Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

How to solve Cryptic Crosswords during Coronavirus

20 March, 2020

Looking for a distracting hobby that takes a chunk of time? 

Maybe one with a bottomless supply that you can access without going out into the world?

But you find cryptic crosswords baffling?

Here’s a selection of understandable explainers from the Guardian (if you prefer, your local bookshop can get my book for you).

And another thing: crosswords are best learned with a friend or family member. Beginner-friendly puzzles: Observer Everyman; Guardian quiptic; Telegraph; Times2.

Cryptic devices

Right, these are the bits of business like anagrams that you find in cryptic clueshidden answersdouble definitionssoundalikesinitial lettersspoonerismsCockney rhyming slang; containersreversalsalternate letterscyclingstutteringtaking most of a word

Bits and bobs

You also come across abbreviations and whatnotRoman numeralsNato alphabetGreek letterschemistryabbreviations for countriespoints of the compassplaying cardscapital lettersapostrophescricketalcoholthe churchdrugsmusicanimalscarscitiesriverswhen the setter’s name appearswhen the solver appears

Individual letters

A surreal set of “interviews” with the alphabet: ABCDEFGHIJKL

Top 10 Crosswords in Fiction

10Brief Encounter
9PG Wodehouse
8The West Wing
7Martin Amis
6Madness’s Cardiac Arrest
5Rubicon
4Alan Plater
3Inspector Morse
2Lord Peter Wimsey
1: The Simpsons

Interviews with setters

What makes these people tick: Paul; Enigmatist; Anax; Tramp; Boatman; Arachne; Rufus; Shed; Puck; Pasquale; Morph; Orlando; Gordius; Audreus; Philistine; Otterden; Doc; Crucible; Picaroon; Nutmeg; Chifonie; Screw; Chalicea; Knut; Styx; Marc Breman; Azed; Navy; Smurf

Random bits and bobs

100 years of crosswords; commentary from the Times Crossword Championship; rudeness; plagiarism; David Nobbs; Steve Pemberton

Hotel California | BBC News

23 August, 2018

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A Smashed Hits about (the) Eagles’ Hotel California:

“Vaguery is the primary tool of songwriters,” Frey told a journalist during a 2003 pro-am golf tournament in California’s Pebbel Beach, where he was partnered with Huey Lewis. “It works, it means whatever the listener wants it to mean.”

Sources: History of the Eagles; Hit Story: It All Started Because Of Rattlesnakes; Rockin’ ‘Round The Round, SF Gate; Jennifer Parker’s McBusted: The Story of the World’s Biggest Super Band and this lovely data collection from Southern California Public Radio.

Trump, double-negatives and politics | BBC News

23 July, 2018
double negative

A quick piece for the BBC about double negatives:

It’s hard to understate how often we find ourselves using two negatives when we don’t mean to – in fact, this sentence begins with a common example

See also:

The Lion Sleeps Tonight | Financial Times

3 July, 2018

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A piece by me for the FT’s Life of a Song series on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”:

Solomon Linda recorded the spine-chilling isiZulu-language ‘Mbube’ in Johannesburg in 1939. Some he improvised as the tapes rolled. And for those moments, the song belonged to Linda.
 
Then he was bought out for ten shillings by Eric Gallo, the Italian wideboy who owned the studio, and who now owned ‘Mbube’. Even when it became a local hit, Linda could have had no idea what he had given away.

I am indebted to Rian Malan’s collection of essays, and we are all indebted to his indefatigability.

Here’s a playlist of the music mentioned:

Stand By Me | BBC News

21 May, 2018

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A piece for BBC News about the use of Stand By Me at the royal wedding:

That’s why Harry and Meghan’s choice of song meant more than if they’d gone with, say, Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You. And the performance by the Kingdom Choir takes Stand By Me back further still, re-infusing it with the defiance as well as the devotion of gospel.

(more…)

American-style crosswords | The Guardian

16 October, 2017
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I’m writing some American-style puzzles at the Guardian [feed].

For British solvers, the main differences are that abbreviations and fragments of phrases are allowed. All squares are part of an across as well as a down, so there’s more ambiguity.

The puzzles are presented as printable PDFs, but are better approached as .puz files using Across Lite or better still Crossword Solver.

  1. And We’re Off! [ medium: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  2. Cheers! [ medium: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  3. PO… [ tougher: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  4. Store’s In What? [ gentler: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  5. Cryptic Currencies [ gentler: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  6. (miscellaneous) [ gentler: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  7. Money Talks [ tougher: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]
  8. Shoot! [ gentler: .puz / .pdf / solution .pdf ]

See also:

Motörhead’s Ace of Spades | BBC News

29 December, 2015

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Here‘s a quickie Smashed Hits for the BBC News Magazine about Motörhead’s Ace of Spades:

Never mind what Lemmy said – with respect, Ace of Spades can be viewed as a metaphor. You could look at it as the Lemmy philosophy of living just how you want, in the full knowledge of the inevitable consequences.

(more…)

Bob Dylan’s Forever Young | BBC News

17 December, 2015

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A Smashed Hits piece for the BBC News Magazine about this year’s X Factor Winner’s Song, Bob Dylan’s Forever Young:

The Dylans decamped to rural New York state for some peace. They didn’t get it. The presence of Bob Dylan gave the tiny town of Woodstock such countercultural kudos that its name was given to an “aquarian exposition” – the famous 1969 festival in a neighbouring county which didn’t feature Dylan, but did bring half a million people into his back yard.

For some of them, “Dylan’s back yard” was no metaphor, and they never went away. The Dylans soon wearied of finding hippies in the trees around their home and Dylan became frightened that he might have to use his “clip-fed Winchester blasting rifle” to keep them from his family. Onwards, then, to an Arizona ranch.

(more…)

Louie Louie by Richard Berry, and the Kingsmen | BBC News

30 April, 2015

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A piece about the origins of Louie Louie and the FBI’s investigation for the BBC News Magazine.

The Kingsmen noticed that their audiences now included middle-aged men in suits and shades and were soon questioned by the Feds, apparently being told: “You know we can put you so far away that your family will never see you again.”
They insisted that Louie Louie was innocent, but as ardently as they’d sought reds under the bed, and over the course of two-and-a-half years, the G-Men contrived a series of eye-wateringly unpalatable images and practices from Ely’s mumbles.

(more…)

Board Games | The Guardian

13 December, 2014
games

A short piece for the Guardian about “the best board games you’ve never heard of“:

Cosmic Encounter: Ignore the name. And the scifi-flavoured box. This is a strategy game, but the brilliance is that each player can utterly break the rules in a different way. One might be permitted to play out of turn; another might be allowed to declare themselves the winner if they go out first. What you do, and who you trust, is determined far more by this rule-breaking than by the straightforward mechanics underneath. The possible combinations of these disruptive powers mean that each time you play, it’s a thoroughly new experience – and each time, it’s the greatest board game you’ve ever played.

Why Nick Drake’s is music of comfort, not of despair | BBC News

25 November, 2014

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On the 40th anniversary of Nick Drake‘s death, a short piece for the BBC News Magazine:

His first album, the pastoral Five Leaves Left, correspondingly begins with the lines: ‘Time has told me you’re a rare, rare find / A troubled cure for a troubled mind’.

The second, Bryter Layter, is purposefully upbeat and the last, Pink Moon, ends: ‘So look, see the sights, the endless summer nights / And go play the game that you learned from the morning’. This is music of comfort, not of despair; rebirth, not death.

Here’s the documentary mentioned, A Skin Too Few:

And there’s a John Peel version of my favourite track, Cello Song, at the Guardian.

The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows | BBC News

9 October, 2014

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A piece for the BBC about how Brian Wilson and Tony Asher composed God Only Knows.

These conversations were fractured. Wilson, who had been denied a childhood, would break off to show Asher his mechanical parrots or to watch episodes of Flipper, an “aquatic Lassie” series about a dolphin which invariably reduced him to tears.

In time, Wilson played Asher the pieces of music he had in mind for an album called Pet Sounds and Asher essayed some lyrics to fit the themes Wilson had in mind. When they got to God Only Knows, things didn’t start well. Wilson felt that “I may not always love you” was absolutely the wrong way to kick off a love song. Too negative, he insisted.

Indebted to Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff, Kingsley Abbott’s Pet Sounds: The Greatest Album of the Twentieth Century, Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the Southern Californian Experience and Brian Wilson’s Wouldn’t it be Nice: My Own Story (with Todd Gold (and Eugene E Landy)).

How to Win at Quizzes, and Solve Cryptic Crosswords | The Guardian

13 September, 2014

do_something

Two pieces in today’s Do Something supplement: How to win quizzes – from pub contests to Mastermind and How to solve a cryptic crossword.

Also, I will be signing Two Girls, One on Each Knee (7) at the reception for the keynote of the Chiswick Book Festival this evening.

  • 6.00pm, Sat 13 Sept: Festival Drinks Reception
  • St Michael & All Angels Parish Hall, Bath Road, London W4 1TT
  • Tickets

Ary Barroso’s Aquarela do Brasil for BBC News

25 June, 2014
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A piece for the BBC News Magazine about Aquarela do Brasil:

One rainy night in 1939, he wrote the opening lines of Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolour of Brazil): “Brasil, meu Brasil brasileiro.” This translates as “Brazil, my Brazilian Brazil”. Never have four words been more Brazilian, before or since.

The censors had issues with some colloquialisms and a folksy reference to tambourines, but Barroso persuaded them that his “samba exaltacao” was modern and patriotic enough to meet their exacting requirements.

I thoroughly enjoyed Misha Glenny’s radio documentary The Making of Brazil, Bryan McCann’s book Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil and Scott L. Baugh’s reference work Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends. I am indebted; they are recommended.

My favourite versions:

And here’s that Disney, and Ze Carioca alive and well in 2014:

Stevie Wonder’s Another Star for BBC News

7 June, 2014
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A short-form piece for the Beeb on Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, the theme tune for the BBC’s World Cup coverage:

Another Star closes side four of Songs in the Key of Life – the very end of a four-album run in which Wonder relentlessly outdid himself. He had originally intended to follow his previous, Fulfillingness’s First Finale, with a sequel.

Fulfillingness’s Second Finale was to be a darker, socially conscious experience, but Wonder’s ambition overtook him, and he spent two years putting together a double album (with bonus single) instead.

No space this time for a collection of cover versions, so here they are.

With the Tokyo Philharmonic:

Salome De Bahia:

Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul, Afrodiziak:

Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge:

And, of course, with Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk:

Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone for BBC News

2 May, 2014

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A brief thought on the auctioning of the lyrics for Like a Rolling Stone for the BBC News Magazine.

The Times They Are a-Changin’ owes not a little to the Sermon on the Mount’s “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. That earlier Dylan could be reassuring, even. You can imagine The Times They Are a-Changin’ coming from a gospel choir. Like a Rolling Stone, from 1965, is anarchy, and Dylan sounds like he’s enjoying it.

Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding for the BBC

7 November, 2013

docks

A short-form Smashed Hits piece for the BBC News Magazine about Shipbuilding, pegged to the closure of the Portsmouth shipyards.

It would have sounded very different if Costello had written the song for himself – or written the music. Shipbuilding was originally a piano piece written by Madness’s producer Clive Langer for a gentler performer, Robert Wyatt. Langer bumped into Costello at a party and suggested they go out to his car and listen to a cassette of the tune. Costello subsequently called from an Australian tour to say he had “the best lyric I’ve ever written”. Wyatt’s song was made – and in 1983 Costello recorded it himself.

No room, sadly, for Chet Baker playing at London supper-and-jazz club The Canteen, approached by Costello and offering to play on EC’s version for scale. “I think we probably doubled it,” remembered Costello.

Looking like a scraper site, DM? The Daily Mail flaunts its spam-a-like pages with content from… the BBC!

31 December, 2012

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe in A Young Doctor's Notebook

Jon Hamm and Daniel Radcliffe as Older Doctor and Young Doctor, both inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s experiences in a rural hospital

The Daily Mail’s TV & Showbiz pages include many non-stories which look uncomfortably like a dump of content the paper doesn’t own…

Mikhail Bulgakov is the Russian author of the original stories on which we based the mini-series A Young Doctor’s Notebook. I recently googled Bulgakov’s wife Yelena and came across a piece which begins:

This is the story of the Soviet authorities’ persecution of the Ukrainian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, as told through the diaries of Yelena, his third wife, and Bulgakov’s own letters.

The curious thing is that the link takes you to the Daily Mail, which isn’t the first site I associate with literary biography. And the page doesn’t read like a piece of journalism, exactly. Here’s how it looks:

It seems to be the programme note for a BBC Radio 4 drama from 2001. There’s no embedded audio, link or TX details; it’s not a review – just some contextless content. Which makes the Daily Mail look uncomfortably like a “scraper” site: those odd-looking, often illegal bits of the web which use other people’s property as padding around the real point of the pages, adverts:

Some scraper sites are created to make money by using advertising programs. In such cases, they are called Made For AdSense sites or MFAs. This derogatory term refers to websites that have no redeeming value except to lure visitors to the website for the sole purpose of clicking on advertisements.

When I accessed the Mail page which did well in search for Yelena Bulgakov, it had ads from Play, M&S, WeightWatchers, Ariel, Always and Google Ads. Perhaps it’s an anomaly, I thought. A one-off test page with some placeholder text which should have been deleted to avoid any risk of looking like the Mail was covertly bringing users to a page with content they don’t own to generate commercial revenue. I had a look around the TV & Showbiz section of the Mail and found a similar looking page:

And another one:

Again, lots of ads around both and in the second one, some information about other Radio 4 programmes. As it turned out, I found it difficult to think of a Radio 4 programme that hasn’t been surrounded by ads and made into a Daily Mail page.

Very odd. Someone had even added a picture to the Archers episode description, like with this documentary about Gandhi:

It’s a while since I worked at the BBC; perhaps these pages are part of a project where the Beeb has generously handed over its own content – or that of independent production companies – to help with the Daily Mail’s revenue streams, even while the Mail takes every opportunity to bash the Beeb. Perhaps there’s a reason none of these pages seems ever to have been linked to from the Mail’s front page. Perhaps it’s a good use of your licence fee. Who knows?

Other advertisers who find themselves next to BBC content include Marriott, Sky, Toyota, Dell, Lotto, Virgin, Nokia, Nationwide, Direct Line, Reiss, BA, Corsodyl, HSBC, JP Morgan, BT, Barclays and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. On all of them are Google Ads, the terms and conditions of which have a questionable relationship with the content.