Archive for the ‘Modern Culture’ Category
During the Great Depression, an out-of-work architect named Alfred Mosher Butts decided to invent a board game. He did some market research and concluded that games fall into three categories: number games, such as dice and bingo; move games, such as chess and checkers; and word games, such as anagrams. Butts wanted to create a game that combined the vocabulary skills of crossword puzzles and anagrams, with the additional element of chance. The game was originally named Lexico, but Butts eventually decided to call the game “Criss-Cross Words.” This game would eventually become the game we know as Scrabble.
Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works (e.g. The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary) provide a list of permissible words. The Collins Scrabble checker can also be used to check if a word is allowed.
The name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States and Canada and of Mattel elsewhere. The game is sold in 121 countries in 29 different language versions. One hundred and fifty million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets are found in one out of every three American homes. Scrabble has been translated into 22 languages, from Arabic to Afrikaans. Oddly, the game is sold outside the U.S. by Hasbro’s rival, Mattel Inc. By the early 1990s, thanks to its acquisitions of Milton Bradley (maker of Life, Yahtzee and Candy Land) and Parker Brothers (Monopoly, Risk and Trivial Pursuit), Hasbro owned more than half of the $1.1 billion U.S. games market. But in 1993, Mattel outbid Hasbro, paying $90 million for the international rights to the game. Hence the game’s weirdly bifurcated homepage at Scrabble.com.
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When most of think about bath crystals, we think of frazzled moms trying to steal an hour of “me” time after a long day at the office. However, enterprising drug seekers imagine something very different: an opportunity to get legally blazed out of their minds.
Apparently, some of those fancy bath salts you use for aromatic, tub-based relaxation may contain the stimulants mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MPDV) and reportedly give an even more psychotic meth-like high when snorted, injected or smoked, and can cause hallucinations, paranoia, rapid heart rates and suicidal thoughts. While these salts are labeled “not for human consumption,” more and more people are consuming it, with sometimes-deadly consequences.
At least two deaths in the U.K. have been linked to snorting bath salt. Mississippi lawmakers this week began considering a proposal to ban the sale of the powders, and a similar step is being sought in Kentucky. In Louisiana, the bath salts were outlawed by an emergency order after the state’s poison center received more than 125 calls in the last three months of 2010 involving exposure to the chemicals.
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Simultaneously condemned and revered, the miniskirt exploded onto the “Swinging London” fashion scene in the mid 1960s, thanks to super chic designer Mary Quant. Quant began experimenting with shorter skirts in the late 1950s, and her efforts culminated in the creation of the miniskirt in 1965—one of the defining fashions of the decade.
By 1966 Mary Quant was producing short waist skimming mini dresses and skirts that were set 6 or 7 inches above the knee. It would not be fair to claim that she invented the mini skirt– she took the idea from the 1964 designs by Courrèges, which she made even shorter for her boutique Bazaar. However, she is rightly credited with popularizing the style, which did not take off until she directed her considerable marketing savvy to the task.
Before the 1960s, young women had been expected to dress in the style of their mothers, which was usually loosely based on Parisian couture. For example, as late as 1962, a Sears catalog portrayed mothers and daughters as “patchwork pals” who were overjoyed that they are wearing identical dresses. Looking back on the late 1950s, the English designer Sally Tuffin remarked, “There weren’t any clothes for young people at all. One just looked like their mother. An enduringly controversial symbol of the sexual revolution, the mini-skirt continues to evolve with the times and changing tastes.
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The Irish have their potatoes, the Koreans have their Kimchi and the Sri Lankans have their… coconuts. Sri Lankan authorities have been forced to step in to control the sharp increase in the price of coconuts — a dietary staple — by setting a ceiling price and arranging imports to ease supply and demand. So important is the coconut to the national cuisine that shortages in the past have had serious political implications and even been held responsible for the downfall of several governments.
The coconut (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing up to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4–6 m long, and pinnae 60–90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly, leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut.
The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decoration, as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm can be utilized by humans in some manner. Culinary uses of the various parts of the coconut include:
• The nut provides oil for cooking and making margarine.
• The white, fleshy part of the seed, the coconut meat, is edible and used fresh or dried in cooking.
• The fleshy part can be desiccated to produce coconut milk in making curry dish and other dishes using coconut milk.
In order to prevent a national crisis, the Sri Lankan government set a ceiling retail price of 30 rupees (27 US cents) per nut in a network of state-owned stores, but stocks quickly sold out and then reappeared at more than double the price on the black market. The government has now decided to import coconuts from India and Malaysia to end the shortages. This is big news in Sri Lanka, where coconuts have traditionally been a key export, after tea and rubber, but the conversion of plantations for housing development and increased consumption has led to severe shortages in recent times.
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WrestleMania? There is ideology. There are plotlines worthy of a Lifetime made for TV movie. There is also wrestling, albeit not of the “legitimate” Greco-Roman-sort that can’t help but look extremely homoerotic. No. WrestleMania has very little to do with sports, and everything to do with show biz. In fact, the promoters determine the outcome of most matches in advance, and all of the mayhem in the ring is scripted.
However, it would be a mistake to dismiss pro wrestlers just because they aren’t “playing a sport” in a traditional sense. Precisely because pro wrestling is a roughhouse-ballet form of improvisational comedy, the wrestlers must be superb athletes, as well as charismatic performers adept at getting a rise from the famously fickle WWF audience.
Hulk Hogan has been the undisputed king of the WWF since he became the face of pro wrestling after the runaway success of the first WrestleMania (often referred to as WrestleMania I), the first pro wrestling event produced by the World Wrestling Federation. The event took place on March 31, 1985, at Madison Square Garden in New York City. 19,121 rabid fans were in attendance, and the event was viewed by over one million fans through closed-circuit television, which made it the largest showing of an event on closed-circuit television in the United States at the time it aired.
The show featured nine professional wrestling matches, and the main event match teamed Hulk Hogan with the legendary Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, who were unsurprisingly defeated by their more charismatic rivals. With this victory, “Hulkamania” swept the nation. Hogan frequently referred to his fans as “Hulkamaniacs” in his interviews and introduced his three “demandments”: training, saying prayers, and eating vitamins. Eventually, a fourth demandment (believing in oneself) was added during his feud with Earthquake in 1990. Hogan’s ring gear developed a characteristic yellow-and-red color scheme; his ring entrances involved him ritualistically ripping his shirt off his body, flexing, and listening for audience cheers in an exaggerated manner.
Hogan was named the most requested celebrity of the 1980s for the Make-a-Wish Foundation children’s charity. He was featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, and People magazines, while also appearing on The Tonight Show and having his own CBS Saturday morning cartoon titled Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. Hogan went on to headline eight of the first nine WrestleMania events, and he also co-hosted Saturday Night Live on March 30, 1985 during this lucrative run. AT&T reported that his 900 number information line was the single biggest 900 number from 1991 to 1993. Hogan operated the 900 number through his stint in WWF and then recreated it when he joined World Championship Wrestling.
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Which is better: “The Godfather” or “The Godfather II”? It is nearly impossible to say which is the greater masterpiece. However, one thing is certain; not even the most diehard devil’s advocate would argue for the relative merits of the third installment of the trilogy. Almost universally panned by critics when it was released in 1990, The “Godfather III” was a pale imitation of its far more distinguished predecessors. Most damningly, director Francis Ford Coppola was accused of nepotism, for his disastrous decision to cast his daughter, Sofia Coppola, in the prominent supporting role of “Mary Corleone”.
Julia Roberts was originally cast for the role, but dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. Madonna subsequently expressed interest, but Coppola felt she was too old for the role. Rebecca Schaeffer was set to audition, but she was murdered. Winona Ryder subsequently accepted the part, only to drop out of the film at the last minute (supposedly due to illness, though other reports state that she was committed to “Edward Scissorhands”). Sofia was swiftly cast in the role of “Mary” following Ryder’s departure. Rumors regarding her acting chops — or lack thereof — began to swirl before she even shot a scene. Paramount begged Coppola to cast a known star, but he persisted, telling everyone that Sofia was the “actual embodiment” of “Mary Corleone.” Sadly for the untrained Sofia, her performance in the film exceeded even the lowest critical expectations. Critics had a field day savaging her (remarkably) monotonous and wooden performance, finding it “hopelessly amateurish” and unintentionally comical. Even her aquiline profile became fodder for ridicule, and in March 1991, the “Razzie Award” gave her the dubious distinction of “Worst Supporting Actress” as well as “Worst New Star.” OUCH!
Sofia initially retreated from Hollywood, entering the fine arts program at the California Institute of the Arts. There she began to nurture her interests in photography as well as costuming and experimented with video shorts. As their first post-graduate effort, she and some friends created the TV series High Octane, an offbeat news magazine on cable’s Comedy Central network. The show was discontinued in 1994 after just four episodes, and Coppola continued to work on her brother’s projects, primarily music videos. In 1999, Sofia shocked the socks off the critics with the release of her first feature film, “The Virgin Suicides”. It was actually REALLY GOOD! Like, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY GOOD! Her sophomore effort, “Lost in Translation” (2003), starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, became a critical smash hit and an impressive commercial success to boot. Her third effort, “Marie Antoinette,” while not quite the critical darling that “Translation” had been, definitely had its’ fair share of enthusiastic supporters. I think it is safe to say that Sofia Coppola will not be receiving any “Razzie” awards for her work on the other end of the camera…
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According to TV Guide, “The Cosby Show” was TV’s biggest hit in the 1980s, and is credited with almost single-handedly reviving the sitcom genre and NBC’s ratings fortunes. Comedian Bill Cosby played the lead, but he couldn’t have done it without his costars: Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Lisa Bonet and…those sweaters. During the show’s 8-year run, Bill Cosby was never seen without one of his LOUDLY multicolored Australian Coogi sweaters, which fondly became known as the “Cosby Sweater.” I always assumed that he must have housed all of them in an unseen walk-in closet, seeing that he seemed to own a different epilepsy-inducing patterned sweater for each day of the year.
When “The Cosby Show” ended it’s run in 1992, it seemed like the “Cosby Sweater” had suffered extinction by proxy. The once powerful sweater style lost its leader, and the fashion tide had turned away from the hypercolor 1980s in favor of “grunge” and The Gap. Within a year, muted knits had vanquished the lovably boxy and color clashing “Cosby” to the back of the closet.
The “Cosby” remained dormant for over a decade, mildewing in boxes in basements and hanging like rotten fruit from the racks of America’s thrift stores. And then…… The “Ugly Sweater Party” happened.
The origin of the first ugly sweater party remains the subject of heated debate, but the most convincing explanation credits/blames nostalgia-loving hipsters with starting the trend in the mid-aughts. Suffice to say, this annual celebration of winter fashion gone terribly wrong spread to college campuses and eventually infected the already infirm office Christmas party. Since then, the sale of used “Cosby’s” at thrift stores has exploded in the months leading to December. In fact, many Goodwill and Salvation Army stores report that they have been completely unable to keep up with the demand for tan appropriately hideous sweater.
The resurrection of the “Cosby Sweater” is an inspiration for us all. It is proof positive that even the ugly and undeserving can get a second act in American life.
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