Tag: Britain

Day 994: The Game Of Milton Bradley’s Life

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I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.

As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.

The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.

Milton Bradley, 1860s

Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…

Day 970: How One Woman’s Bad Advice Helped To Crumble An Empire

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A modicum of historical investigation, along with a smidge of fact-manipulation in order to build a semi-credible opening sentence has revealed a morsel of data heretofore unknown to me: the Roman Empire – the most mighty and triumphant political juggernaut of the early A.D.’s – was tipped over to a partial crumble, all because some guy listened to his mother.

That may seem like an exaggeration. A slight inflation of documented truth or the set-up for a bit of shtick. But history will back me up on this. By 476, the Roman Empire in the west had been sneezed into debris. It kept up appearances out east for another millennium, but the west had shuffled on to the Middle Ages, where the nightlife was more vibrant, despite the clothes being far less stylish.

History recalls the events of 235 AD as the start of the Crisis of the Third Century. Rome became a land with no leader, and with no one able to pick up a phone and coordinate their collective shit, the Europe-spanning Empire fell into troubled confusion. And the wheels were all set into motion by one guy’s mother, who passed on what could be viewed as some of the crappiest historic advice ever given.

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The story begins with Mark Antony, that kook from all those wacky Shakespeare movies. When he was smited by Octavian in 31 BC, the table was set for what’s known as the Pax Romana – a 200 year period of unprecedented peace. The Roman Empire inflated to the Atlantic, deep into the Middle East, and south into Africa, all with relatively little military flexing. Then along came Emperor Alexander Severus. Read more…

Day 750: The Celebrity Strangeness Quiz

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While in the next room my wife is no doubt running the trumpeters through a quick rehearsal of the jazzed-up fanfare that will herald the massive party she is throwing in my honor, I’m going to flex my consonants and stretch my vowels for the final 250-day sprint to the finish line. I’m right on course with this project, having achieved my goals of graduating from University and acquiring a paid gig spewing words onto a screen. All that’s left is an upgrade to my day job, perhaps the shedding of a few pounds and having Scarlett Johansson sing me an acoustic cover of Elton John’s Tumbleweed Connection album while I feast on bacon and hummus.

But then I don’t know the details of the party next door. Maybe that’ll come off my list today.

For an insatiable snarfer of inconsequential trivia, this project has been a god-send of forgettable (though momentarily nod-worthy) factoids and tiddly-bits. It’s been a treat finding so many wonky folds of space-time that have overlapped with my daily topics and rewarded me for having scooped up all this pop-cultural flotsam. Today I’m going to treat my readers to some of the great weirdness upon the Hollywood petri dish. Today’s quiz is a glob of some of the weirdest facts I could find about A-list stars. The answers are, as always, linked at the end of each question.

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  1. One year after serving as an usher at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral, this actor took the Morehouse College board of trustees hostage (including Martin Luther King Sr.), refusing to release them until the school agreed to reform its curriculum and policies. He won, but was then convicted of unlawful confinement and kicked out of school for two years. Answer.
  2. At the age of 22, this star became a New York City Firefighter, a job he held for five years before quitting to pursue acting. During the hazy aftermath of the September 11 attacks, when headlines were breezing by in a blur of carnage and horror, this guy re-enlisted with his old firehouse and spent several 12-hour shifts sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center, looking for survivors. Answer. Read more…

Day 670: Tricking And Treating And Singing And Eating

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In a few hours I will be visited by a myriad of Captain Jack Sparrows and Spidermen, Walking Dead-types and three-and-a-half-foot Jedi. Some kids will get the good chocolate, while others will get the crap made with compound chocolate (damn you, Oh Henry!). The pathetic kids over 15 with dollar-store devil horns and an Insane Clown Posse shirt will get an icy glare and maybe a box of raisins. I should really pick up some raisins.

And I’ll probably think back to my own days of trick-or-treating. The two years I dressed up as Yoda, complete with a full-on latex mask. The year I went as Michael Dukakis (along with my friend, who dressed up as George H.W. Bush). My one outing as Beldar Conehead, ten years after the character had left TV and four years before they made that movie. It was fun, it was cold, and it sated my sweet tooth – often to the point of nausea – for at least a week.

It seems only logical then, rather than to prattle on about the Gaelic Samhain roots of Halloween, to poke instead around the archeological bones of the portion of the holiday that brought me mirth as a child. Today I loathe dressing up in costume for Halloween parties. But I still enjoy noshing on the goodies left over once the lights go out and the kids stop a-knockin’.

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When Halloween began, the only acceptable costumes were clowns, floozies, and Batman.

Back in the late medieval days, when every day without the plague was a day worth celebrating, poor folks used to wander from door to door, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for food on All Souls Day, November 2. This tradition, called ‘souling’, started in Ireland and Britain, but was clearly happening in spots all around Europe. In Scotland, where they really know how to party, the act of ‘guising’ was recorded as early as 1895. This involved children in disguise carrying lanterns made from scooped-out turnips, walking around town and receiving cakes, fruit and money. Read more…

Day 646: The Inescapable Laugh-Track

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Though it hasn’t yet been accepted as fact by the Western medical community, there is an adage that claims that laughter is the best medicine. But what if laughter is the disease itself?

Somewhere amid the musty grey pages from the hard-to-reach file of wacky medical history lies the Tanganyika laughter epidemic. It’s a story that reads like a cautionary tale of bad hoodoo, one of those stories the old foreign wise man might spew in a bad movie. But enough people observed and documented this monumental weirdness that we have to accept it as fact.

Optimally there would be a well-polished explanation slapped onto the end of this twisted tale, a rubber stamp that could decree which tome of medical quirkiness this all belongs. But no one is really sure why so many people in this rural African region suddenly started laughing one day and couldn’t stop.

Probably had nothing to do with a mime.

Probably had nothing to do with a mime.

In late 1961, the British released their hold on the portion of German East Africa that they’d snatched up in the aftermath of WWII. The Republic of Tanganyika was formed, sticking around under that name on only two years’ worth of globes before merging with Zanzibar and changing its moniker to Tanzania. But in those two years they made their mark in medical mythology with this little slice of history.

It was the morning of January 30, 1962, a typical day at a mission-run girls’ boarding school in the tiny village of Kashasha. Three girls, somewhere between twelve and eighteen years of age, started laughing. No one knows what set them off, if anything. They simply started with a titter, ramped up to a chuckle, then kept rolling into guffaw territory. Like yawning, laughter can be notoriously contagious, so it wasn’t unusual (though probably somewhat distracting) to see other girls catch on. But it got a little weird when the laughter wouldn’t stop. Read more…

Day 626: Our Mystery Guest – Lover, Killer, International Spy

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I’m going to slip a little swoosh into my gait today and alter my stride somewhat. Instead of simply telling the story of today’s subject, I’m going to bury the lead about as deep as I can, relating the story of this man’s life while leaving his name behind the final curtain. Why do I do this? Well, sometimes you start with dessert and eat your way backwards. Sometimes you take the long way back home, either because you want to check out the scenery or else allow the long version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to play out. Sometimes it’s just fun.

This man is a famous person, one with whom most people in the English-speaking western world be familiar. The hero of this story has commanded a far more interesting life than one might expect, given the sliver of it which we have seen.

So dip your brain-bacon into your thinking-eggs and see if you can’t deduce our mystery guest’s identity. If you’re up on your obscure trivia, or maybe if you’re simply a big enough fan to have this knowledge padlocked to the front table of your readily-available mental hors d’oeuvres, then you’ll pick this up right away. For the rest of us, let’s peel through this guy’s backstory and see where it takes us.

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Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, our story’s hero had a rough childhood. When he was three, his older sister died from appendicitis, and a few weeks later his distraught father perished from pneumonia on a fishing trip in the Antarctic. I don’t know why anyone would travel from the UK to the Antarctic just to go fishing. There weren’t any good seafood restaurants in his little corner of the island, I guess. Read more…

Day 624: Lipograms – Or How To Avoid A L*tt*r For 1000 Words

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Ambitious? Yup. Crazy? You know it. How can an author concoct a full-on book whilst omitting that most popular ASCII swirl – that which shows up in an almost full swath of our words? You know what I’m talking about: it turns ‘bit’ into an act of chomping; it turns ‘pat’ into a pasty duck food apt for applying to a Triscuit; it turns ‘hug’ into a word for gigantic.

Could I pull it off? Is it within my hobbling Sunday morning skills, sitting in a glow from an almost-autumn sun, to plot out a kilograph of words – still witty, still topical, still skillful to charm my own brain – without using that which falls b’twixt ‘d’ and ‘f’? I highly doubt it. To accomplish this is a coup, okay, but I also think it would bring a pain within my rattling skull. This would insist upon grit, a touch of humility, and a cool and stubborn focus.

I don’t know if I got it in my digit-tips, but I’ll launch it past that bow and find out. This is a batshit-nuts try at a lipogram.

This is going to hurt...

This is going to hurt…

A lipogram is stunt of constraint, of rigorous word control. Is it fun? Possibly, though it’s taxing on a brain’s ability. This act of play is found in old books from that nation – you know, that classic civilization with pillars, philosophy and tzatziki. This guy, Tryphiodorus, was known for his lippogrammatic adaptation of that book… not Iliad, but that similar story by that guy with a similar autograph to that of Bart Simpson’s dad. You know. Read more…

Day 490: From Human To Kuman Thong

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Every so often a headline grabs my attention and won’t let go until the blood has drained from my cranium, leaving me unconscious and limp, like a pile of soggy overcoats in a long-neglected closet. Certainly when I read “Briton Arrested with Roasted Human Foetuses For Use In Black Magic Ritual”, my curiosity was piqued. As was my breakfast.

One topic that hardly ever flops its way onto this site is religion. I’m here to entertain and to fill people’s heads with trivia that will adhere like pesky Velcro to the inside of their skulls, not to debate the life of Jesus, the teachings of Mohammed or whether or not humans are merely a vessel for alien host-creatures called thetans (though if pressed, I’d go with a daring ‘no’ for that last one).

But this goes beyond religion. Once you’ve roasted a fetus, you’ve crossed a line into the criminally weird. A warning – this story could turn ugly.

So far, it's just creepy.

So far, it’s just creepy.

This totem, this twisted and deranged ritual – and here I feel confident in calling this particular spiritual practice just a little bit deranged – is called Kuman Thong. We’re venturing now down the path of animism. Animism is the fundamental belief that all things – humans, animals, plants, rocks, broken Rubik’s Cubes with one corner piece missing – possess a soul. They aren’t all dancing the same big mystic foxtrot, mind you – that’s pantheism. But if you feel that each tree that was felled in order to build that new strip-mall was a desecration of an individual living soul, then you may be an animist. Read more…

Day 408: A Half-Century of Beatles Gold

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First off, I’d like to apologize in advance to all members of the baby boomer generation. This article may assist in making you feel old. That said, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that every significant cultural accomplishment of the 1960’s is going to turn 50 soon, and that begins today.

When the Beatles woke up in the morning of February 11, 1963, they had two British singles under their belt: “Love Me Do”, which had barely cracked the top 20, and “Please Please Me”, which was threatening to do the same. They reported to EMI Studios on Abbey Road around 10:00am, with a plan to devote the next thirteen hours to recording the entirety of their first album. It was the 60’s. They had too much to conquer; there was no time to waste.

They even wore suits, but no jackets. They were in a hurry.

They even wore suits, but no jackets. They were in a hurry.

British pop albums traditionally came bundled with 14 songs, because songs were generally less than three minutes long, and prog-rock/jam-band/one-song-a-side albums hadn’t been invented yet. The Beatles had two A-sides and two B-sides ready, but ten vacancies that needed to be filled. Read more…

Day 241: A Brief History Of The CFL

Despite my geographical position in one of the most tundra-ish of Canadian cities, I have found that the majority of my readers are located in the United States. I have also found that I possess a dependable disinterest for Canadian football, opting each and every Sunday (Grey Cup Sunday included) to watch NFL games instead. For me, the players are better, the game is more strategic and interesting, and the rules make more sense.

Nevertheless, Ms. Wiki decided to send me on a post route deep into the secondary of the CFL this morning, so it is for my home and native land that I pen this kilograph. Apologies to my fellow countrymen and countrywomen if I come off sounding a little bit cynical.

The history of football can appear deceiving. We are six months removed from the 46th Super Bowl, yet the 100th Grey Cup (the CFL championship) is right around the corner. Yet the game of football as we know it – at least in these two countries – was invented in America, right? So how could this be?

MAGIC?!?!?!

No, it’s rugby.

Oh. Well, shit.

Rugby-inspired football was actually first played by a British Army garrison in Montreal in the 1860s, and soon spread all over Canada. Okay, ‘all over’ Canada refers mainly to Ontario and Quebec; I think the rest of the country was busy trading beaver pelts and trying not to die of exposure to cold to put together a competitive rugby team. But the Canadian Rugby Union called the shots for every league and every team that mattered in the late 1800s.

The reason the CFL plays with 110 yards is because that’s actually correct. When the game was brought over the border to Harvard, they didn’t have a field large enough to host a proper game of rugby football, so they set their size at 100 yards, with less width and tinier end zones. The field size also explains the American reduction to 11 players per side, as opposed to 15 for Canadian (which dropped to 12 as the rules changed) – there just wasn’t room. The Americans also upped the number of downs to four from three because they wanted to see more offense.

This blows my mind a little. I grew up thinking that Canadian football was a bastardized form of the American game, when in fact the opposite is true. Read more…