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Posts Tagged ‘Scrabble’

Got Those Travel-writing Blues, and Other News

July 23, 2015 | by

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From a poster for the 1913 World Esperanto Congress.

  • Explaining the Internet’s Joan Didion obsession is a tricky thing: “In the crossover of feminism, fashion, and literary interests, there is a whole swathe of the internet where Didion is a staple reference. Her borscht recipe can be found on the website Brain Pickings, and her list of items to pack for reporting trips periodically crops up on style blogs … In 1989, she appeared in GAP ads with her twenty-three-year-old daughter, wearing black turtlenecks, and staring defiantly into the camera with only the barest suggestion of a smile. Last year, she wore huge black shades in ads for the French luxury goods brand Céline, which inspired devotion in unexpected places and in-depth analysis from the already devoted.” And yet this obsession seldom seems to extend to her political writing, which accounts for the bulk of her output—they only want her to write about herself. And what of that self? “To be so glamorously sensitive and beautiful that you have to be taken care of,” Pauline Kael once wrote, was the “ultimate princess fantasy.”
  • This is peak road-trip season. If you’re not in a car right now, lighting out for the territories and exuding manifest destiny—well, it’s not too late. But don’t be all Fleetwood Mac about it. You cannot, in fact, go your own way. You can instead follow in the footsteps (tire tracks?) of writers past: Kerouac, Twain, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Wolfe …
  • On second thought, stay home. It’s more or less impossible to be a good travel writer anyway. You risk falling into two camps: the Elizabeth Gilbert, interior psychodrama, “obnoxious white lady in brown places” camp, or the Bruce Chatwin, indomitable male, “colonialist’s baggage stuffed full with preconceived assumptions” camp. If you’re looking for role models, try Freya Stark and Dervla Murphy: “Stark was in the world with her writing, not above it, not in herself … Her writing restores humanity to people who have otherwise been stripped down to news reports, reduced to death tolls and photos of open-mouthed weeping. The secret to her success was listening to the people she visited and letting them tell the story. This shouldn’t be any secret. It should be what every travel writer does.”
  • A man who speaks hardly a lick of French has triumphed in the Francophone Scrabble Championship having apparently memorized the entire French Scrabble Dictionary in just a few days. Nigel Richards, “the Tiger Woods of Scrabble,” regards words as “just combinations of letters,” like numbers: “He has learned no language logic, just a succession of letter sequences giving rise to words. In his head it’s binary: what draw (of letters) can make a scrabble, what draw can’t.”
  • On James Purdy, who wanted to write stories that “bristled with impossibilities”: “In his novels and short fiction, possibility and potential are always compromised. There is neither transcendence nor transformation. His characters do not grow or develop; they dwindle and unravel … It’s hard to think of a contemporary writer whose work shares this sensibility, a cool elegance laid over extreme emotion. The most apt comparison may be Wes Anderson, whose films similarly feature casts of eccentrics, dialogue full of non sequiturs, deadpan humor, and unabashed farce.”

 

I Swear

January 30, 2015 | by

In 1904, Roland D. Sawyer launched a crusade against obscenity.

In 1904, Roland D. Sawyer launched a crusade against obscenity.

No one ever heard my grandmother, in all her eighty-three years, utter a bad word. I can only once remember her even raising her voice. “It’s all fouled up!” she cried then, shaking a broken TV set. She said it with such frustration and despair that it expressed at least as much as any curse word might have. In fact, besides the time I heard a four-year-old in my brother’s playgroup call his sister Mary-Ellen a “fuckindamnshit,” it was the most shocking thing I’d ever heard.

Her husband, my grandfather, was considered foul-mouthed in the family; his language was a constant cause of distress to her. But in fact, he didn’t use real swear words either—certainly not compared to that little boy. It was usually a savage Goddammit! Or Hell’s Bell’s! His worst outbursts were reserved for his weekly gin game. It was then that he’d reach for the worst epithet of all: “I’ll be dipped.” Read More »

Still Flying High, and Other News

October 22, 2014 | by

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Detail from the cover of the first issue of High Times, 1974.

  • Ben Bradlee has died at ninety-three: “In his personal vernacular—a vivid, blasphemous argot that combined the swear words he mastered in the Navy during World War II with the impeccable enunciation of a blue-blooded Bostonian—a great story was ‘a real tube-ripper.’ This meant a story was so hot that [Washington] Post readers would rip the paper out of the tubes into which the paperboy delivered it.”
  • High Times turns forty: “It’s easy to forget how radical an outrider of the counterculture this magazine was. Its editors were (and are) brave, subversive and funny. They’ve tended to take nothing seriously except for one crucial thing: the way so many lives have been destroyed by an inept and misguided war on drugs.”
  • A well intentioned, poorly executed update to the Scrabble dictionary has turned into “a clusterfuck,” reliable sources indicate. “There are typos, valid words which have been excluded, and invalid words which have been included … The biggest issue among competitive players is the lack of a publicly available electronic version of the new list … Because of Hasbro’s copyright, and the absence of a public electronic list, errors have been tedious to identify.”
  • Tolstoy’s 1889 novella The Kreutzer Sonata was a famously caustic attack on his wife, Sofiya. She struck back with “Whose Fault?”, a rebuttal in the form of a short story: “Like Tolstoy, Sofiya criticizes the sexual double standard, but she’s far more sympathetic to women, who are kept in ignorance until marriage, then expected to satisfy their husbands and remain beautiful and docile through a long series of pregnancies and betrayals.”
  • “There was a long period when an outhouse was a perfect convenience, and a well-built one could be a luxury good. The Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum in Wethersfield, Connecticut, is trying to recapture their golden age with an unusual kind of restoration project: The refurbishment of three high-end outhouses—or privies—from the late eighteenth century.”

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The Cows That Might’ve Been, and Other News

August 6, 2014 | by

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Charlotte Strick‘s preliminary designs for Lydia Davis’s latest book included these cows, illustrated by Ariana Nehmad.

  • “The image of a syphilitic Joyce is one that few scholars have wanted to conjure in print”—but evidence suggests that Joyce did indeed suffer from syphilis. It’s not just in his medical history but in Ulysses, where two scholars “found syphilis everywhere … Their journal article for Archives of Internal Medicine includes a two-page table listing apparent references to syphilitic symptoms throughout Ulysses … ‘The letter s hisses throughout the book as a reminder of the s in syphilis (a word that not only begins but also ends with s, as does the novel).”
  • In Greece, a new museum reconstructs the inventions of the ancients, “including Archimedes’ screw, the robot-servant of Philon, the automatic theatre of Heron, ancient war machines, and the famous analogue ‘computer’ of Antikythera.”
  • The Paris Review’s art editor, Charlotte Strick, discusses her process in designing the jacket for Lydia Davis’s Can’t and Won’t. “ ‘The Cows’ is the longest story in this collection, and cows by nature ‘can’t and won’t.’ They typically require a lot of waiting around. This sparked an idea early on in my design process … I tried an all-over wallpaper pattern of tiny cows that I imagined as a pre-printed case.”
  • A photo of brawling Ukrainian parliamentarians has all the beauty and compositional fluency of a Renaissance painting.
  • Scrabble has expanded its dictionary, adding some five thousand words—most of them are expectable neologisms like frenemy and bromance, but others are more novel: e.g., quinzhee, a shelter made by hollowing out a snow pile, and qajaq, an Inuit precursor to the Kayak.

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Eudora Welty Knew How to Make a Good Impression, and Other News

March 14, 2014 | by

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Sobriety pays. Portrait of Welty at the National Portrait Gallery; photo by Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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Literary Put-downs, Venetian Bookshops

August 20, 2012 | by

  • “It’s a bookshop right on the canal that floods every year, so the eccentric, stray-cat-adopting owner keeps his books in boats, bathtubs and a disused gondola to protect them.” A visit to Venice’s Libreria Acqua Alta.
  • The fifty best literary put-downs.
  • “The original Palatino was based on humanist typefaces from the Italian Renaissance, and was named after sixteenth-century Italian calligraphy master Giambattista Palatino.” A history of the most popular fonts used in design.
  • And Then His Hands Went Below the Table: cheating, lying, and disgrace at the National Scrabble Championships.
  • “Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You— / Not God but a swastika.” According to FBI Files, Sylvia Plath’s father, Otto, may indeed have had Nazi sympathies.
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