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On pins and needles about Ukraine

The news keeps coming on Ukraine and for those of us obsessively checking WaPo, Twitter, podcasts, documentaries, and any other media outlet we can find, it feels like the calm before the storm. It’s like a sitzkrieg right now. The Ukrainians do something dramatic like sinking a Russian battleship or killing another Russian general in Mariupol and putin threatens to put nukes in the Baltics until someone helpfully pointed out that Russia already did that decades ago when it took over a small Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. I had to look it up on Google maps and was mortified that I’d never heard of it. I chastised myself sternly and assigned myself homework on the Baltic states as well as the Winter War of Finland vs Russia in 1940.

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy is back in Kyiv, somewhere, no one knows where in Kyiv, giving more press conferences to say that if Ukrainian soldiers defending Mariupol are killed, negotiations with Russia would be severely impacted. Oh and a message to the rest of the world is that this war is not over yet, Russia could still win and putin launching nukes is not out of the question.

So, that was a buzzkill. For a comedian, he’s not that funny these days.

Pavlo from Ukraine did a live feed today. He and his beautiful girlfriend Luba are back in the willage.

Pavlo is taking this farming thing seriously. Also, he can’t leave the country. He’s like in the fourth wave of defense because he has no practical experience when it comes to war. But I get the feeling that he expects to get called at some point because as he says, the whole country is affected, even the Ukrainians in rural farming willages like his. (His English is actually pretty decent but his accent is has those stereotypical Eastern European pronunciations. I can’t stop listening.)

He says the village has taken in some families from the east and that there is a team of volunteers collecting clothes for people who had to leave home in a hurry. He’s self deprecating about his IT skills, hypes Luba’s art and Instagram, gets upset with himself that he’s so angry at the Russians, and has deep respect and admiration for Zelenskyy. He gets a bit nostalgic about watching Zelensky’s shows when he was a student and shows some insight and empathy for the situation Zelenskyy is in. It’s not what he signed up for.

So, I went looking for Zelenskyy’s series, Servant of the People and found it on Netflix. It’s about a high school teacher who loses his cool on a tough day and goes on an epic rant about the system. A student secretly records him and then uploads it to YouTube. Before he knows it, he gets voted president of Ukraine without ever having to campaign. The first episode is hilarious. The corruption starts immediately with his advisor kitting him out with expensive Swiss watches, a couture suit, and Louis Vuitton shoes. His bank loans are mysteriously paid in full and, back home, his family starts promising favors to second cousins while the landlord finally gets around to cleaning up the building after 10 years of neglect. Karl Lagerfeld and Angela Merkel make cameo appearances. (I think Karl was just an actor but Merkel looks like a video clip that was edited to fit the script.)

I’m betting that his first day as actual president was just as bewildering. And now he’s the 21st century Winston Churchill. I can see bits of the real Zelenskyy in the modest history teacher.

Anyway, check it out on Netflix and also see Zelenskyy playing the piano without using his hands. I hope he can be funny again someday. Well, I guess the F#%* you, Russians postage stamp shows that he’s still got it.

Is the New York Times Making the Wordle Game Easier, As We Anticipated?

If I write this, I am going to miss some Wordles, but I will risk it. I want the games to be challenging, but of course I want to solve them. Right now, I think I am seeing the words become easier, not at all a challenge to vocabulary, even if they are occasionally a challenge in how the letters are used; double letters, y’s in unusual places, etc. That is a challenge, but I would like to see some words as answers which take a better vocabulary to solve.

I did not start doing Wordle until a few months ago. So far I have done 95 games. I got the first sixteen right, and then I missed one. Perky. I will never forget that. I was playing the game in a somewhat overconfident fashion, like a tennis player who thinks that he can take some chances, play around a bit, and then if behind, just use his skills to rally and win. I got to the last guess, with the word being either jerky, or perky, and I picked the wrong one, maybe because of the adventure stories I would read, where someone would go out on a grueling walk, and take beef jerky with him to eat. That was a mistake, perky was probably more likely. And I did the game in the early morning, which I usually do not do, and that probably did not help my concentration.

So I missed the word, and I was upset. I lay in bed the next morning, running over possible words to try in the early guesses. I didn’t necessarily come up with the ideal ones, I know others have their own favorite starting words, but since then, I have solved 78 straight wordles, so I am 94 out of 95, though it is quite likely that some people have a better score.

I will likely miss more. I almost missed Royal the other day, for whatever reason, mostly the y being in the middle of the word. And when I do, I will be upset, but I am trying to keep getting them right. If I get to missing two or three, I might stop playing, or maybe just try to rush through, if the games are not challenging enough.

I also would like the game to test vocabulary to some extent, to occasionally use words that are less often used, but should be known by anyone who reads books, though of course that seems to be a dwindling amount of people. We saw how a word such as “tacit” got many players very upset, because they had apparently never encountered the word. So did “caulk,” and more recently, an exception to the recent trend I see, “natal.”

Most of the words seem to be very common, no one would not know them or what they mean. Here is a list of the words for this month, which were the answers on Wordle. I skipped today’s, for those who have not played.

Snout. Trope. Fewer. Shawl. Natal. Comma. Foray. Scare. Stair. Black. Squad. Royal. Chunk. Mince. Shame.

What do you think? Trope is not a word that all know, so that is good. Natal was complained about. Foray is a little out of the ordinary conversation. The rest are words that a fourth grader should know.

Maybe I am being too quick to decide that the New York Times is being so careful, after criticism, to not use words that almost all people would know, that they are coming up with very common words? Again, that does not mean that a word we all know could not prove a difficult puzzle, because of the placement of the letters. And that is fine, but that is a different thing than the puzzle being hard because one has to think of possible esoteric words from time to time. For example, I think that “aerie” would be a good word, but I doubt if they would use it, because many would bitterly complain on Twitter.

I don’t think this is being supercilious, or wanting many arcane words as answers, but I do think that we are seeing the game being made more “lowest common denominator-friendly,’ which I think is what is generally happening to television shows, and movies, and maybe even novels, though I have not read a modern one lately.

Probably music, too, with autotune, and so many songs I hear in grocery or department stores which seem to have no real melody, just the repeating of a few lines over and over. I remember the great animated show “Phineas and Ferb,” where Phineas wrote a catchy little song, it became wildly popular, and then he said that he was not doing any more songs. The record company executive who had produced the one song, and was offering him a big contract for more, was disappointed, but said, “It doesn’t matter, we can take one line, and make a hundred different songs out of it,” by which he meant looping, and dubbing, and whatever else they do now. That is probably right, to the detriment of people who loved exciting original music.

Well, one could lament all of this, but just in regard to Wordle, I hope that what I am sensing, that the game is being flattened out to keep people from being frustrated or angry at the many words they have apparently never confronted in a book or poem, is not actually the trend. Now watch for a whole bunch of words that I do not get! There are very few words that I have never heard of or seen, but if they start using slang words, like natch, or gonna, I am in trouble!