Saturday, September 26, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

I started Brad Wilber’s Newsday Saturday Stumper with a clue that seemed to me a giveaway: 1-D, seven letters, “Group with a washboard.” A giveaway, at least, to someone with my ears. The puzzle grew much more difficult as it moved to the bottom right corner, where 41-D, seven letters, “Chapter 13 of his 1984 memoir is Courted by Chrysler” gave me fits. I knew the name, but how to spell it? The final square, for me, was in the upper right: the first letter of 10-A, four letters, “Humor category” and 10-D, three letters, “#2 at Subaru.” There’s only one possible answer for 10-A. But I still have no idea what 10-D is about.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

17-A, ten letters, “Don’t move, unfortunately.” Nothing to do with Samuel Beckett plays.

27-A, nine letters, “Laser, circa 1960.” That makes sense.

35-D, four letters, “Turner of old movies.” Nice one.

38-A, nine letters, “Ovoid collectible knockoff.” That’s a thing? It’s a thing.

46-D, six letters, “Marginalize?” Clever.

57-A, ten letters, “Child's blanket.” I took inordinate glee in knowing where this clue was headed.

One clue that misses out on the OCA seal of approval: 23-A, three letters, “Numbers essential to Nebraskans.” So forced. I saw what the clue was asking for, but the answer doesn’t pair plausibly with “numbers.” This answer appeared in last week’s Stumper, by Matthew Sewell, and Wilber and Sewell construct together as “Andrew Bell Lewis,” so perhaps there’s some friendly competition to come up with the zaniest clue for this answer.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments. And I’m still on hold, waiting for the meaning of “#2 at Subaru” to dawn on me.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Idiom of the day: seat-of-the-pants

From A.Word.A.Day, it’s seat-of-the-pants: “1. Using experience, instinct, or guesswork as opposed to methodical planning. 2. Done without instruments.”

The origin is surprising to me:

The term has its origin in aviation. Before modern instruments, a pilot flew a plane based on how it felt. For example, in fog or clouds, in the absence of instrumentation one could tell whether the plane was climbing or diving by how heavy one feels in the seat. Seat of the pants is the area where one sits, i.e. the buttocks. Earliest documented use: 1929.
The Oxford English Dictionary has a first citation from Popular Science Monthly (October 1935) that points to a different meaning:
Ten years ago, blind flying was known as “seat-of-the-pants” flying, for fog-bound pilots without instruments soon learned to tell whether they were flying right-side-up by the pressure against their parachute packs.
Right now I’d say that were both upside-down and diving. It’s all seat-of-the-pants. And get this: the plane has instruments, but the pilot doesn’t trust them. He thinks his instincts are better.

“Up in smoke”

Living in Paris, low on funds, the writer can afford only the cheapest cigarettes, Gauloises and Gitanes. A cigarette accompanies every scene of his daily life — “except sleeping.” He can’t open his mail without a cigarette, even if an envelope might hold a check that would enable him to buy cigarettes.

Julio Ramón Ribeyro, “For Smokers Only,” in The Word of the Speechless: Selected Stories, trans. Katherine Silver (New York: New York Review Books, 2019).

“For Smokers Only” is the best writing I’ve ever read about the joys and sorrows of cigarettes. Even after thirty years away, I identify. Oh boy, do I.

See also the story of Mikhail Bakhtin using the pages of a manuscript for cigarette papers.

Also from Julio Ramón Ribeyro
“None of this surprises me”

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Clear images in the new Blogger

Two versions of a passage from Julio Ramón Ribeyro’s story “The Substitute Teacher”:

I don’t know how to explain what’s going on, but here’s what I do to get a sharp image in the new Blogger:

~ To take into account my Mac’s Retina display, I upload an image at least twice as large as what I want to display. The images above are 772 × 612 pixels. For Size, I choose Original. For Alignment, None.

~ In Blogger’s Compose view, I resize the image to Large. I don’t really want Large; I just want numbers for width and height that I can modify.

~ I switch to HTML view and change the code for the image. Here’s where things get tedious. I remove all the <div></div> stuff that now accompanies an image. I change the value for padding: 1em to padding: 0em. I remove text-align: center;, while thinking it strange that Blogger centers even when I’ve chosen no alignment.

~ And here’s where things get really tedious. In the URL for the original image, I change s0 to s1600. In the URL for the resized image, I change the values for width and height to the ones I want (here, 386 × 306). And in the URL for the resized image, I change w400-h-317 (Blogger’s dimensions for a Large image) to s1600.

I’ve exaggerated the difficulty, really: after getting the hang of it, I find that this editing takes very little time. The best way to figure it out is to upload an image or two, follow these directions, and practice.

The first, blurry image above is how Blogger does it. The second is how I do it. The difference is, uhh, clear.

A related post
Images in the new Blogger

“None of this surprises me”

Matías Palomino has just been given a job as a substitute teacher of history:

Julio Ramón Ribeyro, “The Substitute Teacher,” in The Word of the Speechless: Selected Stories, trans. Katherine Silver (New York: New York Review Books, 2019).

Neither Elaine nor I knew anything about Ribeyro when we bought two copies of this book. What a wonderful writer. His stories remind me at times of Joyce’s Dubliners, with irony and sadnesses abounding. Highly recommended.

Domestic comedy

“Anyone can be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. I could nominate you.”

“And then I could talk about it at my rallies!”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)

[I joked too soon: in truth, I cannot nominate Elaine. Contra Mental Floss, it’s not “university professors” who can nominate. As the Nobel website says, it’s “professors, professors emeriti and associate professors of history, social sciences, law, philosophy, theology, and religion.” Literature doesn’t count.]

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Whither the rumpus room?

“I guess I was asleep in the rumpus room”: someone on the witness stand, in the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Dead Ringer” (April 17, 1966).

You don’t hear much about rumpus rooms these days. The Oxford English Dictionary defines rumpus room like so: “originally and chiefly North American[,] a room used for recreation, which does not need to be kept tidy.” Merriam-Webster brings the meaning down to earth: “a room usually in the basement of a home that is used for games, parties, and recreation.” The etymology of rumpus is uncertain; the OED suggests a possible connection to romp. Which makes me realize for the first time ever that the name of the television show Romper Room must have been a play on rumpus room. Now that’s what I call life-long learning.

The OED has a first citation for rumpus room from 1930, from the Wisconsin State Journal:

Cellar space nowadays . . . rejoices in such up-to-date names as “game room,” “smoking room,” and one home owner even calls it his ”rumpus room”!
He must have been quite a card, that home owner. I especially like this citation::
Betty brought university friends home for many good sing-songs and games in the rumpus room which we fixed up in the basement.
That’s from John Hiram Blackburn’s Land of Promise (1970), which Google Books tells me is an account of pioneer farming in Alberta, Canada.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer suggests the waning fortune of the North American rumpus room:

[Rumpus room is really in the basement. Click for a larger room.]

From better days:

[“Fix up that rumpus room the family is longing for!” From an advertisement for Nairn Linoleum. Life, March 17, 1941. Click for a larger view.]

I like this one too. Lexicographers, take note:

[Life, February 19, 1945. Click for a boozier view.]

Clearly, a ping-pong table is de rigueur. I am slightly freaked out by the presence of weapons in each room, especially when the occupants of room no. 2 have given themselves over to drink. Perhaps the host thought to hide the bow that should go with those arrows. As a reader pointed out, they’re darts. But still weapons in the wrong hands!

[Kinsey: there’s a brand name that must have run into complications. But the brand lives on.]


“Don’t spend another sleepless night worrying about death.”

Related reading
misheard posts (Pinboard)

[It was a television commercial, about debt.]

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Dental jazz in translation

Elaine said no one would figure out my imaginary utterances from the dentist’s chair. She appears to have been right. The utterances, translated:

Ooh EH-ee-uh: Duke Ellington.

Uh-OH-ee-uh UH: Thelonious Monk.

Arh IHN-uh: Charles Mingus.

Notice that each utterance has two parts, each beginning with a capital letter. I thought that would be enough to signal names, after which it would be relatively easy to figure out likely suspects. But see the first paragraph.

No matter: I’m donating $50 anyway, to John Hickenlooper. Goodbye, Cory Gardner.

[Goodbye as well to Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, and David Perdue. Our household has made a modest contribution to each of their opponents: Sarah Gideon, Jaime Harrison, Amy McGrath, and Jon Ossoff. Mark Kelly seems to be doing well against Martha McSally without our help.]

Stalling vs. declining to act

Curious phrasing in the Illinois news segment dropped into NPR’s Morning Edition this morning: Senate Democrats are seeking to stall any nomination to the Supreme Court. But: In 2016, Senate Republicans declined to act on Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland. The verbs caught my ear.

Merriam-Webster gives the following definitions of stall. As an intranstive verb: “to play for time,” “delay.” As a transitive verb: “to hold off, divert, or delay by evasion or deception.”

To stall a nomination: that phrasing is far more unsavory than decline to act. But Mitch McConnell and company did not decline to act in 2016: their inaction was of course itself a form of action. And a form of stalling: they refused even to start the car.