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Archive for the ‘Crossword Puzzles’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SAMANTHA TINA-“The Moon is Rising” (Latvia, Eurovision Entry 2021).

Eurovision 2021 has come and gone and of course I’ve got questions.

Even though I enjoy checking out Eurovision entries, I know very little about the Eurovision process.  I didn’t even know that there were countries that didn’t qualify for the final round.

So here is the entry from Latvia.  It scored the least amount of points of anyone and sits at the bottom of the list.

I’m not sure what could have happened to Samantha Tina to make her come in last place in this contest.  “The Moon is Rising: feels like pretty standard Eurovision fare.   True there’s not a lot to it, but I feel like the aggressive female empowerment of these lyrics should have won over lot of people over.  Or is that what killed her?

The song opens with some pulsing sounds then Samantha sings in a big powerful anthemic voice.  It’s a soaring operatic opening.  She kind of raps, but in a singing sort of way.

When I walk in like this
With an attitude
You should know that
I’m coming after you
You can run, you can hide
But you’re mesmerized
In your mind I am
Already idolized

A thumping bass introduces the next verse

My rules, your rules
I’m a woman, I’m a ruler
My rules, your rules
I’m accepting only true love
My rules, your rules
I’m a woman, I’m a ruler
You got something to say
Say it to my face

Then the third part with deep bass y synths and a chanted chorus of

Pa-ra-ra
Pa-ra-ra
Pa-ra-ra-pa
Pa-ra-ra-pa pa-rade

Which is certainly odd.

The song repeats these three parts, which might have been a problem if there’s no clear verse chorus verse structure.  I don’t know.  I thought the video was pretty cool.

Someone in the comments on YouTube (I know never read the comments, but this one is worthwhile):

“The vocal performance in the semi didn’t go just very well and it somehow lacked a little attitude.”  So that could explain why it stalled.

[READ: May 10, 2021]  “Turbulence”

This is an essay about being on a flight and not getting along with your seat mate.

He opens with the amusing scenario of him sneezing a cough drop out of his mouth and onto the lap of the person next to him.

He has three choices:

  1. Ignore it, let her look down later and think she has a shiny new button on her jeans.
  2. Reach over and pluck it from her pants.
  3. Wake her up and be honest.  Which is what he’d normally do except that they had an earlier altercation.

(more…)

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51196238._SX318_SY475_SOUNDTRACK: LYRIC JONES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #57 (July 29, 2020).

download (69)Lyric Jones is a delight.  A smart, thoughtful woman who not only raps really well, she has a great singing voice too.

She talks A LOT between songs.  She plays 3 songs in 21 minutes.  She talks a lot about her hustling–driving for Uber and Lyft as well as all of the running around one has to do to be a musician.

Lyric makes it abundantly clear that her hustle is nonstop – writing, rapping, singing, drumming, engineering, and grinding it out to make Gas Money (the title of her latest album).  This quintuple threat, trained in the Berklee College of Music’s City Music program, recorded this Tiny Desk (home) concert from her studio in Los Angeles in May.

“All Mine” opens the song and I love how she plays her electronics while keeping her flow fresh.

My favorite song is “Adulting.”  I love watching her create the song a capella–making the beats and the music looping her voice and manipulating it with electronics.

 Her multi-layered prowess is present on “Adulting” a song about the evolutionary growth that happens in your late 20s and early 30s. Lyric uses a TC Helicon vocal processor to create percussive beats, looping her voice as a backdrop and packing a punch with vocal harmonies and ad libs.

After the song she jokes about how in the song she is complaining about wanting to stay home all day and not get up and do shit.  Be careful what you wish for.

Before the last song she has two important things.  First, how you can support Lyric Jones (ha).  But she takes the virus seriously, encouraging everyone to be kind to ourselves and patient with ourselves. It’s important to feed ourselves mentally, creatively and to literally feed ourselves.

In grappling with the pandemic, Lyric expresses the deep importance of this moment: “Whatever we put out in this time, in this era is a bookmark in history. Especially as musicians. … For me, my personal testament, I want to be intentional. … My children’s children are gonna know about this time. And I want to know that I impacted it with intentional music, intentional thoughts, insights and perspectives.”

She ends with “Lush Lux Life,” her “affirmation song” about “what I should be doing–living luxuriously.”  I really like this song for the excellent retro-sounding music behind the song.  I’m really curious if the jam at the end of the song is new or a sample from an interesting rocking jazzy solo.  Her producer Nameless has some great skill.

[READ: July 29, 2020] Thinking Inside the Box

A couple of years ago I read Cluetopia, a history of the crossword puzzle written from a British writer.  Now here’s a book about crossword puzzles written from an American writer.

Is the country significant?  In some ways, very much so.  Because Americans and Britons have very different styles of crossword.  Americans’ puzzles are full of puns and definitions as well as facts and information.  British crosswords are known as cryptics and are mostly full of wordplay–you don’t need external information to solve the puzzles, exactly.  Most of the time the clue contains all you need to find the answer (sometimes it even contains the answer itself) but they are quite challenging.

Other than that, the origin of the author is not that significant, because the origins of the crossword are the same regardless where you write from.  Arthur Wynne was a Liverpudlian lad who moved to Pittsburgh and then to New York City.  He worked on the New York World which was eventually run by Joseph Pulitzer.  (It’s ironic that awards of excellence are in his name since he ran the World full of pulpy news and yellow journalism).

In 1913, Wynne was put in charge of the FUN section.  He needed to fill space so he came up with a Word-Cross Puzzle.  It was shaped like a diamond and the three and four letter answers ran around a center hole.  He based it on similar word puzzles he had seen as a child in England.  The puzzle became a weekly feature.  Eventually a typo changed it to crossword.  The puzzles weren’t especially challenging because they were meant to be fun.

Wynne wanted to patent the crossword but the paper wouldn’t pay for the expense. (more…)

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50093048._SX318_SY475_SOUNDTRACK: COREYAH-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #41 (June 30, 2020).

Watching Korean bands mix traditional and modern instruments is really cool.  Korean traditional instruments (like the geomungo) are really quite unlike anything the West has produced so I love seeing them in action.  But merging them with electric guitar (and plastic hand clappers) makes for such an interesting juxtaposition.

This week we’ll publish four Tiny Desk (home) concerts from around the world. We begin in South Korea.  Today [is] the music of Coreyah. According to the band, the name represents “inheritance,” and that’s evident in the way this six-piece presents old or traditional Korean music with a modern twist.

If you’re going to mix up such disparate elements you can pretty much do anything.

It’s an uninhibited vision of Korean traditional music with some psychedelic rock, Balkan gypsy, even sounds from South America and Africa. You’ll see and hear instruments including the daegeum, a large bamboo flute and geomungo, a large Korean zither that lays on the floor.

When translated into Hangul, the Korean alphabet, Coreyah means “whale,” which is the group’s good luck charm. The music was recorded in the band’s music studio in Seoul, with COVID-19 shutting down most of the country. Strict social distancing is still ongoing in South Korea, though they are streaming their concerts to fans.

And just a note from the band: The geomungo player in this video is Park Dawool, as Coreyah member Na Sunjin was forced to miss this recording due to a personal emergency.

“Till the Dawn” features some great flute playing from Kim Dong Kun on the tungso.  There’s a heavy riff on the geomungo from Park Dawool while Kim Cho Rong plays the double headed drums.   Kyungyi  play a more stanadrd-looking drumkitm but it is hardly typical.  I really like the instrumental break that is just flute and geomungo.

For “Yellow Flower” Ko Jaehyeon plays jagged guitar chords accented with flute.  This song is quieter and singer Ham Boyoung has some kind of device that she is holding, but I can’t tell its purpose.

For the final song, “Good Dreams” percussionist Kim Cho Rong moves to the front to play the chulhyungeum which turns out to be like a slide guitar geomungo.

I could watch them play all day.

[READ: July 2, 2020] Weird Al: Seriously

I had been seeing ads for this book in my Instagram feed for months.  So I decided to finally check it out.

Back in the day, I used to really enjoy reading academic books about non-academic subjects.  There was a whole series of “The Philosophy of” various pop culture things that was fun.  It often seems like these books overthink their subjects. Not that the subjects aren’t doing the things that the authors suggest, but I do have to wonder if the authors see a lot more than the subjects do.

That certainly feels true here.  I’m not saying that Al doesn’t think about race or gender when he writes songs, just that he probably thinks “this will be funny” a lot more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD-Oddments (2014).

After the psychedelia of the previous album, KGATLW released this varied collection of songs.  Indeed, none of the 12 songs sound anything like the others.  It’s hard to say if this is a collection of leftover songs or an attempt to make a varied record.  After all, they had released four and a half albums in three years.

Nothing is really more than 3 minutes except “Work This Time.”  Everything goes by so quickly it’s hard to know what to think.

“Alluda Majaka” opens this record with an instrumental that has every style of music thrown into it–funky bass, organ, Indian music, there’s also sound effects and clips from a movie or two and really loud drums.  It’s a crazy opening for a crazy album.

“Stressin'” slows things down with a falsetto vocal and a gentle groove including a warbly wild guitar solo.  It’s followed by “Vegemite,” a nonsensical ode to vegemite with a great beat and an easy to sing along chorus (sung by Ambrose, I believe): Veg-e-mite…I like.

“It’s Got Old” is slower simple rocker (complete with flute and handclaps) and somehow is followed by the trippy, synthy swirls of “Work This Time.”  It opens with a rumbling wild drum intro and then becomes really gentle with more soft falsetto vocals.

“ABCABcd” is 17 seconds of garage rock nonsense before the sweet rocking acoustic guitars of “Sleepwalker.”

“Hot Wax” sounds like an old(er) KG garage rock song.  There’s creepy vocals from Stu and a simple riff and a chorus that literally repeats chorus from “Surfin Safari” but with their own muffled, fuzzy garage rock chords.  “Crying” has an old soul sound with its simple three note melody.  It even has spoken word parts (the way you act, girl) and everything.

The end of the disc throws in even more craziness in the last five or so minutes.  “Pipe Dream” is a one minute instrumental that doesn’t really do anything except evoke a psychedelic moment.  It fades out just as a riff begins.  But it’s not the riff to “Homeless Man in Addidas” which is a quiet acoustic folk song that sounds an awful lot like “April She Will Come” by Simon & Garfunkel.  The disc ends with “Oddments,” a 25 second piece of silliness that’s like a commercial for the disc which even chants out the disc name.

Unlike their more cohesive albums, this is not a necessity exactly, but it is a fun opportunity to see just how much KGATLW can do in 30 minutes.

[READ: November 2018] Cluetopia

This is a brief history of the crossword puzzle as broken down by year.

David Astle (whose name must be a crossword answer) is a crossword maniac.  What makes this book especially interesting to me is that he is from Australia, which means he has a very different perspective on the crossword puzzle than someone like Will Shortz.  For there is a great American/British (and Australian) divide when it comes to crosswords.

Astle is a huge fan of British-style cryptic puzzles and he really delves into some of the best ones over the last century.

A neat summary of the different types of puzzles comes from Always Puzzling: (more…)

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2across  SOUNDTRACK: ZUILL BAILEY-Tiny Desk Concert #63 (June 4, 2010).

baileyZuill Bailey plays a cello.  Well, actually, that’s not right.  The cello he plays is old “very old — but it’s also special, built by the renowned Venetian maker Matteo Goffriller in 1693. That means Johann Sebastian Bach was all of 8 years old when Goffriller slapped on the final layer of shellac.  The instrument is unusually large, with a tawny orange hue, and one of only two Goffrillers which can boast an intricately carved Rosette under the fingerboard [see below].  And its sound? A full, round, burnished tone that pours forth with remarkable volume.”

Bailey plays three pieces from three of Bach’s suites (he had just released an album of six suites).  And they sound amazing.  The first piece is instantly recognizable and sounds incredible on this instrument.

But beyond playing a gorgeous cello, Bailey is a great storyteller.  He describes how when Bach started writing suites for cello, the instrument was considered a church bass–basically a piece of furniture and not something to write gorgeous suites on.  He also says that people have asked him if he has named his cello and he says that he calls it J.Lo. because it is “robust in the bass tones.”

Introducing the second piece he says that the sarabande was banned from polite society because it was considered too slow and sensuous in those times (which is why he’s going to play it now).

bailey2And then he describes the feeling of the sound that comes from that cello–it resonates through the maple in the instrument and vibrates his body. It is clear how much he loves this instrument.

Obviously the pieces are beautiful, but his renditions are really stunning.

J.S. Bach: Solo Cello Suite No. 1 – “Prelude”

J.S. Bach: Solo Cello Suite No. 2 – “Sarabande”

J.S. Bach: Solo Cello Suite No. 3 – “Prelude”

[READ: September 13, 2015] Two Across

Sarah brought this book home and loved it.  She thought I’d enjoy it, too.  And why not?  The main character, Stanley, is a crossword puzzle maker (Sarah finished it on the day that puzzler Merle Reagle died, sad to say).  The other main character, Vera, is a math genius who also becomes a puzzle maker.  The fact that I just finished the Felicia Day book in which she (a real person) is a math genius, gave me strange parallels between Felicia and Vera.

If those character traits interest you, there is so much to like about this book.  We first meet Stanley and Vera as they are competing for the national spelling bee in Washington D.C.  They are both certain that they will win (we get alternating perspectives from each of them).  And we see their minds as they hate the other one who is trying to take the title from them.  When the bee ends, they are both rewarded for their efforts.  And they form a strange bond, because they both have a lot in common even though their lives are entirely different.

Stanley lives in a hotel.  His grandfather was a chef there and his father died in WWII, so the hotel has offered them their cheapest (crappiest) suite for the rent of $1 a month. Stanley’s mother never leaves the room… ever.  She had never recovered from Stanley’s father’s death.  The hotel staff is like Stanley’s family, and he is well looked after.  But his mother pushes Stanley very hard, insisting that he go to Harvard.  And Stanley is clearly a genius–he used to memorize the encyclopedia, and he has all kinds of facts at his disposal.  But he is also deeply wounded by never knowing his father.

Vera, on the other hand, is pretty much transient.  Her mother is working her butt off to become an IBM sales rep and so they travel everywhere.  Vera is also a genius, finishing her school work in a few days and then spending the rest of her time reading or doing challenging math.

They are both quite likable, even if neither one has any social skills at all. (more…)

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