Great Albums: A Parodic Quartet

I love music, and I have a special affection for cleverly written, expertly performed, lovingly produced tunes that not only deliver the musical goods but also take a satirical jab at convention with a dry sense of humor. Fitting that bill perfectly are the songs on four very different albums that never fail to amuse me.

The Rutles was released in 1978 as the soundtrack album for Eric Idle’s All You Need Is Cash, a television mockumentary that parodies the rise and fall of The Beatles. The show itself is uneven, but its incredible attention to detail is mirrored in 14 songs written and produced by Neil Innes, a founding member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python collaborator. Innes and a group of session musicians manage to emulate the Beatles as faithfully as any tribute band while slyly stretching a variety of Fab Four styles into the absurd without so much as a wink or a nod. Read More

8 Letters For “Turned Down”

Puzzle4

 You have to be good to grab the attention of renowned puzzlemaster Will Shortz.

SPOILER ALERT!  This week’s post is about a crossword puzzle that I created and submitted to The New York Times.  For the most satisfactory reading experience, I advise you to attempt to solve the puzzle first.  To do so, you will need to download the free Across Lite crossword application.  If you’re a fan of the NYT Crossword, you’ve probably already done this.  Next, download my crossword puzzle in Across Lite format.  You’ll be able to tackle my puzzle on your computer, or you can print it out and have at it with a pencil.  Either way, good luck!

The summer of 2009 became the Summer of the Crossword Puzzle for me.  As a teacher who works according to the traditional school calendar, I have the luxury of indulging my interests every June, July and August.  What’s more, as the father of two active girls who participate in a variety of summer activities, I am often sitting poolside during a swim practice or waiting for the morning’s cross country training to end.  Short of good conversation with a fellow human being, I have found that a decent crossword puzzle is an ideal way to pass idle time.  It’s also a wonderfully engaging distraction from the dull concerns of everyday life.  That summer, the crossword puzzle rose in my estimation from a mere diversion to a worthwhile pursuit.

Key to my conversion from a casual solver to an enthusiast was the understanding that not all crossword puzzles are created equal.  There was a good reason why certain puzzles had been exasperating to me:  they were filled with crosswordese, the arcane vocabulary of obsolete little words that are used almost exclusively by struggling puzzle constructors simply to make a crossword work.  Even the most esteemed crossword of them all, that of The New York Times, was once guilty of this under the stewardship of former puzzle editor Eugene T. Maleska.  His legacy of impenetrable obscurities was quashed by current Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, whose philosophy leans toward making crossword puzzle solutions more dependent on wordplay than trivia, and what trivia there is should be universal rather than local.  In shortz (I apologize for that), a good crossword puzzle is challenging yet accessible.

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