Friday, December 31, 2004

Let the toast pass

New York City . . . Scary teens are chanting in the street . . . police copters thicken the night sky . . . a million people crowd Times Square whilst wearing orange jester caps that say "Discover" . . . OK . . . discover what? . . . We have placed a dry-cleaning bag around the air conditioner, secured at the top using a hockey puck, so the cold air can't sneak in . . . only there's no cold air because it's 52 degrees . . . more chanting . . .

We turn to Richard Brinsley Sheridan for a toast to take us out of 2004—the sooner the better, we think:

The chorus runs:

Let the toast pass,--
Drink to the lass,
I'll warrant she'll prove an excuse for the glass.

We warrant she will too, RBS. We warrant she will too. (Thanks to Brit Grits of the Inflatable Fun Guys for sending the link our way; the IFG, for those not in the know, set these lines to music way back in '87.)

We're dejected to the point of madness by the news of the tsunami. It seems hardly possible to celebrate. As Ennis Mild, our Cape Cod correspondent, dourly muses: "TSUNAMI is anagram to I AM NUTS.

Here's to a happier new year, Oughties.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Last meditation from the Isthmus of Kra

Give me silence, water, hope.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Running AFOUL

Just back from holiday. Per Ought tradition, we spent Christmas snacking on elaborate donburis, gingerbread chai, and honey-glazed platycodon. Gifts were exchanged, and songs were sung, and debates were sparked by such seemingly innocuous comments like, "There has never been an Asian male on REAL WORLD ROAD RULES."

Sonora Loganberry baked her superlative Yuletide cookies, and the local fire warden came by and distributed clear plastic therapeutic bath mats, the tops of which bore innumerable grasslike feelers. We're a little wary of affixing ours to the tub. It may take root and never leave.

Not much interesting in the way of Scrabble, save that we played AFOUL twice, in consecutive turns—intersecting each other, no less! Still, Sonora defeated every opponent handily. Including us.

We need to go to the dentist.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Breaking news—and a holiday joke

Just in time for Christmas, Ought Magazine's team of overpaid stringers dig up this hard-hitting exposé, courtesy of the Buffalo News: "Grandmas have earned right to relax, enjoy day":

[An excerpt:

"Over the river and through the woods . . ." Hold it! Stop the music!

Happily or unhappily, this song has become an anachronism. More than likely, Grandma lives today in a condo in Florida, Arizona or the Carolinas. Or, like me, in a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen the size of a pool table. Williamsville is still home for me, where I am near my church, the Senior Center and Wegmans.

Hosting my entire family of 16 for a holiday? Bad idea. Instead of beds, I'd have to stack them like firewood. And I have only one bathroom. I don't think so.

So, after 30 years of wrestling 20-pound turkeys into the oven and making Yorkshire pudding for the roast beef at the last minute, I am revolting. That is, as in "revolution." ]

* * *

In other news, Ought offers you a holiday joke, which should fit nicely into a family-gathered-by-the-tree gift-opening scenario. A surly teen cinephile has just unwrapped a box containing three pairs of underwear, which leads to utter befuddlement. His sister whispers to their parents:

"He wanted DVDs—not *B*VDs!"

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Abecedarian amendments

We were being screamed at by one of our officemates today—an increasingly popular phenomenon, as everyone starts to go end-of-the-year bonkers—and felt so dejected afterward that we immediately e-mailed various pals about the incident.

One of our friends—the glamorous Moss Jervins—called us up immediately and we chatted for a while, which was nice. She managed to put the spring back in our step with this little reminiscence:

"I used to go to this summer camp, and one day we went on a field trip to Boston. We were standing in front of some place awful—say, the Cheers bar—and we dared Vela Roppongi to go up to the doorman and utter the pickup line, 'I'm thinking of rewriting the alphabet to bring U and I closer together.'

"Now Vela was not the biggest brain of the bunch, and when the time came, she said to this poor Cheers doorman, in her most seductive voice, 'I'm rewriting the alphabet and I want to bring U and me closer together.'

"We were devastated when he didn't really respond the way we thought he would, with copious shows of affection, or at least some souvenir from inside. Instead he just sort of looked at her with a permanent *huh?* on his face. In retrospect he was probably 20 and annoyed and could tell that we were, um, 13."

And your bird can sing

A news clipping from the Globe and Mail, sometime this summer:

Problem Birds
The latest craze in the markets of Hyderabad, India, is the Problem Bird, reports the Independent on Sunday. "To the casual onlooker, these are black drongos, rather plain crow-like birds; but to the local [customers] they are magic. Buy one, whisper your problem in its ear, release it, and, as it flies away, so will your difficulty. The birds are less lucky. Their wings are clipped, so the traders soon round them up and put them on sale again."

This is pure metaphor and makes us happy that such things exist, sad that problems never escape. We'll be playing BIRD off the B in PROBLEM next chance we get.

We also like the word *drongos*.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


“He began to study the trains. The first northwards was the 4 pm dining express from King’s Cross to Newcastle. It left Doncaster at 7.56 and reached Selby at 8.21. Would Archer travel by it? And if he did, what would be his next move?”
—Freeman Wills Croft, THE PIT PROP SYNDICATE

For a biography of Freeman Wills Croft, master of the "timetable mystery" novel (THE PIT PROP SYNDICATE, THE 12.30 FROM CROYDON, et al.), the undersigned would appreciate hearing from anyone in possession of train tickets, schedules, or other forms of railway documentation used by Croft, either in the composition of his tales or simply in his everyday life.

Please write to:
Jaroslav Tonsils
P.O. Box 52326
Yale Station
New Haven, CT 06520

Word up

According to Merriam-Webster (, the top 10 words of the year, based on online searches, are:

1. blog
2. incumbent
3. electoral
4. insurgent
5. hurricane
6. cicada
7. peloton
8. partisan
9. sovereignty
10. defenestration

Coincidentally, not long ago we worked a PELOTON off PARTISAN, and CICADA always gives us a delicious shiver when we play it or see it played.

DEFENESTRATION is, for some peculiar reason, the holy grail of Scrabble words. It's 14 letters long, and nearly impossible to play, though we came tantalizingly close two summers ago at the Cap d'Antibes invitational. Our opponent had laid RATION on the board; we had DEFENSE in our rack, a perfect bingo in itself. But there was no way to maneuver our letters into position, as DEFENES isn't a word, last we checked, and there would still be the matter of that missing T. Not quite thinking straight, we forfeited a turn, as if somehow a T would fall into place out of the clear blue sky. Coming to our senses next turn, we deployed DEFENSE in a relatively unpopulated sector of the board.

Our opportunity had gone out the window. But at least we could bring back this story for you.

The Ought review: Inflatable Fun Guys

"I see your twenty
And raise you twenty.
And oh, did I mention?
I smell the firecrackers from last Tuesday . . . "

Sound familiar, music fans?

Last night we went to see the Inflatable Fun Guys perform the last show of their six-night Bangkok stand. The IFG were never big in America (from whence they hail), but their Asian following has always been healthy, save for a few iffy weeks back in 1993 when lead singer Ovo Grits was jailed for excessive smiling. (Officials suspected a chemical addiction, when in fact he was just very happy.) Anyone who's heard GOLF BALL FROM A STRANGER (1988), PARADOX LUNCH REVISITED (1991), or even the poorly recorded live album ALOHA FROM GREENWICH, ENGLAND (1995) knows that the 'Guys sound like no one else around. And what's more, if given the chance to do it all over again, they wouldn't change a single note.

We here at Ought cut our teeth on Inflatable Fun Guys bootlegs, and spent much of our Scrabble earnings in those early years—when we could least afford to!—following them on tour. Alaska ’91 was pretty much the limit (bad weather, polar bears, vengeful indigenous deities), and we vowed to taper off our IFG intake. When they disbanded in ’99, after too many defections and spats to count, we breathed a sigh of relief—but deep down we knew we would never quite get over them.

Which made last night's comeback particularly bittersweet. We had changed, yet stayed the same—and so had the Inflatable Fun Guys. Ovo Grits, now fantastically obese and inclined to speaking in tongues, pretty much restricted himself to the occasional handclap and periodically distributing Jehovah's Witness materials to those in the front rows. Brit Grits, his twin brother, took over lead vocal and lead guitar duties, which sometimes seemed more than he could handle. Fortunately, drummer Mezzo Grits (no relation) did a fine job maintaining the beat, armed as he was with an enormous oak-lined metronome, to which he set fire at the evening's climax. Which was—naturellement—their trademark closer, "Cellophane Corollary/I Smell the Firecrackers From Last Tuesday," a 17-minute soundscape that had the audience at Bangkok Rotarians Hall 409 swaying happily as their earplugs turned to an intractable putty. When the smoke cleared, Mezzo announced that the band planned to record again soon, and that a North American tour was planned for the new year.

Good luck, 'Guys. We've missed you. We will always miss you. Keep doing what you're doing and you'll never go wrong.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Punchline found?

A reader from Capetown suggests a possible resolution for the joke sketched out below (in which William Carlos Williams, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Ford Madox Ford walk into a bar).

To wit: "Isn't that e.e. cummings?"

Now we just need someone to provide the connective tissue stretching from setup to punchline. Ready, set, JOKE!

Saturday, December 18, 2004


Scrabblers: Try playing PLATYCODON as a bingo, off a preexisting COD. You'll need the tiles P, L, A, T, Y, O, and N (feel free to substitute one or two of the letters with the appropriate number of blank tiles). The first player to submit a photograph of a board bearing this word, with a notarized scoresheet bearing the signatures of both players along with brief testimonials as to the veracity of PLATYCODON played in such a manner as to empty a rack, will receive a month's supply of the coveted foodstuff in question.


Of all the burning questions of the day, the most burningest might be: Have you eaten your platycodon yet?

No—not your placenta. And not your codeine.

Platycodon is a whitish root. Soak overnight and cook the next day as you would any other vegetable. Our sources tell us that it is more commonly known as the balloon flower, so named to describe its buds.

We don't know that it's something you need to eat with every meal. But we do know that you need to eat some right *now*.

We are soaking some at the moment and cannot wait to give it a good chew. Won't you join us?


Friday, December 17, 2004

Hello Monkey Laundromat: 2029

Cinephiles, rejoice: The sequel to HELLO MONKEY LAUNDROMAT (see the Ought review, below) has will begin shooting next month in, of all places, Irvine, California . . . and Ought Magazine will be on location! Watch for daily posts, filled with behind-the-scenes gossip, fascinating interviews, and fun-filled trivia.

The film's working title is HELLO MONKEY LAUNDROMAT: 2029, and from a sneak peek at the script, we can tell you that it's every bit as riveting as its predecessor—with all the austere sound effects, moral labyrinths, and long shots of dripping water you'd expect from the creators of HML. DP "Dusty" Wainscotting returns as the limpid lensmen; Aussie hottie Halo Blankman joins the cast, fresh off a very successful Pacific Rim tour.

We hope you're as excited as we are!

Help finish this joke!

We first glimpsed the outlines of this joke at least 12 years ago, thanks to our friend D.M.S. Shrapnel, and thought of it again this morning during a long commute upon the Elevated. Why can't we finish it? Why is it over as soon as it begins to be uttered?

"William Carlos Williams, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Ford Madox Ford walk into a bar."

The scenario positively seethes with possibility. Ought readers are invited to flesh out this bit of humor, but are hereby forewarned: It's not as easy as you think!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

That joke isn't funny anymore

Back in 2000 we tried to compose a joke based on the word AMNESIA and the town Ames, Iowa—from which we must have recently received a bill or subscription offer or other direct-mail jazz, for we were clearly obsessed with the postal abbreviation: AMES, IA.

All the letters of AMNESIA are in AMES, IA save for the N.

We addressed 4,000+ "Scrabble youth" at the November 2000 Midwest All-Invitational Juvenile Scrabble Qualifiers Competition (a/k/a "The Scrabb-a-lot"), and thought we'd begin with something witty. We had pressed our AMNESIA/AMES, IA fixation into a riddle of sorts, which came out like this:

"Hey Junior Scrabbers! What letter do you forget in Ames, Iowa?"

The answer we were hoping for was: "N!"

Dear Ought reader: Have you ever heard the silence of 4,000 Scrabble youth? Have you then heard that silence turn into what can only be described as a "booing" sound? At first you think it's "moo," but no.

It's actually "boo."

The Ought review: Hello Monkey Laundromat

It's Christmastime again. The beach is closed; sad-looking lights hang like forgotten jewelry from the pier, and the lap of the waves sounds like that bereted drunk in the corner of the coffee shop who's been applauding more or less constantly since 1978. Hammerheads and manta rays, lured by wonky magnetic fields as the solstice nears and passes, fling themselves onto the drab gray sand. It starts to look like a crime scene. Who *wouldn't* get discouraged? The only thing for it is to play a game or two of Scrabble with the one you love—or else go to the movies.

Critics are agog over cryptic fare such as SIDEWAYS and THE INCREDIBLES, while ignoring such sure-to-be classics as HELLO MONKEY LAUNDROMAT, shot entirely on location (mostly on digital video) in a bulk laundry facility in Hokkaido. Our Japanese friends don't even like this movie—but then again, they'd rather be watching reruns of QUASAR JOE, that game show in which contestants must humiliate, via robot, various blood relations, cocktail waitresses, and wrestling mascots.

A friend slipped us a screener for HELLO MONKEY LAUNDROMAT yesterday, and once we started watching, we couldn't stop. Initially this was because the VCR remote's batteries are shot, and the television set is such a long ways away. The film's four-hour running time is positively glacial, but a lot happens in that interval. You begin to understand many things: the changing nature of the light as it brushes the mighty Pacific; the flavor of wild grains no longer harvested; what sort of sandwich you might enjoy after the movie finishes and the lovely usherette asks if you wouldn't mind accompanying her to dinner with her father, the oil tycoon, and by the way I'm an heiress. To say that not much happens in HELLO MONKEY LAUNDROMAT is like saying that not much happens when you put a two-week-old load of undershirts and argyles into the washer and give it a spin. You derive from the machine exactly what you've put in—only cleaner, brighter, refreshed, invigorating. It's like going to a spa and asking them to cover your body with pages from ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE as the room goes humid. It's like brushing your teeth with Alberto VO5 while a joint Johns Hopkins–Taiwan National University team of surgeons transfers all the toes from your left foot to your right and vice versa, in a procedure televised via satellite to 31 nations.

Yes, folks.

It's *that* good.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Get outta Dodge

Just back from a night at the theatah—watching the new play by Lionel Tubbs, who beat us in the third round qualifiers at Waukegan back in 1987. Lionel's come a long way since then—quitting "da grid," cashing in his tiles, and sharpening up his tools of the trade: playwright's pencils.

He's gotten a ton of guff for his searing look at relationships, particularly those between man and pet. In his latest, "Three Sexy Station Wagons" (based on an article in the January 2005 MONEY magazine—Tubbs works fast, boy!), he looks at one yuppie's relationship to three different cars. (The title is something of a misnomer: Though the protagonist, Grover Hotspot, owns a Volvo V50 T5 and leases the Dodge Magnum RT AWD, the third "station wagon" is actually an SUV, a Rav4 with muffler issues that he's inherited from his uncle.) Tubbs is one of the few artists working today who endeavor, in work after work, to lead us far from our cozy comfort zones—amen to that.

Grover has given up women, wine—and, yes, pets—in order to better contemplate the virtues and drawbacks of his three "sexy" vehicles. It's a bumpy ride. (Hint: All the stuff Freud wrote about King Lear is applicable here.) Our favorite line of dialogue:

GROVER: Tell me that snow chains are a good idea. F---in' *say* it!
VOLVO V50 T5: [beeps]
GROVER: [Sobbing] Why can't you just say it in plain English?

We don't want to give *too* much away—the play runs for the rest of the month at the Mazda6 (formerly Kiwanis Club) Theater, which has undergone extensive renovation. Suffice it to say: Tubbs is on a roll. Pun very much intended.

Electrical cords

We love combing the listings of obscure publications, on the lookout for unusual stores and eccentric restaurants. It's a great way to discover the secret life of any city.

A friend in New York sends us this oddball write-up (found in the back pages of GOTHAM GOLF, a publication of the Upper East Side Falun Gong Association). Anyone want to pay a visit and report back?

High-tech fans and denim aficionados alike will find something to savor at Electronic Jeans, the latest addition to the fashionable stretch of Bowery from Bond to Bleecker. Check out the "digital" bell bottoms and binary-code corduroys.
C $$ 5 66 N/A


Some wrong answers to our cinema challenge (find five words in GIAMATTI):

MATIG (for "mating"); MIGIT (for "midget"); MAGIT (for "magic"); MAGIA (for "magic"); GAMI (for "game"); IMAGAT (for "imagine"); AGIM (for "aging")

TATAMI was our most popular/successful word, using 75% of the letters.

Don't shoot the pinot player

We love the cinema, don't you?

Here is today's challenge, in honor of the film SIDEWAYS: Come up with at least five words (of three or more letters) derived from the name GIAMATTI.

Good luck!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

New York, New York

Some of our readers want to know more about us, our murky origins and uncertain future. What can we say that hasn't already been covered in the trade magazines?

Pattaya Beach was no picnic. We couldn't afford Scrabble sets. We would steal them from American tourists, or (more often) construct our own boards in the sand. Dragging a specially calibrated rake across the grains in two opposing sections gave us an instant grid. The time-consuming part was indicating the special-score squares. Purloined tourist nail polish, sunscreen, and other sheen-giving concoctions were used to mark these spaces. It took at least a half an hour, sometimes more, to create the illusion of a playable board, and we labored in the sun like monks over a mandala. For tiles we cut out capital letters from the headlines in the International Herald-Tribune and glued them to the flattest stones we could find.

All this to play the game we loved.

Now we are in New York, and a regulation set is not so difficult to obtain. The magic is gone, perhaps?

Except that last week we saw Yoko Ono on the street. And today we saw Chloe Sevigny. The novelty of such "sightings" was nice. But our main thought, the one that makes us think we "still had it in us," was: Both of these ladies have such Scrabble-ready names—if only we could play them!

Those spaced-out o's!

Those glorious consonantal pileups!

Tile gloves

It occurs to us: Do our readers—some of whom are less than fluent in the terminology and technology of the "Great Game" (better: "mega-game")—know what "tile gloves" are? They're essentially golf gloves, with any golflike logo or brand name assiduously removed or obscured.

On a practical level, tile gloves absorb the sweat that comes with even mid-level tourney play. Alternately, in underheated venues, they keep your hands warm, preventing cramps—any minor physical shortcoming can distract a player, though we know of one regular 500+ scorer who claims an incessant headache during an October '03 Toledo match inspired him to play "ibuprofen" off a preexisting "of," clearing his rack and winning the game.

So anyway: tile gloves. They're also required by most tournament officials, to crack down on what's known as "fingering"—the Braille-ish temptation, albeit unconscious, to palpate the incisions on the bag tiles and thereby select letters helpful to your cause.


Let's just say this last election has made some of us put on our tile gloves.

Lively lads with the pencil

These were found in an old journal of ours, which we would use to let the mind unwind after (or during) a particularly intense Scrabble tournament. Playing against competitors from over two dozen nations, we made many friends, and periodically they would send us new quotes for our collection. Any of these might serve as a motto for this magazine.

"I have my own private dictionary."

"She felt in italics, and thought in italics."
—Henry James, The American

"And what sort of lively lads with the pencil the Chinese are, many queer cups and saucers inform us."
—Herman Melville, Moby Dick

"In 1761 Johnson appears to have done little."
—Boswell's Life of Johnson

"Half the world has never received a phone call."
—Kofi Annan

"I used to have shadings. Now I'm all one thing."
—Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street

"Does anybody go away voluntarily? Has anybody ever realized his own worthlessness?"
—P.D. Ouspensky, A New Model of the Universe

"She was shivering so hard/It looked like there were two of her."
—Silver Jews, Pet Politics

"He learned the alphabet of the lightning."
—Pablo Neruda, "Education of the Chieftain"

"I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Cloven E-Waste

Thinking about OCEAN'S 12, we came upon the realization that "thesis" is an anagram of "heists." Imagine a movie called THE SIS, which is ostensibly about a sister (a nun, even) who works on a thesis (say, for her M.A. in film studies) that is ostensibly about cinematic heists. But the secret key to the movie is that it is about anagrams.