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October 17, 2014

How To Make Ceviche

Don't forget the love!

[Thanks to John DiBartolo]

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October 07, 2014

God Only Knows

[Thanks to Maggie Wittenburg]

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June 21, 2014

David Letterman: Game Show Host

Mark Evanier, major domo at the estimable blog, News from Me, recently posted a wonderful link to an interview with a very young David Letterman, in which Letterman alludes to hosting a game show:

As it so happens,the game show pilot that Letterman alludes to was shot just before I started working for NBC daytime in New York City, but one of my first duties when I started working in NBC Daytime Programming department was attending the focus group for The Riddlers. Here, minus the Elvira wraparound is what our group of women saw:

At the time, Family Feud was the hottest show in daytime, and the VP of NBC daytime was looking for a comedian who could create the kind of byplay with contestants that Richard Dawson accomplished on a daily basis. I believe we already had a holding deal with Letterman. Everyone knew he was a great talent and game-show hosting was unlikely to be his ultimate gig. Wheel of Fortune and Hollywood Squares were performing reasonably well for us, but Knockout and The New High Rollers were not. Since we were paying Letterman anyway, why not see if he could fulfill a need for us.

I remember how much fun it was to sit on the “police side” of the one-way glass and watch the focus group watching “The Riddlers.” There was a lot of laughter on both sides of the glass. Everyone knew the premise of the show was flimsy: The crucial element would be how much the audience liked the host, and whether Letterman’s wisecracks would be perceived as affectionate witty banter or cruel sarcasm. As much as the audience laughed at Letterman, they were clearly taken aback by Letterman’s banter, especially toward the “civilians” (celebrities were fair game). Combined with research indicating that the gameplay itself generated no interest, The Riddlers was destined for oblivion. But as copies of the pilot circulated around 30 Rock, Letterman’s stock went up rather than down, and helped cement the idea of giving Letterman his morning show.

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June 09, 2014

Does Refrigeration Really Ruin Bread?

Daniel Gritzer, at Serious Eats, has done the research, and here it is.

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April 27, 2014

Do Penguins Have Knees?

The New England Aquarium is a little late to the fair, but the photos are cool.

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February 20, 2014

Why Do We Itch? [Redux]

In my first book of Imponderables, we discussed this weighty question. In the almost thirty years since it was written, the theory that the neural pathways for itching are identical to the ones for pain seems to be degenerating. Now there are scientists doing research and clinics specializing in treating chronic itchiness. The New York Times weighs in...

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February 19, 2014

So You Want To Be a Chef-Owner?

A cautionary tale from one of my favorite chefs, Dave Santos. Here is an interview about the trials and tribulations of surviving in NYC and here's a photo-essay that shows you the kind of hours Dave and his staff work.

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February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

[Thanks to Peg Bowen]

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January 12, 2014

Carole King: Beautiful

Tonight is the Broadway opening of Beautiful, the musical devoted to the life and songs of Carole King (and once-husband and lyricist Gerry Goffin). Without getting into the merits of the show, which I saw last night, let's just say it makes a strong case for Carole King's brilliance as both a writer and singer.

While searching on YouTube for a video of Maxine Brown's superb performance of "Oh No Not My Baby," I stumbled onto this tantalizing clip of King teaching the song to Merry Clayton, one of the vocalists featured in "20 Feet from Stardom":

And given the death of the great Phil Everly, I wanted to share another classic song she wrote with Howard Greenfield, "Crying in the Rain":

But listen to Carole King's demo of the song, never meant to be released to the public. It' just as moving:

And while we're at it, let's listen to Maxine Brown:

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December 16, 2013

WOW -- World of Words

How appropriate that at our event, The Wonderful World of Words, we played WOW -- World of Words. The fourth and final of the four word games we played has the simplest of rules. If you see this video, you'll be ready to play in under three minutes:

I was worried that the game was so simple that it wouldn't hold the interest of our word sharks, but two tables played the game for close to two hours straight, foregoing the chance to try another of the games. Sometimes simple is good.

WOW is produced by U.S. Games, a specialist in card games. Instead of burdened with a useless board, WOW is small enough to carry in your pocket, so it's a great travel game for word lovers. And the price is right: eight bucks.

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December 09, 2013

Pass-Ack Words


Pass-Ack Words, the third of our highlighted word games, is a variant of Password. In Password, the purpose is to give one-word clues to your partner to get him or her to provide a supplied answer. In Pass-Ack Words, all the clues you give partner must be chosen from a provided list. Doesn't sound very challenging, does it?

It might, except for a twist. The clue-givers are not sending clues to their partners, but the opponents. The challenge is to offer clues that won't help your opponent find the right answer, but might help your partner.

Let's use an actual card from the game as an example. Let's say Apple and Orange are playing against Tuna and Mackerel. Apple and Tuna see that the first answer is OIL, and they are provided with 9 clues:


Apple might decide that there is no way that his opponent, Mackerel, can guess OIL from "corn," but has to consider whether combined with any second clue, whether Orange could guess it properly when it is her turn. At any time, the guessers can get all the given clues read back to them, but sometimes the laundry list just leads to confusion. Just imagine that you have received these clues: corn; paint; well; baron; snake. Not so easy to guess OIL, is it?

Pass-Ack Words is a terrific party game, suitable for the whole family because the clue list makes it easier for kids to compete. Pass-Ackwards is designed for four players, although you could accommodate a few more by adding a guesser or two to each team. You can buy Pass-Ack Words directly from R & R Games R&R Games, or the usual online sources.

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December 04, 2013

Oddly Obvious

Imagine the clue to a crossword entry is: "A cow with no legs." Or another clue is: "A turtle without a shell." Any answers come to mind? Would you be confident? When you are solving a crossword, you usually have crossing answers providing some of the correct letters.

But what if there were a game that presented crossword-like clues but the answers were right in front of your face? That's the premise of Oddly Obvious, the second game that we played at Will Shortz's Wonderful World of Words last month. Of the four board games we played, Oddly Obvious was the game I was most worried about. Would having the answers provided render the game too easy for hardcore word gamers?

I needn't have worried. It turns out that having the answers provided led to many laughs, intense time pressure, and even a genuine challenge. The rules are simple enough that you can be up and running within a couple minutes. Oddly Obvious is great fun.

The answers to our puzzlers. A cow with no legs is "ground beef." And a turtle with no shell is "homeless."

Here's a video review with a recommended rule change:

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October 31, 2013


Every November, a group of word fanatics congregate at Mohonk Mountain House for Will Shortz’s Wonderful World of Words weekend. On Saturday afternoons, we play word games, and the group that selects what we play tries to find newish word-oriented games, especially from smaller game companies. With the loss of many independent toy stores and even chain stores, such as Toys R Us, it is harder than ever for consumers to find new games, ones that the big box stores won’t carry.

Now that the holidays are nigh, I thought I’d write a little about the four games we are playing. First up: Dabble, from INI, LLC. The rules to Dabble are so simple that you can be up and playing within a few minutes. You pick 20 tiles with one letter and point value on each. With these tiles, you need to make exactly one 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5- and 6-letter word. If you succeed, it’s better to have put the higher scoring tiles in the longer words.

Dabble was invented by a man in his 80s, George Weiss, who is beyond cool:

The board game is not brand new, but the app is, and I’m addicted. There are other apps on my iPad, I think, but I haven’t been using them lately. The point values on the tiles make Dabble more versatile than Text Twist and similar anagram games. Once you get proficient at finishing all 5 required words, you can try to garner higher scores and faster times. The app will keep track for you. Want to challenge your friends via the app? No problem. Care to try the game free on Facebook? Why not?

What separates both the board game and the app from the competition is its elegance and simplicity. There are usually elements even in games I love that I would like to change. Dabble is a pure word game, without gimmicks and doodads, one that is easy to play, but difficult to conquer, and even harder to put down.

[Dabble is available directly from INI, or Barnes & Noble stores, Amazon and B&N online. The app is available from the usual sources in all popular formats.]

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October 21, 2013

Urination Times in Mammals

I've never thought of it before, but Slate informs us that mammals tend to urinate for about the same amount of time -- 21 seconds. They take a stab at an answer too, with a not particularly compelling answer.

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October 14, 2013

Joni Mitchell Rocks!

[Thanks to Sal Nunziato and Steve Simels]

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September 02, 2013

A Startling Scientific Discovery

Study: People Far Away From You Not Actually Smaller

[Thanks to Michael Feldman]

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July 31, 2013

Google Whiz Visualizes Beach Boy Harmonies

Featuring the vocals-only mix of the Beach Boy's You Still Believe in Me from their masterpiece, Pet Sounds.

Here's the original Wired article.

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June 17, 2013

Lisa Fischer

Here is the stunning Lisa Fischer, featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, singing her Grammy-award winning hit live:

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June 14, 2013

20 Feet from Stardom

My review of 20 Feet from Stardom?


This documentary about the great backup singers of rock and roll opened today. In the next few days, I'll feature some videos of the featured singers. We'll start out with the best known singer, Darlene Love, one of the great singers in rock history. Here she is last year, in her annual Christmas celebration with David Letterman:

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May 30, 2013


The solution to all your fitness needs.

[Thanks to Peg Bowen]

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May 09, 2013

So You Want To Move to New York City?

Maybe rent a room?

Maybe not.

[Thanks to Virginia Parker]

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April 04, 2013

RIP, Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert, just days after announcing a recurrence of cancer, died of the disease today. The tributes and obits are pouring in, including a fine one from his newspaper home.

A quick search indicates that I've posted about Ebert more than ten times on this blog, including links to some wonderful video from a happier time.

On a personal level, I'll always feel indebted to the Pulitzer Prize-winning movie critic for answering an Imponderable for my first book, and a sensitive one at that: Why did Gene Siskel get top billing over Roger for At the Movies?

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February 28, 2013

How a 'New Girl' Script Gets Made

TV critic Alan Sepinwall visits the set of New Girl to see how a rough draft is re-worked and re-worked and re-worked.

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February 25, 2013

Celebrity Heights

It is somehow comforting to know that I am taller than Sting and shorter than Kyle Chandler. How about you?

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January 31, 2013

Why Is Your Memory So Bad?

Maybe you know too much!

[Thanks to Joanne Pavia]

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January 22, 2013

Buddy Rich Lives!

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January 12, 2013

Pinball Survives


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December 12, 2012

Penguins Are Awesome

Make sure your sound is on.

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December 03, 2012

Mark Evanier's Larry Hagman Story

It may be long, but it is so worth reading.

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November 22, 2012

Why Are Turkeys Cheaper at Thanksgiving Time?

Shouldn't turkey prices rise when they are in the most demand?

Happy Thanksgiving!

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