Thursday, September 30, 2010

Greg Giraldo 1965-2010

Comedian Greg Giraldo, a brilliant joke writer and veteran roast comic, has died of a prescription drug overdose. He was a divorced father of three children.

The Columbia University and Harvard Law School graduate's smarts shone through his every onstage rant and pointed barb. His New York Times obituary is here.

Rest in peace, Greg.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

14th Westchester Crossword Tournament


Do you live in greater New York City and like crossword puzzles? Live nowhere near there, like crosswords and enjoy air travel?

Either way, sharpen your pencil and attend the 14th Westchester Crossword Tournament, hosted by New York Times puzzle editor Will Shortz this Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the St. John's Episcopal Church in Pleasantville, N.Y.

The tournament puzzles are unpublished Monday through Thursday crosswords that will soon appear in the New York Times.  The event benefits the Pleasantville Fund for Learning, a nonprofit charitable organization that funds educational enrichment by making grants to students and teachers in the local school district.

More information is here.

Louis CK

Memo to anyone into things that are awesome:

Among the handful of truly exceptional standups working today is Louis CK, who plays two shows Saturday night at the Chicago Theatre. The 8pm show is sold out, but tickets are still available for the 11pm. I'll be out of town so enjoy it extra much for me.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's New Yorker Festival week!

You're going, right?  For the seventh straight year?  No, wait, that's me.

To get us into the spirit of the New Yorker's annual celebration of arts and ideas, here's a full-length video of the "Political Humor" panel discussion I attended at last year's Festival.

New Yorker features editor Susan Morrison moderates the lively chitchat with comedy writers Samantha Bee (The Daily Show), Andy Borowitz (general Andy Borowitzitude), longtime Saturday Night Live veteran Jim DowneyThe Onion's resident depressive genius Todd Hanson, and Allison Silverman (Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report).


Monday, September 27, 2010

New Yorker iPad app

I don't have an iPad, nor do I plan to.

Still, I like the New Yorker, so as a public service to my fellow enthusiasts, here's an instructional video about the magazine's new iPad app, starring Jason Schwartzman and directed by Roman Coppola:

If you're more the reading than the viewing type, here's an interesting note from the New Yorker editors on the same subject.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peter Serafinowicz

That is my tip of the day.

I'd never heard of the guy until recently, when I was chatting with a comedy savant and friend of this blog. I mentioned that I was Facebook friends with a hilarious comedian who is a walking humor machine. His Facebook page is a constant stream of amusing status updates, not joke material exactly, just the funny things that apparently occur to this guy nonstop.

My friend also knew the guy, and said her equivalent was an English comedian called Peter Serafinowicz. I trust her opinion implicitly -- not only is she hilarious herself, she also happens to be married to one of my favorite standup comedians -- so I took her at her word and made a mental note to look for P.S.'s work.

Then the other day I was listening to Will Arnett on the Howard Stern radio show. He was very funny, obviously a huge Stern fan which made the whole exercise that much more entertaining, and a few interesting details came out (his father was the CEO of Molson when he was growing up in Toronto; he was briefly married to Penelope Ann Miller ten years before marrying Amy Poehler).

He was there to promote his new Fox sitcom, "Running Wilde," and sang the praises of the British guy on the show: Peter Serafinowicz.

If my friend and Will Arnett both like this guy, there must be a lot to like.

Trust me. Peter Serafinowicz.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My word!

Super-smart people fascinate me, especially the ones who apply their talents in ways that benefit the rest of us.

Take FOBB&B Joon Pahk. When not teaching at Harvard or parenting his two kids, he's usually contributing something to the world of puzzles and word games. He writes crosswords for newspapers around the country, blogs about them at, serves as faculty advisor to his school's crossword club, and makes puzzle tournaments that much more interesting just by showing up (and usually winning).

Joon's latest venture is an ingenious word game applet called Guess my word! in which you try to, well, guess his word. For every wrong guess, the computer tells you whether the secret word is alphabetically before or after your guess. Then you keep guessing until you get it right or give up.

There's a leaderboard that tracks the fastest and most efficient guessers of the day and shows their guess sequences. Joon chooses a new word every day, and you can also play his words from over the preceding week as well as the words chosen by a shadowy figure named Mike.

As in every puzzle or word game, there's a strategy facet.  I try to zero in by guessing words roughly halfway into the set of remaining possible words. For example, my first guess starts with M, the 13th letter of the 26 in the alphabet.

Joon tends to choose longer, less conventional words, so the other technique I've started using is to begin with short guesses (man, top, pet) and guess longer words as I get closer to the target since the answer is going to be one of them (raffish, rainmaker, raiment).

Sometimes I solve it; other times I get close but don't think of the answer and give up.  Since it's on a computer, I should probably come back to it an hour or two later, as that is often the way to break through a crossword corner or NPR puzzle.

Try it, you'll like it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Moments from the 2010 U.S. Open


6'1" Mahesh Bhupathi and 6'5" Max Mirnyi are an imposing doubles team, but the Argentinian duo Eduardo Schwank and Horacio Zeballos managed to hit a lob winner over the Indian Davis Cup hero and the "Beast of Belarus" en route to an upset over the #4 seeds.

18-year-old American Ryan Harrison had quite a fortnight, earning a spot in the U.S. Open main draw by winning three matches in the qualifying tournament, then stunning 15th seed Ivan Ljubicic in the first round. His thrilling ride ended in the next match when he couldn't close out a fifth-set tiebreak against Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky, losing the last five points after building a 6-3 lead.


Still, he learned a lot and raised his ranking from 220 to 180.  Here he plays doubles with fellow American singles qualifier Robert Kendrick.

Even the #2 doubles team in the world needs to practice, and that's what Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic are doing here.

Last year's American teen sensation, Melanie Oudin, beat four straight Russians including Maria Sharapova and Elena Dementieva en route to a surprise appearance in the quarterfinals. Largely on the strength of that run, she entered this year's tournament ranked 43rd. 

Here she hits a few practice balls with this 13-year-old kid, whose name I didn't catch but who looked good enough to win a few rounds himself:

I didn't stay at The Benjamin, but I liked the name.

Jim Courier spent 58 weeks as world #1 and still holds the record for being the youngest player to have reached all four major tennis tournament finals (age 22). Plus, he just always seems like a good guy. Here he signs a few autographs after calling Gael Monfils' straight-set win over French countryman Richard Gasquet as part of CBS' Labor Day coverage.

Good advice, though the 136 m.p.h. serves are less likely to clear the wall than the overheads are.

Built into the northeast corner of Arthur Ashe Stadium is an elegant restaurant called the U.S. Open Club. It's beautifully catered by Chicago's own Levy Restaurants and a welcome respite from all the punishing sunshine.

At their lunch buffet I ran into an old Wrigley Field vendor buddy and ended up joining him in his Louis Armstrong Stadium box for a few games. 

You get more nuance from a courtside seat than you do on TV. 2009 semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer  kept casting aggrieved glances toward her team, seated just in front of us, as she went down in three sets to the upstart Estonian Kaia Kanepi

Minutes later, we heard the wind eerily whistling through the strings of huge-hitting #5 Robin Soderling as he took down Albert Montanes in four sets. Oh, does he crush it.

Another view from up close.

I've been lucky enough to see world #1 doubles team Bob and Mike Bryan play at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments. They recently supplanted Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge as the winningest pair of all time and added to their résumé by winning this tournament for their 65th title. 

Bob is the fiery, big-serving lefty, Mike is the steady, solid-returning righty, and together they're nearly unbeatable: their reactions are instantaneous, they're consistent as hell, and like the best improv teams they play with one group mind. I loved these guys even before Bob threw me a towel the other day.

They put the lefty on the deuce court to get their forehands up the middle and the steadier returner on the ad side. Maybe if I did that instead of returning with my lefty forehand out wide, I'd get Bryan-like results. Maybe not.

Bob and Liezel Huber justified their #1 seed by winning the mixed doubles tournament. In this quarterfinal match against Lisa Raymond and Wesley Moodie, they make things extra tough for their opponents by each serving a ball at the same time.

The next morning at Grand Central Station I hopped a shuttle to LaGuardia airport. A moment after I took this unintentionally arty photo of the iconic facade, Jim Courier jumped out of a taxi beside me. Much like when he played, the guy is everywhere.

Appropriately for such a sporty trip, my return flight started with Yankee Stadium...

...and ended with Lincoln Park Tennis Club.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Grid season

Congratulations to FOBB&B Kevin Wald, who makes his debut today as a New York Times crossword puzzle contributor. Good puzzle too.

By the way, you don't have to be a math genius like Kevin to write a crossword puzzle for the NYT. Anyone can do it, even you and me.

Here's longtime crossword constructor Alex Boisvert to get us started:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Memo to Bill Macatee

Try to keep it down with your CBS voiceovers from the Louis Armstrong Stadium press box. Richard Gasquet and Gael Monfils are trying to concentrate.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


This is my first-ever Ben Bass and Beyond BlackBerry blogpost, or for short, BB&B BB B.

I'm on an inbound Metro North train grinding across western Connecticut. (We just went through South Norwalk, clearly the best of all the Norwalks.) Since I won't either touch a real computer or have this much free time for the next few days, I thought I'd try to employ the most cumbersome imaginable means of updating this site.

New York and New Haven have made for a nice getaway. My fifth visit to the U.S. Open, continuing tomorrow, was relaxing; today's wedding of an awesome couple attracted similarly gentle, endearing guests (present company excepted).

One quick NYC story. On Friday evening we caught Colin Quinn's one-man show "Long Story Short," a comedic monologue summary of the history of human civilization. (I narrowly avoided buying tickets for a concurrently running musical with the same title.) The show was directed by Jerry Seinfeld, several of whose jokes were in the script.

After the show we walked from the Bleecker Street Theater to the West Village. On the first block we walked by Gina Gershon. Two minutes later we passed Michael Tucker. Five minutes later we walked by Bob Dylan's old apartment. Oddly, after all these brushes with fame, we had a late dinner at the celebrity hangout Da Silvano, where we saw: no one.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Blog closed for Labor Day

To my literally tens of readers:

I'm leaving for Labor Day weekend, heading to a hippie wedding in New Haven, a tennis tournament in New York City, and only if things take an extremely unexpected turn, a Shinto prayer ceremony in Osaka.

It's not clear how much computer access I will have—I got the royal treatment at Wimbledon last year, with high-speed Internet access in the members' club built into Centre Court, but at the U.S. Open I'll be just another sunburned tourist—so it might be kind of quiet around here for a few days. And that will be my holiday gift to you.

Meanwhile, here's New Yorker cartoon editor and FOBB&B Bob Mankoff to put it all into perspective:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Labor Day weekend picks


If you like your theater absurd, self-referential and British, check out Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound at the new Signal Ensemble Theatre in North Center. I caught the show the other day and found it more meta than most. Monica Westin's Flavorpill preview is here.

To celebrate the holiday weekend, tickets are 2 for 1 this Thursday through Sunday. Call the box office at (773) 347-1350 and mention the word "Myrtle." (Or tell them Ben Bass and Beyond sent you and your tickets will be 1 for 2.)


I urge everyone to enjoy the holiday by playing some tennis this weekend. It's a great sport and fun even for beginners. But let's talk for a minute about the professional tier of the game.

The U.S. Open tennis tournament opened just as Wimbledon did in June: with a Roger Federer first-round win over a talented young lefty from South America.

Alejandro Falla of Colombia gave Federer a scare in SW19, coming within one point of serving for the match, but the Swiss superstar cruised easily in Flushing Meadows, dropping just seven games Monday night in a straight-set win over 2010 Winnetka Challenger winner Brian Dabul.

The 96th-ranked Dabul looked good, but he had a tough draw. Like Falla, who played brilliantly at Wimbledon in a futile effort, the young Argentine might have enjoyed a round or two to show his stuff against fellow mortals before facing a tennis god.

There's blanket coverage of the tournament fortnight on ESPN, Tennis Channel and CBS, but make a point of enjoying the modern-day Leonardo while he's still in his prime.

Federer electrified the opening night Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd with a between-the-legs, back-to-the-net passing shot winner, a worthy addition to his already ridiculous career highlight reel and a nifty coda to the similar dart he hit against Novak Djokovic on the same court in last year's semifinal.

This time Federer was just a few feet from the back wall (with Dabul at the baseline!) when he pulled off the trick shot, causing Dabul to shrug and raise his eyebrows. "Only he can do that," Dabul later said, accurately.

Didn't catch it on Monday? Check it out now:

Want more on Federer's trick shot?  Christopher Clarey wrote this nice story in today's New York Times.


Chicago has long trailed Boston, New York and the Bay Area in terms of organized puzzle activity, but local enthusiast Katje Sabin has tackled that issue by founding the Chicago Puzzle Society. Her mission is to connect people who like puzzles, word games and trivia by throwing semiannual puzzle parties. Sounds good to me.

The Chicago Puzzle Society kicks things off with a Labor Day Puzzle Party this Sunday afternoon in the Norwood Park neighborhood of Chicago. For more information, contact Katje directly at mamagotcha [at], or visit the Society's web page here.


Labor Day is the unofficial end of backyard barbecue season, and by all means, enjoy it. But in case you  find yourself with a break in your busy social calendar, you might fill the void with a visit to Smoque BBQ. I love this place and bring people there all the time. Try the Texas sausage. Also, the brisket (you can and should request burnt ends). Also, their BBQ chicken is better than most. Also, they make their own peach cobbler and it's excellent. You should probably just order one of everything.

Speaking of the New York Times, they like it too.