Tag Archives: general silliness

My Favorite Chess Openings

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The thing that bugs me about chess books is that they tell you how to play a certain kind of opening, but almost never tell you why. They don’t tell you what the opening is intended to do.

I don’t want to bore those of you who don’t play chess, so I’ll keep this brief. These are a couple of my favorite openings, and I’m going to tell you why I play them. You can go just about anywhere and find out how to play them.

The King’s Gambit is the chess equivalent of slamming open the swinging doors of the saloon and offering to shoot it out, here and now, with the toughest gunslinger there. It leads to a lively game.

The Polish Opening, aka ‘the Orang-utang,’ looks to most opponents like a very stupid first move that no one but a rank beginner would make. It’s much stronger than it looks, and much of its strength comes from convincing your opponent to think you’re a patsy. I beat a regional champion with it once.

(Uh, Lee, people in the audience are starting to check their wristwatches…)

Philidor’s Defense makes you, playing Black, look timorous; but if you know what you’re doing, this opening can help you to take the offensive much sooner than your opponent expected.

(I will be amazed if anybody reads this, likes it, or comments on it. Am I absolutely sure I want to do this?)

The Weeping Willow: Sigh deeply, dab your eyes with a handkerchief, blow your nose–and then break into sobs. When your opponent asks what’s wrong, make a show of holding it back, but then cut loose with a story that the doctor has just told you that you have only a few more weeks to live, and it would mean so much to you if you could just win a few chess games before the Grim Reaper shows up at your bedside… “And I guess I’ll never find out what happened when my house burned down with everybody in it, even my tropical fish, and then the insurance company wouldn’t pay–but never mind, I shouldn’t have burdened you with my troubles…” And so on.

Remember, chess is supposed to be fun.

 


One of the Skipped Chapters of ‘Oy, Rodney’

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Turn we now unto one of the chapters skipped over by Violet Crepuscular in her mad rush to Chapter CCC of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney. Constable Chumley, with Lord Jeremy Coldsore, the American adventurer Willis Twombley, and Johnno the Merry Minstrel peering over his shoulder, at the start of Chapter CCXCIII, is picking the lock so they can search the attic of Coldsore Hall for the missing Marquess of Grone, Lord Cromleigh or whatever his name is. Sheesh, what a sentence!

“Yeer, us’ll see now,” Chumley mutters, “that’s a fithul bricken yairst…”

Click! The door is unlocked. The constable begins to turn the knob–

“By Jove, the attic’s the only place where we haven’t put in any antimacassars to fend off the spirit of Black Rodney,” Johnno is about to point out. But before he can admonish Chumley to be careful, a tremendous explosion nearly hurls the whole group back down the stairs. “Kaboom!” writes Ms. Crepuscular. “I have always found, in describing an explosion, that ‘Kaboom!’ is preferable to ‘Blasto!’ or ‘Boom!'”

When the smoke clears, the door is hanging from a single hinge and half the roof of Coldsore Hall has been blown off. Lord Jeremy, briefly contemplating the cost of repairing it, faints. Twombley just manages to grab him before he tumbles down the appallingly long flight of stairs.

“We never put any antimacassars in the attic,” Johnno remarks.

“A little late for that, ol’ hoss!” parries Twombley.

The constable’s helmet has disappeared, his uniform is in tatters, his hair disarranged, and his face awash with soot. “He looks rather like Wile E. Coyote after one of those Acme sticks of dynamite blows up in his face,” writes Ms. Crepuscular, in an intimate aside, “but of course I can’t mention that because it would be an anachronism.”

The attic is now in considerable disarray. If the missing peer is there, does he still live?

“I shall divulge that in the next chapter, breaking off here to heighten the suspense,” writes Ms. Crepuscular. She has forgotten that this has already been divulged by her writing Chapter CCC before Chapter CCXCII. So there’s no suspense to speak of.


The 300th Chapter of ‘Oy, Rodney’

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In her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Violet Crepuscular has skipped from Chapter CCXCI to Chapter CCC. “I crave the reader’s indulgence,” she writes, “and I promise to go back and write those intervening chapters as soon as the police stop coming around here to investigate the toothpaste rolls I made for Mr. Pitfall. It was not my fault he ate too many and is now in intensive care at the hospital. Besides which, Chapter CCC is a milestone which I wanted to reach as soon as possible.” Of course, she could have written it first and saved herself the trouble.

This is how we wind up with half the roof blown off the top of Coldsore Hall, the Marquess of Grone found crouching behind some old steamer trunks in the attic with his hair frozen straight up from his scalp, babbling about the ghost of the medieval sorcerer, Black Rodney, stealing his pocket watch, and a whole mob of Scurveyshire peasants, armed with torches and pitchforks, disappearing under the vicar’s backyard wading pool. We have no idea how any of this happened.

Chapter CCC opens with the marquess in bed and Lady Margo Cargo bending over him with a can of fishing worms. He thinks she’s Queen Victoria, with whom he once played Chutes and Ladders.

“Please, my lord, try to concentrate!” Lady Margo coos. “Tell me what these things are, wriggling around inside this can.”

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, Your Majesty, but I am allergic to frumpweed and I wish you would remove it from under my nose,” whimpers the peer of the realm.

“Is he any better today?” asks Lord Jeremy Coldsore, standing in the doorway and doing his best to strike a dignified pose despite having two left feet.

“Oh, much better!” cries Lady Margo. She and Lord Jeremy cannot get married until the stricken peer recovers. “As you can see, those frozen hairs are falling out and his eyes have stopped rolling. But he’s still confused about certain objects.”

“My aunt is still weeping in the garden.” Lady Petunia, the marquess’ wife, has been weeping steadily ever since a piece of the chimney fell on her. And of course there was that business with the sliding board.

“I showed this chapter to my editor,” Ms. Crepuscular interjects, “and he says it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. He is a great believer in skipping chapters. And now I have to stop because the police are at my door again.”

 


The Missing Peer (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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I fear Violet Crepuscular has been eating too many of her own toothpaste rolls. Chapter CCXCI of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, suggests that maybe these confections are not quite as good for you as might be hoped.

With Lord Gromleigh, Marquess of Grone, still missing, Lord Jeremy Coldsore summons Constable Chumley–but he seems to be missing, too.

“Fear not, dear reader,” writes Ms. Crepuscular. “I know where he is. It’s the writer’s responsibility to know more than the characters.” Especially these characters.

Totally captivated by his study of moles, the constable has joined the Greater Scurveyshire Mole Study Club. Imagine his disappointment when it turns out to be just another one of those clubs whose members do nothing but sit around and brag about how difficult their lives have been.

“I went to a school where they used to make us do everything backwards. We tried to tunnel out of it, but we only succeeded in tunneling back in!”

“When I was born, my mother sold me to a fisherman to use as bait. And she only got sixpence for me!”

“You think you’ve got troubles? My wife has no nose!” And so on.

Meanwhile, Lord Jeremy’s wedding to Lady Margo Cargo cannot possibly be held as long as a peer of the realm is lost somewhere in Coldsore Hall. After failing to find him anywhere else, Johnno the Merry Minstrel proposes to search the attic.

“I don’t know about that,” Lord Jeremy says. “No one has been up there since Lord Hucklebutt went in 1673–and he was never entirely rational afterward. Eventually he had to be put down. Besides, no one has the key.”

“But Germy,” interposes the American adventurer, Willis Twombley, “ain’t it a well-known fact that nobody’s better than ol’ Chumley when it comes to pickin’ locks? He’ll get in, if anyone can.”

“I have ordered peasants with torches and pitchforks to search the shire for the constable,” declares Jeremy.

“And that, dear reader, is where we must let it stand for the nonce,” Ms. Crepuscular confides in the reader. “You really ought to try those toothpaste rolls. They’re wonderful with catsup.”


Hey, Clod, You Missed Thutmosis Day!

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It has always been a not widely observed tradition in my home town to celebrate May 3 as Thutmosis Day: for on that day, in 1453 B.C., Thutmosis III became Pharaoh of Egypt.

Well, I missed it yesterday because I was occupied with other things, and now today I’ve read that May 3 has nothing to do with Thutmosis and the year is way wrong, too. It’s either 1470-something or 1500-something, but it’s not 1453. As for May 3, it wasn’t even his birthday, let alone his coronation day.

Upon becoming Pharaoh, Thutmosis III proceeded to conquer a bunch of people who had never done him any harm. It is not understood why he did this. It seems there’s always some kook, or small group of kooks, or great big mass of kooks, who wants to rule the world and subject everyone else to whatever it is they fancy. Once upon a time it was Genghis Khan. Now it’s globalists. They have private jets and expensive drinks at Davos. Thutmosis III would not have cared for them.

Now that we know all the days are hopelessly wrong, it seems somewhat pointless to continue to celebrate Thutmosis Day, not that many people were doing so. For the foreseeable future, May 3 will have to be content with being just May 3.


The Wedding’s On Again (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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And so we come at last to Chapter CCXC of Violet Crepuscular’s epic romance, Oy, Rodney. Nothing happened in the preceding two chapters except for the installation of Babylonian antimacassars, imported by the London firm of Dombey & Son, on all the furniture in Coldsore Hall. “I am sorry that took up two whole chapters,” Ms. Crepuscular confides in her readers, “but there’s a lot of furniture in Coldsore Hall and I just couldn’t help it.”

Assured that the antimacassars will keep him safe from the malign spirit of Black Rodney, the medieval sorcerer who has been persecuting him from beyond the garve (who can resist such a typo?), Lord Jeremy has plunged into rescheduling his wedding to Lady Margo Cargo. He hopes his Aunt Petunia and her husband, Lord Gromleigh, Marquess of Grone, will give him a vast amount of money as a wedding present.

“You really must stay for the wedding, Aunt!” he urges her. “You and the marquess will be the guests of honor.”

“But Jeremy, my dear–I don’t know where my husband is!”

This is a difficulty. Lord Gromleigh has a habit of hiding in unusual places so he can jump out at people and scare them.

“Oh, he’s just hiding somewhere, Aunt. He’s sure to turn up.”

“But he’s been gone two days!”

With the help of Johnno the Merry Minstrel, Jeremy’s close friend, the American adventurer Willis Twombley starts a room-to-room search for the missing lord. “I tell ya, Germy ol’ hoss, I don’t like this!” whispers Twombley. “The old coot might of hidden in some place that he can’t get out of. This is a big house with a ton of hiding-places in it. What if he laid hisself down in a cedar chest and then couldn’t get it open? Or maybe he ain’t here at all! He might of run away. You never know what one of them peers o’ the realm might do.”

“I don’t see how we can have the wedding with the Marquess of Grone having misplaced himself somewhere in my house!”

“I remember when this happened at the king of Ugarit’s palace: his brother-in-law, the high something-or-other of Phoenicia, got lost in the palace and they never could find him, not even with fifty or sixty servants lookin’ up and down for him.” Twombley sighs. Believing himself to be Sargon of Akkad, he finds these memories of ancient times to be rather bittersweet. “We’ll keep lookin’, but don’t get your hopes up.”

Here the chapter abruptly breaks off with a barely coherent recipe for toothpaste rolls.


The One Thing Black Rodney Hates Most of All (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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Violet Crepuscular introduces Chapter CCLXXXVII of her epic romance, Oy, Rodney, with a flourish: “Dear reader, you have surely been wondering what Johnno the Merry Minstrel has been doing while Lord Gromleigh and Lady Petunia, who is Lord Jeremy’s aunt, married to the Marquess of Grone, have been visiting Lord Jeremy at Coldsore Hall. If you haven’t, I fear you may be losing the thread of the story.” To say nothing of the thread of that sentence.

Well, Johnno has been busy in Scurveyshire’s Library of Forbidden Books. No one is allowed to go in and see the books–they are, after all, forbidden–but Constable Chumley has been so busy studying moles, he has rather neglected his duty to watch over the library and see that no one enters. In fact, it has been quite a long time since he paid any attention to it at all.

At dinner that evening, Johnno is called upon to perform Lady Petunia’s favorite song, I’ve Got Rabies, singing it while also playing it on his harmonica. This puts everyone into a festive mood except for the marquess, who wanted kippers for supper and didn’t get them.

“Johnno, ol’ hoss, that was great!” exclaims Lord Jeremy’s friend, the American adventurer Willis Twombley, who thinks he is Sargon of Akkad. “How’s about an encore?”

“Sir, I have something better than an encore!” Johnno replies. “I have discovered, through my perusal of certain ancient books whose titles are better left unsaid, the one thing most abhorrent to the spirit of Black Rodney–the one thing guaranteed to keep his evil presence from this house!”

“Kippers, I shouldn’t wonder!” grumbles Lord Gromleigh.

“Lord Jeremy, your troubles are over! Black Rodney will persecute you no more!”

“Well?” cries Lord Jeremy. “Speak up, man! What is it?”

Johnno takes a moment to beam beamingly, then answers.

“Antimacassars, my lord! Black Rodney can’t stand antimacassars! He won’t venture within 50 feet of one. All you have to do is place them on every piece of furniture in Coldsore Hall.”

“My word!” cries Lady Petunia. “But Jeremy–I don’t think you have any antimacassars.”

“That’s no problem, lady!” exults Twombley. “I sure hate them Babylonians, but you got to give the varmints credit for one thing–they make the best goldarn antimacassars in the world! I’m surprised old Queen Victwhatsername ain’t got a passell of ’em in her palace. There’s an English firm right there in London that imports ’em by the bloatload–Dombey & Son. Dirt cheap, too. Germy, old pal, we can order a whole cartful of ’em right away.”

Here Ms. Crepuscular accommodates the reader with a picture of an antimacassar. Three of them, in fact.

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Welcome to Inchworm Rodeo

As promised, here’s my coverage of the 77th annual Inchworm Rodeo.

The video shows the floor exercise performed by the gold medal winner, Howdy, owned and trained by The Living Legend of Inchworm Rodeo, Mr. V.J. Sunderbhai of Febrile, Vermont. Also known as “The Inchworm Whisperer,” Mr. Sunderbhai’s worms have won more gold medals than everybody else’s put together. Incredibly, his inchworm filly, Pocahontas, took a silver medal in Dangling From a Strand of Silk, and two of his worms won medals in Cocoon Spinning.

We need not dwell upon the calamity that occurred at last year’s Inchworm Rodeo, and momentarily threatened the continued existence of the entire Inchworm Rodeo industry. Shrewd planning averted the kind of disaster that overwhelmed the city of Popgun Ridge. The less said about that horror, the better.


Lord Jeremy’s Shameful Secret (‘Oy, Rodney’)

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In Chapter CCLXXXIV of Violet Crepuscular’s epic romance, Oy, Rodney, Lord Jeremy Coldsore hosts a formal dinner for his Aunt, Lady Petunia, and her husband Lord Gromleigh, the Marquess of Grone. Also at the table we find Jeremy’s friend, the American adventurer Willis Twombley, and their fiancee, Lady Margo Cargo. They are served by Lady Margo’s crusty old butler, Crusty, Lord Jeremy’s butler having mysteriously disappeared, probably under the wading pool in the vicar’s back yard.

“The problem with aged relatives who knew you as a child,” Ms. Crepuscular confides in her readers, “is that they know things about you that will embarrass you if they trot them out in company. Alas for Lord Jeremy, he is about to be subjected to this.”

Having quaffed at least a quart of imported Philistine wine, Lady Petunia is in a festive mood and prone to reminisce.

“I remember one time when Jeremy was only four or five years old, and I was minding him while his mother and father went to Brighton to see The Four Churls play unfamiliar musical instruments. Poor little Jeremy came down with an earache, and I had to summon Dr. Flabb (I’m sure you must remember him, dear–he had the most unsightly nose in Britain), who prescribed some ear drops.

“Well, he had little Jeremy bend sideways so he could drip the drops into his ear. And imagine our surprise when the drops came right out the other ear! Dr. Flabb couldn’t believe his eyes! ‘Why, this child has no brain!’ he cried. ‘His head is completely empty!’ Oh, Jeremy, you remember how terribly funny that was!”

Jeremy cringes hypnotically. He does not think it was funny.

“No wonder he’s such a fool!” grumbles Crusty.

“Aunt, that story isn’t true!” Jeremy cries.

“Let me have a look, there, Germy,” Twombley says, leaning in his chair to peer into Jeremy’s ear. Jeremy pushes him away. Mortified beyond words, he suddenly leaps from his chair and flees the dining room.

“I thought we were going to have kippers,” mutters the marquess. “Not this muck.”

Lady Margo is aghast. She does not know whether she can, in good conscience, marry a man without a brain. “It might be catching!” she thinks.

“I now draw the curtain on this pitiable scene,” concludes Ms. Crepuscular. “We all have childhood secrets that we wish would stay buried forever. I certainly am not going to tell you mine.”

 


Win a Pet Komodo Dragon

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What’s he eating? Don’t ask!

The Komodo Dragon, the world’s largest living lizard, makes an ideal companion for anyone who likes to live in mortal fear of his household pet. They’re pretty hard to get, though–so we applaud Pitchpole Products for making one available as the grand prize in their annual Dolt for a Day Contest.

With every purchase of a Pitchpole Products plunger, pipe, or pliers, your name will be entered into the Dolt for a Day Komodo Dragon Sweepstakes.

Co-sponsored by the National Education Assn., so you know it’s on the level.


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