A few nights ago, I watched Last Year at Marienbad. I enjoyed it, but I became morbidly fascinated by the game that keeps coming up. It consists of taking objects such as cards and laying them out in four rows, with 1, 3, 5, and 7 objects, respectively. Players alternate picking up objects; they can take as many as they want, as long as they take them all from the same row. Whoever picks up the last one loses.
What makes it so interesting to me is that the character who introduces the game never loses. He says it’s possible for him to lose, but he just never does. When people start to suspect that whoever goes first automatically wins, he lets the other person go first and still wins. I suspect that he wins every time because his opponents are always distracted by extrinsic things, like the suspicion that he must be running some kind of scam, and don’t really think about the strategy. That’s a major advantage, but he still must have some particular strategy, right? What am I missing (other than the point of the movie)?
UPDATE: Minimal research indicates that they’re playing a version of Nim.
Since the dead of winter I’ve been pining over the prospect of making my own condiments. Somehow it seemed inappropriate, when there was snow on the ground and my diet consisted of potato gratin and shepherd’s pie, to be making fresh tomato ketchup or habanero hot sauce. I wanted to wait through spring until ingredients were at their peak ripeness, but as my tomatoes are still green and peppers not yet bloomed, another approach must be taken.
I have been saving a beautiful, somewhat complex recipe for ketchup that I have to put off until armfuls of fresh tomatoes are available. In the interim I found a simpler approach, perfectly suited to whole canned tomatoes. I came across it in the June Gourmet which supplies recipes for a backyard barbecue where everything is homemade. Their effort is noble but some recipes need tweaking while others, like homemade hot dog buns, would be better off as material for a bad Martha Stewart episode.
I cut back on the sugar and amplified the vinegar, which I think lends the sauce to being more complimentary than competitive, especially on grilled food.
I am about a quarter of the way through Infinite Jest, inspired though not constrained by the Infinite Summer movement that SEK is weirdly cranky about. I have to say that I think some of the commentary encouraging people to read it — “it’s big and complex and difficult and time-consuming but so totally worth it because it’s good for you” — is, as my caricaturing indicates, misguided.
Instead, I propose that the absolute fundamental fact about Infinite Jest that needs to be emphasized above all is that it is amazingly funny and creative. I would say that I chuckle audibly at least every page and laugh out loud every three to four, on average. Even when it’s not directly funny, his detailed descriptions are inventive and consistently surprising. The reason it’s so thick isn’t because of the baroque plot — which I don’t think is all that baroque, at least not so far, certainly not anywhere approaching what comic books expect 13-year-olds to be able to follow — but because of all the detail he packs in. As Brad said yesterday in chat, DFW’s observational powers seem to extend to “the molecular level,” and it’s a joy to behold.
The one thing that’s not a joy to behold, at least so far, are the parts where he descends into black dialect. I’m on the fence about whether they’re offensive (at least the presence of similar “redneck drug addict” passages insulate him somewhat from charges of racism), but they’re certainly difficult to read — you’re being carried along by the construction of this weird world, and then it becomes a slog. I can see that DFW was kind of stuck here, because it would seem irresponsible to do a huge book primarily about drugs and not have anything about the way that drugs have so devestated inner-city black communities, but MAN, couldn’t he have come up with a better way to address it?