I was reading Eric Jager’s Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection In Medieval Paris, about the murder in 1407 of Louis of Orleans and the criminal investigation headed by Guillaume de Tignonville, provost of Paris. It’s one of the earliest criminal inquiries for which we have really good documentation, like, depositions and all that. We can follow Guillaume de Tignonville’s careful investigation all the way through to when John, Duke of Burgundy, called the other dukes over to say he did it and then fled Paris. At that point the investigation was considerably simplified apart from John getting away with it. Anyway, in part of the backstory to the murder comes this event from January 1393:
… One of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting was to be married, and, to everyone’s delight, the king offered to host the wedding feast and the dancing to follow at the royal palace. A young nobleman, a friend of the king’s, proposed privately to Charles [VI] an entertainment to add excitement and pleasure to the ball: He and the king, and a few friends, would beforehand and in great secrecy put on linen costumes covered with pitch and stuck full of fine yellow flax that looked like the hair of beasts. Sewn into these close-fitting garments and completely disguised from head to foot as wild men or savages, the king and his friends would burst into the ballroom during the dancing to surprise and amuse the guests. The king thought it a splendid idea, and they set the plan in motion, telling only a few servants whose help they needed.
It all ended in tragedy, because everything in that era ended in tragedy, including for the person who thought to warn folks not to let the torches get too near the people dressed in linen with straw pasted all over them by oil and tied together by ropes. But what’s got me is that the King of France thought this sounded like great entertainment. And apparently the guests did too, just thrilled by how much fun it all was, at least until the tragedy started and spread out to help the nation plunge into civil war because everything in that era eventually plunged the nation into civil war.
So this was grand entertainment. Everybody thought a couple people dressed in linen and flax and tied together and running around was just the best idea. These people were starved for entertainment. One good parlor game could have changed the whole course of what tragedies plunged the nation into civil war.
There’s a longstanding tradition in science fiction stories where someone from the present falls into history and makes his fortune “inventing” new technologies. OK, I think there’s like four of them, one of which I refuse to read. And another of which debunks the whole story idea. Anyway, I realize now this inventing-future-technology stuff is useless. Even if I could figure out how to make a transistor there’s no market for it in 14th-century France. Plus the era was centuries away from even Alessandro Volta’s most basic prototype of the mini-USB plug that doesn’t fit any cord you, or anyone else, has ever had.
But the era still needed amusements. They had some, yes, but in impossibly primitive and needlessly complicated form. The chess board, for example, was three by forty squares wide, yet it held only five pieces, and four of them were bishops. And they weren’t allowed to move. All they could do is excommunicate the Patriarch of Constantinople. You could only take three turns per day, except days that allowed five turns, and none at all on Feast Days, except one after sunset. The game innovator who first introduced the “rook” was branded a madman and sentenced to live in Gascony. “That’s all right, I’m from Gascony,” he said (in Gascon French), so that at least had a less-tragic-than-usual ending, but still, it took his reputation decades to recover. They had backgammon boards, but hadn’t yet invented its rules. They just moved markers back and forth until they got bored, which is all I know about backgammon too. And the video games were none too good, what with the screens being embroidery taking upwards of sixty weeks to render a single frame.
So what I need to prepare for in case of being lost in the distant past is to be able to “invent” some games that don’t involve open flame. Even with my scattered brain I bet I could reconstruct a basic Yahtzee set or put together a minimally functional Connect 4. Paper football matches could change the whole course of how the nation plunges into civil war. And if I spent some time preparing? Think what society could do with eight centuries and the plans for Hungry Hungry Hippos. You may call this problem ridiculous, as long as I’m not in earshot, but I like to think I have this one solved, and that’s at least something going well right now.
My love discovered on Wikipedia the old English game of snap-dragon (“also known as snapdragon”), and it’s a bundle of wonderful things. The game, apparently, was one in which you poured brandy into a wide, shallow bowl, set it on fire, and then try to grab raisins out of the brandy. Only a cheater would fail to put raisins in. And yes, you might get burned, but that’s … I guess that’s the dragon part of things. It was popular from about the 16th through the 19th centuries, which reminds us that was also the height of competitive shin-kicking. Which is not even my joke but was part of the Cotswold Olimpick Games alongside beating each other with cudgels. Also competitive dancing while the opposite team throws a beer-soaked rag at you.
Anyway, there’s a lot that’s wonderful about the article so I recommend you read it yourself. If you can’t be bothered, fine, but do please enjoy this low-scale edit war playing out in tossing a heap of sentences onto each other and sprinkling  tags on the opponent’s pieces:
Nevertheless, children often burnt their little hands or mouths playing this game, which may have led to the practice mostly dying out in the early 20th century. In some families, this tradition continues to be practiced and enjoyed even into the 21st century.
With the upcoming Valentine’s Day it’s worth reviewing some proper romantic gestures. Before attempting a romantic gesture check with your physician and stretch all major muscle groups. Also have your otolith examined. While there are few ear bones whose health is really necessary for romantic gesturing how often have you ever called off work because of an otolith appointment? Exactly and now you’ll never be happy again until you have. I’m sorry. Check on some minor muscle groups if that helps you feel better.
And to preface the rest of this: don’t listen to me for romantic gesture advice. I’m the sort of person who checks book stores to see if they have a new history of the containerized cargo industry because then I might own three books about it. I once gave my love a video game file for a present. In my defense, it was for Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, a game my love describes as “as good as we can hope for since they never ported Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 to the Mac”. It was a pretty good roller coaster too.
Romantic gestures are fundamentally simple. Think of the person you want to gesture at. Don’t wave! You haven’t checked that they’re not in a spot where you might hit them in the face by accident. There’s not a good time to hit a romantic partner in the face, but the immediate run-up to Valentine’s Day is a bad one. It sends the mixed messages of “I like how your body feels and wish to feel it more often and, indeed, right now” with “swiftly, and without your even suspecting my intentions”. Why so swift? “Because I have to get back to reading this thing on the Internet”? Your partner knows better. The Internet is the place we spend all our time and attention reading things, none of which is important.
Anyway, think of your partner. Now think of a thing your partner enjoys. Now think of a way to do a lot of that thing. Not too much! Having some restraint is important, especially if you’re, like me, a guy. The normal failure mode for guy thinking is to take something pleasant and then do so much of it that somebody weeps. That’s fine if we’re talking about contests where you drink mustard until someone’s tongue shrivels up and falls off. It’s not all right if we’re talking about giving your partner so many roses that it explodes, scattering the faint scent of good wishes over the entire Eastside. This will leave the roads all slick and make the evening commute an impossible mess. So if you do want to go ahead and destroy a loved one’s house with excessively many roses do it when Valentine’s Day in on a weekend so the evening rush doesn’t take the brunt of the chaos.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, think of a movie you and your loved one have seen together. Then get that on some shiny disc. This lets you remember how you enjoyed being together watching a movie like this. And since you’ve already seen the movie you aren’t going to have to make the time to watch the shiny disc. Which is good since nobody’s had the time to watch a movie since 2009. The bookshelves are starting to groan under the weight of still-wrapped copies of The Tale of Desperaux and whatever else you have fond unchecked memories of. The point when they collapse will be excessive and someone may weep, so I guess that satisfies the need to do something guy-ish with the holiday after all.
Warning! One time I tried this, picking a bunch of used DVDs for movies we’d seen. My concept was that since these were experiences my love and I had already had it was only fitting that they be used discs. Do you get it? I had to explain this in a two-hour presentation using charts and a guest speaker and it got from my love the romantic statement that my argument that this was a romantic gesture was logically valid without making any statement about whether it was sound. It would’ve had greater impact if I had made pretend roller coasters out of them.
I’m sure the time spent arguing about the USS Carolina will be the most productive part of my December.
So it was in the news lately that they’ve made a computer that can beat people while playing Go. Not just anyone, I mean. Any computer can beat me playing Go, because I’m just not very good at it. My best Go move is to claim that I’m someone else until the opposing player goes off looking for the “real” Joseph Nebus.
But now they’ve got it so the computer can play Go better than even professional Go players can. That’s taken a while to get here. I remember when we finally got computers that could play chess better than any humans. I guess there must’ve been a time computers were no good at checkers or backgammon or whatever, but you never hear about that. I know I go out of my way to avoid hearing about backgammon.
I’m glad we’re getting computers that can play games, though. I’ve got some video games I’ve never been able to make sense of. I’m thinking here of Supreme Ruler: Cold War, which is this incredibly complicated and detailed grand strategy game where you can play any country in the world from 1949. There’s no useful manual, and the wiki describing how to play it is about four pages, all referring to broken-link images. It’s barely possible to work out what you can do with the game. I’ll be glad to turn it over to a computer and not have to slog through trying to make it do anything on purpose anymore.
Obviously we’re nowhere near the time when computers can play all our games for us. But at least now we don’t have to play Go anymore. Dad, I’m sorry for all the Go players I’ve sent in your direction over the years. Apparently it won’t happen again, though.
Any Actual Crossword Puzzle
Every In-Class Activity Crossword Puzzle
I want to talk a little about playing pinball lately, and I know not everybody is even aware you can play pinball lately, what with it not being 1978 anymore, so let me bring folks up to speed. In the old days pinball machines were relatively sedate affairs: the backglass and playfield art would be a picture of, oh, whatever, wizards in space, or boaters being tormented by Neptune, or the background characters of Mary Worth singing. On the table there’d be a bunch of bumpers, which are the mushroom-shaped things you’d think would be called kickers that kick the ball around; and a pair of kickers, which are the triangular things above the flippers that you’d think would be called bumpers; and the flippers, which are just flippers; and a bunch of drop targets, which are the things you aim the ball at and that fall down when you hit them. And the rule set was pretty straightforward: the targets would be themed to either sets of playing cards or else pool balls, and you would try to knock them all down, and if you managed that, they popped back up and you try to knock them down again.
Then someone went and invented computers, and put them in pinball machines, and they also added ramps just too late for the people who made the Evel Kneivel pinball machine, and it all got complicated because the rules could change, giving you, like, eight seconds to shoot the world’s steepest, most inaccessible ramp ever, in exchange for 2.25 billion points. With scores that enormous being thrown around, of course, they had to get corporate sponsorship for their themes and so wizards playing 9-ball in a baseball park wouldn’t cut it anymore. These days a pinball machine is themed to a popular movie/TV show franchise, a comic book superhero, or a band, which is why pinball magnate Gary Stern has been polishing his Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park reboot script for years.
I should say that while pinball scores got kind of out of control back there in the 90s there’ve been efforts to rein them back in, so that a normal good score is only like tens of millions anymore. Some machines have been pretty serious about reducing the score, though: the current world record for The Wizard of Oz pinball is 4, although a guy playing in the Kentucky state championships this year has a new strategy he hypothesizes will let him score 6 or, if the table is generous about giving extra balls, maybe even 7. He’s daft.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago, I had a really good game of The Walking Dead, a pinball machine of such fantastic complexity that nobody knows what all the rules are. The leading theory is that there’s actually just a seed program inside that develops new rules on the fly, so that every time someone works out “OK, if I shoot the ramp three times something good happens”, it’ll suddenly change to, say, “you have to shoot the ramp four times after hitting the Creepy Zombie in the middle twice and identify which presidents George Clinton was vice-president for and maybe slip an extra quarter in the coin slot if you know what’s good for you”. But that one time, good grief, but I was hitting everything and starting modes that nobody even knew existed. I put together a score that was about what I would expect if you added together all my Walking Dead games for an eight-month period and put it together into one game.
So. The next league night, when we play for actual competitive points, I knew I was going to flop badly and yes, it happened. On the table Tales of the Arabian Nights I put up a score of 289,180, and trust me, your pinball friends are torn between laughing and thinking with horror of what if it happened to them. Arabian Nights dates to when scores were just starting to get out of hand, so it could have a theme as uncommercial as legends that have enchanted people for centuries, but still. People who walk past it without stopping to play routinely score 600,000, and people who put coins into other machines at the pinball venue — including the change machine or the machine selling gumballs — will often get a million points from Arabian Nights.
I didn’t just flop; I flopped epochally, like if the “Agony of Defeat” guy didn’t just stumble, but also burst into flames and smashed into Evel Kneivel’s rocket-sled on its way to draining. I honestly feel accomplished, and all set for the state championships this weekend.
So if you’re like me you got around to thinking about rock-paper-scissors, because you saw somebody wearing a Big Bang Theory-inspired T-shirt reading rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock and were trying to remember how the rules to that went, only to remember that while you kind of respect The Big Bang Theory for getting its nerd jokes accurate you also feel a kind of vague dissatisfaction whenever the show comes on, or up, the kind that inspires you to take the broom out and start a sweeping project that might reach as many as four houses up the street before the energy burns out. I might be over-generalizing from my experience.
But what I was thinking particularly about it is there’s a robot out there that’s able to reliably win rock-paper-scissors contests. And I mean really, seriously win, beating even champion rock-paper-scissors players, the kind of people who insist they’re champion roshambo players because when they tell people they’re champion rock-paper-scissors players they get all kinds of snarky resistance. “Oh yeah,” they hear, “and I knew a guy in college who was one of the world’s top coin-flippers.” “Shut up,” they answer, and start to explain the details of human psychology and discerning choice patterns which lend themselves to long-term strategic insights, and the conversation soon passes the “nuh-uh” phase and turns into a brawl. By using a more obscure word everyone enjoys a more peaceful existence, as it’s easier to get along than admit you don’t know what someone is talking about, and when you think about it this explains about twenty-two percent of all human interactions.
The idea that a robot can now reliably beat humans at rock-paper-scissors suggests there’s been a real breakthrough in getting robots to fritter away time. Someday humans might be able to let robots do all manner of minor and marginally useful selection tasks, like one-potato-two or settling shotgun disputes ahead of a trip to PathMark, or maybe checking if PathMark is still a thing that exists and replacing it with, I don’t know, A & P if it doesn’t.
Then we might see robots finally come to their potential of saving us from the minor tasks that, if we really thought about them, we’d realize we don’t need to do. They might sneer for us at the satellite TV descriptions of shows on the channels we don’t watch, or maybe take over the whole of playing hopscotch. The savings in excessively minor time-consuming tasks would compare favorably to the time which would be saved if you never accidentally put your socks on inside-out ever again.
At least, that’s the promise you might think this all has if you don’t know how the rock-paper-scissors robot works. The reason it can beat anyone is it watches the human’s hand, and it can tell the difference between the first fractions of a second of throwing rock, or paper, or scissors, and then picks what it throws. In short, it succeeds by cheating. I’m not sure “cheating robot” is really that big a breakthrough in robot technology. The artificial intelligences behind Civilization games have been cheating for years because there’s no way the Aztecs build Michelangelo’s Cathedral right from under me, and the only thing you’d gain by putting a robot in to cheat at Civilization is you could punch it.
But that overlooks the interesting part, which is that a robot can now figure out in fractions of a second which of three ways you might extend fingers. Surely in time the computer will be able to figure out dozens, maybe hundreds of potential hand signs, each linked to some desirable behavior like “turn up the music” or “change the channel to something more sneer-worthy” or “order an appliance to send information over the Internet”, and they’ll be able to follow those directions before you even finish making the hand sign. By 2025 we could see the average home become a haven of quiet as everyone sits on top of their hands in the middle of an empty room, feeling too nervous to even twitch, because last time they sneezed and ineptly covered their mouth, then tried to shake it off, they ordered services from three online companies and sent a panic alert to the Coast Guard, and they don’t dare start that trouble again. Thus, as ever, does rock-paper-scissors bring life to a Ballardian nightmare. Can’t wait.
I wanted to point folks over to A Labor Of Like again, this time because after last week’s big humor piece about tea lights as a non-toy, they went and found the rules for a game of tea lights, so you can go and enjoy that.
That feels like a bit of a skimpy day of writing to me so I felt like I should offer something, like, words of general wisdom about how to make life better. Unfortunately all I’ve really got right now is that you’ll feel a little bit better if you replace the used coffee filter in the drip maker with a fresh one now rather than later. I can’t explain why, but going to make some coffee and finding that there’s already a fresh filter in there instead of moist, cold grounds feels pretty good, even if it means you just deal with the filter when there’s no coffee-related business going on. It’s not much, but it’s there for you to do what you like with. Probably get coffee set a tiny bit sooner.
Recently, in the blog Joseph Nebus’s Sense of Humor, the redoubtable (from the French redoubtable, “able to be doubted more than once”) Joseph Nebus expressed curiosity about how tea lights could be used as toys.
This concept got stuck in my head like an intellectual earworm (one of those songs you can’t get out of your head).
So I searched Far and Wide (Disclaimer: Mostly Wide. It takes too long to get to Far, especially with rush hour traffic.) until I found a battered, dusty copy of the game Tea Lights from back in the Good Old Days (later than “Yore”, but before “When I Was Your Age”). The instructions are reprinted below, with grateful acknowledgement to the game’s inventors, poet John Milton and Gen. Omar Bradley.
A Game for 2 to 4000 Players of All Ages (except 31-year olds)
- 4000 or more tea lights
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We got a bundle of those battery-operated LED tea lights, the kind that look like candles without those problems of open fire and wax and smoke and stuff. We were going to get just a couple, but we couldn’t find just a couple of battery-powered tea lights because the Meijer we were in is renovating so that nobody can find anything anymore. I walked along the aisles, sinking further into the helpless despair that comes from finding magazines on display next to men’s shirts or houseplants scrunched up a little too close to the mouthwash aisle. Maybe I was overreacting, but I sure felt at parts like I was going to have to survive by eating my own shoes and drinking rainwater out of a fountain drinks cup scavenged from the parking lot. Maybe I need to go to a different Meijer’s until the renovations are done.
It turns out over by the regular candles they had the imitation candles, which we probably should have guessed. I didn’t see them right away, so guessed maybe they’re in housewares, or maybe by the lamps, or maybe a little farther out, and I think I was going to give automobile parts a try on the grounds I had nothing to lose, when my love found them. And we kept finding packs of more tea lights in each bunch. Tea lights turn out to be very economical when you buy in quantities of over four thousand at a time, and we’re now very set, lighting-wise, for both our decorative and for our teeny tiny localized power failure needs.
They’re bilingual tea lights, so as to let us pretend they’re Sans Flamme brand lights, unless they actually are called that and the bilingual directions and warning label is a coincidence. Among the warnings, printed in English and in French, is: “This is not a toy”. The warning comes out a good deal more merry in French: “Cet article n’est pas un jouet”. This makes it sound like the thing battery tea lights aren’t is some kind of jest, or an obscure sport from the Old Country, or maybe one of those long early medieval poems about French kings killing Angevins. It depends what a “jouet” is. Between middle and high school I took four years of French classes. I’m helpless to do more than agree that household articles are owned by relatives.
But now the warning’s given me a challenge. Is there a way to use tea lights as a toy? The obvious way is to use them next time we play Monopoly, letting them take the place of traditional tokens like the thimble, the dog, the pawn that immigrated from the Sorry board before that was lost, and the tiny Rubik’s Cube earring that broke off its mount long ago but, hey, tiny Rubik’s Cube you can use as a Monopoly token. Tea lights would fit right in, because then when we got tired of the game we could turn them on and declare that the game was ended by arsonists.
Except! I can’t call a board game token a “toy” and neither can you. I may not have a perfect conceptual theory of what a toy is, but I’m fairly sure that if you imagine getting it for your eighth birthday, and realize your response would have been an age-weary groan, then it isn’t a toy. It’s some kind of socks or perhaps a decent set of trousers. And there’s no using tea lights for socks, battery-operated or not; any decent pair of socks is powered by the feeling of discomfort you get after they’re soaked through by an unexpected puddle. An indecent pair of socks is made whole again by darning, a process people were able to do until the early days of television when you had to be careful about your language.
I grant this all sounds like the tea light subject is getting away from me. But the point is I’ve got plenty of battery-powered tea lights, and I’m interested in ways in which they could be used as toys. I think it’s because I’d like assurance that the prohibition on their use as toys isn’t just because the manufacturers are opposed to fun but because they’re worried of the consequences of a toy-tea-light-based explosion or the like. So, this is why I haven’t had the time to do any of my real work lately.
As your Saturday or Sunday or whatever reference guide, here are some things I’ve found not to work in a game of Boggle, that puzzle game to find the words in a randomly generated matrix of letters:
- Rolls. (Letter ‘R’ wasn’t actually there.)
- Queue. (Dispute about whether a ‘Q’ on the board automatically included a ‘u’ with it.)
- Cat. (Didn’t see it.)
- Flinch. (Shied away from it. Admitted irony of the situation.)
- Aququrqu. (Was just needless sarcasm after that Queue dispute above.)
- Obelus. (Nobody believes me that’s even a thing.)
- “What do you mean that’s not in the Scrabble dictionary?” (They meant what the words obviously imply.)
- Dogma. (Letter ‘G’ was actually a ‘Q’.)
- “Let’s play cribbage instead.” (Fantastically bad move.)
- Hemed. (I couldn’t believe that was a word.)
- Sighing and walking away, shaking my head sadly that things should have come to this. (Insufficiently cool. I should have pretended I saw a squirrel doing a cute thing and never come back.)
Everything I Understand About Cribbage After Having A Friend Explaining It Relentlessly And Playing A Couple Games Over This Interactive Text-Based Link:
- It’s a card game.
- Also there’s pegs.
- There’s a running total that doesn’t get above 31, only if it gets to 31 or 30 or 15 it goes back to 0.
- You put down cards.
- Your opponent puts down cards.
- Sometimes you’re finished with the cards and you move pegs.
- I don’t understand anything about cribbage.
- If you play it right the game eventually ends. (If it doesn’t, go back and start again because you missed something.)
- You want cards to make like pairs or flushes or something and I think maybe it counts if you make a straight with some of your opponents’ cards or maybe I don’t understand that?
- I’m pretty shaky on backgammon too.
- Every hand starts with you giving away two of your cards to the crib, and I guess you’re supposed to someday ever see them again, or maybe not, and maybe they’re just a reminder of the inevitability of loss in this universe and a way to practice being at peace with the eventual decay of all things and the end of all life.
- I will never have any idea what bridge is about.
[ I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve beaten a grown-up in a chess game as recently as 1990, when he had to run off and catch a bus. I know how to play chess in terms of being able to move the pieces around in ways that don’t actually break most of the important rules, which is a skill that I’m surprised has ever impressed anyone ever. In Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley thought to give some useful advice to people who want to watch a chess game even if they aren’t sure just how. Meanwhile, apparently “Ohio State Michigan jokes” is a search query bringing people to my disapproving of a recent Pearls Before Swine strip, so if you’re looking for that, go over there. Enjoy ]
HOW TO WATCH A CHESS-MATCH
Second in the list of games which it is necessary for every sportsman to know how to watch comes chess. If you don’t know how to watch chess, the chances are that you will never have any connection with the game whatsoever. You would not, by any chance, be playing it yourself.
I know some very nice people that play chess, mind you, and I wouldn’t have thought that I was in any way spoofing at the game. I would sooner spoof at the people who engineered the Panama Canal or who are drawing up plans for the vehicular tunnel under the Hudson River. I am no man to make light of chess and its adherents, although they might very well make light of me. In fact, they have.
But what I say is, that taking society by and large, man and boy, the chances are that chess would be the Farmer-Labor Party among the contestants for sporting honors.
Now, since it is settled that you probably will not want to play chess, unless you should be laid up with a bad knee-pan or something, it follows that, if you want to know anything about the sport at all, you will have to watch it from the side-lines. That is what this series of lessons aims to teach you to do, (of course, if you are going to be nasty and say that you don’t want even to watch it, why all this time has been, wasted on my part as well as on yours).
HOW TO FIND A GAME TO WATCH
The first problem confronting the chess spectator is to find some people who are playing. The bigger the city, the harder it is to find anyone indulging in chess. In a small town you can usually go straight to Wilbur Tatnuck’s General Store, and be fairly sure of finding a quiet game in progress over behind the stove and the crate of pilot-biscuit, but as you draw away from the mitten district you find the sporting instinct of the population cropping out in other lines and chess becoming more and more restricted to the sheltered corners of Y.M.C.A. club-rooms and exclusive social organizations.
However, we shall have to suppose, in order to get any article written at all, that you have found two people playing chess somewhere. They probably will neither see nor hear you as you come up on them so you can stand directly behind the one who is defending the south goal without fear of detection.
THE DETAILS OF THE GAME
At first you may think that they are both dead, but a mirror held to the lips of the nearest contestant will probably show moisture (unless, of course, they really should be dead, which would be a horrible ending for a little lark like this. I once heard of a murderer who propped his two victims up against a chess board in sporting attitudes and was able to get as far as Seattle before his crime was discovered).
Soon you will observe a slight twitching of an eye-lid or a moistening of the lips and then, like a greatly retarded moving-picture of a person passing the salt, one of the players will lift a chess-man from one spot on the board and place it on another spot.
It would be best not to stand too close to the board at this time as you are are likely to be trampled on in the excitement. For this action that you have just witnessed corresponds to a run around right end in a football game or a two-bagger in baseball, and is likely to cause considerable enthusiasm on the one hand and deep depression on the other. They may even forget themselves to the point of shifting their feet or changing the hands on which they are resting their foreheads. Almost anything is liable to happen.
When the commotion has died down a little, it will be safe for you to walk around and stand behind the other player and wait there for the next move. While waiting it would be best to stand with the weight of your body evenly distributed between your two feet, for you will probably be standing there a long time and if you bear down on one foot all of the time, that foot is bound to get tired. A comfortable stance for watching chess is with the feet slightly apart (perhaps a foot or a foot and a half), with a slight bend at the knees to rest the legs and the weight of the body thrown forward on the balls of the feet. A rhythmic rising on the toes, holding the hands behind the back, the head well up and the chest out, introduces a note of variety into the position which will be welcome along about dusk.
Not knowing anything about the game, you will perhaps find it difficult at first to keep your attention on the board. This can be accomplished by means of several little optical tricks. For instance, if you look at the black and white squares on the board very hard and for a very long time, they will appear to jump about and change places. The black squares will rise from the board about a quarter of an inch and slightly overlap the white ones. Then, if you change focus suddenly, the white squares will do the same thing to the black ones. And finally, after doing this until someone asks you what you are looking cross-eyed for, if you will shut your eyes tight you will see an exact reproduction of the chess-board, done in pink and green, in your mind’s eye. By this time, the players will be almost ready for another move.
This will make two moves that you have watched. It is now time to get a little fancy work into your game. About an hour will have already gone by and you should be so thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of chess watching that you can proceed to the next step.
Have some one of your friends bring you a chair, a table and an old pyrography outfit, together with some book-ends on which to burn a design.
Seat yourself at the table in the chair and (if I remember the process correctly) squeeze the bulb attached to the needle until the latter becomes red hot. Then, grasping the book-ends in the left hand, carefully trace around the pencilled design with the point of the needle. It probably will be a picture of the Lion of Lucerne, and you will let the needle slip on the way round the face, giving it the appearance of having shaved in a Pullman that morning. But that really won’t make any difference, for the whole thing is not so much to do a nice pair of book-ends as to help you along in watching the chess-match.
If you have any scruples against burning wood, you may knit something, or paste stamps in an album.
And before you know it, the game will be over and you can put on your things and go home.
I had a little problem with one of the games I play and wrote the company to complain about it. (In certain contexts the game no longer let one use the word “clam”, which was not actually the thing that bothered me.) A couple days later I got a response explaining that the problem was exactly what I said it was, which is good, since it reassures me that I wasn’t imagining the problem. The response was signed, and I promise you this is true, “Support Agent Boba Fett”.
I have to suppose that he’s not the famous Boba Fett, since after all, what are the odds of that? The real one is probably doing reunion tours at county fairs anyway, thrilling fans with his great bits like having a kind of familiar name and all that. Still, this Boba Fett I have to figure had a pretty unremarkable childhood up until 1980 — sure, “Boba” is a kinda weird name, but it was the 70s, and we had bigger problems with hair and colors and being told carob tasted “just like” chocolate but was better for something or other to distract us from names — and then it all got so annoying. I wanted to ask if he’s tired of people asking him about Star Wars except that even if he didn’t mind talking Star Wars, to be stuck talking about talking about Star Wars has got to be horrible, and I might never get to say “clam” in the game again.
So, some good news for a change. Music called, and she turns out not to be angry about what our little band was doing. We’re welcome to try playing again, and Music suggested some good board games. So we got the Monopoly set and put a metronome on it. It turns out the Monopoly snobs are right, the game is really good if you play it in a 6/8 time signature. I lost. Who builds a hotel on Vermont Avenue for crying out loud?
There’s many things each of us have in common and in these trying times (before 11 pm, although I note that before 8:15 am is an extremely trying time) I thought it worth reviewing some of them. We each believe that we’re in the last group it’s acceptable to ridicule and stereotype in public. We all believe that we’re better-than-average at Skee-Ball. We each think that we must have missed the day in middle school where they explained how to grow up to become a Muppet, which is a pity as we’re pretty sure we would have been a good one. We all think it’s kind of amazing that people talk so little about that time a couple years ago when the continents were depopulated by people using that exotic device on Jupiter to turn into giant telepathic monsters living on the surface of that world, giving whole nations over to the dogs and robots. And we’re all horrified by how many pictures of random groups of people from the 70s include some terrible, terrible thing we used to wear, possibly as late as 1994. That’s about everything.