Monday, March 31, 2008

The Bed

I was home last week for Spring Break, and as usual I was housed in the spare bedroom upstairs. My mom kind of uses that room as an all-purpose space for spare furniture, grandkids' toys, sleeping babies, and things like that, so every time I come it's a little different. This time it had something quite new: my grandparents bed. My grandfather passed away last month (he and his wife had lived with us most of the last decade or so), and they had turned his room into an office. Most of his things have gone to various relatives, but the bed had merely migrated upstairs. So that's where I slept all week—I don't know if that's weird or what, but I was cool with it.

Here's my story. The bed's headboard has two tall skinny posts that jut up along the wall, and anytime you move a bit or roll over, the vibration travels up the posts and makes them tap the wall softly. It's a bit annoying, actually, and the word on the street is that the Old Man used to take the posts off when they bugged him. Well one night I went up there and plopped down on the bed and was reading a book, and after a minute I noticed the posts were making a regular tapping on the wall: tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap. I wasn't moving at all, so I wasn't sure what it was at first. But then it dawned on me, it was the sound of my heartbeat, traveling from my chest to the mattress to the headboard to the posts to the wall, beating out a quiet tattoo. It was only happening because I had just run up the stairs to get my heart pumping a bit and I had lain down belly-first.

Creepy, yeah? It made me think of ripples of oars on a lake, the music of the spheres, and dinosaur footprints.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring Break Mean Freedom from Revision

The thing that makes Jane Austen so satisfying is that the lines are so clear. You know who likes who and for what reason. There are a finite number of characters and possible intrigues, and as an outsider it isn't all that hard to look them all over and make a judgment.1 The other thing about Austen that's so alluring is how readily every situation translates into one's present. Who knew Georgian England was the archetype for all romance past and future?

But when I think about those two points, I see that they really are at odds with one another. I have never known one minute of perfect certainty about who likes who for what reason, who is good, who is bad, or how many characters there are. Not even for myself. And it's never really been a matter of choosing good over evil in lovers; the decision is never that obvious for anyone I've known. It's never that simple, because all the possibilities are riddled with bits of both, and no one has the courtesy to allow a sordid affair or hidden past come to light, taking them out of the running for good. And it isn't all money vs. character, nor timing nor patience nor cunning nor confidence nor conversational wit nor fine letter-writing. It's all of that and none of that and more.

Scary thought: The reason it doesn't add up in my mind may be because I'm no Darcy after all. I could be Wickham or worse.

1 I'm tempted to go so far as to say everyone in Austen is clearly good or bad, or at least clear degrees of one or the other, that there aren't really any characters who are both good and bad. But I'm not confident enough to make that call without rereading, which is antithetical to the nature of a blog post.

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. P and Me

Today was Saint Patrick's Day, and I was graciously invited by some friends to eat a spot of traditional Irish fare. Highlights from the evening included a shamrock treasure hunt for the kids, Joey's boy possibly saying my name, being attacked by Joe's tickle monster, and singing "She is My Dear My Darling One" in a Sean Connery accent, though no one really heard.

But it reminded me of a past St. P's Day, years ago when I was a freshman at BYU. That year I had a great roommate—incidentally his name was Joe—who took to calling our 6-guy apartment "The Awesome Man's Club," and when we asked him why he said it was cause we were so awesome. We figured we had to do something to live up to that reputation, so we decided to be a club that sponsored contest—after all, who doesn't like entering contests? There's such a shortage of good contests.

Our first was a Thanksgiving turkey drawing contest, and our second was a snowflake making festival. Unfortunately, Joe left school after the break to serve a mission, and we were left without a leader. But then we got an idea, one so big we wrote to Joe for permission to pull it off under the auspices of the Awesome Man's Club.1 It was to be a St. P's Day party to remember, complete with contests galore.

I'm flying home on Wednesday, and if you'll wait till then I'll dig out the incredible flyer we produced for the event, scan it, and tell you all about how nervous we made the RA with our antics.

Until then, an update: one paper and one portfolio down; one paper to go. Tonight the Final Jeopardy category was "Book Title References," and I immediately turned to Dave and said, "Slaughterhouse 5."2 You can see if I was right by checking here sometime tomorrow.

1 I know it should probably be "Awesome Mans' Club," but the way Joe said it was just so, well, singular.
1 The way I said it was just so, well, italicized.

The Great Crisp Rice Caper

Okay, I know you aren't supposed to do service and tell, but this wasn't a secret anyway. So on Sunday night, a bunch of the kids from church got together and we made finals survival kits/Easter bags for our friends. I'd say Easter baskets, but all we had were brown paper bags. Some of us gathered round the table and decorated the bags with markers and stickers (finally a got to use my Class of '99 stickers for something!) while others filled the kitchen with the sweet smells of Rice Krispies Treats made with the finest generic brand ingredients money could buy.

Then we split up and delivered the goods to our fellows. Keefer and I were a team; we had to sneak into the dorms to make the deliveries. Basically that meant standing outside locked doors, trying to look as unsuspicious and unstalker/murdererish as possible until someone came in or out. But once we were in it was easy to find the right room, knock, and spread the love. It probably shouldn't have made me so happy—especially since there wasn't much in the bags: just the Treats, a few chocolate eggs, and some stray post-it notes1—but to see the looks on the faces of our unsuspecting friends was priceless. It was pretty late, so they'd open the door with that who's-knocking-at-this-hour look, but as soon as we said "Happy Easter" and handed over the goods, they each got this expression of real gratitude on their faces. It made my night.

Me cracking up with the decorations crew

Note to self: Respond with extra excitement to any future good deeds perpetrated towards me.

1 I knew Joe and I should've gotten the Hannah Montana pencils too! They were only 97¢! Why didn't we get them?

T-bone Stew

I've been playing a lot of Tetris recently to keep my stress levels manageable while the term winds down (we're on the quarter system, so this week is already finals).

For those of you who don't know, I'm a Tetris fiend. I've played so many games of Tetris that I really don't play anymore—I just kind of glaze over and do Tetris. It's all reflex now, which is why I find it relaxing, unlike, say, chess, where I have to puzzle and fret over every move. I speak the language of Tetris, fluently.

But I have a new challenge. Since setting up the Nintendo to play, Dave and I have noticed that for whatever reason the connection between the box and the TV is kind of moody. There will be sudden short bursts of static where the screen scrambles and the sound is drowned out, but the game keeps playing as normal. We paid attention and have narrowed it down to when the heater kicks on or the refrigerator hiccups (and, for some reason, whenever Tom is in the bathroom).

It's a little nerve-wracking to be playing a game based on quick thinking and reactions, a game dependent on precise vertical arrangements, a game where you can never know more than one move ahead, knowing that at any moment you might be blinded for one or two seconds. A lot can happen in that flash of static—a perfect tetris setup can be completely destroyed for one, and if you're playing upwards of level 16 it can mean the whole game. It makes it interesting.

It kind of reminded me of this story.

In other news, I got a triple tetris this week. That's when you've built up a huge stack, and then three wishbones come in a row and you send each one down the shaft for mega points.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Why I'm Single?

Megan suggests a new compatibility question for

Which kind of person are you:


(and as for why I'm not married to a Japanese person, I offer exhibits a, b, and c.)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

"Well now I do"

Student: "I'm really really mad at God right now!"
Institute teacher: "Well, have you told him so?"
Student: "What, do you think I'm an idiot?"

(story told by my Institute teacher tonight)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Standing Ovation

There are times when even I am left speechless by the absolute perfection of something. Earlier today, by accident, a friend and I discovered something that I have no words for. I mean, there are things I want to say about it like—no, it won't work. Everything I write I have to delete. It is inadequate; it lessens the greatness of what I am about to show you to try and explain.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Otters.

(On the one hand I'm expecting hundreds of comments, but on the other hand I know they will all consist of stunned ellipses.)

Monday, March 3, 2008


Tonight I was watching Jeopardy! with my roommate, and when the category for Final Jeopardy was announced—US Geography—I quickly assured my mate, as is my custom, that I was betting it all. Without a pause I added my guess, as is also my custom, without having even seen the clue yet: Pike's Peak.

My roommate always chuckles a bit at the audacity of guessing the answer with only the category to go on, but I assured him he'd be sorry when I was right. At the end of the commercial break Alex came on the screen and introduced the clue: "Of the 50 highest peaks in the US, all of them are in Colorado, Alaska, and California except this one."

Jaws dropped. Accusations of "having already seen this one" were given. Denials were issued. Could it be?

The answer was Mount Rainier.

(To my brother's credit, he once pulled this off by guessing "Buzz Aldrin" for the category "Astronauts.")

Trivial Pursuit

Here's something I've been meaning to complain about. Has anyone else noticed how the quality of Trivial Pursuit questions has really gone down since we were kids? When I was young, we had the Genus and Disney editions (I always thought it was the genius edition, which, if you think about it, makes a lot of sense), and they seemed to be quite well-written. Sure there were an inordinate amount of questions to which the answer was Cyndi Lauper, but overall it was a good, solid game.1

It seemed like it was around 2000 that a fresh wave of Pursuit mania hit and we began to see lots and lots of editions of the game, each with an angle. I played one or two of these, but it never felt the same. Since moving to Athens I've played quite a few times with several different sets, and I finally pinned down what it is about the game that bugs me: the syntax.

Trivial Pursuit questions are horribly worded. I mean they are B.A.D.—to the point that I wonder if they're trying to make things more difficult. How often do you hear someone ask if they can see the card so they might look over the question in writing? How often do you begin reading a question, trip over the order of the words, read it through once to see what it's actually trying to say, and then start again, over-emphasizing the clauses, air-quoting the proper nouns, and offering short explanatory asides?

Shouldn't a game in which nothing has ever really changed since its publication in 1982 except the questions take a little more care to get that one thing right? I mean, I'm sure it takes some time to craft those specialty tokens for each edition—the Trapper Keeper token in the 80s edition, the stock certificate token in the 90s edition, the pewter Scooby Doo in the Warner Bros. edition—but I have just as good a time cramming pie pieces into a yellow plastic segmented cylinder as I do cramming them into something of a more limited edition.2 My happiness does depend, however, on the syntactical construction of six questions per card, a hundredish cards a game.

Let me be specific: On Jeopardy!, nearly every clue is constructed very carefully so that it contains subtextual clues—usually puns and other turns of phrase—that guide a conscientious player to make very good guesses. Crossword puzzles adhere to a strict policy of parallelism; if the clue is plural, or past tense, or abbreviated, so is the answer. There is an intense level of craftspersonship that goes into these things, and it isn't easy. Nine writers create the 14,030 clues for Jeopardy! every year.3 One editor, Will Shortz, edits each and every crossword—366 of 'em this year—for the New York Times, and with an average of, I don't know, 80 clues per puzz, that's approaching 30,000 clues.4 I have yet to see the Trivial Pursuit question that employs clever wordplay to enhance the question. Recently I've had a hard time finding one that had an ounce of real clarity.

How many questions does the Pursuit have to pull together for an edition? A couple thousand? How many Parker brothers do they put on that, or is it just Milton? Bradley?

And yet, a friend just brought over two editions of the game I've never played before that she doesn't want cluttering up her house. I opened one up just to have a peek and the board was folded up on top in all it's 3-crease, 1-slit glory, the familiar old Trivial Pursuit logo etched in gold leaf. I unfolded it and there it was: the classic board design from my youth with its funky colors and creepy black images. Will I be playing this soon, despite my qualms and disappointment?

You bet.

1Other common answers were Michael Jackson, Tomorrowland and that old standby, Otto von Bismarck
2I have even more fun cramming pieces of pie into my big mouth. Anyone up for a little Trivial Pursuit/Pie Party on 3/14?
3Here's my source.
4Don't even get me started on Will Shortz. But since we're on the topic, you might be interested in this and this.