Sunday, May 30, 2010

So true

An 11-year-old cousin of mine is in town for Memorial Day weekend.  Since his hair has grown into a long, thick swoosh, I asked him whether it reminds anyone of the teen pop star Justin Bieber. 

After a pause he quizzically replied, "What is the purpose of Justin Bieber?"

That is an excellent question. I'm not sure either, but I told him girls need something to scream at.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh, and, um...

Humans: Why They Triumphed

"They"?  It kind of makes you wonder who, or what, wrote the headline.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Apple to Shut Down

This, of course, begs a question.  Apple had something called

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Just asking

As a guy who likes to do the occasional card trick, I enjoyed David Letterman's recent Close-Up Magic Week featuring a different sleight-of-hand magician every night.

One of the illusionists was a guy called Johnny Ace Palmer. With a name like that, isn't he giving away how he does his tricks?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The 39 Steps

Last night I attended the press opening of Broadway in Chicago's The 39 Steps, a fast-paced comic interpretation that makes a farce, intentionally, of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1935 thriller.  While it didn't change my life, I found it energetic and reasonably enjoyable.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Costas on Canada

I attended a dinner the other night headlined by the great Bob Costas, play-by-play man for the 1979-80 Chicago Bulls and America's best sportscaster.  He was predictably funny and thought-provoking.

I won't repeat his pat twenty minutes of after-dinner material because I'm a fan and I don't want to prevent the guy from continuing to pick up five-figure checks on the rubber-chicken circuit.  I will, however, repeat a grace note he struck as the dinner wrapped up.

After his canned remarks, Costas entertained questions from the audience on such subjects as steroids in sports, NBC's narrow-minded Olympics programming choices, and the increasingly lethargic pace of major league baseball games.  (He pointed out that a recently discovered Kinescope reveals that Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees, a 10-9 slugfest, was played in just 2 hours, 37 minutes.)

The final question of the evening asked Costas to name the most memorable sporting event he's ever attended.  After thinking for a moment, he said the 2010 Winter Olympic hockey gold medal game between the United States and Canada would be hard to beat:

"You've got the Olympics host playing their national sport.  They make it to the title game against a talented American team that beat them earlier in the tournament.  It's a close, exciting game and as time is running out, the U.S. ties it and sends it to sudden-death overtime, where Canada wins it on a goal by their national darling, Sidney Crosby.  If it had been a movie, no one would have believed it. 
"When we were off the air, because I never would have said this on the air, I said to Al Michaels that the ideal result would be for the U.S. to send it to overtime and Canada to win it.  The U.S.A. wanted to win this game.  Canada needed to win this game.  It was so important to their national identity.  
"You could make a case that this was the greatest moment in the history of Canadian sports.  Winning an Olympic gold medal on Canadian ice against the United States?  It will be remembered in Canada forever.
"If the Americans had won, sure, everyone would have been happy, but would it really resonate as an all-time moment?  Here in Chicago, would everyone rank it up there with the six NBA championships of the great Bulls teams of the 1990s?  The Super Bowl the Bears won in January 1986?  The Cubs winning two of three from the Pirates?"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Grid school

I sat in for the noted crossword blogger Rex Parker yesterday, covering the Saturday New York Times puzzle for his vast readership.  As is typical on Rex's site, a lively discussion ensued in the comments section.

Check it all out here.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Nervous Rex

Or at least he should be, entrusting his hugely popular New York Times crossword puzzle blog to a rank amateur like myself.

I'm talking, of course, about FOBB&B Rex Parker, the 44th Greatest Crossword Puzzle Solver in the Universe, who writes every day about the NYT puzzle.  Not only can he solve with the best of 'em, he's an opinionated and highly entertaining writer who is Googled as widely for his thoughts on the crossword as he is for the answers themselves.

Rex's grandmother just turned 90 and he's flying across the country this morning to celebrate with her in Idaho this weekend.  He's got excellent guest writers covering the Friday and Sunday puzzles and, for some reason, yours truly on Saturday.

Thanks for letting me sit in, Rex.  I feel like James Wormworth, manning the drum kit barefoot in Studio 6A while Max Weinberg tours with Bruce.  Happy 90th to Grandma Parker!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Whiz kids

Not to be outdone by the teenage phenoms who keep publishing crossword puzzles in the New York Times are these young sporting stars.

Starlin Castro is an exciting Chicago Cubs prospect who lit up spring training 2010 with his quick bat, turning 20 years old in late March after outhitting the grownups.  He started the season with AA-level Tennessee, where he continued to hit the cover off the ball, but after the Cubs got swept by lowly Pittsburgh last week, impatient general manager Jim Hendry woke the kid up with a call at 7am last Friday and asked him to meet the big club in Cincinnati.

Castro got to play that very evening and became the youngest Cubs shortstop in history when he took the field.  In his first plate appearance he smacked a three-run HR off unfortunately named pitcher Homer Bailey, becoming the sixth Cub ever to go deep in his first at-bat.  A diving outfield catch robbed him of a hit his next time up.  Castro returned to the plate in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and delivered the knockout punch with a bases-clearing triple into the gap in left center, sliding headfirst into third and leading the Cubs to a 14-7 victory.

His 6-RBI debut set a major league record, breaking the previous mark of 5 shared by four players.

On Sunday, the soft-throwing Oakland Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden threw the 19th perfect game in major league history.  At 26, Braden is the youngest pitcher to throw a perfect game since a 24-year-old Mike Witt did it in 1984.

A 20-year-old Rory McIlroy became the youngest PGA Tour winner since Tiger Woods when he won the trophy at Quail Hollow a few weeks ago, after Woods missed the cut.  McIlroy nearly did too.  The golf prodigy from Northern Ireland was two shots over the cut line with three holes to play on Friday when he hit a 4-iron from 203 yards into the wind and over water to 6 feet, then sank his eagle putt.

He made the cut on the number and never looked back, shooting the low round on both Saturday and Sunday in a weekend for the ages.  On Sunday he set a course record with a 10-under 62 and cruised to a four-shot victory over Masters champion Phil Mickelson and a winner's check for $1.17 million.  He turned 21 two days later.  Woods was 20 years and 10 months old when he won his first PGA Tour event in Las Vegas in 1996.

Earlier on the same day McIlroy shot 62, 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot an eye-popping 58 to win on the Japan Golf Tour.  It was the lowest round ever shot on any major golf tour.

Led by the relatively superannuated Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the latter of whom became a team captain last year at the ripe old age of 21, the Chicago Blackhawks finished off the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night to set up a playoff series with the San Jose Sharks.  Kane and Toews were opponents on Vancouver's rink in the Olympics, when Toews played for Canada against Kane's Team USA, but the Hawks made it look like their home ice on Tuesday with three goals in the second period.

Speaking of whiz kids, Robin Roberts passed away this week.  The Hall of Fame pitcher was a star of the Philadelphia Phillies "Whiz Kids" and the National League's most durable and consistent pitcher in the early 1950s.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Last night I attended the press opening of the world premiere of Aftermath, the Signal Ensemble Theatre's biographical portrait of the short-lived Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones.

It's a jukebox biography in the tradition of The Buddy Holly Story, a less slick Jersey Boys, a longer-arcing Million Dollar Quartet, but there are fewer songs than in those shows.  This one clocks in at a brisk 90 minutes, much of which documents the gradual estrangement of the spiraling Jones from his bandmates and girlfriend.

Aaron Snook is credible as the doomed rocker, and Nick Vidal channels a slithery young Mick Jagger, but oddly enough in a play about the Stones, Andrew Yearick steals the show as George Harrison.  He's a friend who teaches Brian to play the sitar; after a short lesson in instrumentation and eastern mysticism, they play "Norwegian Wood."

Aftermath runs through June 6 on the West Stage at the Raven Theatre Complex, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.   

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Monday, May 10, 2010


In a small coda to the Beyonce story, last night I had another celebrity moment.  We were having a casual Mother's Day dinner at Francesca's on Taylor when Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen was seated at the table next to us.

Unlike Beyonce, the former first-round draft pick didn't have security with him; not only can he fly under the radar, but the guy is 6'5" and built like a tank.  He and his party were attired in Chicago Blackhawks regalia, as were other diners in the restaurant, as they were all en route to the nearby Hawks-Canucks playoff game.

As they rose to leave, we said a quick hello.  I suggested to Greg that if the game were close, he not be shy about jumping over the boards.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ben Bass and Beyonce

The other day on his radio show, Howard Stern was making the point that although many celebrities claim they want to be left alone when they're out in public, the security measures they employ sometimes seem designed to attract attention to them.

His example was one Beyonce Knowles, whom Stern recently encountered at a Miami hotel.  Beyonce was reclining poolside with an enormous security man in a suit and sunglasses standing protectively over her.  As Stern recounted, he wouldn't have even noticed her if she hadn't had her goon in tow with his out-of-place demeanor and attire.

What was odd was, of all the celebrity names he could have mentioned, he picked the one with whom I had a nearly identical experience a few years ago.

It was September 2003.  We were in New York City for the U.S. Open tennis tournament.  One evening we attended my friend Jeff Marx's play, Avenue Q, which had just opened on Broadway six weeks earlier.  This was on the same night that the MTV Video Music Awards were being broadcast from Radio City Music Hall.  By coincidence, our regular hotel was around the corner from Radio City.

After the play ended to a thunderous standing ovation, it was a pleasant evening and we decided to walk back to our hotel.  We were making our way up the west side of the Avenue of the Americas as the VMAs were winding down across the street when I noticed a glamorous young woman walking just ahead of me.

She was certainly attractive, but she was mostly hard to miss due to her gold sequined dress, high heels, and the fiftyish man in a three-piece suit accompanying her.  He looked like an ex-Navy SEAL who could rip a telephone book in half.  No way they're on a date, I thought, she must be a pop star

The man was obviously a bodyguard, plus there were literally floodlights and throngs of people across 6th and along 50th Street as the MTV cavalcade wore on.  Even our hotel, which generally catered to celebrities, had served as an informal staging area that afternoon; the likes of Snoop Dogg, Green Day, Method Man and Evanescence were all around us.

This was 2003, so I had heard of Beyonce, but since I hadn't paid much attention to her career, and she hadn't yet broken out as a pop diva or movie star, I had no idea at that point what she looked like.  I also missed the VMAs that year so I couldn't identify her that way.

In fact, I might never have learned who she was except that twelve hours later, when I alighted from the 7 train at the USTA National Tennis Center, a vendor was selling the New York Post.  Splashed across the front page was the mystery girl in the gold dress:  Beyonce.

I'm not making the same point Stern did.  I don't fault Beyonce for having a bodyguard with her on the streets of New York late one evening.  But it was funny to hear him cite her as an example of a celebrity he randomly bumped into with her security man, because my experience with her was so similar.

Unfortunately for Beyonce, that was the only time our paths would cross.  She eventually gave up trying to find me again and, with a heavy heart, settled for Jay-Z instead.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dude, you are hilarious

Blankfein Says Goldman Will Always Put Clients First


Chicago's leading chamber-pop group, Canasta, is preparing for the release of its new LP, The Fakeout, the Tease and the Breather.  The album drops later this month but you can get a preview at, where the songs are already streaming.

Canasta celebrates the new album with a pair of record-release shows this Saturday evening at Schubas Tavern, one of the two or three best music rooms in Chicago.  The $14 ticket price includes a copy of the new CD.  You can't beat that.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Avenue Q

Avenue Q is a outer-borough New York neighborhood where recent college grads try to find an apartment, get a job, enter the dating scene, enjoy the big city, and learn their purpose in life.

Much like other New York City institutions — 42nd Street, Fiorello LaGuardia, the Plaza Hotel — someone eventually wrote a play about Avenue Q.  I stopped by for a visit shortly after it opened on Broadway at the John Golden Theater (see above).

Buoyed by a rare combination of critical adulation and hipster buzz, the show played for six years on the Great White Way and became one of the 25 longest-running Broadway musicals of all time.  It's now on the road, where its weeklong Chicago run opens tonight.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Happy 100th!

I recently wrote in this space about Matt Gaffney's Weekly Crossword Contest, in which one of the nation's top crossword puzzle makers posts a new grid online every Friday and invites participants to solve both the crossword and an extra puzzle ("metapuzzle") he builds into it.

This week marks the 100th episode of the MGWCC, which Matt is celebrating in appropriately centenary style with a 100-themed metapuzzle.  I thought it was particularly elegant so I'm giving it a shout-out here to alert my literally tens of readers.

The MGWCC is easiest on the first week of any given month and gets tougher as the weeks go by.  In a month like April 2010, with five Fridays, the last one can get pretty challenging, so don't get discouraged if you don't solve the meta.  You can jump in again the next week as Matt starts over in May (though he has also promised that May's puzzles will be fiendishly difficult, so beware).

Check it out here.  You've got until noon Eastern time on Tuesday to submit the answer.

Congratulations, Matt!