Check

Chess was front-page news during July and August of 1972 as Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky to become the first USA-born world chess champion.1 (Or the second, if you count Paul Morphy.) Fischer didn’t defend his title, and since then no one from the USA has made it to the world championship finals.

Until now. This November in London, Fabiano Caruana, born in Miami, faces off against the current champion, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen. Caruana, the third-highest-rated player2 in chess history behind Carlsen and and the now-retired Garry Kasparov, is having a terrific year. After winning the candidates’ tournament, he went on to win the GRENKE Chess Classic and Altibox Norway tournaments over strong competition. In the latter, he finished ahead of Carlsen, though he lost to the world champion in their match. (He did defeat Wesley So, who had earlier defeated Carlsen.)

Caruana seems to be decent, likable guy, not a demanding neurotic like Fischer. His candidacy is an occasion for national pride. So why isn’t this front page news? The Wichita paper reports in excruciating detail about football players’ knees, yet there has been no mention of Caruana (or of Sam Shankland from San Francisco, who recently joined the 2700 club and is also having a very good year). I suppose that unless something is easily politicized, it doesn’t exist. The Cold War is over, and apparently to the media there is nothing interesting about white males3 who are merely among the best in history at a deep, fascinating game.

Snapshots from work

Over the years, we’ve acquired a modest collection of doorstops at the office. The above are currently exhibited on a shelf near my desk. The average price of each was around $25; none of them were of much use. I’d say that they illustrate my observation that the thicker the manual, the less helpful it is, except the thin ones were also pretty much useless.

This poster was taped to the elevator wall. Just wondering: do such posters actually do any good beyond making the persons who post them feel momentarily virtuous?

Additions to The Rules

Walker’s Law: Absent evidence to the contrary, assume everything is a scam.

The Strong Misanthropic Principle: The universe exists in order to screw with us.

(From here.)

Walker, incidentally, is one of the most interesting book reviewers around and is always worth reading (except maybe for the coding stuff, which is Not My Thing).

Just wondering

  • Is there any significance to Valentine’s Day being Ash Wednesday this year, or April Fool’s Day Easter?
  • The celebration of “Disney princesses” is a major international industry. Where are the Disney princes?
  • Is it possible to be both a good person and a successful politician?
  • The nearest grocery store recently put its carrots in a bin labeled “organic.” Do there exist inorganic carrots?

Rich and noble

Neofinetia (Vanda) falcata in a non-traditional pot

I foolishly attended the orchid show last weekend with my checkbook on hand, with the result that I now have half a shelf of mostly “easy” orchids under lights in the kitchen. Most were in flower when I bought them, and you can see them here.

However, the one that is not blooming has perhaps the most interesting history. That is Neofinetia falcata (recently reclassified as Vanda falcata), the “samurai” orchid. According to the Fūkiran Society of America website,

Furan or wind orchid, the Japanese name for Neofinetia falcata, started to be called ‘Fūki-ran’, which means the orchid of the rich and noble people. Many years ago, only the rich and royalty could own Fūkiran, and they searched the country far and wide for rare and unusual varieties. These plants were often covered by a gold or silver net in order to protect them, and people had to cover their mouths with Kaishi (a thin paper usually used for calligraphy) in order not to breathe on the plants while they appreciated them. This, by the way, is the same way the Japanese appreciate a great sword.

Although prices have come down over the centuries, some varieties can still be pricey:

In Japan at auction in 2005, bidders paid from $20,000 to $70,000 for rare varieties of fuukiran which seems a bargain compared to the $300,000 or higher often paid during the 1980’s to late 1990’s.

According to the dealer and most online sources, Neofinetia is fairly easy to grow, as orchids go. It blooms in summer.

Seasonal notes

Those who play chess may be interested to know that there is not only a Halloween gambit in the four knights game, but also a Frankenstein-Dracula variation of the Vienna game.

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The annual fall orchid show is next weekend at the botanical garden. Perhaps this year someone will bring in a Dracula orchid or two. Most are native to the Andean cloud forests. They need both cool temperatures and high humidity to thrive, which is probably why one rarely sees them in Kansas shows. Species include D. diabola, D. vampira and D. vlad-tepes.

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Various people are recommending their favorite Halloween anime. There have been a number of series and movies mentioned, but they ultimately all fall into two categories: Mononoke, and everything else.12

Miscellany

I watched the first episode of Kemono Friends, the post-apocalyptic children’s show that allegedly is insanely popular in Japan. I didn’t dislike it as much as Pete did, but I doubt that I’ll watch more, even if it does feature baobabs (above) and tree euphorbias (below).

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Although there are innumerable Alices in anime, the most Carrollian show of them all never mentions her. Instead, we have Ami, who finds a door to “Animal Yokocho” in the floor of her new bedroom. Things are done differently in AniYoko. Animal Yokocho is nominally a children’s show, and it’s okay for kids, but adults will better appreciate the absurdities. This celebration of friendship, nonsense and emotional blackmail probably will never be licensed for North America.1 However, I recently discovered that the first third of the show is available subtitled on youTube.

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Here’s a helpful article that walks you through registering and making purchases at Amazon Japan. One important detail it omits is that you cannot download music to addresses outside of Japan.

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Saturday I placed orders with both Amazon Japan and Amazon USA. Which will arrive first? This is how matters stood at 7:30 this morning:

I expect both will arrive tomorrow.

Update: We have a winner.

Japan wins

Warning

(Black to move.) What would Garry Kasparov do?

I stumbled across another dangerous waste of time: Chessgames.com. Think very carefully before you click.

Like most chess websites, it uses algebraic notation, which I can’t follow as easily as “P-K4.” However, it also has a “viewer” which allows you to step through each game on a virtual board.

A couple of well-known games in the archive there: Adolf Anderssen vs Jean Dufresne (1852); Anatoly Karpov vs Garry Kasparov (1985). There are more fireworks in either than during the Fourth of July.

Update: an interesting short story, possible connected with the chess position above1: “Master Jacobsen.”

Update II: Lord Dunsany was a pretty good chess player. Here’s a curiosity, a chess game between Capablanca and Lord Dunsany. Dunsany wrote a chess story of some note, “The Three Sailors’ Gambit.”

There is a fair amount of chess-inspired fiction. My favorite, aside from Through the Looking Glass, is Victor Contoski’s “Von Goom’s Gambit.” First published in Chess Review in 1966, it occasionally turned up in fantasy anthologies years ago, though finding it now would be a challenge. If it’s online, I missed it. It’s worth looking for if you have access to a large fantasy and science fiction library.

For the record

Playing on a bit further to show as many different tiles as possible:

Missing are Spiderman (512) and the Hulk (1024).

This particular game is here, should you want to try it yourself. The keys to success are to keep the expensive, hard-to-match tiles all on one edge, with the highest scores in the corners where they won’t impede the action, and to pick a game that’s pleasant to look at. I rather like the 32 tile, despite the girl’s odd proportions and posture.