Playing detective

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Carmen Sandiego

Thinking back on my childhood, I realize how many of my favorite games and shows were based on detective work. My favorite computer game was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (I especially loved the typing sound as I, the gumshoe, was promoted to my next case). One of my favorites shows was Mathnet, a children’s TV segment in a math show called Square One. I also absolutely adored the board game Clue.

Mathnet, a parody of Dragnet, focused on two detectives, Kate Monday and George Frankly, who solved crimes with mathematical and scientific concepts. A few of their cases stand out in my mind, especially that of loot stolen by motorboat that Kate and George find while scuba-diving by calculating the tidal drift between objects. And, of course, the murder mystery episode which totally freaked me out (you don’t usually expect a children’s math program to be scary). They think they’ve gone to a friend’s murder mystery weekend, but accidentally arrive at another house where guests are really disappearing. Thinking everyone is a great actor, they’re not alarmed until they realize they’re the only guests left. Them and the butler.

Which brings me to Clue. Clue was apparently created in 1944 by a British man to play while waiting out air raids, and originally included such potential murder weapons as an axe, bomb, syringe, and shillelagh.

Scarlet, my childhood heroine

I still remember playing Clue with my family when I was no more than five years old. I was allowed, for the first time, to play as my own character instead of being a team with one of the adults. I felt I was doing pretty well checking off boxes I knew to not be the murder weapon or suspect. Suddenly I realized I only had one unchecked box per category: in essence, I had solved the case of who killed Mr. Boddy. I made my guess: Ms. Peacock in the library with the candlestick. And one by one my family said they didn’t have any of these cards. When it came full circle and no one had any evidence to the contrary, one of my aunts gently prodded, “You’re sure you have none of those cards, Jenna?” I looked down at my hand, where I saw Ms. Peacock next to the library card, only partially obstructing my view of the candlestick. Oops. Luckily, Carmen Sandiego and Mathnet would come along later to teach me how to be a real detective.

How to be a detective

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What you’ll need: magnifying glass, fedora/trenchcoat

Songlist: Watching the Detectives by Elvis Costello, Fingerprints  by Katy Perry

Further reading: anything by Agatha Christie

On Saturday night, my house was burglarized. Three of us were sleeping upstairs while, downstairs, a person or persons took a wide variety of electronic items and their corresponding power cords and remotes, as well as money in the form of paper and plastic. Most confusingly, this person took a bottle of white wine. An opened bottle, in fact. A bottle that was about as cheap as wine gets and that I’d imbibed the better part of. Our burglar passed up a six-pack of local microbrew Hefeweisens, showing once and for all that this thief was tasteless.

Sunday morning after we stumbled around our significantly altered downstairs, a few police officers came over to inspect the damage. The first let us know that though she was “no CSI-type officer,” she’d try to dust for fingerprints in a few key locations. No luck. A second officer arrived a little later that hour and assured us that he was “kinda the CSI-type officer, the kind that sees what other people don’t.” He dusted for fingerprints, too, and was similarly luckless.

I must admit to not watching any of these new-fangled detective shows–CSI, Criminal Minds, Bones, etc. This may be a gross overgeneralization, but it seems that these shows focus a little too much on torturing and murdering pretty young females. There’s enough violence against women in the world–why glamorize it on sexy-killer-television-series? In any case, a cop referring to herself or himself as “CSI-type” doesn’t necessarily impress me.

Hercule Poirot, busy solving mysteries

You know what would impress me? If someone said they were the Hercule Poirot type officer, or the Miss Marple type.

I was borderline-obsessed with Agatha Christie’s detective novels when I was younger. I kept a list of all 80 of her novels featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, meticulously checking them off as I finished yet another dazzling solution to a puzzling crime. I loved the way Hercule Poirot could understand the exact thought pattern of another human being, however improbable that might be. I loved that the allure of these crimes was not the sexualized bloodlust of today’s television, but the hyper-intellectualization of the human condition.

I briefly set up my own detective’s desk, partly modelled on what I saw on my favorite TV show, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I wore an old fedora and trenchcoat I found in the basement closet, adorned the table with a notebook, magnifying glass, calculator, plastic phone, and globe. And then, having no mysteries to solve, I took down my desk and set it up again from time to time just to feel like a detective.

I discovered more fingerprints on our glass door and refrigerator today and, creepy as it is to think about a stranger leaving those prints sometime during the night, I eagerly called up our CSI-type officer. Sir, I said when he answered, I think I may have found a clue…

The local music scene, Twin Cities edition

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Stars painted on First Ave's wall

Most non-Minnesotans are surprised to find out that St. Paul and Minneapolis have a top-notch arts scene. We’ve got the Walker, a great modern art museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts where my New Yorker grandmother gushed, “You have a Monet? A Monet?” The literary scene is pretty hot, with three great independent publishing houses–Coffee House Press, Milkweed Editions, and Graywolf Press–a bunch of awesome bookstores, and The Loft Literary Center, which offers hundreds of creative writing classes throughout the year. Minneapolis is also sometimes shortened to the Mini-Apple, in reference to the fact that we’ve got more theater venues than any other American city besides New York.

Our music scene is just as incredible. Prince is liable to jump onstage and jam with whoever is playing at our famous music club, First Ave, on any given night. Bob Dylan grew up here, though he may be loathe to admit it (except for when he revisited Highway 61). And we’ve got a breadth of current talent, from hip-hop stars Atmosphere and Doomtree, to indie rockers Mason Jennings and Jeremy Messersmith. One perk of dating a music writer for a local newspaper is that we get to at least three or four shows a month (and sometimes more). Between reading his articles and listening to our fabulous public radio station, The Current, I feel like I’m really starting to recognize the movers and shakers on the scene.

Here are some of my favorite local songs:

Wilco world

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Wilco: my favorite rock stars

I first heard about Wilco in my junior year of high school, fall of 2002. My cool calculus teacher, a guitarist in a local band in the Twin Cities, told me that they were his favorite band. He lent me the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which documents the band’s break up with their label and the creation of their break-out album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I was hooked.

By the time I got to see them live in concert (I missed them when they were the headliners at 2003’s Rock the Gardne) I had bought all of their albums and knew the lyrics to just about all of their songs. So, when frontman Jeff Tweedy started in on the gorgeous Jesus, Etc and let the crowd sing the lyrics for him, I belted it out with the other thousands of Wilco fans. They’ve been my favorite band for almost a decade now.

Here’s Jesus, Etc. as portrayed in their documentary:

And another Wilco favorite, Heavy Metal Drummer:

How to be a rock star

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What you’ll need: attitude, a ridiculous haircut

Songlist: I Love Rock and Roll by Joan Jett, Lupe Fiasco’s Superstar

Further reading: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Rock the Garden festival just outside downtown Minneapolis

This past Saturday I went to Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center for an outdoor music festival called Rock the Garden. The line-up was fun and eclectic: local heroes Tapes ‘n Tapes, Rock Hall of Fame legend Booker T. Jones, indie songstress Neko Case, and southern jam band My Morning Jacket.

Neko Case rocking out

After singing along to Tapes ‘n Tapes and grooving along to Booker T (as local music writers Chris Riemenschneider and Jeff Gage noted in their reviews, Booker T’s set proved to the audience that even if they didn’t recognize his name they had definitely heard his music), I got wistful when Neko was onstage. She has a lovely voice and a cool backing band and seemed to be having fun just chilling in front of an audience of 10,000 people. An old desire washed over me: I want to be a rock star, too!

The two instruments I learned to play when I was a kid were classical piano and flute, not necessarily rock star instruments (and I’ve never been good at playing piano while people are singing). I tried to teach myself guitar one weekend in high school, but got frustrated by that following Monday. I had friends who formed bands, and assumed my time would come eventually.

That time still hasn’t come, but I did have one rock star moment in high school. My friend Anna threw a party in her backyard on our last day of school and invited our friends in a band to bring their gear. They set up on the flat roof of Anna’s garage and played their tunes; I think they’d made an album of five songs, so after their five songs were done they looked down at the crowd and asked for requests. I don’t remember if I suggested it or if someone pushed me forward, but before I knew it I was up on the roof of the garage with them. They started in on No Doubt’s “I’m Just a Girl.” I couldn’t remember all the words, but it didn’t matter: my voice was amplified across my dancing friends, school was out for the summer, the warm air smelled of popcorn and ice cream sandwiches. It was pure bliss.

And it took all my strength not to rush up on stage on Saturday and relive my rock star moment. Security probably would’ve disapproved, but I would have been in heaven.

You’re a good man, Jon Stewart

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Watching the news is a bummer. Watching Jon Stewart’s version of the news, luckily, makes everything better. He’s been on a roll for the past two weeks about the scandal over Anthony Weiner, showing that, for a comedian, the hilarity of your material trumps the survival of your friendships any day of the week.

The only bummer about watching The Daily Show is that I see many more clips of Fox News than I would normally choose (I would normally choose to avoid Fox like the plague of inanity that it is). The point of showing these clips though is to destroy Fox anchors with their own hypocrisy, which Stewart does brilliantly. And every once in a while I’m glad to know the name Glenn Beck if only to understand how brilliant Jon Stewart is when he decides to parody Beck’s strange logic:

Also, Jon’s the best host the Oscars have ever seen:

In America, humor is patriotic

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recent poll determined that the United States of America is the world’s funniest country. Whether that’s true or not, I think it’s notable that our president knows how to both tell and take a joke. Here he is at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner roasting Trump:

Comedian Seth Meyers was the real winner of the evening, and no one enjoyed his jokes more than Obama. Here’s Meyers’s full speech, the entire thing solid gold:

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