Why I Am Not Paying Attention To You


I’m sorry, bunch of fun pinball friends with whom we got together after league at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant to figure out what vegetarians could eat there. (We could have the Diet Coke, or we could lick the clean silverware.) But the TV was showing the World’s Strongest Man competition and I couldn’t help it. If I understood things right they flew six pyramid-shaped men to Nairobi so they could lift a wooden Viking boat. I don’t know why. Maybe Nairobi over-invested in Viking boat making and the Nairobi Viking Boat Industrial Board thought having some large men lifting them was just what they needed to get through the downturn. But you can see how watching that would be more fascinating than hearing even the latest gossip about the state’s competitive pinball community. And if you don’t, then consider that the next event was pairs of men going out and lifting giant stone balls to put atop cylinders. And that’s not even counting the harness set up to lift and set down Toyota Borings. In short, I may have a new favorite pastime, and it’s watching very big men picking things up. Send help.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index returned to 102 today as investors believed they might have left their keys behind. The keys turned out to be in the other pocket and everyone had a good chuckle about this.

102

What’s Going On In Gil Thorp?


With Judge Parker last week I’ve wrapped up all the syndicated story comics that have had major changes in the writing or art staff recently, by which I mean within like the last five years. But there are more story strips out there, and chatting with my Twitter friends suggest people find them baffling. Plus, what the heck, these pieces are popular.

Gil Thorp

I want to share a bit about a piece of art that did that most precious of things: make a lifelong (so far) change in my attitude about something. It wasn’t Gil Thorp. It was this high school comedy/drama called Ed. One episode Ed was trying to help a bright student get a scholarship, and needed just a slightly higher grade in gym. Surely his colleague would help him help out a bright kid who just didn’t care about phys ed, right? “Yeah,” said the coach, “because it’s not like I’m a real teacher or anything.” (Something like that, anyway.) It stung Ed, and it stung me, because the coach was right. I’d sneered at gym class, mostly because it seemed to be 86 weeks per year of Jumping Jacks Only More Boring and twelve minutes of things someone might actually do, like softball or volleyball or archery or stuff. And because even as a kid I had the dynamic physique of a medieval cathedral, only with tighter hamstrings.

But the coach was right. If school has a point it’s to make people familiar at least with all the major fields of human endeavor. And being able to be healthy and active is part of that. It’s as real and serious a subject as the mathematics or English or arts or science or music classes are. (In the episode, Ed came back humbled, and the gym teacher allowed the student to earn the “needed” grade by doing extra work.) And that’s stuck with me. I may not much care for sports, but that’s my taste. I should extend to it, and its enthusiasts, the same respect I give enthusiasts for other stuff I’m just not into.

Gil Thorp has not changed my attitudes on anything important nearly like that. The comic strip — which dates back to 1958 — has been written by Neal Rubin since 2004 Wikipedia tells me. It’s been drawn by Rod Whigham since 2008. So they’ve got the hang of what they want to do. There are other comic strips set in schools, such as Jef Mallet’s nearly joke-a-day Frazz and Tom Batiuk’s continuity-comedy-bathos Funky Winkerbean. But this is the only story strip that I guess gets into newspapers that’s set in high school. It’s also the only sports-themed story strip, and one of only a few remaining sports-themed comics at all. Why this should have survived and, say, Flash Gordon didn’t I don’t know, but what the heck.

Rubin and Whigham have a pretty clear idea what they want to do. Pretty much every season of the year has a story about the season’s appropriate sporting activity. One or two student-athletes, often new people but sometimes characters who were supporting players previous years, dominate the storyline. They go through some shenanigans trying to be students, or athletes, or teens. The important thing here is that they are teens, and even smart teenagers are kind of dumb. Eventually they’re dumb enough that Coach Gil Thorp has to call him in to their office and explain to them to knock it off, which they mostly do. On to the next season. Often the starts of one storyline reappear as supporting players in later storylines, for a year or two. This implies Rubin and Whigham keep careful continuity records so they know when each student entered the school, what they played, how they were doing, when they left and under what circumstances. I admire the craftsmanship involved.

(A Brief Juggling Exhibition By Aaron Aagard.) 'Dude, you are the worst juggler in the valley!' 'Yeah --- but now I've got three apples.' (Later) 'I see what you mean, Ken. Even when you want to be stamed at the guy ... you can't.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 30th of December, 2016. Aagard had walked up to the lunch table and asked if anyone wanted to see him juggle; “prepare to be amazed!” I do like how the sequence establishes a lot about Aagard’s personality and how he’s just likable enough to overcome what’s annoying about him.

Dumbness is important. The Gil Thorp kids don’t tend to be stupid in malicious or obnoxious ways. Just dumb in the way that people who aren’t used to thinking through the situation are. For example, a few storylines ago the problem was one of the athletes getting the idea in his head that ADHD medicine would help his performance. So he pressured one of the kids who has Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder to share his medicine. After resisting a while, the pressured student starts passing along … aspirins with the name filed off. The kid buys it. It’s the sort of thing that you do when you grow up thinking you’re in a sitcom filmed before a live studio audience and this is the sort of thing that makes the tense audience gasp and then applaud. When Thorp finally found out, he suspended both, on the correct grounds that they were being dumb. Well, that one was trying to get drugs off another student, and that student was passing him drugs, even if harmless ones.

That’s pretty much the way things go, though. There’s kids puttering along into mostly minor scrapes, as followed by updates in-between sporting events. There’s a developing crisis in which Gil Thorp is finally pulled into the storylines of his own strip to tell everyone to knock it off. And there’s the steady beat of how the team finishes the season in football (in the autumn), basketball (in the winter), softball (in the summer), and whatever sport catches Rubin’s fancy (in the summer). Sometimes it’s the boys’ team that gets the focus, sometimes the girls’. Sometimes the story involves trading off the focus. Now and then the teams get into the playoffs, or as the dialect of wherever the school is has it, “playdowns”, sometimes they fall short. They do well enough that nobody really calls for Thorp to resign. Perhaps they know that would end the comic. Or end their part in it, since he’d presumably go on to some other high school to sort of coach.

There will be surprises. 2016’s spring storyline grew to encompass all summer when one of the students was hit and killed in a messy, stupid car accident. Given the genially dopey nature of what had been going on before, a dose of actual blood was shocking. It scrambled my expectations. Good that I could have expectations and that they could break them in a credible way.

So, the current storyline. It’s about new basketball team star Aaron Aagard. He’s a solid player, a good student, charming in a weird way. At least he’s trying to be. I don’t know how you feel about 17-year-olds who make excuses to juggle. Anyway, that’s all on his good days. On his bad days he’s distracted, unconnected, and maybe falling asleep. Perhaps he’s just exhausted. He goes to raves, even on school nights, which is the sort of low-key scandalous behavior that fits the Gil Thorp worldview.

(Ken Brown and Mike Granger pop back into the locker room and ...) 'Molly? You bet! I can't do Kill The Noise without Molly. And that goes for Saturday, too!' 'Did we just hear what we think we heard?' 'Yeah. And I still didn't get my wallet.'
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 4th of January, 2017. Kill The Noise is a band for the show Aagard was going to. I don’t know whether it’s an actual band. The name’s plausible enough. The strip does toss in real stuff sometimes. A few years ago the star of that season’s storyline was Lucky Haskins, named for a notable Ohio highway sign. (As “Luckey Haskins”.)

Maybe a bigger problem is some of his teammates overheard him talking about “taking Molly”. They believe that’s slang for ecstasy. Maybe it is. I don’t know. I’m what the hep kids call “a square”. So while I don’t know I’m willing to accept that any otherwise unaccounted-for word is slang for ecstasy. The kids think it over and after Aagard has a couple more unreliable days they pull the coach in. This seems early. The story only started the 12th of December. Maybe the story’s going to spin out in stranger ways. Maybe they want to start softball season early.

Aagard said if he could just have a few days he’d clear up this whole “taking Molly” thing. That’s again the sort of dumb thing you do if you think you’re living in a three-camera sitcom and setting up a big reveal that Molly is your generically-disabled niece or something. Thorp seems to have gone along with that, which is dumb. Unless Aagard explained stuff off-panel and clearing this up is about explaining it to his teammates. Which I expect, but could be wrong about.

'Someone heard me say I was taking Molly? Tell you what, Coach, we're playing at Tilden this Friday. If you give me until then, I can clear this up.' (Friday night --- and Aaron Aagard announces his presence early.)
Neal Rubin and Rod Whigham’s Gil Thorp for the 14th of January, 2017. A cherished motif of the devoted Gil Thorp reader is to work out exactly how annoyed Thorp is that he’s got to deal with these student athletes. So, look at him in that first panel and ponder: is he getting ready to strange Aaron Aagard, or is he merely a shade-less Roy Orbison circa 1964?

Someone on, I think, the Comics Curmudgeon blog found there actually is a region of the United States where the high school sports postseason is called the “playdowns”. I forget what the region is. But, hey, I’ve been places where they label water fountains “bubblers”. I can take “playdowns”. It says something about Rubin’s determination to stick to a specific kind of craft that he’s holding on to the term “playdown”. Nobody would complain if they switched to “playoff” like everybody else says. People would stop making jokes about the comic’s little weirdness in saying “playdown”. Rubin’s decided the comic strip will be what it is, even if they’re made fun of for it. That’s an important thing to take out of high school too.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped five points as traders reported a night of unsteady, broken sleep, constantly interrupted by thoughts of Donald Trump and the theme song to Vacation being stuck in their heads. The editorial staff extends their deepest condolences.

98

Meanwhile In Sports I Didn’t Know Were There


While writing yesterday’s bit, I looked up Madison Square Garden on Wikipedia. I probably had some good reason. It mentioned one of the teams that had played there, from 1977 to 1978, was the New York Apples of the WTT. Also, there’s something called a WTT. Or was, anyway.

WTT in this case is World TeamTennis, which I never heard of before. And it turns out World TeamTennis is still a thing, even though it was apparently developed in the 70s as a mixed-team professional tennis league. Its history is way too complicated to follow. If I follow right it started up in 1974 with a bajillion teams, then narrowly escaped extinction in 1978 by shedding the space between “team” and “tennis”, and since then tries to open and close teams before anybody can catch them. And its focus has remained, admirably, the picking of the worst possible names for teams.

I mean, team names for minor league sports are always awful. But World TeamTennis seems to be going for the awful team names championship. Among teams Wikipedia claims existed at least long enough to fold:

  • Boston Lobsters
  • Delaware Smash
  • Detroit Loves
  • Golden Gate Otters (never played, although maybe they turned into the San Francisco Golden Gaters)
  • Hawaii Leis
  • Idaho Sneakers
  • Los Angeles Strings
  • New York Sportimes
  • Orange County Breakers
  • San Diego Buds
  • San Diego Swingers
  • Springfield (Missouri) Lasers
  • Washington Kastles
  • Wichita Advantage

I am delighted. And that doesn’t even mention the New York OTBzz, whose logo featured an angry bee with a raquet. Well, they turned into the New York Sportimes, after a year as the Schenectady County Electrics. They played in Schenectady all the while I was in grad school, in Troy, New York, and I never even knew. This is the value of Wikipedia: it lets you know how you missed odd stuff years after it’s too late to do anything about.

Things It Is Acceptable To See Trending On Twitter


Instead of city names, especially your city name. Or the name of a beloved celebrity who’s either died or declared that the people complaining about an incredibly racist thing he said are the true racists.

  • Change a word so a title means something else.
  • Fit a pop culture thing into some other pop culture thing and maybe say it’s just like your workplace.
  • Here’s a real word given a fake definition.
  • Assonance Day Of The Week!
  • Making Something More 80s, possibly by adding that crashing-synthesizer-piano sting from Yes’s Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
  • Dogs are awesome. Look at this one!
  • A sports team has traded a person for something that seems at first odd, like the promise of a future person or the chance to name a dog or perhaps a large bowl of tapioca. Maybe some carpeting. I don’t know. Someone with more characters to explain can explain why this makes perfect sense for everybody involved and two-thirds of the people who aren’t but it’ll still sound odd.
  • Somebody found a stream of the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling cartoon from 1985 and we can’t stop talking about that because good lord is this episode really titled Ali Bano and the 40 Geeks? Oh, this is gonna hurt.
  • There’s something in space and we know about it!
  • Yeah, dogs are great but look at this bunny! Seriously!

Robert Benchley: Confessions Of A Chess Champion


It’s always fun to read a review of a book that amused someone in ways they didn’t intend. Here, from Love Conquers All, is a review Robert Benchley wrote of a chess memoir.

CONFESSIONS OF A CHESS CHAMPION

With the opening of the baseball season, the sporting urge stirs in one’s blood and we turn to such books as My Chess Career, by J R Capablanca. Mr Capablanca, I gather from his text, plays chess very well. Wherein he unquestionably has something on me.

His book is a combination of autobiography and pictorial examples of difficult games he has participated in and won. I could understand the autobiographical part perfectly, but although I have seen chess diagrams in the evening papers for years, I never have been able to become nervous over one. It has always seemed to me that when you have seen one diagram of a chessboard you have seen them all. Therefore, I can give only a superficial review of the technical parts of Mr Capablanca’s book.


His personal reminiscences, however, are full of poignant episodes. For instance, let us take an incident which occurred in his early boyhood when he found out what sort of man his father really was — a sombre event in the life of any boy, much more so for the boy Capablanca.

“I was born in Havana, the capital of the Island of Cuba,” he says, “the 19th of November, 1888. I was not yet five years old when by accident I came into my father’s private office and found him playing with another gentleman. I had never seen a game of chess before; the pieces interested me and I went the next day to see them play again. The third day, as I looked on, my father, a very poor beginner, moved a Knight from a white square to another white square. His opponent, apparently not a better player, did not notice it. My father won, and I proceeded to call him a cheat and to laugh.”

Imagine the feelings of a young boy entering his father’s private office and seeing a man whom he had been brought up to love and to revere moving a Knight from one white square to another. It is a wonder that the boy had the courage to grow up at all with a start in life like that.

But he did grow up, and at the age of eight, in spite of the advice of doctors, he was a frequent visitor at the Havana Chess Club. As he says in describing this period of his career, “Soon Don Celso Golmayo, the strongest player there, was unable to give me a rook.” So you can see how good he was. Don Celso couldn’t give him a rook. And if Don Celso couldn’t, who on earth could?

In his introduction, Mr Capablanca (I wish that I could get it out of my head that Mr Capablanca is possibly a relation of the Casablanca boy who did the right thing by the burning deck. They are, of course, two entirely different people) — in his introduction, Mr Capablanca says:

“Conceit I consider a foolish thing; but more foolish still is that false modesty that vainly attempts to conceal that which all facts tend to prove.”

It is this straining to overcome a foolish, false modesty which leads him to say, in connection with his matches with members of the Manhattan Chess Club. “As one by one I mowed them down without the loss of a single game, my superiority became apparent.” Or, in speaking of his “endings” (a term we chess experts use to designate the last part of our game), to murmur modestly: “The endings I already played very well, and to my mind had attained the high standard for which they were in the future to be well known.” Mr Capablanca will have to watch that false modesty of his. It will get him into trouble some day.

Although this column makes no pretense of carrying sporting news, it seems only right to print a part of the running story of the big game between Capablanca and Dr O S Bernstein in the San Sebastian tournament of 1911. Capablanca wore the white, while Dr Bernstein upheld the honor of the black.

The tense moment of the game had been reached. Capablanca has the ball on Dr Bernstein’s 3-yard line on the second down, with a minute and a half to play. The stands are wild. Cries of “Hold ’em, Bernstein!” and “Touchdown, Capablanca!” ring out on the frosty November air.

Brave voices are singing the fighting song entitled “Capablanca’s Day” which runs as follows:

    “Oh, sweep, sweep across the board,
    With your castles, queens, and pawns;
    We are with you, all Havana’s horde,
    Till the sun of victory dawns;
    Then it’s fight, fight, FIGHT!

    To your last white knight,
    For the truth must win alway,
    And our hearts beat true

    Old `J R’ for you

    On Capa-blanca’s Day.”

“Up to this point the game had proceeded along the lines generally recommended by the masters,” writes Capablanca. “The last move, however, is a slight deviation from the regular course, which brings this Knight back to B in order to leave open the diagonal for the Q, and besides is more in accordance with the defensive nature of the game. Much more could be said as to the reasons that make Kt – B the preferred move of most masters…. Of course, lest there be some misapprehension, let me state that the move Kt – B is made in conjunction with K R – K, which comes first.”

It is lucky that Mr Casablanca made that explanation, for I was being seized with just that misapprehension which he feared. (Mr Capablanca, I mean.)

Below is the box-score by innings:

1. P – K4. P – K4.
2. Kt – QB3. Kt – QB3.
3. P – B4. P x P.
.4 Kt – B3. P – K Kt4.

(Game called on account of darkness.)

Statistics Saturday: An Incomplete List Of People Who Were All Alive At The Same Time


  • Adolphe Sax
  • Albert Einstein
  • Alexander Woollcott
  • Thomas Henry Huxley
  • “Typhoid” Mary Mallon
  • Francis X Bushman
  • Alfred Nobel
  • Arthur Schesinger Sr
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • Casey Jones
  • Chester W Nimitz
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Conrad Hilton
  • Dwight David Eisenhower
  • Walt Whitman
  • Edward Everett Horton
  • Edwin Hubble
  • Elihu Root
  • Adolphe Menjou
  • Erle Stanley Gardner
  • Susan B Anthony
  • T E Lawrence
  • Ford Madox Ford
  • Franz Kafka
  • Garret A Hobert
  • Jules Verne
  • Avery Brundage
  • Georg Cantor
  • Grover Cleveland Alexander
  • Samuel Gompers
  • Gustav Klimt
  • Harpo Marx
  • Helena Blavatsky
  • Henry “Hap” Arnold
  • Herman Melville
  • Ho Chi Minh
  • Joel Chandler Harris
  • Horatio Alger Jr
  • Willis O’Brien
  • Alexandre Dumas, fils
  • Irving Berlin
  • Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom
  • Jay Gould
  • Paul Reuter
  • Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte II
  • Lady Olave Baden-Powell
  • John Maynard Keynes
  • Otto von Bismarck
  • Louis Vuitton
  • L Frank Baum
  • Frank Morgan
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • Matthew Brady
  • Mohandas Gandhi
  • George Washington Ferris, Jr
  • Maurice Chevalier
  • Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia
  • P T Barnum
  • Neville Chamberlain
  • Louis Pasteur
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Robert Benchley
  • Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Rutherford B Hayes
  • Thomas Edison
  • Upton Sinclair
  • Walter Gropius
  • William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody
  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Winsor McCay

Twitter Recommended


I do look at the people Twitter recommends I follow, because it’s neat seeing how radically they change every time I do add someone and Twitter Master Command desperately searches for anyone who’s even remotely like that person. Sometimes it’s even people I’ve heard of, like when it suggested I follow Billie Jean King. And then I noticed: it was a promoted recommendation that I follow Billie Jean King.

The implication is that someone working for Billie Jean King Master Command, while apparently of sound mind and probably on a Tuesday, decided that it was worth paying some amount of money to Twitter Master Command so as to increase the probability that I, Joseph Nebus, would follow Billie Jean King’s Twitter account. They probably didn’t phrase it like that. They probably phrased it more like “increasing brand-name recognition among tall, bearded men from New Jersey”, and possibly they tossed the words “monetize” or “gamify” in there somewhere, but that doesn’t actually make the decision less daft.

In Which Suddenly I Know Anything About Rugby, Belgium


A Reuters article filed under “Oddly Enough” makes me aware that a Belgian rugby club is appealing to have a weekend match annulled, on the grounds that the referee arrived more than an hour late. I’m surprised by all that because I had just assumed rugby was organized enough that it didn’t have problems with referees not being around.

I understand that in the early days of a major sport you can have embarrassing lapses of organization. Baseball’s first attempt at a major league, in May of 1871, flopped when the Cleveland Nine and the Fort Wayne Nine both thought they were the home team and so were hundreds of miles apart. The lapse in planning is obvious, once you’ve seen the accident, but beforehand who could guess that both teams would need names? And after the NFL was first organized in a Hupmobile dealership in Canton, Ohio, in 1920, the Akron Pros won the first championship because the runner-up Decatur Staleys just couldn’t make themselves believe there was such a thing as a “Hupmobile”. Their skepticism was justified, although the Hupmobile dealer asked some pointed questions about the so-called “Staley”. The NBA is still trying to work out its pre-season challenge between the upper and lower divisions, owing to a failure of many venues to build two-level basketball courts.

Anyway, the referee didn’t turn up for the match between the Soignies (pronounced “quinoa” incorrectly) and the Kituro (ditto), and as far as I can tell from Reuters he still hasn’t been accounted for. I hope he’s all right and the problem is just that he was busy playing something on his iPad or maybe he went to the wrong city and thinks everybody else bailed on him. But they found a substitute referee, who got there more than an hour after the game was to start. I don’t think that’s doing badly. If you called on me to substitute-referee a Belgian rugby game I’d need more time than that to get fully ready. Oh, now I hope they don’t think I was the original referee; I’m pretty sure they would have said something to me before the game if I was supposed to oversee it, but you never know. I might have lost the invitation and they might have figured I’d say something if I couldn’t do it.

The game finally got under way, although Stephan Carnol, the club secretary for Soignies complained, with only 17 players instead of the normal squad of 22, which makes me wonder what those five were up to that they couldn’t hang around until a referee got there. I have no idea how long Belgian rugby matches take but I’d imagine it runs longer than an hour, so they probably didn’t have to get somewhere all that quickly. Maybe they were refereeing other games later in the evening, except then why couldn’t one of them referee the game he was at? Sure, any call he made would immediately escalate into a quarrel about his fairness, but that just adds a level of excitement because you know both his team and the opponent feel passionately about bludgeoning him.

Soignies went on to lose by 356 to 3, as Kituro ran in 56 tries, which sounds like a pretty lopsided score if you have no idea that a score in rugby is called a try, apparently. I’m supposing it is because it would be dastardly of Reuters to go telling people that Kituro “ran in 56 tries” if that doesn’t actually mean anything. Also a try is good for five points, which they say directly, which means that Kituro didn’t just run in 56 tries but also picked up 76 points from somewhere, possibly fallen behind the couch cushions. I have no explanation for Soignies’s three points; maybe they reflect poise or good comportment? Maybe they picked up a couple points playing soccer in a side match. Despite the loss, Reuters reports, Soignies is still third in the league, and a point ahead of Kituro in the standings.

The former worst rugby blowout was in 1984, in the French league, when Lavardac beat Vergt by a score of 350 to 0, with 66 tries that got run in. But back then a try was four points, so Lavardac also brought in 86 points from maybe a basketball game that wasn’t using them anymore. Vergt wasn’t competing, though, in protest of some player suspensions, which makes me wonder why Lavardac had all those non-try-based points. There must be something to it I’m not following.

Statistics Saturday: Counting On The Splendid Bowl


If current trends continue, then in the year … … there will have been as many Splendid Bowls as there are or were:
2020 Faces and vertices of the medial rhombic triacontahedron
2026 Days in January and February (non-bissextile years)
2026 Minimum number of games in the National Hockey League postseason (per rules in effect for 2015)
2027 Days in January and February (leap years)
2028 Counties in New York State
2031 Years between a Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania groundhog’s first being recorded to predict the weather and the predictive groundhog’s receiving the name “Phil” [1]
2034 Secretaries of State of the United States (as of 2015)
2044 Inches of height of Michael Jordan
2048 Games in a regular National Basketball Association season (as of 2015)
2049 Episodes of the original Star Trek
2054 International Astronomical Union-recognized constellations
2071 Maximum number of games in the National Hockey League postseason (per rules in effect for 2015)
2173 Recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (as of January 2015)
2331 Days in the year
2686 Species of Pokemon revealed as of 2015
9886 Elements of the sporadic Mathieu group M11

1: Wikipedia’s description is very breezy and chatty, causing me to doubt that the topic has been the subject of credible historical inquiry.

In Search Of Happy Coaches


Although I still really don’t understand what’s the thing with this college football thing, I am aware that it’s anyway a fairly exciting thing here in Lansing when the University of Michigan plays Michigan State, and I was watching on the Tivo only a couple hours later to see a pretty impressive final score of Michigan State not just beating Michigan 35 to 11, but also somehow beating Rutgers, which I didn’t even know was in the game but put up only three points before being escorted out of Spartan Stadium and into the campus’s renowned Hideously Ugly Modern Art Building.

I noticed in the postgame interview that Michigan State’s coach still looked angry despite a pretty solid win. And then I realized I don’t think I’ve ever seen a football coach that didn’t look like he was about to hit a brick wall and keep on hitting it until it bled cranberry sauce. Are they that angry just because the games are these high-profile, high-stress positions where even if they simultaneously beat Michigan, Rutgers, and the University of Maryland there’s still going to be people who can’t just be ignored demanding their firing? Or are they just always furious, and they’d have the same face if they were at Arby’s and got a French Dip hoagie (after choosing to go to Arby’s and ordering a French Dip hoagie, I should say)? Are they only happy when they’re angry and if they are, then, how can they ever be either?

So to sum up, if cartonist Mell Lazarus wanted to use Momma to do a panel of almanac facts about the Moon this month why didn’t he even mention the partial solar eclipse that’s the most interesting thing the Moon did in October anyway?

Robert Benchley: Mid-Winter Sports


[ In this piece, taken from Love Conquers All, Robert Benchley writes of a problem largely in our past: the way there just isn’t sports news available this time of year. It’s a bit of an adjustment to think that there was a time not so far gone when there wasn’t sporting news worthy of the name for several months of the year. ]

These are melancholy days for the newspaper sporting-writers. The complaints are all in from old grads of Miami who feel that there weren’t enough Miami men on the All-American football team, and it is too early to begin writing about the baseball training camps. Once in a while some lady swimmer goes around a tank three hundred times, or the holder of the Class B squash championship “meets all-comers in court tilt,” but aside from that, the sporting world is buried with the nuts for the winter.

Since sporting-writers must live, why not introduce a few items of general interest into their columns, accounts of the numerous contests of speed and endurance which take place during the winter months in the homes of our citizenry? For instance:

The nightly races between Mr. and Mrs. Theodore M. Twamly, to see who can get into bed first, leaving the opening of the windows and putting out of the light for the loser, was won last night for the first time this winter by Mr. Twamly. Strategy entered largely into the victory, Mr. Twamly getting into bed with most of his clothes on.

An interesting exhibition of endurance was given by Martin W. Lasbert at his home last evening when he covered the distance between the cold-water tap in his bath-room to the bedside of his young daughter, Mertice, eighteen times in three hours, this being the number of her demands for water to drink. When interviewed after the eighteenth lap, Mr. Lasbert said: “I wouldn’t do it another time, not if the child were parching.” Shortly after that he made his nineteenth trip.

As was exclusively predicted in these columns yesterday and in accordance with all the dope, Chester H. Flerlie suffered his sixtieth consecutive defeat last evening at the hands of the American Radiator Company, the builders of his furnace. With all respect for Mr. Flerlie’s pluck in attempting, night after night, to dislodge clinkers caught in the grate, it must be admitted, even by his host of friends, that he might much better be engaged in some gainful occupation. The grate tackled by the doughty challenger last night was one of the fine-tooth comb variety (the “Non-Sifto” No. 114863), in which the clinker is caught by a patent clutch and held securely until the wrecking-crew arrives. At the end of the bout Mr. Flerlie was led away to his dressing room, suffering from lacerated hands and internal injuries. “I’m through,” was his only comment.

This morning’s winners in the Lymedale commuters’ contest for seats on the shady side of the car on the 8:28 were L.Y. Irman, Sydney M. Gissith, John F. Nothman and Louis Leque. All the other seats were won by commuters from Loose Valley, the next station above Lymedale. In trying to scramble up the car-steps in advance of lady passengers, Merton Steef had his right shin badly skinned and hit his jaw on the bottom step. Time was not called while his injuries were being looked after.

Before an enthusiastic and notable gathering, young Lester J. Dimmik, age three, put to rout his younger brother, Carl Withney Dimmik, Jr., age two, in their matutinal contest to see which can dispose of his Wheatena first. In the early stages of the match, it began to look as if the bantamweight would win in a walk, owing to his trick of throwing spoonfuls of the breakfast food over his shoulder and under the tray of his high-chair. The referees soon put a stop to this, however, and specified that the Wheatena must be placed in the mouth. This cramped Dimmick Junior’s form and it soon became impossible for him to locate his mouth at all. At this point, young Lester took the lead, which he maintained until he crossed the line an easy winner. As a reward he was relieved of the necessity of eating another dish of Wheatena.

Stephen L. Agnew was the lucky guest in the home of Orrin F. McNeal this week-end, beating out Lee Stable for first chance at the bath-tub on Sunday morning. Both contestants came out of their bed rooms at the same time, but Agnew’s room being nearer the bath-room, he made the distance down the hall in two seconds quicker time than his somewhat heavier opponent, and was further aided by the breaks of the game when Stable dropped his sponge half-way down the straightaway. Agnew’s time in the bath-room was 1 hr. and 25 minutes.

What Prairie Dogs Do During Their Comeback


BBC News tells me — and I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging; the truth is it’ll tell anyone who asks, although you have to know to ask, and I didn’t precisely ask so much as be around when it happened to mention — that animal researchers discovered prairie dogs can do The Wave. Even more than that, it turns out they do do it. I mean, prairie dogs might be capable of all sorts of things, like tennis or spackling drywall or calculating the libration of the Moon or doing itty-bitty pole vaults, but that doesn’t mean they get around to any of them, what with their busy schedules. Yet Robert Senkiw with the University of Manitoba, who is a qualified prairie dog research scientist, has videos of prairie dogs doing just that.

Now isn’t that wonderful? We keep discovering all sorts of new things about animals ever since the breakthrough 1995 decision that animal researchers were allowed to actually look at what animals did when they weren’t being bothered, and here it turns out at least some of them are doing The Wave.

You know, it just struck me what kind of chaos might be wrought if some unqualified prairie dog researchers were on the scene. “Look at that,” one might say, “They’re doing The Wave! No, no, this isn’t like last week when I said they were doing itty-bitty pole vaults. Yes, I know, I was totally misunderstanding their actions because I didn’t realize they were building bamboo scaffolding. Well, yes, if someone had told me I might have guessed at the time but, look, they’re doing The Wave right now! See? Well, not now, they finished. I don’t know, maybe they saw some really good soccer play. Well, why wouldn’t prairie dogs be as interested in soccer as any other rodent is? Well, my capybara friends say they are too soccer fans.” And it turns out he was staring at some nutrias all the time instead.

If they aren’t soccer fans, though, that leaves the question what they’re doing The Wave for. I don’t really know what prairie dogs think about most spectator sports, although I’d guess if they were gathered in any kind of stadium as an audience that would’ve been mentioned in the news. On the other hand, the article was filed under Science and maybe over in the Sport section there’s an article about science-y types crowding around the playing fields not being even a little interested when there’s a hat trick or an octopus thrown on the field or whatever it is people do at soccer matches when they’re prairie dogs. I checked and in mere moments was being asked to confirm my purchase of a Nautical Origami Kit. I probably clicked something wrong.

For what it’s worth, the article says that the scientists have a theory that prairie dogs are doing this so as not to get eaten, which I have to rate as a pretty good motive. The current thinking is that they occasionally hop up and yip and set off a Wave because there are potential predators around. This is a change from the older thinking, when they were believed to hop up and set off a Wave because there were no potential predators around. I wonder if sometimes the prairie dogs don’t just hop up like that simply to mess around, but that seems so immature.

Since the news article comes from a British source, instead of the Wave it’s called the Mexican Wave, which was named after Mexico but before vaguely remembered celebrity child Suri Cruise. I’m not sure what the adjective Mexican adds to the proceedings, unless it turns out that in Britain there are all sorts of other Waves, like, say, an Eritrean Wave where a row of spectators all lean forward and then sit back again before getting up, or a Bolivian Wave where people in turn cough, nervous, at how the people next to them seem to be coming down with something.

I think the best part of it is, knowing we have prairie dogs to work for us, the pressure is off the humans in the community to do The Wave.

Because I Watched The Rose Bowl On Tivo, Is Why


So that’s why I only learned last night that one of the things the announcers mentioned was that the Rose Bowl had, somehow, managed to sell out its stadium. I realize they have to talk for a lot of time and they aren’t going to be able to say only winning things. But I’m pretty sure if they ever failed to sell out the Rose Bowl then everyone involved in football would look at one another and shrug, saying without words, “Well, we gave football a good try, but obviously, it isn’t working. Let’s go home” and then they’d try out ultimate frisbee or competitive goose-mocking or something. Possibly everyone involved in sports might give it up as something we had just lost the knack for.

Really, though. I mean, even for the famous 1975 Rose Bowl, when tickets were a mere $2.50 but attendees had to bring in their outline for a concept prog rock album and had to go back and do it again until it met Peter Gabriel’s personal approval for being “needlessly complicated and off-putting”, they were able to sell all the seats and produce a lovely three-album set about groundhogs being liberated from a dystopian computer overlord in a retelling of the myth of Glaucus and Scylla through the metaphor of kites. It was nominated for two Grammies, but lost.

Some Mathematics Jokes Explained


Once again I’d like to point folks over to my mathematics blog, where I’ve done another roundup of the comic strips that touched on mathematical themes over the last couple weeks and try to say something interesting about them. I admit this hasn’t got necessarily much of my natural comic touch, whatever that is, but I’m starting to wonder what the guy who draws In The Bleachers majored in, which is surely something.

Robert Benchley: The Score In The Stands


I like baseball and won’t argue with people whining that it’s a slow sport because they mostly go in determined to find something to disapprove of and there’s no reasoning from that starting point. (I’ll grant it’s horribly served by television, though.) Robert Benchely, I’m delighted to remember, had a bit about the opening week of baseball in Love Conquers All that looks at the action in a game. I think the fifth inning the high point of this match.


The opening week of the baseball season brought out few surprises. The line-up in the grandstands was practically the same as when the season closed last Fall, most of the fans busying themselves before the first game started by picking old 1921 seat checks and October peanut crumbs out of the pockets of their light-weight overcoats.

Old-timers on the two teams recognized the familiar faces in the bleachers and were quick to give them a welcoming cheer. The game by innings as it was conducted by the spectators is as follows:

FIRST INNING: Scanlon, sitting in the first-base bleachers, yelled to Ruth to lead off with a homer. Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Liebman and O’Rourke, in the south stand, engaged in a bitter controversy over Peckingpaugh’s last-season batting average. NO RUNS.

SECOND INNING: Scanlon yelled to Bodie to to whang out a double. Turtelot said that Bodie couldn’t do it. Scanlon said “Oh, is that so?” Turtelot said “Yes, that’s so and whad’ yer know about that?” Bodie whanged out a double and Scanlon’s collar came undone and he lost his derby. Stevens announced that this made Bodie’s batting average 1000 for the season so far. Joslin laughed.

THIRD INNING: Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Zinnzer yelled to Mays to watch out for a fast one. Steinway yelled to Mays to watch out for a slow one. Mays fanned. O’Rourke called out and asked Brazill how all the little brazil-nuts were. Levy turned to O’Rourke and said he’d brazil-nut him. O’Rourke said “Eah? When do you start doing it?” Levy said: “Right now.” O’Rourke said: “All right, come on. I’m waiting.” Levy said: “Eah?” O’Rourke said: “Well, why don’t you come, you big haddock?” Levy said he’d wait for O’Rourke outside where there weren’t any ladies. NO RUNS.

FOURTH INNING: Scanlon called out to Ruth to knock a homer, Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Scanlon yelled: “Atta-boy, Babe, whad’ I tell yer!” when Ruth got a single.

FIFTH INNING: Mrs. Whitebait asked Mr. Whitebait how you marked a home-run on the score-card. Mr. Whitebait said: “Why do you have to know? No one has knocked a home-run.” Mrs. Whitebait said that Babe Ruth ran home in the last inning. “Yes, I know,” said Mr. Whitebait, “but it wasn’t a home-run.” Mrs. W. asked him with some asperity just why it wasn’t a home-run, if a man ran home, especially if it was Babe Ruth. Mr. W. said: “I’ll tell you later. I want to watch the game.” Mrs. Whitebait began to cry a little. Mr. Whitebait groaned and snatched the card away from her and marked a home-run for Ruth in the fourth inning.

SIXTH INNING: Thurston called out to Hasty not to let them fool him. Wicker said that where Hasty got fooled in the first place was when he let them tell him he could play baseball. Unknown man said that he was “too Hasty,” and laughed very hard. Thurston said that Hasty was a better pitcher than Mays, when he was in form. Unknown man said “Eah?” and laughed very hard again. Wicker asked how many times in seven years Hasty was in form and Thurston replied: “Often enough for you.” Unknown man said that what Hasty needed was some hasty-pudding, and laughed so hard that his friend had to take him out.

Thibbets sharpened his pencil.

SEVENTH INNING: Libby called “Everybody up!” as if he had just originated the idea, and seemed proudly pleased when everyone stood up. Taussig threw money to the boy for a bag of peanuts who tossed the bag to Levy who kept it. Taussig to boy to Levy.

Scanlon yelled to Ruth to come through with a homer. Ruth knocked a single and Scanlon yelled “Atta-boy, Babe! All-er way ’round! All-er way round, Babe!” Mrs. Whitebait asked Mr. Whitebait which were the Clevelands. Mr. Whitebait said very quietly that the Clevelands weren’t playing to-day, just New York and Philadelphia and that only two teams could play the game at the same time, that perhaps next year they would have it so that Cleveland and Philadelphia could both play New York at once but the rules would have to be changed first. Mrs. Whitebait said that he didn’t have to be so nasty about is. Mr. W. said My God, who’s being nasty? Mrs. W. said that the only reason she came up with him anyway to see the Giants play was because then she knew that he wasn’t off with a lot of bootleggers. Mr. W. said that it wasn’t the Giants but the Yankees that she was watching and where did she get that bootlegger stuff. Mrs. W. said never mind where she got it. NO RUNS.

EIGHTH INNING: Thibbets sharpened his pencil. Litner got up and went home. Scanlon yelled to Ruth to end up the game with a homer. Ruth singled. Scanlon yelled “Atta-Babe!” and went home.

NINTH INNING: Stevens began figuring up the players’ batting averages for the season thus far. Wicker called over to Thurston and asked him how Mr. Hasty was now. Thurston said “That’s all right how he is.” Mrs. Whitebait said that she intended to go to her sister’s for dinner and that Mr. Whitebait could do as he liked. Mr. Whitebait told her to bet that he would do just that. Thibbets broke his pencil.

Score: New York 11. Philadelphia 1.

The Unbearable Sweetness of Sixteen


I suppose it isn’t quite too late to make a decent round of March Madness predictions, what with Madness having another six and one-third years to run before the Grand Neurostability Field penetrates the inner Oort cloud and reshapes the Earth in such dramatic yet peaceable fashion. Also March has two or three days left to run depending on just how you want to count things like “two” or “day”. The competitions so far have seen a whole lot of upsets, particularly with teams finding out what the others have been saying about them online, and everyone’s in a pretty foul mood, which should make for an exciting Sweet Sixteen round of competition provided the players can refrain from slugging one another.

The most interesting development, I think, is going to be in the East, where I’m expecting Georgetown — previously eliminated in a contest that made my uncle who went there holler loud enough to be heard in an adjacent state (he lives in Rhode Island, so it wasn’t that loud) — to sneak back into the tournament. This they’ll do by luring Miami of Florida’s actual players out to the old amusement park on Whelk Lake, and then leaving them stuck in the line for the Dodgem Cars, by the expedient of turning on all the lights and having their Assistant Ball Rounder pose as the ride operator and insist they just have to do one or two more test runs before it’s safe to ride. While that’ll go well, unfortunately Georgetown will lose to Marquette (in fact, the Georgetown players who wanted to go to a movie instead, only to find the didn’t know what was playing and were horrified by the selection) after their Assistant Ball is found to be insufficiently round for tournament play. Connecticut and Massachusetts should know that’s what they’re going to be hearing.

In the Midwest division, Minnesota chapter, I see the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode number 620, Danger!! Death Ray, surging ahead of episode number 505, The Magic Voyage Of Sinbad, as a result of a deep disagreement among online voters about which one of them has the “Nummy Muffin Coocol Butter” sketches. This is a pretty silly reason for one to win out over the other, particularly since I’m pretty sure everyone knows those sketches were in show number 615, Kitten With A Whip. Just saying.

In the West, I see the contest between computer languages finally resolving the struggle between Logo and Pilot just in time for people my age to insist there was too a computer language called Pilot and it probably had some features that made it attractive to use. Those features included great use of the colon, which otherwise doesn’t get any attention in computer languages, and it probably did much to support the self-esteem of the psychology professor who created it. The winner of this match will go on to face WATFOR-11S, which I expect will be an easy win as even WATFOR-11S has never heard of WATFOR-11S and thinks I’m making it up. I am.

The next round should see an exciting battle between people’s brackets for college basketball taking on brackets for favorite web comics, while the brackets for best episode of the new Battlestar Galactica goes on to contest the favorite colors and/or words spelled the same in different languages. That last is a powerful bracket because of its flexibility and tendency to pop up in daily trivia e-mails.

In the Final Four, I expect that Two will beat Three, while Three goes on to beat One. Two falls to Four, and One defeats Four, at which point the entire contest is called off on account of intransitivity. A training session to raise awareness of this problem will be held in early May, but be called off following an inconclusive rock-paper-scissors match.

The winnings from the office pool for all this are expected to go right into the pizza fund, just like was done last year, according to Tom, who won last year, or to go right into buying Tom an iPod mini, according to Bill, who runs the pizza fund.