by Steven Steinbock
This Bandersnatch dispatch is coming to you from downtown Toronto, Ontario, where your humble servant is attending Bloody Words . Saturday afternoon I’ll be moderating a panel entitled “Short & Sweet, Fast & Deadly.” My co-panelists will be Jane Burfield, Melodie Campbell, Michael McPherson, and Sue Pike. All are accomplished Canadian short story writers, including some who have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, as well as several past winners of the Boney Pete award (given each year at Bloody Words for best short story).
Saturday evening at the Bloody Words Banquet, I’ll be announcing the winner of this year’s Dashiell Hammett Prize. The nominees are Bury Me Deep by Megan E. Abbott, Devil’s Garden by Ace Atkins, The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, The Long Fall by Walter Mosley, and The Way Home by George P. Pelecanos. I don’t know the winner yet. I’ve made it a point not to find out, even though I’m one of only five people (other than the person engraving the plaque) permitted to know who won. I like surprises.
Other than a sore index finger from too many mouse-clicks, everything is copacetic here. Copacetic is one of those strange words that has an evasive etymology. The first time I remember hearing it, I thought it was a bad pronunciation of the Hebrew expression Kol B’Seder (literally, “everything is in order”). In fact, that is one of the possible origins suggested by amateur etymologists. The word sprang out fully formed in the African American south in 1919. Linguists are still unsure of its origin, but I’m putting my money on the Louisiana French nonsense phrase coupe-setique.
Tantamount, by contrast, has a very easy history to trace. It comes from the early French tant amunter and/or the Italian tanto montare, both meaning “to amount to as much.” It’s a much more powerful way to say “equal to” or “the same as” and makes you sound smart.
Speaking of smart (real smart, not just smart sounding). . .
Martin Gardner, 1914-2010
Last weekend the world lost a truly unique man. Martin Gardner was a mathematician, magician, puzzle-master, annotator, novelist, and renowned skeptic. For twenty-five years Gardner ran a “Mathematical Games” column in Scientific American. More recently he was a regular columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. He wrote dozens of books of math puzzles, magic tricks, and logic. While he declared himself a theist, he was often critical of organized religion, and was a master at exposing hoaxes and flim-flam. Among his works is a book debunking the Book of Urantia (believed by some to be an alien record of the history of the universe).
A founding member of the International Wizard of Oz Club (an organization that I belonged to for a number of years), he once wrote a novel, Visitors from Oz, involving characters from Oz and Alice’s Wonderland. (It wasn’t, in my opinion, one of Gardner’s better works, being a mish-mash of a story that is too scary for children and too silly for adults).
More importantly were his various “Annotated” works, which include The Annotated Alice, More Annotated Alice, The Annotated Wizard of Oz, The Annotated Snark, The Annotated Ancient Mariner, The Annotated Night Before Christmas, The Annotated Casey at the Bat,and two works annotating G.K. Chesterton: The Annotated Innocence of Father Brown and The Annotated (Man who was) Thursday.
My interests crossed with Gardner’s in several ways: our mutual love of the children’s books of Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, magic tricks, conspiracy theories, and puzzles. Alas, our paths never crossed. He’s puzzling on a higher geometric plane now.