News from Imponderables Central:
The Master Index of Imponderability Is Finally Online
At last, our index of the first ten Imponderables books and Who Put the Butter in Butterfly? is up. Click on the "Index" button on... More
Why Do Pirates Love Parrots? The newest Imponderables book.
Get it from Amazon.com
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...
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.
February 14, 2014
Happy Valentine's Day
[Thanks to Peg Bowen]
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:
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.
December 09, 2013
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.
December 04, 2013
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:
October 31, 2013
Every November, a group of word fanatics congregate at Mohonk Mountain House for Will Shortzís 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 wonít carry.
Now that the holidays are nigh, I thought Iíd 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, itís 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 Iím addicted. There are other apps on my iPad, I think, but I havenít 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.]
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.
October 14, 2013
Joni Mitchell Rocks!
[Thanks to Sal Nunziato and Steve Simels]
September 02, 2013
A Startling Scientific Discovery
[Thanks to Michael Feldman]
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.
June 17, 2013
Here is the stunning Lisa Fischer, featured in 20 Feet from Stardom, singing her Grammy-award winning hit live:
June 14, 2013
20 Feet from Stardom
My review of 20 Feet from Stardom?
GO SEE IT! ASAP!
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:
May 30, 2013
The solution to all your fitness needs.
[Thanks to Peg Bowen]
May 09, 2013
So You Want To Move to New York City?
Maybe rent a room?
[Thanks to Virginia Parker]
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?
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.
February 25, 2013
January 31, 2013
Why Is Your Memory So Bad?
[Thanks to Joanne Pavia]
January 22, 2013
Buddy Rich Lives!
January 12, 2013
December 12, 2012
Penguins Are Awesome
Make sure your sound is on.
December 03, 2012
Mark Evanier's Larry Hagman Story
It may be long, but it is so worth reading.
November 22, 2012
Why Are Turkeys Cheaper at Thanksgiving Time?
November 03, 2012
IMDB Top 250 in 2 1/2 Minutes
[Thanks to Brian Rose]
October 15, 2012
A Power Pop Primer
The Onion's A.V. club offers a great introduction to the origins of power pop, one of my favorite musical genres.
October 05, 2012
RIP, Frank Wilson
A great songwriter, Frank Wilson, died last week, after a long illness. Wilson wrote songs (often, just the music), among others, for the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and most successfully, for the Supremes. He was one of the hands in trying to update the image of the Supremes, most successfully, commercially, with Love Child. My two favorite songs of Wilson's, though they were both singles, were not mega-hits:
Co-written with three other songwriters, including the singer, is the original and best version of You've Made Me So Very Happy, by the great Brenda Holloway:
The Supremes put out many terrific singles after Diana Ross left the group. The first single starring lead singer Jean Terrell was "Up the Ladder To the Roof," featuring the music of Frank Wilson with lyrics by Vincent DiMirco:
October 03, 2012
Dionne Warwick, Live in Paris
Who is the greatest female singer of the last 50 years? My guess is that if you polled musicians, Aretha Franklin would dominate. If you polled the average American, Barbara Streisand might win. But I'd vote for Dionne Warwick. The always valuable Bedazzled features DW singing her first big hit, "Don't Make Me Over," another hit, "You'll Never Get To Heaven," and before that, a stunning cover of "Ebb Tide." Without the benefit of Burt Bacharach's production, a sympatico orchestra, and especially, backup singers, Dionne performance is thrilling:
September 14, 2012
I Miss Siskel & Ebert...
...and especially how funny they were together, as the videos on this blog post illustrate.