Sunday, July 27, 2014

230 Quiz Answer

Puck flies around the earth in 40 minutes; the astronaut takes more than twice that, about 90.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "c" is for "conniver")
The prompt this week reminded me that nations and clans of all kinds have a tendency to create long stories of their history, legends of their glistening, glorious past.

These sagas usually tell the story of an early leader, a hero of supernatural power.  Sometimes such a legend will include a sidekick of the ruler, a character known as the “trickster,” an imp or sprite who enjoys fooling around.
In Shakespeare’s day, this sprite was Puck, well known in British folklore.  When a farmwife came down in the morning and learned that the milk had soured long before it should have, it was natural for her to think that some sort of creature, some mischievous elf – Puck, in other words – had been responsible.

In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Puck plays an important part.  The best description of him would be: he's a conniver, always conniving, scheming, manipulating.  Officially he’s jester to the king, but he enjoys his remarkable powers for farce by screwing things up for people.

In the play there are several couples of young lovers; Puck gets a charge out of scrambling the arrangement so that the guys and the gals are no longer sure just who loves whom.  

Of course, one of Puck’s most famous achievements has to do with what he does to Nick Bottom, the weaver.  For Bottom it isn’t a fun job anyway - weaving stuff can be awful tedious – but it’s worse when a weird elfish prankster gives him the head of a jassack.

But he turns out to be lucky; the fact that this change somehow makes beautiful women fall madly in love with him makes up for it a bit.


Puck, as you might expect, brags a lot.  He claims he can fly around the world in a certain number of minutes.

Well, the folks over at NASA thought about this.  They had had astronauts circling the globe for years.  They knew, to a minute or so, just how long it took.  They wondered, would their guy win such a race, or would Puck?

So here’s your chance to win the huge cash award.  (Assuming I can find somebody to put up some cash – which doesn’t look likely.)

The question is, who would win, who would circumnavigate the globe faster?  Puck or the astronaut?

(The answer will be posted Friday)



Sunday, July 20, 2014

Berowne's 229

(also for three word wednesday and abc wednesday; "b" is for berowne's adventures)
No quiz this week.  Folks have been generous and liberal enough to show interest in my occasional personal history notes, so here’s another chapter in...
Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures!

Ah, those were the days.

Air travel was different, to say the least, in the days of pre-jet flight.

If you ever traveled in a 4-engine piston airliner in that era, you know all about its vibration and noise during a 12-hour flight.  You know about the jolly bouncing around you got in your seat because a prop plane couldn’t fly above the weather.

And perhaps you know that those magnificent piston engines had a small problem folks didn’t like to talk about too much.  They caught fire on takeoff.

Not every time, you understand, just once in a while.

Like when I was on board.

One summer day I was heading out to California and I was excited to be making the very first non-stop flight from La Guardia to Los Angeles.  (Previously, you had to make a stop in Chicago.)

There was no such thing as jet flight for passengers.

I had purchased an expensive home movie camera for the occasion.  It was magnificent, complete with a three-lens turret.  I was very proud of that li’l apparatus.

The takeoff seemed uneventful, except that of a sudden the plane appeared to be coming to a stop.  One of the engines was on fire.  The cockpit door opened and the pilot came into our area.  In an elaborately calm voice, he said: “We’re going to get everyone off this airplane about now.”

The fact that he was making such an effort to be calm somehow made it more alarming.  (Though I suppose it wouldn’t have been better if he had shouted something profane to the passengers, and added “We’re on fire!”)

He pointed at me and said, “You – go down the rope.”

Here I should pause to explain the emergency system for that particular aircraft.  Today evacuation slides are impressive, beautifully made and highly effective.  Well, in those days for that airline company such a slide seemed to be a sort of afterthought.

It consisted of just a large-area canvas like a tarpaulin that you tossed out and it hung there like a wet dishrag.  A heroic volunteer among the passengers had to go down a rope hand over hand and then stretch the canvas out so it could be a slide.

Since I was seated closest to him, the pilot volunteered me to go down the rope.  I wanted to point out that I was holding in my right hand an expensive movie camera, so hand over hand would be sort of out of the question, but what with the plane on fire I figured this was no time to be quarrelsome or for lengthy discussion.

I took the rope in my left hand and went whoosh! down to the tarmac in about one second.  I checked my hand; the skin was shredded and it was bleeding.  I carefully put down my camera out of harm’s way and stretched out the canvas.  It worked fine; folks began zipping down.  Everyone got off with no problems.

I went to a clinic there and they bandaged my hand up good, even gave me a sling, which I thought was overdoing it a little.  Everyone waiting in the La Guardia airport knew that a flight had caught fire on takeoff and they were all buzzing about it.  They turned to stare at me as I, heavily bandaged, strolled in. 

I felt that maybe I should just gather everyone around and say, “I’m not a poor victim of the airplane fire.  I’ve just been sliding down a rope!” 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

228 Quiz Answer

Shakespeare wrote:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes…
A fathom is six feet.  Five times six equals 30 feet.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "A" is for "Accident")

It was a tough way to travel, to sail from Europe to America four or five hundred years ago.

Not only did hurricanes spring up from the Caribbean with winds that could tear a sailing ship apart, but the trip was fraught with perilous islands along the way that were every bit as dangerous.

One of the islands that you had to get past to get to the American mainland was called by the sailors of the day “The Isle of Devils” because it was surrounded by menacing rocks.

It was in July, 1609, that a vessel named the Sea Venture was sailing to bring supplies to Jamestown, Virginia, and had a famous nocturnal accident: in the middle of the night it was caught up in a storm that battered the ship and caused it to run on the rocks of the Isle of Devils.

What the survivors were to learn was that the place wasn’t devilish at all.  In fact, the island they had smacked into we know today was Bermuda, and as many vacationers in later centuries discovered, it was an honorable and pleasant place to spend the winter - if you could afford it.

At any rate, when the news of the accident and the storm got back to England, Will Shakespeare sat down and wrote a play titled “The Tempest.”

It’s a very interesting work: the experts didn’t know what to call it – comedy, drama, history, tragicomedy.  They seem to have settled upon “romance” as its specific genre.  The reason for the confusion is that there a number of sub-plots in the play, peopled by actors who range from ordinary folks to fantastic characters of heavy-duty weirdness.

However, to get around to our weekly quiz, there’s a sequence where a man’s father has drowned and his body has begun to decompose as it lies in the water.

Shakespeare handles this rather ghoulish topic as you might expect – it’s ghoulish enough for anyone, but he can’t help but write of it in poetic style.

“Of his bones are coral made,

Those are pearls that were his eyes.

Nothing of him that can fade

But has suffered a sea change

Into something rich and strange.”

Now here’s the question.  The poor drowned guy is lying in how many feet of water?  (Do the math.)

(The answer will be posted Friday.)  


Sunday, July 6, 2014

227 Quiz Answer

"Send in the Clowns" is a song written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, an adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night.

Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Z" is for "Zero."

(I wrote the following, thinking it might suggest to you a well-known song.  Name the song.)

Dear Brenda:

It’s a joke.  A really funny joke.

Know what it reminds me of?  At the circus that eerie moment when they send in the little car to the center ring and twelve guys get out; everybody laughs.

To put it in more guarded and different terms, when I think of the hours I spent knocking on doors, opening doors, mostly getting nowhere.

Because all that time I never realized that the only door I wanted was yours.

But I finally made it.

Big dramatic entrance.  I had rehearsed; I knew my lines.  I was ready.

But that was when the whole thing turned into pure farce.  Your door finally opened - and there was no one there.  It added up to a big zero.

Isn’t it rich?  Imagine the little car riding into the center ring – and no one gets out.

But maybe I’m wrong thinking it’s a joke; in a way it’s more translucent, more of a tear-jerker, a story of sadness.  How was it possible that I was so wrong, to think you were going to want what I wanted?

How could we have been so different?

I was constantly tearing around; you were on solid ground.

You were firm, unyielding.

So what’s in the future, the future for the two of us?

When that little car drives into the center ring again…

Will anyone get out?


(The answer will be posted on Friday.)
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