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In 2003, I showed you a graphical representation of baseball standings, progressing through the course of a season.  I called it the Diamond Brick Road.

On New Year’s Day 2011, the National Hockey League plans to stage its outdoor Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.  For the occasion, I’ve created a similar chart for hockey, the Ice Cube Road.

As you climbed my baseball chart, you could proceed from a given “brick” to either of two bricks partially overlapping it on the next level above.  However, hockey is slightly different.  Each game has not two possible outcomes but three.  A team earns 2 points for a win.  For a loss, it earns 1 point if the loss comes in overtime or via shootout, or 0 points if the loss comes in regulation time.  Therefore, on my hockey chart you can move from a given “ice cube” to any of three cubes on the next level:  directly above (1 point), above and to the left (2 points), or above and to the right (0 points).

The bottom of the chart looks like this.  The season began with all teams on the bottom level, with 0 games played and 0 points earned.  The complete chart has 82 more levels above the bottom, corresponding to the 82 scheduled regular-season games.

On opening night, Philadelphia earned 2 points by defeating Pittsburgh.  They each moved up one level (one game played), but now Philadelphia had 2 points (orange) while Pittsburgh still had 0 points (black).

Two nights later against different opponents, Philadelphia earned 1 point with an overtime loss, while Pittsburgh earned 0 points with a regulation loss.

Two nights after that, each team won.  With three games played, Philadelphia had 5 points and Pittsburgh 2.

By mid-October, Philadelphia’s lead was one point, with 5 points (in 4 games played) compared to Pittsburgh’s 4 points (in 5 games).

Effectively Philadelphia had an even larger lead because it also held “a game in hand” over Pittsburgh, meaning that it had not yet had a chance to earn points by playing its fifth game.

At this point, the winning percentages were .625 for Philadelphia (5 points out of a possible 8) and .400 for Pittsburgh (4 points out of a possible 10).  Winning percentages correspond graphically to the angular bearing from the purple cube:  northwest is 1.000, due north is .500, and northeast is .000.

So here’s the complete chart, showing all five teams in the Atlantic Division after last night’s games.  The diagonal line of red dots at 93 points represents the approximate minimum a team needs to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

You can make your own chart and follow along!  Or you can just wait for me to update the Ice Cube Road for you a couple of months from now, and again at the end of the regular season in April.


DECEMBER 25, 2010     CHRISTMAS 1955

I’ve colorized a 55-year-old snapshot to relive the holiday scene when I was eight years old.

For our second Christmas since moving to the house on Hoskins Pike, the tree had been set up in front of the east-facing bay window in what was nominally the dining room.  On the old upright piano was a piece of sheet music, something about a snowflake.

By Christmas night, the presents had all been opened and arranged around the tree, where I posed with my new saxophone.  This toy instrument had a harmonica reed for each of the nine notes that sounded when their keys were depressed.  The performer's repertoire was limited to melodies that spanned no more than one octave, such as "The First Noel" and "Joy to the World" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat."

Under the tree on the right we can see a microscope set, which came in a large green box with samples of things to look at under magnification.  On the left is a canister of American Logs; they’re similar to Lincoln Logs, and I mentioned them in this article.  Next to it is a leather briefcase monogrammed “T.B.T.” with which I could carry my music to my weekly piano lessons.  I used it for that purpose for nearly ten years, and even today it’s on standby in my closet.

The only gift I can identify that wasn’t for me is the rectangular brass-and-pink-ceramic planter, which my mother would use for African violets.

I hope Santa was good to you and your family this year!



Athletes complain their team never gets the respect it deserves.  When they feel they’re the underdog, it motivates them to “shock the world” and prove the doubters wrong.

Most Americans are Christians, yet many claim that they too are being disrespected.  Suppose one of them wishes you a merry Christmas and you don’t answer in kind; instead, you reply “And a happy Hanukkah to you” or “Season’s greetings.”  Many Christians will take offense at that.  They don’t like to be reminded there are people who don’t share their beliefs.  They prefer everyone to agree with them.

Conversely, some retailers assume non-Christians are equally defensive.  They think if a clerk says “Merry Christmas” to a customer who doesn’t happen to be a Christian, that person will be offended.  But actress/comedian Sarah Silverman, whose sister is a rabbi, tweeted in December 2015:  “I've never met a Jew that minds one bit if you say Merry Christmas to them.”

Is it wise for a non-Christian to refuse, on principle, to say “Merry Christmas”?  Well, let’s consider.

Saturn was an ancient Roman god of the harvest for whom Saturday was named.

After Julius Caesar’s assassination, the Senate proclaimed him a god and a month was renamed July.

Followers of Jesus of Nazareth decided that he too was a god, or at least the son of one, and the day of his miraculous birth was observed with a Christ Mass — originally a solemn, not “merry,” event.

The residents of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, claim prophetic powers for a local marmot and demonstrate his forecasting skills on February 2.

Now consider these facts.

Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, even though none of us belong to the cult of the emperor.

We have no qualms about mentioning Saturday, since no veneration of Saturn is implied.

We can enjoy Groundhog Day festivities without worshiping an animal.

So if an atheist says “have a merry Christmas,” he’s not necessarily endorsing Christ-worship.  He’s just accepting the fact that the late-December holiday of merriment and giving gifts, formerly “Saturnalia” and later “Yule,” is currently called “Christmas” in our culture.

The nonbeliever would be wise to go along with this accepted common terminology, rather than pointedly avoiding it and handing the Christians another excuse to feel persecuted and hate their neighbors.



Fifty years ago today, I was watching the evening news from WLWC-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio.  The picture below isn’t actually from that newscast, of course; it’s my re-creation of what I still recall seeing.

Hugh DeMoss reported that two airliners had been approaching their landings in New York that morning when they collided in a cloud a mile above Staten Island.  One was a TWA Super Constellation carrying 39 passengers and a crew of five from Columbus to LaGuardia Airport.  The other was a United Airlines DC-8, bound from Chicago to Idlewild Airport with 77 passengers and a crew of seven.  There were no survivors.

Then the anchorman introduced a short clip of 16-millimeter film.  “Channel 4’s sports director, Jimmy Crum, was at Port Columbus this morning to film the Ohio State basketball team as they boarded their flight for Kansas.”

(The Buckeyes, the defending NCAA champions, had won their first three games of the 1960-61 season and would play at Wichita the following night.)

“He shot this footage of another plane as it departed.  This is the ill-fated Constellation that would later crash in New York.”

Later, we learned that the United jet had been 12 miles off course.  It fell into a busy Brooklyn street, killing six more people on the ground.  The toll of 134 made this the deadliest commercial aviation accident in the United States to that time.

Today, the tragedy was memorialized by the unveiling of an eight-foot granite monument in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.



As a result of this website, I've collected a fair amount of e-mail from people I've never met.  For example, at the end of this article I mentioned Jim O'Callaghan's inquiry about the tragic 1945 crash of a planeload of servicemen returning home from India after the war.  (Less than three weeks before, my father had flown the same route!)

Jim ran across my article and wrote last month to tell me, "I have done extensive research on that aircraft loss as well as many others in the CBI theatre.  My research has led me to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in Saint Louis where more than 250 group burials took place after WW II.  It is nice to see there are still people who will keep the memory alive of those who served so far away so long ago."

But the article that has drawn the most strangers to my e-box is the one about slips of paper from my childhood.

Folks who still have some of these stamps wonder whether they're worth anything to collectors.  (I don't know anything about that.)



Have you ever received an e-mail from me and wondered why I sent it in the predawn hours?  Here’s the reason.

I usually work on sports telecasts in “prime time,” but I work only a few evenings a week.  I do get nights off, often several in a row.

After a night when I haven't had to work, I go to bed as usual.  However, I’m well rested by 5:00 A.M., so I get out of bed and begin my daily activities.  That afternoon, I ought to take a nap, but often I don't get around to it.  That evening, I settle in to watch my familiar TV shows from my comfortable couch.  Within half an hour I’m so relaxed that I fall asleep.  Then I awaken at 3:00 A.M., eager to check my e-mail and start another day.

With an unpredictable schedule like that, it’s fortunate that I live alone.

“I don't want to have to constantly tell somebody where I'm going.  I don't want to have to be quiet when I get up in the middle of the night; I want to turn everything on.  So I'm selfish.  And it's better if selfish people live alone.”   —Grace Slick, on the Biography Channel

For 17 years after my mother died, my father lived alone.  He confessed to me that sometimes he lost track of time.  In the winter he’d awaken when it was dark outside.  He’d check his watch and see that it was around 6:00, so he’d get dressed and drive downtown for breakfast.  At the restaurant someone would tip him off that it was actually 6:00 P.M.

I have similar experiences, although I soon realize my mistake.  To eliminate the ambiguity, I've taken to setting my watch to 24-hour “military” time.  Eating breakfast at 06:00 is permitted; eating breakfast at 18:00 is silly.



In a letter I once wrote, I recalled an incident from 45 years ago this month.  As an Oberlin College freshman, I had a small role in a PG-rated illuminated display at my dorm.  But I never actually saw the display in person.

I have now filled that gap in my experience by building an animation that reconstructs what the stunt must have looked like.  Click here for the full picture.



Nowadays we all live in a cultural “vack-yoom.”
An old movie — an overlooked cultural heirloom —
     Taught me how this odd word with two u’s
     Should be said:  one u long, one u short.

There are three distinct syllables packed in a vack-you-um!
Though the word denotes “nothing,” it baffles your cranium.
     Just remember its separate u’s
     And pronounce one as long, one as short.



Toa young lady in 1910day would have been my parents’ 70th wedding anniversary.  They were married in Covington, Kentucky, on November 16, 1940.

As I’ve discovered, it was not unusual for young couples to travel hundreds of miles to be married in Covington.  Another example came to light recently:  this time, a 100th anniversary.

According to the Richwood Gazette of Thursday, August 25, 1910, “Miss Elizabeth Daniels and Edward Niebler eloped to Covington, Ky. and were married.  The groom is 23 and the bride is but 17.  ...The parents of neither the bride nor groom had any thought of their intentions of eloping.”

Miss Daniels, whom I've represented by the Sears, Roebuck catalog drawing at the right, “was noticed to take some of her wearing apparel in a valise” around 11 o’clock on a Friday.  She was asked where she was going, and the reply was “nowhere.”  But she did confide her plans to her sister.

As usual, Elizabeth drove the milk wagon to town and delivered the milk at the Richwood Creamery.  She then hitched the empty wagon in front of the Church Hardware Company store and asked Constable George Curl if he could arrange for someone to take the wagon home.  The officer enlisted his son Rolla, with the help of Edgar Wilkinson, to return the rig to the Daniels place.

At the Big Four railroad depot, Mr. Niebler was waiting for his sweetheart.  “The crowd which had gathered there had considerable fun at the expense of the youthful lovers before they departed on the 3:59 train” on their way to Covington.



Tomorrow afternoon, on the final Saturday of the regular season, the football team at California University of Pennsylvania had hoped to be hosting what’s called The State Game.

This is the championship contest between the winners of the West and East divisions of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, a statewide league of medium-size colleges.

With 16 members, the PSAC is the largest football-playing conference in the NCAA and the largest conference in Division II.

Cal U has won at least a share of the title in the PSAC’s West division every year from 2005 through 2010, so the Vulcans almost expect to be part of The State Game each November.

This year, however, they shared the title with the only team that beat them during the regular season, Mercyhurst.  Therefore the tiebreaker procedure sends Mercyhurst to The State Game.

Tomorrow, Cal U will have to be content with hosting Cheyney as originally scheduled.  I’ll be there helping to televise the Senior Day festivities.

Why did I say “as originally scheduled”?  Well, the PSAC has developed a clever way to stage a championship game between the winners of its two divisions without having to add an extra week to the season.  Allow me to explain.

Each team begins its 11-game schedule on Labor Day weekend with a non-conference game.  The next two weeks, the team plays interdivisional games against teams from the opposite division.  Then divisional play begins, in which the team meets each of the other members of its own division.  The standings after this seven-week divisional campaign determine the East and West winners.

Finally, on the 11th and final weekend, a third interdivisional game is played.  Tomorrow’s schedule calls for all eight of the East schools to visit West schools.  (It’s reversed in odd-numbered years, when all the West schools go East on the final Saturday.)

To achieve the proper matchup for The State Game, all that’s needed is to swap the travel arrangements of two East teams.

Bloomsburg, the winner of the East, had been scheduled to visit Lock Haven, but instead they’ll go to Mercyhurst and play for the championship.

Mercyhurst — the victors valiant, the champions of the West — originally planned to host Shippensburg tomorrow, so Shippensburg will have to find a different place to play.  They'll set a course instead for Lock Haven, where they'll take Bloomsburg’s place as the visiting team.

Pretty neat, huh?  Everybody plays just 11 games, and we still get to decide the championship on the field in a head-to-head showdown.



On Pittsburgh's North Shore, a Vietnam monument reminds us of not only the soldiers who died in the war (as does the memorial in Washington) but also the veterans who came back alive.

Meet the five people depicted here, see my photos, and read the inscription in an article called Welcome Home.



One sheep realized what was about to happen.  But the rest of the flock continued grazing contentedly.  They didn’t want to hear the bleated warnings of this ovine Al Gore.  They ignored the warnings until it was too late to do anything.



When this cartoon appeared on the front page of my mother’s high school newspaper in Byesville, Ohio, it was the morning after Halloween in 1929.

Fences and signs and tires had been discovered to have mysteriously strayed from their wonted locations.  Two young lads were nonchalantly walking to class, innocently unaware of any mischief that might have taken place overnight.  Nevertheless, the working men of the town were obliged to restore order.

In Ohio, this minor vandalism on the night of October 31 had been going on for years.  I found items published in the Richwood Gazette 45 years before, warning of 19th-century juveniles who stole cabbages and turnips and apples on Halloween.

Tricks were played, but as yet there was no “trick or treat.”  It may have been some Canadian kids who first got the idea of running a protection racket.  “‘Trick or Treat’ Is Demand” of local youngsters, an Alberta newspaper reported in 1927.  In other words, we’ll play a trick on you unless you buy us off with a tasty snack.  (This information comes from here.)

The extortion ploy spread south to the United States.  By 1934, a paper in Portland, Oregon, was reporting that “young goblins and ghosts, employing modern shakedown methods, successfully worked the ‘trick or treat’ system in all parts of the city.” 

 In Helena, Montana, another writer described the scam.  “Pretty Boy John Doe rang the door bells and his gang waited his signal.  It was his plan to proceed cautiously at first and give a citizen every opportunity to comply with his demands before pulling any rough stuff.  ‘Madam, we are here for the usual purpose, trick or treat.’”

But the custom may not have become well established in Ohio, under the name “Beggars Night,” until about the time I entered the world in 1947.  I still have objections to the concept.