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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mad Men myself

From the Mad Men Yourself feature to get ready for the new season:

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Blogger Meg on Tue Jul 28, 02:41:00 PM:
We just finished watching season 2 on DVD. Oh man. I love mad men so much. We're going to try to watch it in real time this season. There was a scene when Peggy was reminding me of you. I think it was when the priest was in her office talking to her.
Anonymous Anonymous on Wed Jul 29, 12:20:00 PM:
Because I am a loser, I am only now getting ready to receive the fourth, fifth, and sixth episodes of the first season. But I will catch up! I madmenned myself on my blog as well. Swell tip!

Only thing is, Alice, you do look like that! You travel in time, you vintage, you! Mine is more like wishful-thinking me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Will Shortz is answering questions at the NYT website this week. I love the answer about his coursework in enigmatology:
For my major in enigmatology at Indiana University, I took courses on "Word Puzzles of the 20th Century," "Construction of Crossword Puzzles," "Popular Mathematical Puzzles," "Logic Puzzles," "The Psychology of Puzzles," "Crossword Magazines," and related subjects. Not surprisingly Indiana had no existing courses on puzzles, so I made them all up myself. In each case I'd find a professor willing to work with me one on one on the topic I proposed. For my course on crossword construction, for example, every two or three weeks I'd take a new puzzle I'd created to my professor's office and sit at his side while he solved and critiqued it. This was my first experience creating professional quality crosswords. For my course on the psychology of puzzles, I studied how the brain works as well as why people feel driven to solve puzzles. My thesis was on "The History of American Word Puzzles Before 1860," in which I traced original American puzzles back to 1647 — almost the beginning of printing history in the colonies.

Last month I found a whole set of crossword puzzles I made a few years ago with the intention of sending them to Will Shortz; strangely enough, I didn't write clues for all the answers of the completed puzzles, so the solving process is going to be difficult. I would also love to read this thesis.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Preserved bats

From Lorrie Moore's dead birds to dead bats...


Anonymous alice's mom on Thu Jul 16, 02:58:00 PM:
I checked the tags (bats, taxidermy, the natural history museum) and found to my surprise that this is the first entry for each, unless the tag id assignment or the software has malfunctioned.

Those in the know will remember that Alice received a stuffed bat from the museum store as one of her college graduation presents. Her brother picked it out for her, knowing her long-term interest in bats.

And in fact I sent her the reference to this bat posting, but since I am uncredited, I'll bet a lot of other people did too.

But I don't quite understand the bat fascination and would welcome your usual flight of fancy/cool detail/wordplay that explains the wonder and significance of bats, Alice.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Two turtledoves

Oh, Lorrie Moore, no one else can write a paragraph like this!
The cold came late that fall, and the songbirds were caught off guard. By the time the snow and wind began in earnest, too many had been suckered into staying, and instead of flying south, instead of already having flown south, they were huddled in people’s yards, their feathers puffed for some modicum of warmth. I was looking for a babysitting job. I was a student and needed money, so I would walk from interview to interview in these attractive but wintry neighborhoods, past the eerie multitudes of robins pecking at the frozen ground, dun gray and stricken—though what bird in the best of circumstances does not look a little stricken—until at last, late in my search, at the end of a week, startlingly, the birds had disappeared. I did not want to think about what had happened to them. Or, rather, that is an expression—of politeness, a false promise of delicacy—for in fact I wondered about them all the time: imagining them dead, in stunning heaps in some killing cornfield outside of town, or dropped from the sky in twos and threes for miles down along the Illinois state line.

Anagrams is one of my favorite books; "Four Calling Birds, Three French Hens" is my favorite story from Birds of America.

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Blogger Mike on Sun Jul 12, 08:11:00 AM:
Lorrie has some other doozies in there. "...a short paper nerve baked in an ear," was one of my favorites.
Anonymous Sophia on Mon Jul 13, 02:54:00 PM:
This reminds me of the Sopranos.
Blogger Unknown on Tue Jul 14, 01:19:00 PM:
Except I wish she hadn't used "modicum..."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Color-coded Boggle

After x number of Boggle rounds involving a gleeful/rueful notation of and then an inevitable duplication of the word "eons" (or something like it), I get a little restless. In college, we started playing Themed Boggle: each player picked a theme and tried to find words related to that theme, and those not duplicated got an extra point. Heather chose religious words, Priscilla took women's health, Paige did legal terms, and so on. I always insisted on doing birds and fish, thinking that terns, ernes, tetras, tuna, neons, wrens, and scores of other animals would un-grid themselves before my eyes. Inevitably, they'd camouflage themselves at the turn of the minute-glass.

My friend Brette and I have innovated a new variation, Color Boggle, in which we looked for words related to our chosen colors (red for her, green for me). In the development stages of the game, we were perhaps too eager to make the case for the other's words: "The SOLE of a Christian Louboutin shoe is red!" I recommended. "It's known for being red, so I think that counts."

"To REUSE is to go green," she said. "So is to use LESS."


Anonymous Tove Hermanson on Sun Aug 02, 05:21:00 PM:
I love the color Boggle idea!! Go to at for some new ideas that are maybe not such as stretch as "sole." Though I like the creativity.


Thomas Jefferson is vying with Benjamin Franklin for my crush of the eighteenth century. But if we're taking National Treasure as a good starting point for historical research, which of course we should do because it is so awesome, BF probably devised perfect cryptograms all the time. (Actually, I've read a great non-Nicolas Cage book about Thomas Jefferson's and Erasmus Darwin's copying machines.) From the Wall Street Journal (thanks to Jaime for the link):
The key to the code consisted of a series of two-digit pairs. The first digit indicated the line number within a section, while the second was the number of letters added to the beginning of that row. For instance, if the key was 58, 71, 33, that meant that Mr. Patterson moved row five to the first line of a section and added eight random letters; then moved row seven to the second line and added one letter, and then moved row three to the third line and added three random letters. Mr. Patterson estimated that the potential combinations to solve the puzzle was "upwards of ninety millions of millions."

After explaining this in his letter, Mr. Patterson wrote, "I presume the utter impossibility of decyphering will be readily acknowledged."

Undaunted, Dr. Smithline decided to tackle the cipher by analyzing the probability of digraphs, or pairs of letters. Certain pairs of letters, such as "dx," don't exist in English, while some letters almost always appear next to a certain other letter, such as "u" after "q".

To get a sense of language patterns of the era, Dr. Smithline studied the 80,000 letter-characters contained in Jefferson's State of the Union addresses, and counted the frequency of occurrences of "aa," "ab," "ac," through "zz."

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