscrupulous lawyer.  No, the greatest achievement is “the top of a hundred-foot bamboo pole.”  Yes.  The pinnacle of civilization, that.  But seriously, the greatest achievement is bookending a list of KYPC items with correct answers, which is what Theoman did this week.  H, the “hundred days’ cough,” is whooping cough.  That’s an awful lot of whooping.

And then A Fan came in and threw everything into chaos.  First he tried to use a poetry collection as an encyclopedia; turns out, the true nature of pretty much everything in the world is either “melancholy” or “longing.”  Sometimes it’s both.  Then he went to the actual encyclopedia looking for beautiful women, which is . . . a non-traditional approach, I suppose.  Then he caught whooping cough at the greengrocer’s, tried to use a group of beautiful women as an encyclopedia, and asked an unscrupulous lawyer to give him a reading on something.  Quite the remarkable day, all in all.

But it’s time for new challenges.  Remember that poetry collection?  Well, there’s a popular game in Japan where one person reads the first half of one of the poems from it, and then people try to grab a card that has the second half written on it (all one hundred cards are scattered on a table or on the floor).  I thought we could take a stab at it.  First I’ll list the first halves of the first five poems from the collection, and then their ends.  You just have to match them.  Also, you have to tell me what the poem is about.  Remember, there is no wrong way to interpret a poem, so be creative!

A. 秋の田の 仮庵の庵の 苫をあらみ

B. あしびきの 山鳥の尾の しだり尾の

C. 奥山に 紅葉踏みわけ 鳴く鹿の

D. 田子の浦に うち出でてみれば 白妙の

E. 春すぎて 夏来にけらし 白妙の

1. 声きく時ぞ 秋は悲しき

2. 富士の高嶺に 雪は降りつつ

3. ながながし夜を ひとりかも寝む

4. 衣ほすてふ 天の香具山

5. わが衣手は 露にぬれつつ

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The Next Day Part 11

May 25th, 2012 by Wordsman

Escobar didn’t know what a jib was, but he liked the cut of Peter Hamlin’s.  He approved of the move of bringing the old woman a muffin, which he immediately recognized by sight and by smell as a Gingerberry Jazz (since the previous fall he had expanded his dining options at the Dough-Re-Mi.  He had even eaten a scone once or twice.)  He thought that the kid’s handling of her was firm but fair; like a champion jockey, he seemed to know when to push and when to pull back.  Most of all, though, he appreciated the fact that Peter’s presence was getting the woman to reveal the mystery of who she was and what she was doing there.

Escobar wasn’t really supposed to be there.  Mrs. Escobar was under the impression that he was out grocery shopping.  Plus, if he were to be recognized by either the woman or the kid, it could lead to a lot of awkward questions.  Fortunately, he had the perfect disguise: a police uniform.  Or rather, the lack of a police uniform.  In Escobar’s experience, when he was in plainclothes he could walk straight up to someone he saw every day while on duty, say “Hello,” and still not be recognized.  It was better than Clark Kent’s glasses.

But even if he had been in uniform, even if he had been on duty, even if his radio was telling him to get to the other side of town on the double or risk losing his badge, he still would have been down there.  Although he had given up on ever finding out the woman’s secret, he had never truly forgotten about her.  He had to know.  And now that he knew, he had to help.

After listening to their conversation, Escobar had an idea.  It was a wild, foolish idea.  It would never work in a thousand years.  It would irritate his wife, possibly cost him his job, and in all likelihood accomplish nothing.  But he was going to try it anyway.

Despite this mad plan, Escobar might have been comforted to learn that he was at worst the second-craziest person in Simon Park Station that morning.

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This Day in History Entry #172

May 23rd, 2012 by Wordsman

England, Sweden, and Spain–that’s not all
Protestants with the Catholics did brawl
Thirty years, terror reigned
Th’HRE’s power waned
‘Cause three dudes from a window did fall

Event: The Second Defenestration of Prague, one of the events that led to the Thirty Years’ War
Year: 1618
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May 21st, 2012 by Wordsman

Yes, I’m actually apologizing for lateness in advance this time.  The Wordsman will be occupied with a Master’s Examination for roughly the next 24 hours and will be unable to work on the site.  KYPC will appear on Wednesday at the earliest.

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The Next Day Part 10

May 18th, 2012 by Wordsman

The image of the loyal pupil forced the woman to back off a little from her cantankerousness.  “I mean, it might not be totally pointless.  It’s something that just came to me a few months back.  But I can’t ever figure out if it does anything, because every time I try to sing it, a train pulls up and interrupts me.”

He glanced over at the empty platform.  “Haven’t you ever thought that maybe the song is what’s making the trains arrive?”

Something about being down here all the time must be making me stupider, she thought.  Maybe it’s the bad air. “Oh.  Hey.  I bet you’re right.  Well, sounds pretty useless to me, but since you’re so eager to learn, here goes.”

The shapeless pile of rags that was the woman’s body expanded slightly, her cracked lips parted, and then a sound that made those images seem even uglier in comparison emerged.  It was a gentle, faintly mournful tune that in no way called the image of a speeding subway train to mind.  It was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard.  Peter tried to tell himself that he hadn’t put up the fuss about wanting to learn simply to hear her sing again.  He was not entirely convinced.

And, right on cue, in the middle of a phrase, a train pulled into the station.

“There you go,” the woman said, after the mechanical shrieking had cut out.  “Practice that.  Just don’t do it while you’re standing on any train tracks, I guess.”

Peter nodded.  Years of having to memorize songs for band had given him an excellent memory for tunes, and this one wasn’t especially complicated, so he didn’t need her to go through it more than once.  He closed his eyes and ran his fingers along the flute once without blowing.  “Thanks,” he said, lowering the instrument.  “Now then, I suppose I’d better let you get back to . . . whatever it is you do here.”

The woman laughed unpleasantly.  Peter started to walk away, but then he paused and turned back.  Oh great.  What now? “One last thing.  I realized that I went through all of yesterday without ever introducing myself.  I’m Peter Hamlin.”  He extended a hand.

She took it.  Her hand was not as unpleasant as he had expected.  Then again, his only previous contact with her hands had been when they were either twisting his arm or striking his cheek.  “Nice to meet you,” she said.  I hope, she added silently.

Peter stopped shaking and frowned.  “Um, this is the part where you introduce yourself.”

She smiled.  It was an extremely fragile smile, like a suspension bridge made out of toothpicks, or a skyscraper made of playing cards, or anything else that could collapse from a slight change in the wind.  “People call me the Old Woman of Simon Park Station.”

“And what do you call yourself?”

“I call myself ‘me.’  Or sometimes ‘I.’”

“You know what I mean.”

The Old Woman of Simon Park Station sighed and looked down at her lap.  “I really don’t.”  Her possible train-summoning song had been slow and sad, but her tone of speech now made it seem like a five-year-old’s birthday party in comparison.  “I don’t remember my name.  I don’t know who I am, or where I came from.  I don’t remember anything before I showed up here.”

She expected another barrage of questions from her interrogator, questions she had pointlessly asked herself time and time again.  But instead she just heard him say, “Okay.”  She looked up to see him headed back toward the exit, but he stopped one last time.  “If you don’t remember where you came from,” he said gently, “how do you know it wasn’t worse than here?”

“Worse than here?”  She looked around at the noisy children, the bedraggled parents, the humorless faces of people who had to go into work on a Saturday.  She heard the subway doors bump roughly shut and the train pull out of the station for the twentieth time that morning.  She smelled bad coffee and oil and a number of things even grosser than that.  Simon Park Station was a world without sunlight, a world without music, a world without hope.

“That’s not possible.”

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This Day in History Entry #171

May 16th, 2012 by Wordsman

‘Twas not on radio or TV
But I doubt there was that much to see
Fifteen minutes it ran
(Well before there was Cannes)
Technical awards: 1 Writing: 3

Event: The First Academy Awards Ceremony is held
Year: 1929
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #100

May 12th, 2012 by Wordsman

A. 子 B. 王 C. 刀 D. 水

E. 山 F. 口 G. 人 H. 女

Clearly all that stuff about being busy was just to throw you guys off.  Obviously the real reason KYPC was slow in appearing this week was because we were busy preparing for the 100th Installment! That’s right, KYPC is only the second feature on this site to survive to the extent of 100 entries.  And, of course, you know, we had to wait for an appropriately auspicious day, so that’s why it did not appear at the expected time (if there even is such a thing for this feature anymore).  Yes, that makes sense.  Lateness blame successfully avoided!

Theoman kicked things off well, not by getting a right answer, but by creating an answer that is in fact better than the so-called “correct” one.  For what could be a more appropriate representation of “responsibility” than the eternal image of the Sword of Damocles, the knife hanging over the head of the king?  Sadly, the only “real” kanji that makes use of this particular combination–plus a couple other parts thrown in for good measure–is one meaning “lapis lazuli.”  We also must give him credit for his correct answer, snapping up H, the woman, and A, her child, and putting them together where they belong; everyone likes that, right?  (Lovely Assistant’s Note: In Chinese, this character simply means “good,” and the parts originally depicted a son and a daughter, because that’s the best combination to have.)  Finally, while putting together D and E doesn’t give you a swamp, it does give you a character meaning “fishing with a net,” and well, some people would probably say that’s better than a swamp.  Some people probably like to fish with a net in a swamp.  It takes all kinds.

Shirley picked up two and a half correct answers (we’re assuming she meant to identify F as the mouth, and the half point is for calling H, the woman, a girl child).  B, unfortunately, isn’t a mountain “because it’s there,” but then again I’m sure there are some people who feel the same way about kings, which is what B is.  As a matter of fact, she reversed B and E, presumably because she’s been listening to too much Grieg.  So those aren’t bad, but on the other hand, she seems to be frightened of children (A) . . . or at least male children.  I wonder why that could be . . .

A Fan, as usual, brings us to the silver screen, but this time rather than simply reminding us about movies, he’s helping us to reimagine them.  Like the classic scene in which Dundee shows us how cool he is by saying, “That’s not a child.  This is a child.”  Or the new, horror-movie version of The King and I, in which Yul Brynner’s head is nothing but a mouth.  Or the alternate version of The Lord of the Rings in which Mount Doom is actually a person, which makes it significantly harder to throw rings into it.  On the other hand, some of his reinventions weren’t that far off the mark.  At D we see poor Randy, unable to move, lying in water (hey, snow is just frozen water).  At E we have half of the iceberg (“ice mountain” in kanji) that was struck by that boat in the famous movie, A Night to Remember.  Also, I am legally obligated to point out that his identification of H as “woman” is 100% correct, and that I can even kind of see the witch riding the broomstick in it now.

Okay, time for the educational part.  A=Child, B= King, C=Knife, D=Water, E=Mountain, F=Mouth, G=Person, H=Woman.  Woman+Child=Like, Person+King=Responsibility, Water+Knife+Mouth=Swamp (don’t ask), Person+Mountain=Wizard (you ever heard of a wizard who lived someplace normal?)

But now the main event.  For this challenge, we’re going to look at things that all contain the character that means 100.  You remember what it looks like, right?  Of course you do.  It looks like this:

But that’s just when it’s by itself.  When you give it a few friends, it can get up to all kinds of mischief.  What kinds, you ask?  Well, let’s see.  We’ve got an unscrupulous lawyer, a greengrocer, an encyclopedia, a gathering of beautiful women, the highest possible level of achievement, a famous poetry collection featuring one poem each from 100 famous poets, a nonstandard way of reading a kanji, and whooping cough.  Sounds like a good start to a movie to me (though even if it didn’t, we know A Fan would still turn it into one).

A. 百人一首 B. 百科事典 C. 八百屋 D. 百花繚乱

E. 三百代言 F. 百姓読み G. 百尺竿頭 H. 百日咳

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Coming Soon!

May 11th, 2012 by Wordsman

The next KYPC update will hopefully be arriving in the near future, ideally some time this weekend.  The Wordsman has found himself a little busier than he expected to be this past week.

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The Next Day Part 9

May 11th, 2012 by Wordsman

She scowled.  “Look, I don’t think I should be teaching you anything right now.  Your job is to go find musicians.  Surely you don’t need a magical song to do that.  Besides, you’re not ready.  You think this is something you can just leap into headfirst?  It could be dangerous.”

“Says the woman who threw me into the deep end yesterday by all but forcing me to learn a song that can control people’s minds.”

“That was . . . come on, that was different!  I was desperate!”

“Aren’t you still?”  Peter stood up and looked down on her.  It was a very basic trick, but a good lawyer will use any advantage, including height, to get the upper hand on a witness.  “According to your plan, I—along with some group of mystery people to be named later—am going to have to perform one of these songs.  I think I proved yesterday that I’m not very good right now.  I need the practice.  And unless you want me going around working on the Beherrschunglied, which sounds pretty dangerous to me, you’re going to teach me something else.”

“I don’t feel like it,” she said, groaning.  “Come back tomorrow.”

He crossed his arms.  “I can wait just as long as you can.”

It was an absurd statement.  The old woman had literally waited more than seven months just to meet someone.  This was longer than Peter Hamlin had waited for anything in his entire life.  And yet . . .

“You’re not going anywhere, are you?”

“You can add ‘persistence’ to that list of traits I may or may not possess.”

“Fine.”  She scowled again as she tried to think of the most meaningless thing she could teach him.  “Here, learn this; it’s absolutely pointless.”

“I’m so glad you decided to be so helpful.”  But he knew when to compromise.  Peter raised his flute to his lips and waited.

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