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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Educational Canadian Kids Shows...From Good to Creepy

Over my near thirty-one years on this planet, I have seen a lot of weird television in my day, but nothing tops the weird scale quite like Canadian television for children.

And, that's what this blog topic is about. Picking out the good, the bad, and the ugly in selected Canadian programs that some of you may have never seen, or have forgotten about.

But I remember. Some I really wish I COULD forget.

I have talked about a few Canadian programs on this blog (The Polka Dot Door and Today's Special), but both of those shows are well-loved by kids all over the world. This entry will talk about some of the forgotten programs. Shows that haven't aired in well over twenty years or more.

So, let's get right to it.

READALONG (1975-1976)

First things first...the show is thirty-seven years old. I remember watching it when I was four. I feel incredibly old now. If you like, you can click HERE to watch a full episode of it.

And, secondly, what an interesting concept. It's basically a show that teaches young children how to read. I guess in some ways, it was sort of a Canadian version of “The Electric Company”. The strange part? We were taught how to read by a work boot (Boot) and a pink shoe (Pretty). There was also a grandmother puppet (Granny), and several appearances by small children (who are probably in their early 40's now). I liked the show as a young boy. I admit that watching the show today still gives me a chuckle. But, I think it's still relevant today. Sure, the 1970s music and fashions are long gone, but it still is capable of teaching children how to read. Now, if they could only get rid of that scary logo at the beginning...

BLUE RAINBOW (1984-2000)

The thing that surprises me the most about this program was the fact that it ran for more than fifteen years. It was probably one of the weirdest shows that I have ever seen. It originally ran on CBC before Global bought the program. I just don't know how to best describe it, so I'll post a short clip of it below.

Okay, bottom line is you have the woman in a pink dress who tells stories and plays a harp. There's also two bald guys who don't speak English. I'm pretty sure that if one drank enough alcohol, you might be able to understand them, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'd likely die of alcohol poisoning before that happened. It was that bizarre...

TELEFRANCAIS (1984-1986)

...though not nearly as bizarre as two kids talking to a pineapple in the middle of a garbage dump!

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. None of the characters speak English. That's because in Canada, there are two official languages. English and French. So, it wasn't uncommon to see some French language programming on TVOntario, where this show originally aired. The show was an introductory program for young children to learn basic French vocabulary. The two kids, Jacques and Sophie, meet the talking pineapple (appropriately named Ananas), and adventures soon follow.

Oh, and the musical entertainment involved a group of singing French skeletons (known as Les Squelettes). Enough said.

There was another popular French language show called PASSE-PARTOUT which ran from 1977-1987, but all I remember about that show is the opening. You can watch it above.

CAMP CARIBOO (1986-1989)

The one thing that I probably remember the most about this program is the theme song. It was catchy. And, I admit that the show's concept itself wasn't overly bad. It took place at a summer camp, and it showcased a lot of activities that people would do at a summer camp. They told stories, they sang songs, they did crafts. I liked it. Tom Knowlton and Mark Baldwin were the counselors of Camp Cariboo, and they were the driving force behind the show. They also played the role of the “Keeners”, two guys who wanted to stay at the camp, even though they were much too old.


There's a lot of people who probably don't remember this show, so I hope that the opening that I found refreshes your memory. But, if it doesn't, the show was hosted by Lee and Sandy Paley. They started each show by flying down towards their home in a giant hot-air balloon, greeting their dog “Do Good”, interacting with Prudence the Parrot, and lots of singing. I admit that it's been years since I have seen the show, but I always liked it. Lee and Sandy were great entertainers, and as of 2012, they're still performing. That's always great to see.

HAPPY CASTLE (1988-1989)

Have you ever watched a program that is so bad that you want to change the channel, but are so mesmerized by it that you can't look away? Happy Castle was that show for me.

I mean, look at the opening. I am sure that back in 1988, the opening was at its peak of creativity...but now it just looks cheap. And, the show itself was like one gigantic acid trip. A Cinar production, the show depicts a young girl (who is really probably twenty-two) who somehow gets stuck in the kingdom of Betwixt. She meets a whole bunch of animals who vow to protect her, but she also has to deal with the fact that a wicked queen is out to capture her. It's like they took Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland, and blended them together into Happy Castle. I imagine that when it first came on the air, I might have liked it, but unfortunately it really has not aged well. At all.

KIDSTREET (1988-1992)

Have you ever seen the television game show “Classic Concentration”? The one where contestants have to solve a rebus in order to win the chance for a car? Well, this children's game show hosted by Kevin Frank was like that. The final round of the game was a rebus round, where the kids would try to have to guess what the puzzle was. If successful, they could win an entire wall filled with toys and games. But, before they could do that, they had to sit in a giant car and answer questions about their teammates (which could be a sibling or a cousin). I remember watching this show loyally, and I remember wanting to be a contestant on it so bad. But, being the kid who never had siblings or cousins close to his age, that was a fleeting dream. I enjoyed watching it though.

EUREKA! (1980-1981)

So, this program was geared towards the junior high or high school set, but that's okay.  The show's original run only lasted less than a year, but the reruns reportedly aired on TVOntario for a little over twenty-five years. As a kid, I remember watching it and not understanding what the heck the program was even about. I almost wish that I had paid attention because it would have definitely helped me get better grades in science class. But, it was a neat series because it taught a lot of concepts in physics by using animation. And, for a few years, it was really the only fun science program Canadians had to watch...that is until Dr. Fad and Bill Nye the Science Guy came along.


I honestly don't know why I loved this show so much as a child. I couldn't get enough of it, and I had to watch it every day or else I would be in a very bad mood the rest of the day. Looking at the show now, it's really kind of cheesy. I mean, Miss Helen was always nice and lovely, and I suppose the triplet puppets were cute in a creepy kind of way. But, I'll admit that Grandma Gussie used to aggravate me to no end every time she spoke. Because she used to whistle every time she said any word containing the letter “S”, I always felt as if someone forgot to take off the pot of tea from the burner in the background.

We won't even discuss the record that dances and bangs spoons together.

And, finally...saving the creepiest for last.

CIRCLE SQUARE (1974-1986)

Believe it or not, Canada is known for producing a lot of television shows that deal with Christianity and the church. And, that's fine. But this show was just...creepy.

For one, the opening shows all the kids deliriously happy. So happy that we can see the gleam of their teeth behind the braces that some of them wore. No child is EVER that happy in real life. Though that girl who winks to the camera in almost a suggestive manner is strangely ironic, don't you think?

Even when they talk to the camera, those smiles never go away. It's just...creepy.

And, apparently, there was a Circle Square songbook. Who knew? I remember watching a couple of episodes of the show just out of boredom and curiosity, and feeling very left out that you needed a songbook to be able to fully appreciate the show. They didn't even provide subtitles for the songs being sung. Yeah, great message. We'll entertain you for free, but if you don't buy a songbook, you're left out, and can't measure up to the perfection of the Circle Square kids.

(Well, provided the books were actually sold.  They might have sent them for free...I don't know.)

All the songs of course were hymns written for kids about how God is awesome, and other Christian themes. Which is perfectly fine on the surface. I've no issue with that. It's just the way the kids were so monotonous and smiling and had the same blank expression on their was like I was watching a musical about the Children of the Corn.  With the exception of the girl by the window who is in a "dark place", these children seem to have smiles that seem forced.

By that description, I have no problem listing Circle Square as one of the creepiest shows I've ever watched.  Ever.  Even creepier than Happy Castle.

So, that's a look back at some of the forgotten shows that we kids in Canada would watch during the 1970s and 1980s. Can you add any more to the list?

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Trouble With Two and a Half Men

While it would be nice to think that a show can run for several years keeping the same exact cast of characters from start to finish, it usually doesn’t end up that way.

The truth is that the average television show (particularly over the last 20 years or so) has one or more high-profile cast changes during the course of the show’s run.

In many cases, actors and actresses leave on their own accord.  Charlotte Rae left “The Facts Of Life” in 1986, and the show ran until 1988.  Marg Helgenberger recently left “CSI” after nearly eleven seasons.  And Thomas Calabro was the only original cast member of “Melrose Place” to stay on the show’s entire seven season run.

Sometimes, a cast member will pass away during filming.  Jim Davis’ death in 1981 was a sad occurance, but “Dallas” ran without Jock Ewing for ten more seasons.  David Strickland died under unusual circumstances in 1999, which lead to the show “Suddenly Susan” becoming suddenly revamped.  And, the bailiff in “Night Court” was replaced three times, due to the deaths of the two original actresses (Selma Diamond and Florence Halop).

But what happens when an actor gets fired from a show?  What happens then?

In quite a few cases, the show does have to reinvent itself, but manages to continue on for years.  It happened on “The Hogan Family” when Valerie Harper was fired.  She was replaced by Sandy Duncan, and the show ran for four additional years.  I did a blog entry on that situation back in the summer of 2011, if you’re interested in reading that story, but that isn’t what the blog is about.

No, today’s blog topic will be about a television show that is a little more recent.  So recent that it is still currently airing.

The show suffered a major setback between season eight and season nine, where one of the main stars was fired after a series of bizarre events in the media.  Because the main character was such a key element in the show, a lot of people wondered if the show would go on without him there. 

But, the producers came up with the solution to bring in a new character, and the show went on.  But, is it really any good?  I’ll answer that a little later.

This is the story of “Two and a Half Men”, and the aftermath of the Charlie Sheen scandal of 2011.

As most of you know, “Two and a Half Men” debuted on CBS in September 2003, and when it debuted, it starred Jon Cryer, Angus T. Jones, and Charlie Sheen.

Remember that final name.  It’s an important one in this entry.

Anyway, the main plot of the show revolved around Charlie Sheen’s character (appropriately enough also named Charlie.)  Charlie Harper was a jingle writer for commercials and television programs, and apparently he made a decent living at it.  He lived in a beautiful beach house on the Malibu coast, and he was well-off enough to be able to afford to hire a housekeeper, Berta (Conchata Ferrell).  On the surface, Charlie had it all.

The only problem was that he was a self-centered horndog who treated women as if they were golden trophies.

If we tallied up the number of women Charlie had slept with both before, and on the show, it would likely be in the hundreds, if not thousands.  During his entire run, Charlie would have his fill with whatever his flavour of the week was, and then cast them out in the cold when a new one came along.  It certainly didn’t make Charlie look like an angelic saint of a character, but he wasn’t supposed to be either.  But somehow, Chuck Lorre, and the rest of the production and writing crew made up for it by giving Charlie likeable personality traits.  On some level, Charlie could be pathetic, but he could also be quite sharp and sarcastic as well.

And, besides, Charlie lived the bachelor life on the coast of a beautiful beach.  Sure, he had a stalker named Rose (Melanie Lynskey), but most times, he could outsmart her.  Life was good for Charlie.

That is until his brother and nephew became homeless and needed a place to live.

Enter Charlie’s wet, cold fish of a brother, chiropractor Alan Harper (Cryer) and his pre-teen son, Jake (Jones), a boy whose personality seems more like his uncle Charlie than his father.  Alan’s ex-wife, Judith (Marin Hinkle) kicked Alan out, and Alan decides to ask Charlie if they could stay.  Charlie reluctantly agreed, thinking that at most, they would be staying for a day...eight at the most.

As of March 2012, Alan and Jake are STILL there.

Certainly, the family unit between Charlie, Alan, and Jake was a rather original one.  Many of the plotlines in the show dealt with a lot of the relationships in the series.  We saw Jake grow from boy to man over the course of the show’s run.  Unfortunately for Alan, this meant that we saw Jake grow into a man that was more like Charlie.  Of course, we also saw moments in which Jake and Alan got along as well.  Charlie and Alan’s relationship mirrored the relationship that a lot of brothers have.  Deep down, you know they care about each other, and would do anything for the other one, but they still find time to poke fun at each other.  Charlie would frequently make fun of Alan from his dress style, to his lack of romance, to his gullibility...well, just about everything, really.  But Alan often gave it as good as he took it, constantly lecturing Charlie on his promiscuous nature, and his careless attitude.

Oh, and whenever their mother (Holland Taylor) came for a visit, you could always count on Alan and Charlie to team up to try and survive her biting tongue and scathing criticism.

For eight seasons, this was the formula of almost every episode, and it worked really well.  The show often won the ratings war in its Monday night time slot, and The New York Times called “Two and a Half Men” the biggest hit comedy of the past decade.  And, considering that creator Chuck Lorre also created “Dharma & Greg”, “The Big Bang Theory”, and “Mike & Molly”, that’s one idea of a crowning achievement.

But then came the winter of 2010/11, where Charlie Sheen’s “winning” attitude came back to bite him.

Unless you were living in a cave during that time (well, actually, during that time, I was in a hospital bed recovering from surgery, so I didn’t know about it until after I was discharged), you know the story.  In January 2011, Charlie Sheen entered a rehabilitation center for the third time in less than a year.  As a result of that, the filming of the show was put on what was meant to be a temporary hiatus.  But, just a few weeks later, things really snowballed out of control.

During a radio interview on the Alex Jones show in February 2011, Charlie Sheen made several derogatory comments directed towards Chuck Lorre.  I won’t repeat them here, because after reading them on various sites that detailed the fight, I have difficulty making any sense out of it.  But, trust me.  His words were quite vicious in nature.  It almost seemed as though Charlie Sheen almost wanted the show to get cancelled! 

According to past reports, it wouldn’t have been much of a shock if that was what Charlie was doing.  Reports stated that Charlie wanted off the show at the conclusion of season seven in 2010.  When he signed on for two more years on May 18, 2010, we all believed that Sheen had a change of heart.  But, on February 24, 2011, Lorre, Warner Brothers, and CBS had enough.  That day, it was decided that the last four episodes of the eighth season would not be filmed, and the season would end prematurely.  Just a few days later on March 7, 2011, Sheen was officially fired from “Two and a Half Men”, leading to dozens of rants about tiger blood, how he was “winning”, and how much he disliked Jon Cryer (though he would later half-apologize for his remarks).  He also launched a stand-up tour which got mixed reviews.

There was much speculation about what the future of the show was around the time Sheen was shown the door.  Many viewers (including myself, come to think of it) expected the show to be cancelled.  You just couldn’t have “Two and a Half Men without Charlie Sheen!  I mean, Jon Cryer is a fantastic actor, and I’ve been a fan of his since he appeared in “Pretty in Pink”...but he and Sheen made such a fantastic double act.  With one of them gone, I couldn’t see Cryer carrying the show by himself, as talented as he was. 

But then the decision was made to bring in a new character named Walden Schmidt, played by “That 70s Show” star, Ashton Kutcher.  The show would go on with a new character joining the current cast. 

But, how would they bring him in?

Simple.  Since Charlie Sheen was fired, his character Charlie Harper obviously wasn’t coming back.  So, they kill him off in one of the most bizarre ways possible, leaving Alan and Jake with the house.  Naturally, Alan can’t afford to keep the house, because I guess chiropractors don’t have the salary to keep a home in Malibu.

Enter billionaire Walden Schmidt, who becomes Alan’s best friend.  Walden, broken-hearted over a failed marriage, decides to buy Charlie’s house, and moves in with Alan, Jake, and Berta, and thus, season nine was born.

But, here’s the thing.  I’m not enjoying the new “Two and a Half Men”.  It’s not the same without Charlie.  I believe Ashton Kutcher is trying his best, and with his marriage to Demi Moore ending right around the time he joined the show, I imagine that it probably wasn’t the best time for him in his personal life.  But, as a new character, I think Walden falls flat.  At least with “The Hogan Family”, Sandy Duncan’s character was just as enjoyable to watch as Valerie Harper.  But, I fail to see much chemistry between Kutcher and Cryer, as I did between Sheen and Cryer.

At this point in time, it’s hard to say whether “Two and a Half Men” will make it to ten years.  The first few years were fantastic, but I have barely been able to watch much of season nine.  I know that only one cast change was made, but I’m finding that it isn’t working.  And, you know what they say when something isn’t working...

Even the news that they’re bringing Charlie Harper back in a future episode of “Two and a Half Men” was disappointing, because instead of bringing back Sheen (though I doubt Sheen would participate anyway), they cast Kathy Bates to play the ghost of Charlie.  If it sounds absolutely ridiculous, it probably is.  If interested, the show is slated to air at the end of April, but I doubt that I’ll be tuning in.

Oh least the reruns of the show are still on television.  Maybe I’ll just watch those instead.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Thirteenth Confession

Today is Thursday, and as it so happens, it is my 13th Thursday Confessional.

Now, I imagine to some of you, the number thirteen strikes fear into your heart, and will have you running for the hills. The reason being that the number thirteen is widely considered to be a very unlucky number for various reasons.

One of the most common reasons behind why the number thirteen is considered unlucky is in regards to the Hangman's Noose. Apparently, it takes exactly thirteen turns to make one, as anything less would not snap a neck. There's also a theory that it is very unlucky to have thirteen people seated at a table, citing the Last Supper as an example.

And, of course, there's the idea of Friday the 13th being the most unluckiest day ever. And we just happen to be in a year that has THREE Friday the Thirteenths (We had one in January, but April and July 2012 also have a Friday the Thirteenth).

Some people really take the idea of thirteen being a very unlucky number quite seriously. Some hotels and office buildings were built with a non-existant thirteenth floor, and some people have developed a real fear of the number thirteen. There's even a name for the phobia of thirteen. Triskaidekaphobia.

Try saying that thirteen times fast.

That being said, considering that this is the thirteenth Thursday of the year, those of you who suffer from triskaidekaphobia may not be comfortable with reading this blog entry. And, that's fine. I know what it's like to have a fear that many would see as uncommon (though in my case, it's balloons popping, not the number 13).

At the same time, this is the thirteenth confession.

THURSDAY CONFESSION #13: For the most part, I am NOT a superstitious person.

I don't really see what the big deal about the number thirteen is. To me, it's just a number that happens to be sandwiched in between twelve and fourteen. That's it. It has no other effect on me.

Sure, it's hard to deny that the number thirteen has been involved in some very unlucky situations (for one more, just Google Apollo 13), but the number thirteen is seen as a very lucky number to others.

Take Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Founded in 1819, the university boasts that it was founded by thirteen men with thirteen dollars, thirteen prayers, and thirteen articles. Almost two hundred years later, the school still holds the number thirteen in high regard. The campus address is 13 Oak Drive, and the male a cappella group is known as the “Colgate 13”.

We could examine the small Brazilian religion known as the “Coperos”, which believes that the number 13 is a sacred number. To them, thirteen represents salvation.

A number of sports figures throughout history have proudly worn the number thirteen. These include Dan Marino, Alex Rodriguez, Wilt Chamberlain, Steve Nash, Mats Sundin, Pavel Datsyuk, Bill Guerin, and Michael Cammalleri.

And, country music singer Taylor Swift (born December 13, 1989), considers the number thirteen to be her own personal lucky number, explaining that the number is synonymous with good luck. She even writes the number on her hand whenever she performs in concert (so the next time you're at a Taylor Swift concert, see if you can spot it).

And, that's precisely the point that I wanted to make in regards to the whole superstition of thirteen being bad. In some cases, yes, thirteen has gotten a bad rap. But, I've also proven that good things do happen to those who believe in the power of thirteen.

But, again, I'm pretty indifferent to the number thirteen. It doesn't give me good luck or bad luck because I don't believe in the superstitious nature of that particular number. There is another number though that pops up quite often in my own personal life, but I'll share that story with you in a future Thursday Confession.

It does boggle my mind that so many people do take the power of superstition very seriously.

A superstition is defined as an irrational belief arising from ignorance or fear. Over the last few centuries, hundreds of superstitions were born in various parts of the world at different times. But, I've dismissed most of them as being old wives tales, or being an impossibility.

I will admit to one superstition that I do believe in though. I don't walk underneath ladders of any sort. For one, I'm over six feet tall, and I would probably bop my head on the top rung of many standard ladders, causing me much pain. But, I also realize that the dangers of walking under a ladder are real. You could cause the person standing on the ladder at the time to fall, or you could get beaned from above with another object.

Hence the reason why my confession included the words, “for the most part”.

But, researching some of the classic superstitions over the years, I shake my head, and wonder why people would believe such tripe.

I'm sure that most of us have heard the classic rhyme “Step on a crack, break your momma's back”. We used to say that rhyme in the school playground, and Devo somehow managed to weave that statement into their 1980 hit single “Whip It”. But, I can state that in my years, I have stepped on a couple of hundred thousand cracks in the sidewalk, and my mother has never sustained a back injury. Superstition denied.

I also don't believe in the sentiment that if a black cat crosses your path, you're somehow doomed. I personally think black cats are some of the coolest looking cats out there. My sister once owned a jet black cat named Vernon for several years, and he pretty much kept to himself. My sister's house never burned down, nobody got hit by a car, and everyone lived happily ever after until Vernon died in 2004.

And, there's also the superstition that if you break a mirror, the tradeoff is horrible luck for the next seven years of your life. If that's the case, my other sister should be serving the fourth phase of her 49-year-sentence for the seven mirrors she broke in her lifetime (though I will say that only one or two were deliberate).

Of course, by publicly posting this online, I may have sealed my OWN fate, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

It's really fascinating to read some of the lists of superstitions that I have found online. Many of them were ones that I didn't even know existed. For instance, did you know that...

...a bird in the house is a sign of death? (I couldn't believe it myself. I mean, I remember the one time in which we had a bird flying inside our front porch in the spring of 2000, but that was just a freak accident. Although, the fact that my grandfather passed away on July 14 that year does kind of freak me out. I'm sure it was purely coincidental. It had to be.)

...a loaf of bread should never be turned upside down after a slice has been cut from it? (I never saw this as a superstition. Common sense should tell you that you should never turn bread upside down under any circumstances, as the top would get all flattened out. Even so, I'm not exactly sure why this would be considered superstitious. Anyone have any ideas?)

...if the first butterfly that you see in the year is white, it is a sign of good luck all that year? (Well, the first one I saw was yellow. I'm screwed.)

...a horseshoe hung in the bedroom will keep nightmares away? (And, if the horseshoe happens to get loose and falls on your head, you may never have another dream again. Just saying.)

...if you catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn, you will not catch a cold all winter? (Lies. All lies. Trust me on this one.)

...dropping an umbrella on the floor means that there will be a murder in the house? (Okay, I knew the one about not opening up an umbrella indoors, but this one seems crazy to me. If that was the case, there should have been a massacre at my house circa 1992.) dream of a lizard is a sign that you have a secret enemy? (Seriously? I mean, I appreciate the imagery to use a lizard to symbolize an enemy – slimy, cold-blooded – but really? Dreaming a lizard creates an instant enemy? If that were the case, my dreams during high school should have taken place at the reptile section of the zoo!)

...if the groom drops the wedding band during the ceremony, the marriage is doomed? (I want to hear from any divorced followers there any truth to that? I'm curious to know.)

...if a friend gives you a knife, you should give him a coin, or the friendship will be broken? (Clearly, the weirdest one I've read yet. When the heck is a friend going to give me a knife? Unless, the friend were to stab me, in which case, they wouldn't be a friend. And, if that did go down, I'm sure tossing a handful of pennies at them would be the furthest thought from my mind!)

Let's keep this list going. What are some of the superstitions and old wives tales that you have heard over your lifetime? Do you take them at their word, or dismiss it as paranoia? You tell me.

And, now, some Stevie Wonder.

(This post was originally written with size 13 pt font...somehow, it shrank.  How...superstitious...)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Scrabble = A Fourteen Point Word

Have you ever played the online game “Words with Friends?”

The game, which was developed by Zynga in July of 2009, became an instant success all over the world.  The game is played by millions of people on cell phones, applications, and even on Facebook.  The game itself is played by many famous faces.  Alec Baldwin was so into the game that he was actually kicked off of a flight because of his refusal to turn off his iPad which displayed the game!

I know that I’ve played a few games of “Words with Friends” recently with some people that I know.  Some games, I have won.  Some games, I have lost.  It all depends on how great your vocabulary is, as well as the particular letter tiles you are dealt during the course of the game that determine a sweet victory, or the agony of defeat.

But when you look at it, “Words with Friends” isn’t all that different from the board game that it was based off of.  Sure, in the board game, you can’t message people all over the world in chat rooms, or have a computer conveniently adding up your score for you, but despite all that, the game has been a favourite in living rooms all over the world for many years.

Of course, I am talking about the board game “Scrabble”, which was created in 1938 and was first sold in stores a decade later. 

The game was created by American architect Alfred Mosher Butts.  The game was a variation on a similar word game also invented by him called “Lexiko”.  The method in which he used to create the game was quite meticulous and calculated.  By examining the frequency in which letters appeared in various articles in “The New York Times”, he was able to determine a point scoring system.  The more frequently a letter appeared, the lesser the value.

He also came up with the idea to create the 15 x 15 crossword grid-like board under the name “Criss-Crosswords”.  He even managed to manufacture and sell a few sets, but it wouldn’t be until 1948 that the game started to get noticed.

1948 was the year that James Brunot (who had bought Butts’ “Criss-Crosswords”) purchased the rights to the game from Butts (which came with the stipulation that Butts would receive a royalty payment for each unit sold).  The game was mostly kept the same, but a couple of changes were made.  The first change was that he rearranged the premium squares (which doubled the value of letters and words) into a different configuration.  And, the second change was the name of the game.  Instead of being known as “Criss-Crosswords”, the game was renamed “Scrabble”, a word meaning “to scratch frantically”.

I guess the name fits...I know whenever I do a crossword puzzle, I’m scratching my head frantically trying to find the right word.

Anyway, the Brunot family began making “Scrabble” games in 1949, but it wasn’t until 1952 that the board game exploded in popularity.  There was a legend that went around at this time that stated that after playing the game during a family vacation, the president of Macy’s was stunned to find that the store didn’t sell the game, and commissioned a huge order that year.  But, again, this was a legend.  It’s hard to say whether there was any truth to it.

But in 1952, Brunot found that he was unable to meet the demand, so he opted to sell the manufacturing rights to Selchow and Richter.  The company eventually bought the rights to the entire game in 1972, and in 1986, the game was sold to Coleco.  After Coleco went bankrupt, the game patent was sold to Hasbro, who currently holds all rights to the game.

“Scrabble” is a widely popular game all over the world.  There are international Scrabble tournaments held annually, and in 2004, the board game was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

The board game was even developed into a television game show in 1984, running for several seasons.  The game was hosted by Chuck Woolery, and you can see a clip of it down below.

I have always been a fan of “Scrabble” as long as I can remember.  I can even remember playing the game in eighth grade during English class.  I really feel as though “Scrabble” was instrumental in developing my word power and making me become a better writer as a result. 

But, do you know what some of the best scoring words are that have ever been played in the game?  I have a few examples to share.

The key to having a successful word that has a really high score has to do with position as well as the double and triple letter/word squares.  The letter value has a lot to do with it as well.

As you know, each letter has a specific value to it.  You can count on all the vowels, as well as the classic “Wheel of Fortune” letters (R, S, T, L, N, E) to have a value of one point.  J’s and X’s have eight points, and Q’s and Z’s have the highest value with ten points each.  So, ideally what you want to have is to have a Q or a Z on a “Triple Letter Score” tile, and then have the word pass over a “Double” or “Triple Word Score” space.  It sounds like a lofty goal, but it can be done.

TRIVIA:  Depending on the language of the game that you play, some letter values can vary between versions.  For example, while the W in English versions is worth four points, the W is worth TEN points in French versions, as the letter W is a letter very uncommon to the French language.

The right combination of letters and where they are placed can add up to huge points. 

One of my best words was nothing special.  It was just a five-letter word.  The word was QUIRK, and as it so happened, the Q was on “Triple Letter Score”, and the K was on “Double Word Score”.  Total points scored?  Seventy-six points!  Not bad, eh?  It’s too bad I didn’t have a Y, as I could have made QUIRKY for a solid 80-point word.  Oh well.

But, I’m just a “Scrabble” novice.  Many others have made words that were much more valuable than I.  Here are a few examples.

If you have the tiles and you want to make a great first impression, you could play the words JUKEBOX, MEZQUIT, or CAZIQUE.  All three words are 27 points without the use of the special squares.  And, for all of you people who have Webster’s Dictionary permanently in your grasp, fear not.  All three words can be found there.

Another word that brought a huge point value was the word QUIXOTRY (meaning visionary schemes).  The word was played by a man named Michael Cresta in 2006, and it currently holds a lot of records.  Just check out the diagram of his game winning move below.

As you can see, the word happens to cross several special squares, which made the point value skyrocket.  In addition, the word happened to intercept several other words in the process, creating new words, and getting a lot of additional points as a result. 

By itself, without the use of bonus tiles, the word is a respectable 25 points.  But with the way that he played the word, it netted him a score of 365 points!  That’s insane.  And, that wasn’t the only record that he broke either.  He ended up with the highest final score for a single player with 830 points.  As well, he and his opponent broke the record for the highest combined total with 1,320 points total. 

Those numbers are mighty impressive.  Puts my little 76-point word to shame, doesn’t it?

So, there you have it.  That’s my piece on the board game known as “Scrabble”.  The record to beat is 365 points for a single word.  Can you do it?

BONUS QUESTION:  I shared my highest scoring word in “Scrabble”.  What’s yours?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

March 27, 1970

I think that the Tuesday Timeline feature has quickly become one of my favourite theme days for this blog.  Not only do I have fun covering a whole array of topics that I had never considered before, but it’s also fun to look back on what happened in history on any given day.

I’ll just come out with it.  Today we’re going back in time to March 27, 1970.  I haven’t done a Tuesday Timeline feature that took place in the 1970s before, so I figured that it was better late than never.

But, first of all, like every other edition of the Tuesday Timeline, we’re going to take a look back on other events and happenings that took place on this date.

1871 – The first international rugby match between England and Scotland is played in Edinburgh

1886 – Geronimo surrenders to the U.S. Army, ending the main phase of the Apache Wars

1890 – A tornado strikes Louisville, Kentucky, killing 76, and injuring 200

1915 – Typhoid Mary is quarantined after being discovered as the first healthy carrier of disease in the United States

1958 – Nikita Khrushchev becomes Premier of the Soviet Union

1964 – “The Good Friday Earthquake” occurs near Anchorage, Alaska, killing 125 people.  With a magnitude of 9.2, it was the most powerful earthquake in American history

1975 – Construction of the Trans-Alaska pipeline system begins

1981 – Twelve million walk off their jobs for four hours in Poland after a warning strike is issued by the Solidarity movement

1993 – Jiang Zemin is appointed President of the People’s Republic of China

1998 – The FDA approves Viagra as a treatment for male impotence

2002 – Hollywood loses two legends, as both Milton Berle and Dudley Moore pass away on this date ten years ago

2009 – A suicide bomber kills 48 people at a mosque in Pakistan

Wow...who knew that March 27th was such a depressing and gloomy day in history?  Well, aside from the creation of Viagra, that is?

Don’t worry.  This blog will be focusing on a happy subject.  For this blog entry will focus on the birth of someone famous.

First things first, I should note that today happens to be my sister’s birthday, and Dawn, I doubt you’re reading this, but happy birthday!  But, no, she isn’t the subject of the blog.  She was born in 1966.

And, the subject doesn’t involve these famous faces either, but a happy birthday to...

...Michael York, Andrew Farriss (INXS), Jann Arden, Dave Koz, Quentin Tarentino, Xuxa, Talisa Soto, Kevin Corrigan, Pauley Perrette, Elizabeth Mitchell, Nathan Fillion, Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, Brenda Song, and Jessie J.

For today’s blog topic though, we’re going to examine the career of a songbird that was born 42 years ago today.  Her road to stardom may have been filled with hardships, a troubled marriage, and a breakdown, but she seems to be happy and back on top with a new marriage, twin children, and a singing career that boasts five Grammy Awards, eighteen number one singles on the Billboard Charts, and holding the record for most time spent at the top of the charts of all time.

Oh, look.  Here’s one of her songs right now.

ARTIST:  Mariah Carey
SONG:  Vision of Love
ALBUM:  Mariah Carey
DATE RELEASED:  May 15, 1990

Would you believe that Mariah Carey was just two months into her twenties when this song was released?  Would you believe that this was Mariah Carey’s first song release?  Would you believe that this song was the first in a chain of #1 hits that included one #1 song for almost every year of the 1990s?

Well, believe it.  All these statements are in fact true.  Mariah Carey being the featured Tuesday Timeline subject is also true.

Mariah Carey was born in Huntington, New York on March 27, 1970.  Her name came from the song “They Call the Wind Mariah” from the 1951 Broadway musical “Paint Your Wagon”.  Her mother was Irish American, and her father was of African American and Venezuelan descent.  Mariah often spoke of the hardships that stemmed from being a child of mixed race, stating that her mother’s side of the family disowned her for marrying a man of colour.  Mariah’s parents tried to make the marriage work, but due to the hardships caused by their community, as well as personal struggles in the marriage, they divorced when Mariah was just three.

Mariah ended up staying with her mother, and as a result of this, her relationship with her father eventually ceased to exist.  To cope with the stress of it all, Mariah would sneak a radio underneath the covers of her bed, listen to the music and try to find some inner peace by singing.

When Mariah was growing up, she did very well in music, art, and literature, and by the time she was in high school, she had already started to write and sing her own songs.  But, nobody really knew of her aspirations, as Carey had opted to keep it a secret through school.  Her mother, of course, encouraged her to pursue a musical career, and once suggested that Mariah study to become an opera singer.  But while Mariah enjoyed opera, she wanted to go in a different direction.

It wouldn’t be until the late 1980s that Mariah’s career would take off.  After completing a four song demo tape with friends Ben Margulies and Gavin Christopher, Mariah Carey would send copies to various record labels in between waitressing gigs, but she didn’t have much success at first.  She was introduced to rising pop star Brenda K. Starr during this time though, and this meeting would end up changing Carey’s life forever.

In November 1987, Carey ended up attending a record executive gala with Starr.  Carey met dozens of executives, but it was Tommy Mottola, head of Columbia Records, who took home her demo tape that night.  After listening to just two songs while driving home from the party, he was so enamored by her voice that he turned right around and headed back to the party, only to find that Carey had already left.

It took a couple of weeks for Mottola to track down Carey, but once he had, he signed her on the spot, and plans to record her debut, self-titled album immediately began.  Throughout 1989, Tommy helped Mariah produce her album by bringing in top musical producers such as Ric Wake, Narada Michael Walden, and Rhett Lawrence...though Mariah also brought aboard her longtime friend Ben Margulies on the project as well, as Margulies had written several of the songs that appeared on Mariah Carey’s debut (including “Vision of Love”).

Mariah’s first album was released on June 12, 1990, and it started off slow in sales.  But after Mariah appeared on the Grammy Awards, sales skyrocketed, and the album spawned four consecutive #1 singles.  And, that was only the beginning.  Mariah would end up having a total of eighteen #1 singles through her career, a feat tied only by Elvis Presley.  The eighteen #1 hits that Mariah had included the following;

Vision of Love (1990), Love Takes Time (1990), Someday (1991), I Don’t Wanna Cry (1991), Emotions (1991), I’ll Be There (1992), Dreamlover (1993), Hero (1993), Fantasy (1995), One Sweet Day (1995), Always Be My Baby (1996), Honey (1997), My All (1998), Heartbreaker (1999), Thank God I Found You (2000), We Belong Together (2005), Don’t Forget About Us (2005), and Touch My Body (2007).

And, here’s a little bit of trivia about some of these songs.

“I’ll Be There” was a song that was exclusive to Mariah’s “MTV Unplugged” album.  The album came about after Mariah appeared on the program to dispel rumours that she was only a ‘studio artist’ who wasn’t capable of hitting the high notes in live performances.  Needless to say, she proved her critics wrong.

1993’s “Hero” was meant to be included in the film “Hero” starring Geena Davis and Dustin Hoffman, but Tommy Mottola insisted that the song shouldn’t be given away for someone else to sing.  He wanted it to be a Mariah Carey song.  It paid off.  It topped the charts in late 1993 for four weeks.

1995’s “One Sweet Day” holds the record for being at the top of the charts the most consecutive weeks.  The single, which Mariah recorded with Boyz II Men was a number one hit for a record-breaking SIXTEEN weeks!

And, 1999’s Heartbreaker really showed us that Mariah could poke fun at herself as well.  With Mariah playing two different characters, and the video using a stunt double, a contribution by Jay-Z, and a cameo by Jerry O’Connell, the video helped the song become Mariah’s fourteenth number one hit.

These were some of Mariah’s finest moments, but she also had a lot of hardships along the way.  Aside from her early childhood which was filled with a single mother trying to make ends meet, and her early struggles with getting her name out there (the inspiration for the song “Make It Happen”), Mariah’s had some very public struggles as well. 

Eventually, Tommy Mottola became more than Mariah’s record producer.  He would also become Mariah’s husband.  The two tied the knot in 1993, despite the couple’s 21 year age difference.  However, just five years later, Mariah and Tommy divorced, with Mariah claiming that creative differences and Mottola’s controlling nature were the reasons behind the split.  The split reflected in her music, with her 1997 album “Butterfly” taking on a new style of singing, and her music videos portrayed Mariah more sexually than before.

But Mariah’s lowest point would come during the summer of 2001.  During that period, Mariah had switched record labels (from Columbia to Virgin Records), and she had signed on to work on the film project “Glitter” as well as recording the soundtrack for the same movie.  At this time, her relationship with Luis Miguel had just ended.  As a result of Mariah’s heavy workload as well as pressure from the media, Mariah started acting in an erratic fashion.  After a bizarre appearance on Total Request Live on July 19, 2001, Mariah was hospitalized for exhaustion following a physical and emotional breakdown just one week later.

The hospital stay forced the movie and soundtrack release to be delayed while Carey recovered.  The soundtrack was eventually released on September 11, 2001, but due to the 9/11 attacks, the release was obviously overshadowed.  And when the film was released just ten days later, it bombed at the box office, and Mariah Carey was nominated for a Golden Raspberry and won for Worst Actress in 2002.

Between the failure of the film, and the fact that the “Glitter” soundtrack was the worst-selling album of Mariah Carey’s career, people wondered if Mariah Carey would ever find her way back on top again.

The answer, of course, is yes.

With the release of the album “The Emancipation of Mimi”, it served as a renaissance period for Carey, and she earned her first #1 hit in five years as a result.  And, in 2008, Carey found love once again.  This time, she married Nick Cannon, ten years her junior, and current host of America’s Got Talent.  And, in 2011, Mariah Carey became a mother, giving birth to twins Morocco and Monroe on April 30 (the same day as their wedding anniversary).

I think that there’re a couple of lessons that we can learn from Mariah Carey.  First, you can’t give up on your dreams.  Even if your dreams seem impossible, you might end up being in the right place at the right time one day, and they’ll come true when you least expect it.  This happened for Mariah Carey, and it can happen to all of us if we really take the bull by the horns.

Secondly, it is possible to come back from the depths of rock bottom.  Certainly, 2001 was not a great year for Mariah Carey, as she hit a professional and personal low.  But, it’s amazing that just ten years later, Carey would become a wife and mother, who has had a second chance to make it in the music business.

I think no matter what, Mariah Carey will always be a force to be reckoned with in the world of music.  Certainly, her voice will always be one of a kind.

That’s our look back on March 27, 1970.