Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why I'm a nerd, Thursday edition.

Hey, first off, if you didn't read it already, scroll down to the previous post, which talks about the Twin Cities Improv Festival and the fact that you should go see shows at it. Right.

I’ve been thinking lately about certain patterns in our society, and in particular patterns that run parallel to each other. In fact, I found myself wondering this week if the one ever affects the other. If it seems like I’m being oblique, there’s a reason. There’s bonus trivia afoot! I’m going to present you with two sets of numbers, each with two associated letters. The goal is to figure out what each set represents. The lists aren’t really related, but if you get one, it should help you figure out the other.

SET #1
SET #2
2 L,U
4 JK
8 B,C
0 AG
4 A,G
6 BD
0 S,A
2 GB
6 A,U
8 MD
2 B,S
4 WM
8 S,S
0 JC
4 L,U
6 GF
0 M,U
2 GM
6 M,C
8 HH
2 M,G
4 BG
8 M,M
0 RN
4 T,J

0 R,I

Additional hints:
1. Note that Set #1 has two more items at the top than Set #2. That’s because we currently do not know what would go in those spots for #2.
2. If I were to continue the bottom of Set #2 for two more entries, they would be 6 AS and 2 AS, respectively. The corresponding entries in Set #1 would be 6 M,A and 2 H,F.
3. I could have used three letters each in Set #2, and the nature of the list would have become more obvious.

Answers will be posted in about a week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It's time for the Twin Cities Improv Festival! This weekend! Thursday through Sunday! At the Brave New Workshop Theatre! There's lots of great out-of-town acts coming to town, including Bassprov (pictured) with special guest Mo Collins (of MadTV, a former Brave New Workshop alumna), Pimprov (in-character improvisation: what if flamboyant, 70's-style pimps also had an improv group and knew a lot about improvisational theory, from Viola Spolin onward?), and the Josh and Tamra Show (puppets!). You should go to the shows. They will be good.

However, I'm here less altruistically, to plug the shows I'm involved in.

1) This Friday night (technically Saturday morning) at 12:30, it's the last currently-scheduled performance of the Neutrino Video Project Twin Cities. I've been blogging about Neutrino for some time now, as have others, but the gist if you're just joining us is that it's an improvised movie. On video. Filmed while you're watching it. With music and the occasional Vertigo-or-Jaws-style dolly zoom. I'm quite proud to have been a part of Neutrino, and hope to report its planned return someday soon, but until then, this is your last chance. As a bonus, I'll be appearing as Robert Evans in a pre-taped thing Troy made for the beginning of the show.

2) On Saturday at 10PM, on a double-bill with Darby Lane from Los Angeles, it's the Survivors of the Undead Plague. Improvised stories of the zombie apocalypse! I've been lucky enough to work with the Survivors as an external set of eyes and ears in preparation for the festival. They are four great improvisors, and their show is unique and fun and features moments of genuine terror, which is really hard to pull off, even if I am, as Troy says, a big wuss.

So come check out some of the best that Twin Cities improv and its guests have to offer. Looking forward to seeing you.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Weeklypedia 12 & 13: Deluxe Double-wide

Hey, it's more trivia, despite the fact that the new history system in Firefox 3 has made harvesting my Wikipedia activity more difficult. Last week's answers are up, of course.

1. Named for an Italian mathematician & astronomer, it is the theoretical point between two astronomical bodies where the bodies' gravitational pulls on a small object cancel each other out, and the object will remain stationary.

2. Metamerismic animals are characterized by having these.

3. Approximately 86% of the land in this state, more than any other, is owned by the Federal government.

4. The Slattery Report, commissioned by the US Dept. of the Interior under Secretary Harold Ickes in 1939, explored the possibility of allowing large numbers of European refugees, in particular Jews, to settle in this state.

5. Between 1986 and 1997, in at least 20 incidents, at least 40 people were killed by people of this ostensibly unarmed occupation.

6. Fans of Monty Python may know the globus cruciger, a medieval symbol of royal authority, by this more modern and martial name.

7. Martha Rountree, in 1947, became the first moderator of this public affairs television program.

8. Klimt, Gaudí, and Tiffany are all exemplars of this early-20th-century movement in art and design.

9. Gaudí's unfinished masterpiece, this cathedral in Barcelona has been under construction on and off since 1882.

10. The killing of Meredith Hunter at this event in December 1969 inspired the fifth verse of Don McLean's song "American Pie"

11. The death of Meredith Hunter was captured on film by the Maysles Brothers, who were filming this concert documentary.

12. Though it may suggest baseball and is used metaphorically in politics, the term "unforced error" originates in this sport.

13. One of the shortest books in the Bible, theologians may describe it as an allegory of God's love for the chosen people, but we all know what it's really about.

14. This place is surrounded by a 30-km "Zone of Alienation," in which 120,000 people lived before they were evacuated.

15. This sandwich, intended to appeal to adults, was introduced by McDonalds in 1996 with a $300 million ad campaign, and was a flop.

16. The man most responsible for the Boston Celtics' NBA Championship.
I'll just go ahead and answer that last one: who is Timberwolves General Manager Kevin McHale? Seriously, he may be the best GM in sports, according to Forbes, but I'm pretty sure they thought he was still in the Celtics organization.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Meet Kumail's film blog

Hi. I want to take a quick moment to single out a recent addition to my blog links in that right-hand column. It's a movie blog written by my friend and Grinnell College roommate Kumail Nanjiani (pictured). It's very funny, and has gotten some fun discussions/arguments going about films.

The blog is entitled The Wilhelm Scream, and is named after a long-used Hollywood sound effect of the same name. First used in the film Distant Drums in 1951, and likely voiced by actor/musician Sheb Wooley of "Purple People Eater" fame, it was resurrected and popularized by sound designer Ben Burtt for Star Wars in 1977. Since then, it's been used in six Star Wars films, four Indiana Jones films, at least two Tarantino films, and countless others. You've heard it, trust me.

Anyway, if you like movies and/or words that are placed together in humorous combination, do check out Kumail's blog. And if you're in NYC, seek out Kumail's stand-up comedy performances.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Weeklypedia 10/11: Double-shot

Before my job/work moves, I printed out my browsers' Wikipedia histories. That list is somewhere in my messenger bag (aka man-purse). Someday I'll get around to plumbing the depths of that list for quality nuggets of trivia [I really should have used the participle "mining" instead of "plumbing," given the unpleasant combination of words "plumbing" and "nuggets" - ed.]. But for now, there's more recent Wiki-research afoot! I'm going to make this week's quiz double-long, to start making up for the month-long gap in May.

As always, the answers to the previous quiz are now up.

Weeklypedia Nos. 10 & 11

1. The Compromise of 1877 gave this US Presidential candidate an electoral victory in exchange for moving Federal troops out of the South, a move that effectively ended Reconstruction and allowed "Redeemer" Democrats to enact Jim Crow.

2. Batman's criminally insane foes, when not at large, are incarcerated in this facility, named after the fictional Massachusetts setting of much of H.P. Lovecraft's horror writing.

3. Explorer Roald Amundsen was the first to reach this.

4. This NY group was the first hip-hop act to get the message that they'd be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

5. When a politician says "if nominated, I will not run, and if elected I will not serve," he or she is said to be making this kind of statement, named for its originator.

6. This author's crime and western novels have been adapted into movies starring John Travolta, Pam Grier, George Clooney, and Russel Crowe.

7. In the final scene of the final episode of the TV show "The Sopranos," a suspicious character is seen wearing one of this exclusive brand of jackets, popular nationwide in the 1980s.*

8. The separate mafia organizations in New York City are collectively known by this numerical name, and were referenced as such (with fictionalized individual names) in such works as The Godfather, The Sopranos, and Grand Theft Auto.

9. This wife of a presidential candidate was hospitalized approximately a year after her husband lost the election for having drank (drunk?) rubbing alcohol.

10. This one-time vice presidential candidate visibly injured his own face, rather than be used as a propaganda tool by his North Vietnamese captors.

11. Alan Greenspan and David Rockefeller were among the founding members of this group in 1973. The group was designed to foster relations between the three collective powers of Europe, Japan, and the United States, and figures into many right-wing conspiracy theories.

12. This comet passed close to Earth in 1997, and was cited by the Heaven's Gate cult as the signal for their mass suicide.

13. New Horizons, launched by NASA in 2005, will in 2015 be the first ever probe to fly by this.

14. From the Latin root meaning "game," and suggested by Herman Hesse's novel "The Glass Bead Game," it is a word meaning the study and theory of games.

15. Tay Zonday, composer and performer of this song, is one of many web celebrities appearing in the music video for Weezer's single "Pork and Beans."

16. This Iowan Representative to the US Congress, who Horace Greeley famously instructed to "go west, young man," was beaten with a cane about the head and shoulders by a fellow Congressman in 1866.

Here's a fun tidbit that I decided not to question-ize: each of the Voyager space probes carry a golden record as a sort of time capsule, or, in case of extraterrestrial salvage, message of identification & peace. The discs include greetings in many languages and a selection of music from around the world. There's some Bach and some Beethoven, some Stravinsky (terrifying for aliens, I imagine), some Chuck Berry and some Louis Armstrong, pygmy music, gamelan, etc. Anyway, apparently Carl Sagan, who chaired the group that put this together, wanted to include "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles. The Beatles loved the idea but those killjoys at EMI nixed the idea. I like to think that EMI was actually concerned that the title of the song would be read as a threat, the equivalent of a statement to pre-Columbian tribes in the western hemisphere reading "Here Comes Spain." Could've been a terrific diplomatic faux pas. Or maybe it was sensible on the company's part, when you consider that aliens probably already had mp3 and internet technology in the 1970s -- it was too much of a copyright infringement risk.

* PS: [Spoiler Alert] I rewatched the last couple episodes of The Sopranos last night and the finale seemed MUCH less ambiguous this time around -- Tony totally got shot and killed at the blackout. [End Spoiler Alert]

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Too Many Schwas

At my new job I am surrounded by people with one-syllable first names containing a soft vowel sound following an R. All of these sound like "Fred" if spoken by a Minnesotan and heard through iPod earphones in an open-office environment. Here is a sampling of the names in my vicinity:
  • Brian
  • Brett
  • Brent
  • Brad
  • Brad
  • Greg
  • Greg
  • Kraig
  • Craig
  • Chris
  • Chris
Note that Brian, Brett, and one of the Brads are all also structural engineers sitting within three cubicles of mine. Thank goodness for having a Troy and a Dave immediately nearby, otherwise I'd just spend all day reacting to names being spoken. I can only imagine the hell for people whose names these are, especially the Brads/Bretts/Brents.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Weeklypedia 9: Don't Call It a Comeback...

...because who knows if it will stick. Last week's month's time's quiz has had answers up since early May.

This week's quiz is dominated by presidential trivia, driven by my digging around matters of the election. Enjoy.

Weeklypedia Quiz #9
  1. A traditional Christmas meal in this country consists of fried chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken, eaten at home.

  2. Their creator named these humanoid monsters by borrowing a word from Beowulf but also acknowledged a similarity in their name to "various sea-beasts of the dolphin order."

  3. Winners of this multinational competition have included Abba's "Waterloo" and Lulu's "Boom Bang-a-Bang."

  4. This former civil engineer is the earliest US President with a presidential library in the National Archives and Records Administration system.

  5. He is the US President whose presidential library was built first.

  6. He was the first US Vice President to utilize One Observatory Circle in the US Naval Observatory as his residence.

  7. He was the first Catholic to be one of the two major political parties' nominee for US President.

  8. This former Georgia Congresswoman is a Green Party candidate for US President in 2008.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Just Look Around You

"The brain is basically a wrinkled bag of skin filled with warm water, veins, and thought muscles. Think of it as a kind of modified heart, only with a mind, or brain."

If you found that sentence as brilliantly funny as I did, you're in for a treat. I'm a nerd with a dry sense of humor, so when I found out about BBC 2's "Look Around You" about a year ago, I was delighted.

It's a parody of late-70s / early-80s British educational films, and is done in period style, down to the cheerful, warbly electronic music and instructions for writing certain information in your copy book in each episode. I'm not British, and was barely cognizant in the era this show seems to take place in, but it reminds me of old episodes of "3-2-1 Contact" and "Nova." (Speaking of which, 3-2-1 Contact had an awesome opening song. As did "Voyage of the Mimi," in my memory anyway.)

The first series of the show is comprised of eight ten-minute "modules." Each is full of plausible-sounding nonsense delivered by a knowledgeable-enough-sounding British voice and demonstrated by series co-creator Peter Serafinowicz, pictured, right. Actually, that picture isn't accurate, since in the show, he's almost exclusively seen from the upper lip down.

"Why," you may ask, "should I give a rip about Peter Serafinowicz?" Well, you liked Shawn of the Dead, didn't you? "Of course." Well, he played Pete, the ill-fated roommate of our protagonists. "Neat. Did he also play a role in Shawn creators Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's previous sitcom, 'Spaced?'" Yes; he played lead character Tim's nemesis Duane Benzie, and in that role he got to repeat a line or two from his most famous role, that of the voice of Darth Maul in the Phantom goddamned Menace. Incidentally, my dear interlocutor, "Spaced" is finally being released on DVD in the United States this July, and you should buy yourself a copy, and then get me one for my birthday.

And to get yourself ready for some of the best recent British comedy around, you can watch all of the first series of modules from Look Around You on YouTube. Please, enjoy:
  1. Maths
  2. Water
  3. Germs
  4. Ghosts
  5. Sulphur
  6. Music
  7. Iron
  8. Brain
In the second series, they changed up the format to include more presenter characters, and seemingly shoved the setting a few years into the eighties. A few chunks of those episodes can also be found on Your Tube. Enjoy them if you encounter them, as well.

Next time we speak of British comedy on this blog, we will speak of Alan Partridge. Aha!