Miscellaneous writings:

Poetic parodies and the like, essays, and some original puzzles.

Poetic parodies, etc.

The Passover Haggadah according to Steven Pinker? (1996 or 1995): the last song of the Passover Haggadah, rewritten in the same way that Steven Pinker applied in The Language Instinct to ``The House that Jack built''. This has been in my .plan file at fas.harvard.edu for years.

The Liar-Man (1998): An English traduction of Müller's Der Leiermann. Imagine an English speaker hearing Müller's poem read or sung in German, recognizing a few words, and filling in a ludicrously wrong idea of what the text might be about.
See also these ``program notes'', which include another song parody, with much the same title and topic but a different base song, that my ``Liar-Man'' inspired Jim Propp to create. My parody was written during the Clinton-Monica scandal, and posted under an anagrammatical pseudonym to several USENET newsgroups in 1998. Any resemblance to or resonance with current political events is purely coincidental.

Slummerville (1999): The Boston/Cambridge suburb of Somerville used to be much seedier some years ago, suggesting this parody of Summertime.
The last line originally read ``Or I'll bleed you dry''; I don't remember who proposed the new improved version.

Surgeon Special's Warning: Puzzle Solving (2001): posted to the USENET group rec.puzzles (and cross-posted to rec.arts.poems) after one too many ``in words of one syllable'' threads. Some of the trochaic words refer to other persistent rec.puzzles threads. NB: The last and fourth-to-last lines scan correctly, notwithstanding initial appearances...


Rosh Ha-Shanah 5762: The Jewish New Year greeting I sent in 2001, when Rosh Ha-Shanah fell only two weeks into the shadow of the 9/11 attacks.

A tension of tolerance: A talk I gave at Morning Prayers at Harvard's Memorial Church on December 6, 2002. Morning Prayers is a 15-minute service held at Memorial Church's Appleton Chapel every weekday at 8:45AM; it includes a reading from Scripture and a short (5 minutes or so) address by an invited member of the Harvard community. My 6.xii.2002 address, introduced with a few verses from Ecclesiastes, concerns a paradox, somewhat similar to the ``Liar Paradox'', inherent in the idea of tolerance of people of different religious, moral, or spiritual persuasions.

The dark side of Psalm 137 [Rivers of Babylon]: My second Morning Prayers talk, delivered on December 10, 2003. Here I chose a less ambitious topic: what do the familiar opening verses of this Psalm have to do with its shocking (and much less familiar) conclusion?

The numerology of the Beast: My third Morning Prayers talk, delivered on October 14, 2004. A cautionary tale about overzealous pattern recognition: How 666 came to be ``the number of the beast'', how that dreaded number could be invoked against everything from Roman numerals to Ronald Reagan, Viagra, and the World-Wide Web, and the modern science that can tell pattern from coincidence and wishful thinking.
As with the other Morning Prayers texts here, bracketed words and sentences are explanatory material etc. that I did not actually say in Appleton; texts for public speaking are written differently from texts meant primarily for silent reading.

Of Euclid and equality: My fourth Morning Prayers talk, delivered on April 21, 2006, a few days after Patriots Day: I muse on some connections between a classic patriotic text (``We hold these truths to be self-evident...'' from the Declaration of Independence) and Euclid's classic text on geometry.

The High Holy Days and prayers for forgiveness: Yet another Morning Prayers talk, which I was asked to give on October 1, 2008, the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah 5769. I describe some of the rituals and traditions of the High Holy Day season, including one that resonates with a familiar line from the “Lord's Prayer” text that concludes each Morning Prayers service.


A New York Times-style crossword puzzle, composed in 2001; in
PostScript (using Greg Kuperberg's crossword macros) or PDF. This one has a theme that breaks one of the usual crossword conventions, and some other features including the use of every letter of the alphabet. Enjoy!
(For the solution, change ``.ps'' or ``.pdf'' to ``sol.ps'' or ``sol.pdf'' in the URL.)

Some other original (to my knowledge) word puzzles:

  1. (compiled for a 1995 word-game party) Which of the following words does not belong?
         i) act bone came deified eerie gore later maid no nuclear oodles pot use wary
    Answer: [ bone ] Explanation
         ii) ample crib dress gender grate here may mute pound peach tract vex
    Answer: [ crib ] Explanation
  2. (noticed in 1996; posted to rec.puzzles in October 1998) There are over a hundred English words that end in  -ify. Only one of them is a noun. What is it? [ salsify ]
  3. (adapted from a riddle posted in 2001 to rec.puzzles; see the hint/warning below) The infamous ``who gets it?'' puzzle
  4. (posted in early 2002 to rec.humor.jewish and rec.puzzles, and improved there by Robert Israel; requires knowledge of Hebrew)
    A well-known verse in the Hebrew Bible consists of 12 words each of which is a word for part of the human body. What is this verse?
If you see empty brackets like this: [solution], they enclose the solution, masked by being written in the same color as the background; you can reveal it by dragging the mouse across the brackets. For instance, here's a general hint/warning: [At least one of the puzzles has a solution that cannot be explained completely in polite company, though none of the puzzle statements uses any objectionable language.]