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Monday, November 30, 2009

Mad Men meets Bewitched

The "tying up loose ends" column genre is by definition hit-and-miss, but I laughed at these two Mad Men queries from Stuart Elliot's advertising column in the NY Times today:
¶With the third season of “Mad Men” concluding as the characters advanced to December 1963, how long will it be before they meet other familiar Madison Avenue figures of the period like Darrin Stephens and Larry Tate of the McMann & Tate agency on “Bewitched”?

And if the fourth season of “Mad Men” proceeds as far as the New York City blackout of 1965, will Robert Morse, who plays the executive Bertram Cooper, run into the younger version of himself filming the movie “Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?” about the blackout?

(This reminds me of my favorite episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, when it's revealed that Indy's high school girlfriend is none other than Nancy Drew. Sort of--the redhead is Nancy Stratemeyer, daughter of Edward of Stratemeyer Syndicate fame. At the beginning of the episode, Indy helps Edward with a plot twist for the latest Tom Swift novel and then he and Nancy use their knowledge of how plot twists and character deceptions work in those books to solve a mystery that's generically very similar to a Syndicate story!)

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Blogger Katy on Tue Dec 01, 10:53:00 AM:
Quantum Leap!
Anonymous Steph Mineart on Sun Dec 20, 10:17:00 AM:
And while Edward Stratemeyer rightfully gets credit for the ghost written/serial novel factory style of publishing, it was actually Nancy Stratemeyer who took over when he died and did the lion's work of bringing their flagship product, the Nancy Drew series, to it's powerhouse fruition. Nancy Stratemeyer was largely responsible for the girl genius that was Nancy Drew.
Anonymous Steph Mineart on Sun Dec 20, 10:37:00 AM:
Actually, I've got that a bit wrong - Edward's daughter wasn't named Nancy, she was Harriet, and became Harriet Adams when she got married. But she was the driving force behind Nancy Drew.

Friday, November 27, 2009

When does a raven appear at two writing desks?

Great column from Matt Gaffney on Slate about eerily similar crossword theme answers. Gaffney's style is so engaging that I'm sure even non-cruciverbalists will enjoy it. Both the author and Mike Shenk made an Edgar Allan Poe-themed crossword with RAVEN embedded in the theme answers:
Why did Shenk and I both place CONTRAVENE on top and COBRA VENOM on the bottom? Imagine a cheese tasting, in which you start off with the mildest cheese and build your way up to the show-stopping sharpest. The principle is the same here: People tend to solve crosswords from the top to the bottom, so we both chose to lead off with the dullish CONTRAVENE (a semi-boring word that semi-boringly embeds the keyword completely inside) and finish with the awesome COBRA VENOM (snakes are very cool creatures, plus the keyword is divided in an unexpected way).

He asks Merl Reagle to make a crossword with the same theme, to see if the theme answers and the grid could look different. Reagle's extra theme answers are very funny.

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Georgian cabdriver

Ben and I were in a cab on Saturday night and he noticed that the driver's name on his placard was Georgian. He mustered up some Georgian and asked the driver where he was from (Tbilisi), and then they switched to English to talk about the country, where to get good Georgian food in New York, and so on. The cabdriver told us that his father was one of the most famous artists in Georgia...

...and as the ride came to end, he told us, "you can learn about him on my blog!"

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The Broken Teaglass

I read the most wonderful book this weekend: The Broken Teaglass, by Emily Arsenault. It seemed like it was written just for me: a mystery about two bored employees at a dictionary publisher who discover a trove of mysterious citation slips which don't seem to relate to the word they're supposed to be defining and perhaps point toward a decades-old murder. That is, they wonder if the citation slips were written just for them--or for some other lexicographer who may be wrapped up in the murder.

The mystery starts when there's a dispute about the correct plural form of editrix: is it editrixes or editrices? As lexicographers interested in variant spellings, they go to check the citation files of all uses tracked by the dictionary over the years. Editrixes and editrices both have citations, but the one for editrices doesn't seem to actually illustrate the word itself:

She warmed that water with her hatred. She sighed plaugues into that water. I didn't care. In this chill and inhuman place I was obedient and invisible to everything. I needed that tea to remember I was alive, warm-blooded. I always carried the tea slowly up the stairs and to my desk. I drank it with careful relish. No spilling on the citations. No slurping, no satisfied Aaaah! Such noises would echo through the cubicles and start an uncomfortable collective shifting of the editors and editrices in their seats. So I always sipped quietly.

Editrices is present in the citation, of course, but there's too much and not enough context in the file. It's more about tea and workplace boredom than editing. Then they keep finding more odd citations, marked each time as being from a book called The Broken Teaglass. But no such book seems to exist. When they find maven and it seems to refer to their own place of employment, the detectives start combing through the citations to find more citations to see how the mystery works:

When the papers went crazy, I knew everything might very well explode. Still, I resigned myself to the stern presence of my fellow word mavens. There was at least an odd comfort in submitting to the long silence of the day. Reliable and insistent, it served as a kind of protector. I was reading a book about drug slang, underlining the word 'stash,' and you came into my desk. When you saw what I was reading, you said, Now you're talking. You said that junk slang was your favorite, and wanted to know if there was a chapter on junk. Then you asked if I'd finished that other book yet. No, I whispered, I was unraveling fast. Was it a trick question? What exactly had been in that article that I hadn't had time to read? Was there somtheing suspect near the corpse? Were you smiiling, Red, because of something you knew?

It's a delightful book, like Samuel Johnson and Jim Thompson joining The Westing Game.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paul Krugman's thoughts on Brangelina, Bono's on the Berlin Wall

The other day at lunch, my friend made me guess which New York Times columnist was quoted in Us Weekly on the state of Brangelina.

"Dowd would be too easy," I mused. "Frank Rich!"

Unable to name the obvious, correct one, I ran down the roster of columnists, pausing to guess what each one would have to say about the superstar marriage. I think it's completely within the realm of possibility for Gail Collins to have said something glib and offhand; my love for Paul Krugman extends to a delusional state, wherein he would be like me and devote a few minutes every week to "the tabs," as I like to call them and imagine he does, too.

I even named Bono, whom my friend refused to believe had a semi-regular spot. But there he is today, with a weird but not unenjoyable set of scenes tracing the history of "One" alongside the reunification of Germany. Yes, it's too much, too self-consciously cute in most places, but it's a great idea to trace how the song has been appropriated in ways that would have surprised THE SINGER 20 years ago:
An Irish band plays its song “One” in the city where it was written nearly 20 years earlier. The band is here for an MTV broadcast celebrating the anniversary of the wall’s falling. A helicopter shot glides like a ghost through the architecture of this most modern of cities: the avant-garde Chancellery, the glass dome at the top of the Reichstag, the refurbished Brandenburg Gate. Images of East and West Berlin dancing to the music are projected on the gate, turning this monument to peace into a graffiti wall of the same....

We close in on the band. We can feel its sense of occasion. This is nothing new. One suspects THE SINGER approaches a trip to the bathroom with the same degree of vainglory. (To wit, is he not writing about himself now in the third person? He is.) On stage, he is emotional in the way we’ve come to expect. In this case it’s because a song written to help stop his band from falling apart has somehow become an unsentimental ode to unity — in this instance a bittersweet song for a bittersweet history.

I love the idea of tracing how the song has transcended its initial context to mean something to everybody, largely by insisting on its transcendentality (not a word) in the first place. But key question: is it unsentimental, or is its extreme sentimentality the reason that it's been appropriated for use for multiple political and social contexts? Or, more to the point, what do you get by claiming it's unsentimental when every other generic feature of it (lyrics, Edge's guitar, multiple music videos for different causes) points the other direction?

I also deeply wanted Werner Herzog to show up in the scenes.

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Local commercials: the genre perfected

The guys at are creative geniuses. As a promotion for a company that helps small businesses, they travel the country filming commercials for local stores and such. It's hard to pick just one of their commercials, so here's the first one I saw:

These guys love them some local commercials... they even have a section on the site featuring commercials that inspired them, like the infamous ad for the Montgomery Flea Market:

The blend of enthusiasm and irony is awkward at times, but the commercials are suffused with love for the craft and for the entrepreneurial spirit. And they truly capture the character of the business owners and workers.

The approach the commercials take owes something to Dudley Moore's movie Crazy People, in which Moore cracks up and starts submitting ad copy like "Buy Volvos. They're boxy but they're good." (My favorite is "Jaguar. For men who'd like handjobs from beautiful women they hardly know.")

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Blogger MVB on Tue Nov 10, 10:39:00 PM:
I suppose I should be proud to see that both the inspiration and the new epic commercial are from my dear home state of Alabama. Now we can add another great resource to our list of exports!

And thanks for getting the flea market song back in my head. It should get an award for its incomparable ability to take over your brain. If only I had his dance skills and enthusiasm for used furniture!