What Happens When a Chess Player Mistakes a Grandmaster for a Beginner: It’s Pretty Delightful

Vacationing in New York City last summer, Anna Cramling, an International Chess Federation master swung by Washington Square Park, to see about scoring a pickup game with one of the regulars.

Her opponent, Jonny O’Leary, a native New Yorker who learned the rules of the game from other Washington Square habitués while working maintenance jobs in the surrounding buildings in the mid-80s, is a garrulous sort, sharing his philosophy of life as the game proceeds.

Luckily he believes that the human interaction and the opportunity to learn make even losing games a winning proposition because Cramling whoops him pretty handily.

Flash forward a couple of seasons.

Cramling, bundled up in a parka and warm stocking cap, heads back to Washington Square with her mom in tow.

O’Leary is more than willing to introduce the elder Ms. Cramling, now 60, to the Game of Kings. He loves teaching beginners, even if they have no money to put down. He is so eager to show her the ropes that he dictates four of her first five moves.

His extroversion may be his downfall here.

In our experience, folks who call middle-aged women they’ve just met “Mom” tend to underestimate and talk over them.

Surprise! Pia Cramling is a Grandmaster of Chess, who once held the title of best female player in the world.

“Mom” humbly follows directions, moving her knights and bishop as instructed and presumably clamping down on her tongue as O’Leary schools her beginning strategy and the names of the pieces.

To his credit, he seems absolutely thrilled when the Cramlings’ ruse is revealed, eagerly calling for another game even as he volunteers that he’s nowhere near as good of a player.

(“Get the old man,” his buddy Doc gleefully interjects.)

Their shared love of chess burns bright.

The Cramlings compliment O’Leary on his generosity as a teacher, no doubt mindful that his immersion in the game looks different from theirs. (Anna’s father is Grandmaster Juan Manuel Bellón Lopez and she has been accompanying her mother to tournaments since she was a baby.)

O’Leary may appear to draw a bit of a blank when Pia Cramling mentions World Chess Champion Anatoly Karpov, but he’s rubbed shoulders with grandmasters Maxim Dlugy and John Fedorowicz at the Washington Square Park chess simul, and he was very interested in her Elo rating, the U.S. Chess Federation’s system for assessing players’ skills.

“She has a brain that’s not from here!” he cries admiringly to anyone within earshot.

After witnessing some other players’ overly cocky, unsporting, and rude behavior in Anna’s other filmed street matches, we definitely agree that Jonny O’Leary is the “Grandmaster at the social aspect.”

Watch more of Anna Cramling’s chess related videos, including her mom’s encounters with other Washington Square Park regulars here.

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– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


Play “Artle,” an Art History Version of Wordle: A New Game from the National Gallery of Art

Are you one of the hundreds of thousands who’ve gotten themselves hooked on Wordle, the free online game that gives players six chances to guess a five-letter word of the day?

Its popularity has spawned a host of imitators, including Quordle, Crosswordle, Absurdle and Lewdle, which has carved itself a niche in the vulgar and profane.

Even the National Gallery of Art is getting in on the action with Artle, wherein players get four attempts to correctly identify an artist du jour by examining four of their pieces, drawn from its vast collection of paintings, photographs, sculptures and other works.

The Gallery provides a bit of an assist a few letters into every guess, especially helpful to those taking wild shots in the dark.

Before you commit to Georgia O’Keeffe, you may want to consider some 80 other George and Georges variants who pop up as you type, including  Georges Braque, George Grosz, Georgine E. Mason, George Joji Miyasaki, George Segal, Georges Seurat, and Georg Andreas Wolfgang the Elder.

Hats off if you can readily identify all of these artists’ work on sight. That’s an impressive command of art history you’ve got there!

As with Wordle, a button provides a streamlined invitation to boast about your prowess on social media after you’ve completed your daily Artle. Return visitors can keep track of their stats in the upper right hand corner.

There’s no shame in failing to identify an artist in four tries, just a free opportunity to further your education a bit with titles and links to the four works you just spent time viewing.

The examples we’ve included from Thursday, June 2’s puzzle are Free Space (Deluxe), pink, The Civet, Imperative, and Cobalt Night by….

Your guess?

Play Artle here – like Wordle and multivitamins, just one a day.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Starship Titanic: The Video Game Created by Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with Help from John Cleese & Terry Jones

“The starship Titanic was a monstrously pretty sight as it lay beached like a silver Arcturan Megavoidwhale among the laserlit tracery of its construction gantries”–writes Douglas Adams in The Life, The Universe and Everything, the third novel in the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy–“a brilliant cloud of pins and needles of light against the deep interstellar blackness; but when launched, it did not even manage to complete its very first radio message —an SOS—before undergoing a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.”

This paragraph is a tiny humorous flourish in a series of novels filled with hundreds of them, but for some reason—possibly its relationship to the original doomed luxury liner–the Starship Titanic would go on to have an amazingly detailed second life as a video game. And while a paperback copy of any of Adams’ work is readily available, it can take some hunting to find a workable version of the game.

Douglas Adams designed the game himself, starting in 1996. A decade earlier, he had helped design the text-based adventure game adaptation of Hitchhiker’s Guide, and had expressed a desire to do more work in the video game field, after playing Myst and its sequel Riven. However, he said, “nothing really happens, and nobody is there. I thought, let’s do something similar but populate the environment with characters you can interact with.”

Co-founding the multi-media company Digital Village, Adams wrote the game’s script, set aboard the failing Titanic. The big difference, compared to Myst, is that the character can interact with characters on board, many of them butler-like robots. And instead of typing in commands, players could speak to the characters in real time using a natural language parsing engine called Spookitalk, utilizing over 10,000 lines/16 hours of dialog. Like its puzzle-game influences, it was maddening to play.

But also fun, as Monty Python’s Terry Jones and John Cleese both turn up among the voice actors, the former as a parrot, the latter as a doomsday bomb.

An article in Kotaku from 2015 mentions a tie-in novel that Adams was to write himself, after first assigning co-writers Neil Richards, Debbie Barham, and Michael Bywater to the task. But then:

Living up to his reputation for seemingly infinite tardiness, Adams admitted just three weeks before the book’s deadline that he hadn’t written a thing, and in the end the novel Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic was written in a furious cascade of words by none other than Terry Jones (who claimed that he wrote the whole thing in the nude).

Even more interesting, Yoz Grahame, Digital Village’s web developer had been put in charge of creating the game’s promotional web presence. Buried deep down in a page was a mock forum supposedly being written by the lower-level crew of the Titanic. Grahame kept the forum open for fans of the upcoming game, only to find later that Adams fans had taken this comic easter egg to heart. Six months later there were ten-thousand posts in the mock forum. Users had continued on the story in the spirit of Adams.

“It was like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera,” Grahame told Kotaku. This forum went on for six years, with layers and layers of running jokes.

At the time of the Kotaku piece, the game, originally released on CD-ROM was functionally unplayable on modern video game systems.

Not so now. Six bucks will buy you a modernized copy of the game on Steam or GOG. If you’re curious like me, but have no time to devote the many, many hours to finishing the game, you can watch a 13-part walkthru video. (Note: Adams himself turns up at the very end in an unintentionally poignant cameo.)

via Metafilter

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The Fiendishly Complicated Board Game That Takes 1,500 Hours to Play: Discover The Campaign for North Africa

Monopoly is notoriously time-consuming. On the childhood Christmas I received my first copy of that Parker Brothers classic, my dad and I started a game that ended up spreading over two or three days. That may have had to do with my appreciation for Monopoly’s aesthetic far exceeding my grasp of its aim, and I’ve since realized that it can be played in about an hour. That’s still a good deal longer than, say, a game of checkers, but it falls somewhat short of the league occupied by The Campaign for North Africa — which is, in fact, a league of its own. Since its publication in 1979, it’s been known as the longest board game in existence, requiring 1,500 hours (or 62 days) to complete.

We are, of course, talking about a war game, and that genre has its own standards of complexity — standards The Campaign for North Africa leaves in the dust. “The game itself covers the famous WWII operations in Libya and Egypt between 1940 and 1943,” writes Kotaku’s Luke Winkle. “You’ll need to recruit 10 total players, (five Allied, five Axis,) who will each lord over a specialized division. The Front-line and Air Commanders will issue orders to the troops in battle, the Rear and Logistics Commanders will ferry supplies to the combat areas, and lastly, a Commander-in-Chief will be responsible for all macro strategic decisions over the course of the conflict. If you and your group meets for three hours at a time, twice a month, you’d wrap up the campaign in about 20 years.”

You can get an idea of what you’d be dealing with over those two decades in the video below from Youtuber Phasing Player, an overview that itself takes about an hour and a half. “Honestly, if I’m being straight-up here, this game does sound, broadly speaking, like a fun time,” he says, half an hour deep into the explanation. “Imagine setting up a giant map of Africa,” getting your friends together, “Sarah’s in charge of the air force and Jim is in charge of logistics. You have all these people in charge of different things, and you’re communicating strategies, and the commander-in-chief is formulating plans and doing all this stuff. That sounds like a real hoot, right?” Alas, “the big asterisk comes in when that good time has to last literally a thousand hours,” involving what another player quoted by Winkle calls “doing tedious calculations all the time.”

Those calculations necessitate paying close attention, on every single turn, to not just quantities like fuel reserves but the historically accurate size of the barrels containing those reserves. Note also that, as Winkle adds, “the Italian troops in World War II were outfitted with noodle rations, and in the name of historical dogma, the player responsible for the Italians is required to distribute an extra water ration to their forces, so that their pasta may be boiled.” The Campaign for North Africa‘s designer, the late Richard Berg, claimed that the so-called “pasta rule” was a joke, and that the game’s fiendish overall complexity was in keeping with the style of the times, a “golden age” of war gaming with high sales and ever-escalating ambitions. As with so many other seemingly inexplicable artifacts of cultural history, one falls back on a familiar explanation: hey, it was the 70s.

via Kotaku

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Board Game Ideology — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #108

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Philosophy of Games: C. Thi Nguyen on the Philosophy vs. Improv Podcast


Thi Nguyen (pronounced “TEE NWEEN”) teaches at the University of Utah, and his first book, 2020’s Games: Agency as Art, makes a case for games being treated as a serious object of study for philosophy. Thi sees game analysis as not just a sub-division in the philosophy of art (aesthetics), but in the philosophy of action. How do games relate to other human activities with constraints, like customs, language, and more specifically performative acts within language (like saying “I do” during a marriage ceremony, where you’re not just describing that you do something, but actually taking action)?

On this recording (episode 24 of the podcast), Thi joins philosophy podcaster Mark Linsenmayer of The Partially Examined Life and improvisational comedy coach Bill Arnett of the Chicago Improv Studio to talk about games and improv, and to engage in a couple of improv scenes that explore the connection between the two.

This is the third philosophy guest for the Philosophy vs. Improv podcast, which alternates between guests from the improv world, guests from the philosophy world, and no guest at all. The overall format involves a lesson from each host, which they teach to each other (and the guest) simultaneously. This often results in unexpected synchronicity given the connections between two disciplines that stress the analysis of language, living deliberately, and quick thinking.

For another philosophically rich episode, see episode #20 in which St. Lawrence University’s Jennifer L. Hansen appeared to discuss the many aspects of the concept of “The Other” in philosophy.

Philosophy vs. Improv is a podcast hosted by Mark Linsenmayer, who also hosts The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, and Nakedly Examined Music

Board Game Ideology — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #108

As board games are becoming increasingly popular with adults, we ask: What’s the relationship between a board game’s mechanics and its narrative? Does the “message” of a board game matter?

Your host Mark Linsenmayer is joined by game designer Tommy Maranges, educator Michelle Parrinello-Cason, and ex-philosopher Al Baker to talk about re-skinning games, designing player experiences, play styles, game complexity, and more.

Some of the games we mention include Puerto Rico, Monopoly, Settlers of Catan, Sorry, Munchkin, Sushi Go, Welcome To…, Codenames, Pandemic, Occam Horror, Terra Mystica, chess, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, Photosynthesis, Spirit Island, Escape from the Dark Castle, and Wingspan.

Some articles that fed our discussion included:

The two games Tommy created that we bring up are Secret Hitler and Inhuman Conditions.

This episode includes bonus discussion you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choosing a paid subscription through Apple Podcasts. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

757 Episodes of the Classic TV Game Show What’s My Line?: Watch Eleanor Roosevelt, Louis Armstrong, Salvador Dali & More

What would the host and panelists of the classic primetime television game show What’s My Line? have made of The Masked Singera more recent offering in which panelists attempt to identify celebrity contestants who are concealed by elaborate head-to-toe costumes and electronically altered voiceovers.

One expects such shenanigans might have struck them as a bit uncouth.

Host John Charles Daly was willing to keep the ball up in the air by answering the panel’s initial questions for a Mystery Guest with a widely recognizable voice, but it’s hard to imagine anyone stuffing former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt into the full body steampunk bee suit the (SPOILER) Empress of Soul wore on The Masked Singer’s first season.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Oct 18, 1953 appearance is a delight, especially her pantomimed disgust at the 17:29 mark, above, when blindfolded panelist Arlene Francis asks if she’s associated with politics, and Daly jumps in to reply yes on her behalf.

Later on, you get a sense of what playing a jolly parlor game with Mrs. Roosevelt would have been like. She’s not above fudging her answers a bit, and very nearly wriggles with anticipation as another panelist, journalist Dorothy Kilgallen, begins to home in on the truth.

While the roster of Mystery Guests over the show’s original 17-year broadcast is impressive — Cab CallowayJudy Garland, and Edward R. Murrow to name a few — every episode also boasted two or three civilians hoping to stump the sophisticated panel with their profession.

Mrs. Roosevelt was preceded by a bathtub salesman and a fellow involved in the manufacture of Bloodhound Chewing Tobacco, after which there was just enough time for a woman who wrote television commercials.

Non-celebrity guests stood to earn up to $50 (over $500 today) by prolonging the revelation of their professions, as compared to the Mystery Guests who received an appearance fee of ten times that, win or lose. (Presumably, Mrs. Roosevelt was one of those to donate her honorarium.)

The regular panelists were paid “scandalous amounts of money” as per publisher Bennett Cerf, whose “reputation as a nimble-witted gentleman-about-town was reinforced by his tenure on What’s My Line?”, according to Columbia University’s Oral History Research Office.

The unscripted urbane banter kept viewers tuning in. Broadway actor Francis recalled: “I got so much pleasure out of ‘What’s My Line?’ There were no rehearsals. You’d just sit there and be yourself and do the best you could.”

Panelist Steve Allen is credited with spontaneously alighting on a breadbox as a unit of comparative measurement while questioning a manhole cover salesman in an episode that featured June Havoc, legend of stage and screen as the Mystery Guest (at at 23:57, below).

“Want to show us your breadbox, Steve?” one of the female panelists fires back off-camera.

The phrase “is it bigger than a breadbox” went on to become a running joke, further contributing to the illusion that viewers had been invited to a fashionable cocktail party where glamorous New York scenemakers dressed up to play 21 Professional Questions with ordinary mortals and a celebrity guest.

Jazz great Louis Armstrong appeared on the show twice, in 1954 and then again in 1964, when he employed a successful technique of light monosyllabic responses to trick the same panelists who had identified him quickly on his initial outing.

“Are you related to anybody that has anything to do with What’s My Line?” Cerf asks, causing Armstrong, host Daly, and the studio audience to dissolve with laughter.

“What happened?” Arlene Francis cries from under her pearl-trimmed mask, not wanting to miss the joke.

Television — and America itself — was a long way off from acknowledging the existence of interracial families.

“It’s not Van Clyburn, is it?” Francis ventures a couple of minutes later….

Expect the usual gender-based assumptions of the period, but also appearances by Mary G. Ross, a Cherokee aerospace engineer, and physicist Helen P. Mann, a data analyst at Cape Canaveral.

If you find the convivial atmosphere of this seminal Goodson-Todman game show absorbing, there are 757 episodes available for viewing on What’s My Line?’YouTube channel.

Allow us to kick things off on a Surreal Note with Mystery Guest Salvador Dali, after which you can browse chronological playlists as you see fit:




1961 -63


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Cards (Which Influenced the Poems in Ariel) Were Just Sold for $207,000

We celebrated my birthday yesterday: [Ted] gave me a lovely Tarot pack of cards and a dear rhyme with it, so after the obligations of this term are over your daughter shall start her way on the road to becoming a seeress & will also learn how to do horoscopes, a very difficult art which means reviving my elementary math. 

– Sylvia Plath, in a letter to her mother, 28 October 1956

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot cards, a 24th birthday present from her husband, poet Ted Hughes, just went for £151,200 in an auction at Sotheby’s.

That’s approximately £100,000 more than this lot, a Tarot de Marseille deck printed by playing card manufacturer B.P. Grimaud de Paris, was expected to fetch.

The auction house’s description indicates that a few of the cards were discolored —  evidence of use, as supported by Plath’s numerous references to Tarot in her journals.

Recall Tarot’s appearance in “Daddy,” her most widely known poem, and her identification with the Hanging Man card, in a poem of the same name:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eyelid :

A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.

A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.

If he were I, he would do what I did.

This century has seen her collection Ariel restored to its author’s intended order.
The original order is said to correspond quite closely to Tarot, with the first twenty-two poems symbolizing the cards of the Major Arcana.

The next ten are aligned with the numbers of the Minor Arcana. Those are followed by four representing the Court cards. The collection’s final four poems can be seen to reference the pentacles, cups, swords and wands that comprise the Tarot’s suits.

Ariel’s manuscript was rearranged by Hughes, who dropped some of the “more lacerating” poems and added others in advance of its 1965 publication, two years after Plath’s death by suicide. (Hear Plath read poems from Ariel here.)

Daughter Frieda defends her father’s actions and describes how damaging they were to his reputation in her Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition.

One wonders if it’s significant that Plath’s Page of Cups, a card associated with positive messages related to family and loved ones, has a rip in it?

We also wonder who paid such a staggering price for those cards.

Will they give the deck a moon bath or salt burial to cleanse it of Plath’s negative energy?

Or is the winning bidder such a diehard fan, the chance to handle something so intimately connecting them to their literary hero neutralizes any occult misgivings?

We rather wish Plath’s Tarot de Marseille had been awarded to Phillip Roberts in Shipley, England, who planned to exhibit them alongside her tarot-influenced poems in a pop up gallery at the Saltaire Festival. To finance this dream, he launched a crowd-funding campaign, pledging that every £100 donor could keep one of the cards, to be drawn at random, with all contributors invited to submit new art or writing to the mini-exhibition: Save Sylvia Plath’s cards from living in the drawers of some wealthy collector, and let’s make some art together!

Alas, Roberts and friends fell  £148,990 short of the winning bid. Better luck next time, mate. We applaud your graciousness in defeat, as well as the spirit in which your project was conceived.

via Lithub

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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