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CIPC extra: The best and worst of 2018

Another year, another fiftyish posts, another sample set of qualities of blog posts, approximately normally distributed around a far too low mean. Since it is the time of the season for low-effort blog posts, I will parade what I think are the four best and the four worst of these posts in front of you. Why four? Well, why the bloody hell not? And now I will waffle no longer, lest I end up on next year’s list.

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CIPC #100: Vacanze di natale ’91

As the number of blog posts you’ve written increases, the speed at which you encounter nice, round numbers unfortunately decreases, so you have to savour the occasion. What better subject, then, for this memorable occasion – a square followed by a prime! And it’s Christmas! And it’s the last post of the year! – than a dime-a-dozen mediocre Christmas comedy in Italian from the early nineties that everyone has forgotten? A capital idea! And nothing fits the bill as well as the critically ignored Vacanze di natale from 1991, a movie so obscure that, at the time of writing, the English Wikipedia doesn’t even have a page on it.

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CIPC #99: The supersizers eat… the fifties

I have a rare psychological condition were I have an immediate antipathy against almost anything with punctuation in the title.1 Some things – like periods, colons, and apostrophes – usually get a pass, but if there is a question mark, an exclamation mark, or, as in today’s subject, ellipsis, I immediately become suspicious. How is this questionable? Why does this need to be exclaimed? What has been ellipsed? But I have to grudgingly admit that the show is better than its title. It is about food in different periods of history and this particular episode deals with the fifties. The hosts Giles Coren and Sue Perkins relive the experience of a middle class British family in one of the early holiday camps that sprang up everywhere around that time. In the garden, there is a chessboard.

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CIPC #98: Guido Metsers, Prins Maurits

IJzendijke – who can honestly claim to ever have heard of the name? A small Zealandian townlet, little more than a hamlet, tucked away near the Scheldt in the Dutch bible belt, with a mill, a chapel, a pond, and a square with a statue adorned. It depicts prince Maurits who, though the rain may pour its saltless tears on his face, will always remain unfazed.1 Below you’ll find a picture of this stern-looking figure, as he fights off the Spanish horde on the sixty four squares of the board. But after that I will stop rhyming, as my interest in that’s declining.2

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CIPC #97: Madonna, Ray of light

Now this is something you’ve probably heard of. In the eighties and nineties, Madonna was perhaps the biggest superstar in all of pop music. In 1998, she released ray of light, which became a worldwide hit. Of course, a music video was made as well. The text consists mostly of the singer claiming that she feels like she’s just got home, which hardly seems to warrant writing a song about. The video is a mishmash of different backgrounds speeding by while Madonna is simulating a seizure in front of a green screen. This all seems very boring, but then suddenly a chess board appears and I got interested faster than a ray of light.1

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CIPC #96: Masha and the bear S2 E2, Time to ride my pony

Usually, I am somehow familiar with the things I talk about. Most of the movies I talk about I have seen. Most of the comics I have read. Even La Bayadère I had at least heard of. Today’s topic, on the other hand, was completely and utterly unknown to me before I had its existence pointed out to me. It is a Russian animated television series aimed at children with the magnificently Russian name Masha and the bear and shows the adventures of a six-year-old girl, a sort of female version of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, and her anthropomorphised ursine friend. As it is a Russian show, it is not so surprising that chess makes an appearance – as indeed it does in episode 28, time to ride my pony:

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CIPC #95: La Bayadère

I am really treading on unfamiliar grounds with this one, so bear with me. La Bayadère (the temple dancer) is a ballet with music by Ludwig Minkus, first performed in 1877 with choreography by Marius Petipa.1 Then, it was pretty much forgotten for a few decades, until it performed with great success by the Kirov ballet in the Soviet Union. There, it quickly grew into a classic, but it had to wait for a western revival until the early sixties. So far, so simple. But — and apparently this is normal in ballet — the original choreography had been changed several times, with pieces being deleted, redone, or moved as was seen fit. I give you all this information as a fair warning: do not watch La Bayadère expecting a chess board, for it might not appear. Of course, we are talking about a version of the ballet which does include a chess board: the recent Royal Ballet performance in a production by Natalia Makarova.

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CIPC #94: Toen was geluk heel gewoon S5 E67, Schaken

Toen was geluk heel gewoon (back then, happiness was normal) was a Dutch sitcom that ran for sixteen seasons between 1994 and 2009. It was loosely based on The honeymooners, an American series from the fifties and was supposed to play in more or less the same time period, making it a bit of a strange sight in the nineties. Of course, from the fact that I give you all this information, you can easily deduce that there must be an episode dealing with chess, and, indeed, in the sixty-seventh episode, our royal game plays an important role.

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CIPC #93: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett

Today, we travel all the way back to 1924. The roaring twenties! It’s the time of the Weimar republic, Jazz is becoming big, Joyce’s Ulysses is published. But it’s not all bad news: it is also the age of art deco, Aviation is booming, penicillin is discovered, silent movies conquer the world. One of the latter is on our plate today: Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, a German movie from 1924 which was released to the English speaking world as Waxworks. The story is quickly explained: the director of a wax museum wants some stories to go along with his figures. For this purpose, he hires a poet. Most of the movie is taken up by the stories he comes up with. The first of those tells of Harun al-Rashid: “The caliph kept his brain from becoming as fat as his stomach by a daily game of chess with his grand vizier.”1

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CIPC #92: Barque advertisement

Pretty much every time I talk about chess in advertisement, I point out that chess is used to symbolise intelligence and sophistication, but it has never been so blatantly obvious as today. It is a piece of advertisement for a Toronto based smokehouse which opened in 2011 and claims more refinement than your standard steak joint. To advertise this fact, they made a classy old fashioned poster featuring a carefully coiffed cow in what may be a smoking1 seated at a chess board. The bovine player looks askance at the viewer, as if inquiring what he might be staring at. Or maybe he’s just waiting for him to make a move.

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