Something For The Weekend

Solving The Broken Crossword Puzzle Economy

The crossword puzzle can seem utterly authorless. If you haven't caught the documentary Wordplay, or bothered to look up the name that appears in tiny agate type below the grid in The New York Times, you might join many others in assuming that the crossword is written by editor Will Shortz. Or volunteers. Or a computer.

In fact, crosswords are made by people (called constructors) whose status is roughly equivalent to freelance writers—that is to say, low. Puzzles are sent on spec to editors, who buy them or turn them down, and who fine-tune the ones they accept without, as a nearly universal rule, consulting the constructor. Submissions may sit [...]


How to Win the Nobel Prize in Literature

So you didn't win a Nobel Prize in Literature this week. Unless your name is Mr. Mo. Although, if you live in Europe, you did win a consolation Nobel Peace Prize at least. (Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union is like giving an Oscar to Alf.) Anyway, I know, it’s total bullshit. You totally deserved it. But you might just be a calendar year away from getting the recognition you so obviously deserve. Let me show you the way.

I waited by the phone all week for that congratulatory call from overseas myself! Not for the stuff I’ve already written, which, let’s admit, is pretty amazing. But [...]


Chicken With Ball Bearings: How To Cook Like A Futurist

After years of disavowing the unwanted, unloved phrase "molecular gastronomy," the culinary avant-garde was gifted in 2010 with a new umbrella term under which to gather: Modernist cuisine. The name came from Nathan Myhrvold, whose five-volume doorstop of a cookbook of the same title offers both a history of culinary thought and detailed descriptions of the techniques and recipes pioneered by the likes of Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal. (A shorter version is due out in October.)

Before diving into the proverbial immersion circulator, Myhrvold turns to art history to make the case for the title Modernist Cuisine. Writing on the artistic advancements of the Impressionists, Myhrvold expresses [...]


The Unpublished Manuscripts Of Aaron Sorkin

Imagine that an intern on HBO's hit show "The Newsroom" discovers a cache of unpublished pages while sifting through Aaron Sorkin's desk drawers in search of a cease-and-desist form letter. Who knew that the man behind "The West Wing" and "The Social Network" had such wells of passion for classic Russian novels—and prescription drug literature?

Big Mouse and Small Mouse! A Children's Story by Aaron Sorkin

There was a little house on a little hill that belonged to Little Mouse. One day Big Mouse rode right up that hill on a big bulldozer and knocked down Little Mouse's house.

"Why are you knocking down my house?" asked Little Mouse. [...]


Advice From Lycia Naff, The Original Three-Breasted Prostitute From 'Total Recall'

When I heard the new Total Recall had remained true to its predecessor by including a mutant three-breasted hooker (newcomer Kaitlyn Leeb, who's already steeping in the positive and negative attention associated with such a role), my elation turned bittersweet when I realized how little I knew about Lycia Naff, the actress who originated the role in Paul Verhoeven's 1990 blockbuster. Even in a movie teeming with compelling females in thankless minor roles—the "two weeks" woman; the grotendously disfigured mutant fortuneteller; the wee, Uzi-toting Thumbelina—Naff's performance became downright totemic. Verhoeven's entire vision of man's future balances on her prosthetically enhanced bustline.

Right after Total Recall, Naff earned [...]


How We Got So "Comfortable With That"

"Comfortable" is a flexible term. Any one person’s threshold for comfort can differ from another’s. For the individual, comfort is relative: a heat wave in Edmonton, Canada, say, no longer agonizes after one has endured a heat wave in New York. When a person says "comfortable," they often mean "pleasant." Other times "comfortable" translates to just "bearable" or "satisfactory." While the word "comfortable" doesn’t change, a person’s definition of it can, and usually does, with time—that is, with age and experience. It might happen gradually, incrementally, with constant comparisons between then and now. Comfort itself is relative, its meaning elastic.

The word "comfortable" has been thrown around since the Middle [...]


The Lessons Of Yo La Tengo's Long Run

Last week, Gotham Books released Jesse Jarnow's Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock. It's a biography of the Hoboken indie rock lifers who've been a working band since the mid-80s, and always seem to opt for the slow and steady over the quick cash-in. What made Yo La Tengo able to do what so few bands have managed: not only stick together but continue to release new, vital music for almost three decades? Via email, I talked with Jesse, a friend, has been writing about culture in venues such as Rolling Stone and Spin for a solid couple decades himself, and shares not [...]


Who Was The World's First Blogger?

Sei Shōnagon, b. 966: "Her writings were eventually collected and published in The Pillow Book (public library) in 1002. An archive of pictures and illustrations, records of interesting events in court, and daily personal thoughts, many in list-form, this was arguably the world’s first 'blog' by conceptual format and Shōnagon the world's first blogger."

Michel de Montaigne, b. 1533: "It's been said—by Bakewell, with reservations, and others—that Montaigne was the first blogger. His favorite subject, as he often remarked, was himself ('I would rather be an expert on me than on Cicero'), and he meant to leave nothing out ('I am loath even [...]


That Face! The Uncanny Art Of Studio Photography's Heyday

Ahmad el Abed, a tailor. Saida, Lebanon, 1948-53. by Hashem el Madani. Collection: AIF/ Hashem el Madani. Copyright © Arab Image Foundation.

No product of human industry is infinite, but photography comes close. In 1976, John Szarkowski, the longtime curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, announced, somewhat gnomically, that "the world now contains more photographs than bricks." As a metaphor of plenitude, Szarkowski’s phrase is wonderfully material, suggesting that photographs are just another object in the world, at once essential and interchangeable. As an estimate of quantity though, it now seems impossibly low. If digital photographs count (as by now they must), then the real figure [...]


How To Make Bourbon Salt

It's come to my attention that a request for bourbon salt has been made, and I feel that it's a safe assumption that if I don't take up this call to NaCl no one reputable will. Which makes me worried for those who wish to try some, who might otherwise be left to cast about, seeking out bourbon salt from sketchy characters and wandering into dark alleys at all times of the night and I already have enough to fret over. So here, I made you some bourbon salt.

Because I think of bourbon as stronger and sweeter than wine, I decided to go with a cup and a [...]


Beth Willman Really Does Have A Galaxy

She does. Actually, it's not much of a galaxy, it's more of a sub-galaxy, a dwarf galaxy, or maybe not even any kind of galaxy at all, maybe just a cluster of stars. It's hers because she found it, hanging around the edges of the Milky Way. That's it, above. If you look with the eye of love, you can see in the left-middle what she calls a "slight overdensity" of dim blue stars. It's named Willman 1.

Beth Willman is now a member of the astronomy faculty at Haverford College. When she found Willman 1, though, she was a postdoc at NYU (astronomers have long childhoods that don't [...]


The Best Of The New York Times' Pug Journalism

Meet the best fodder for New York Times style pieces for a hundred years plus: the pug.

10. "Cyrano the Pug Has Gout: It is the Result of High Living, as in the Human Family, Says the Doctor– Canine Tooth Filling" (June 18, 1899)


For Hollywood, Chinese Villains Move Behind the Scenes

Back in May, when the original English report came out that China had censored Men In Black 3, it put the amount of cut material at 13 minutes.* A day later, when the Los Angeles Times picked up the story, the amount of censored material was revised to "at least three minutes." But too late, everyone from E! to HuffPo had taken the story and run, the latter joking, "there could be a silver lining to the 'Men In Black 3' censorship: by cutting 13 minutes out of the film, Chinese theaters can screen the movie more times per day."

Twelve days later, the L.A. [...]


A Short History Of Book Reviewing's Long Decline

There have been enough essays on the death of book reading, but have there been enough words devoted to discussing the decline of book reviewing? In the last decade or so—yes, indeed, as we've all wrestled with how the internet influences everything we do, including reading, writing, and writing about books (Tolstoy LOL tl;dr). But while the words "book-review" made its first print appearance as a headline in 1861 to just that—a review of a book titled How to Talk: A Pocket of Speaking, Conversation, and Debating (verdict: "The present work has the additional recommendation of an unmistakably useful subject, which is lucidly treated")—the practice of criticizing the critics [...]


Ways In Which The Movie 'Cloud Atlas' Has Changed My Life

1. My website,, was hacked by Russians and blacklisted by Google.

2. My novel, The Cloud Atlas, zoomed to a triple-digit Amazon ranking without my having to email—as I did back when my novel was first published—a single parent, aunt, cousin, neighbor, classmate, ex-girlfriend, former teacher or current student and beg them to buy the book instead of "waiting until the library gets a copy," as a friend promised he would.

3. Instead, I get a lot of email, from loads more readers than I used to.

4. Including one at 12:14 a.m. this week from someone who had accidentally checked my book out of the [...]


NFL Films and the Magic of Seeing Sports


Near the end of every National Football League season for decades, as fatigue accelerated its woozy, inverse dance with field temperatures and the playoffs neared, the staff of NFL Films routinely faces certain hazards.

For starters, when traveling to shoot teams like the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, or New England Patriots in their perennially inclement winter habitats, the cinematographers' cameras often required more weather-proofing than the players. Despite that utmost precaution, the shooters' 16-millimeter film would still occasionally freeze and snap in the camera, requiring the machines' urgent triage during some of the most dramatic passages of the games they were entrusted to document. [...]


Return To Cat Town


Nostradamus Jam

A new translation of Nostradamus has just been published—though if you’re a real fan you already knew that! Actually, this is the first time we’ve had access to the real thing: the prophecies that launched a thousand crackpots, in all their trippy medieval weirdness, taken seriously as poetry, translated by a great Guggenheim-winning translator, and decked out with essays and notes to give us half a chance of understanding what the hell is going on. But let’s just flip through randomly, shall we?

Life & death changing Hungary’s regime, The law far harsher than mere loyalty : Their capital shall ring with howls, pleas, screams : Castor [...]

23 Terrific Movie Studio Bumpers

It began in France. In 1895, the Gaumont Film Company (the oldest continuously operated film studio in the world) debuted their “Marguerite” logo, the iconic daisy named after founder Léon Gaumont’s mother. The daisy’s design has evolved since then, and so has the art of “bumpers”—those petite vignettes that announce a production studio’s involvement in a project. Universal and Paramount, the respective second and third-oldest studios in the world, swiftly followed Gaumont’s lead; the latter’s “Majestic Mountain” logo is Hollywood’s oldest surviving bumper, the byproduct of Paramount founder W.W. Hodkinson’s doodle of the Ben Lomond Mountain near his childhood Utah home.

Rarely are they consciously paid attention to, [...]


All The Presidents’ Menus

While compiling this list I attempted as often as possible to learn not what the presidents ate at state functions and inaugural dinners but during their solitary breakfasts and family suppers—in other words, their comfort foods. Often this information came from contemporary accounts, and occasionally from the recipe cards of first ladies who left for posterity the dishes they'd cooked for their husbands, during the White House years as well as the early days of their marriages. Where this was difficult to track down (such as with the earlier presidents), I focused on menu items from the more personal of the large events (birthday and wedding dinners, for example) held [...]