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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February, 2005, 17:46 GMT
The Magazine Monitor


Welcome to The Magazine Monitor, the home for many ever-popular features, including your letters and :

  • MON: Si's riddle
  • TUES: E-cyclopedia
  • WEDS: Punorama
  • THURS: Caption comp
  • FRI: Friday Challenge (maybe)
  • SAT: 10 things we didn't know this time last week


    10 THINGS
    10 windows by Pat McGarry

    Snippets harvested from the week's news, chopped, sliced and diced for your weekend convenience.

    1. The London borough of Westminster has an average of 20 pieces of chewing gum for every square metre of pavement.

    2. Spectator editor Boris Johnson MP admits that he once drove at 160mph down the M40.

    3. 20 May is proving to be a popular date for Dutch couples to get married, officials report. It's thought to be because 20 05 2005 is an easy anniversary to remember.

    4. The floor that John Travolta danced on in Saturday Night Fever is still intact. The New York club where it has been since the film was made in 1977 is to be redeveloped, so the floor is being auctioned on eBay.

    5. Crows and jays have the highest IQ among birds.

    6. Cruz, the name of the Beckhams' new son, is not so unusual - there are 19 listed on the UK electoral roll.

    7. The character Duke in the cartoon strip Doonesbury was modelled on Hunter S Thompson, who wasn't too thrilled about it. "You don't really think of making it in America as being a cartoon character," he said in an interview in the early 1980s.

    8. The Rank Group, which has just shed the last vestiges of its film interests, once merged to become Rank/Castle Rock/Turner films, known in the trade as RCRT films.

    9. If all the Smarties eaten in one year were laid end to end it would equal almost 63,380 miles, more than two-and-a-half times around the Earth's equator.

    10. Bosses at Madame Tussauds spent £10,000 separating the models of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, who recently separated. It was the first time the museum had two people's waxworks joined together.

    If you spot anything that should be included next week, use the form below to tell us about it.

    Your e-mail address
    Your thing and where you saw it

    The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.


    Following consistent absenteeism, the Friday Challenge has been sacked and will not be appearing again in the Monitor.


    Winning captions in this week's competition.

    So what's David Beckham saying as he, Beyonce Knowles and Jennifer Lopez share a stage in the name of a certain fizzy drink?

    6 .Tim York, UK
    ... however, and this is the really interesting bit, if in the view of the referee the attacking player is deemed to be active, then it IS offside, but on the other hand...

    5 .Christian Cook, UK
    So I put my mind to the problem and, like, why don't they just hunt the dogs with the foxes?

    4 .Adele, England
    David " And that's the theory of relativity in a nutshell."

    3 .Christian Cook, UK
    "Look, it was a simple misunderstanding. She said she was looking forward to the Golden Globes."

    2 .Jason Mokrovich, Glasgow, Scotland
    David Beckham: "Victoria, if you're home watching the television, look away now."

    1 .Mark Bell, UK
    Contestant number two's high voice means our Gary from Liverpool is about to make the biggest mistake of his life.


    Although I find this somewhat difficult to admit, I am pretty much in agreement with Michael Howard's concern over the newspaper space being given to Peter Doherty's antics. However, I find his quote "...it was surprising that rock singer Pete Doherty should dominate the newspapers despite his alleged drug taking and recent time in jail" a bit confusing. Surely he is in the papers because, not despite, his alleged drug taking and jail-time?
    Dave Godfrey,

    RE: Formula Won?, and yesterday's letters. To those who seek to demonstrate their mathematics prowess here:
    HQ = (a + p)2 / h - where: 'HQ' is humour quotient, 'a' is arrogance, 'p' is pedantry, and 'h' is humility. Disect that, while sucking a slice of lemon.
    Chris B,
    Bedford, England

    I can say that the amount of time "T" I spend reading the Magazine is T=f(I,n), where T is a function of I, the interesting quotient of the topics on offer, and n, the number of more important but dull things I have to do.
    Michael Hall,
    Eccles, UK

    Re the news item: Heated lollipop for school patrol, 24 February, which reports on Powergen's efforts at helping to keep school crossing ladies warm. Er, gloves?

    Re: computers in films. At least The Matrix Reloaded had a realistic hack (as an article on The Register website reports - see internet links) It's certainly more credible than Keanu Reeves being the saviour of humankind.
    Peta Chow,
    Carmarthen, UK

    On the subject of the ability of Hollywood computers, I continue to be fascinated by the speed at which computers in films are able to dial up to the internet. In You've Got Mail, for instance, Meg Ryan clicks to check e-mail, there's a moment of modem sounds and she's online. I've got broadband now, but I might have stayed with dial up if my PC ever took such a short time to connect.
    Chris B,
    Truro, UK

    Dear BBC - may I have my licence fee back please?(Emin unveils 'sparrow' sculpture, 24 February)

    An article in this week's Times Career supplement (see internet links) reports that "cyber-loafing workers who send personal e-mails and indulge in the occasional burst of blog-browsing or a little internet shopping are more productive than their po-faced colleagues". So all I can say is, thanks Monitor! You are increasing productivity in offices everywhere.
    Katie White,
    Bromley, UK


    25 February is the 25th anniversary of the first transmission of Yes Minister.


    The Sudan 1 issue Deadline nears in food recall, 23 February, highlights an interesting contrast. I witnessed TV interview of a member of the public "worried that it took so long to get the information". In their hand was a cigarette - a product known to contain more than one carcinogen, plus a number of other toxic chemicals. I suspect that the person, and many others, are exposed in one day to more potential risk from their habit than from eating one or more contaminated meals.
    Herts, UK

    Re: Formula Won?. The notation D = f(m,b,c) means solely that D is a function of m, b and c. This is, at last, a formula which seems to read true. There is no codswallop pseudo-mathematical rubbish in there.

    The Monitor's O-Level maths is clearly not sufficient for deciphering the latest formula, for the diversity of High Streets. The formula D = f(m,b,c) states that diversity (D) is a function of the variables m, b and c. The brackets and commas are certainly necessary for this, though it does mean that the formula gives no indication of how these variables combine, which is most important, how to optimise diversity, etc. Clearly it has achieved any formula of this type's primary goal of confusing people without an advanced maths education, while telling nothing at all to those with one.
    Paul Taylor,
    Manchester, UK

    (Monitor note to Taylor: Thanks. No-one need send any more e-mails pointing out Monitor's lack of mathematical education.)

    I too think that computers in films need to be more realistic (Monitor Letters, Wednesday. I look forward to Terminator XP.
    Tim Miller,
    London, UK

    Re anon's comments about Independence Day, the laptop used by Jeff Goldblum was actually an Apple Powerbook.

    How about Armageddon where they spin the Mir Space Station to create artificial gravity, where sound travels remarkably well on an asteroid with no atmosphere and where a single nuclear bomb is all they require to split an asteroid the size of Texas?
    Chris Thomas,

    Everyone knows that by typing anything you fancy really really quickly will decode even the most secure of Pentagon servers.
    London UK

    The Monitor has been far from unbiased, I might even say prejudiced, in its harsh treatment of the contraction "natch". I for one think it is a very clever and amusing little word, and I've decided to start using it all the time to impress people and make them happy.
    David Dee,
    Maputo Mozambique


    Last month we launched Formula Won?, a regular update on unlikely formulas which make it into the news.

    As we reported then, (Formula Won?, 19 January), when the formula for supposedly the most depressing day was published, our formula for the perfect formula (see box) set out what any formula would need to get into the papers.

    H=0(f+µ) +S (where H = the number and prominence of headlines, O = the ordinariness of human behaviour being explained, f = having a formula worked out, µ = presence of a suitably scientific-looking symbol and S = having a sponsor with an enterprising public relations office)

    Chief among the requirements is the ordinariness of the behaviour being explained, the presence of a suitably scientific-looking symbol, and a sponsor with an enterprising public relations office.

    So now comes the formula for calculating how diverse and lively High Streets are.

    It is D = f (m,b,c), where D is High Street Diversity, m is the mix of businesses available, b is the availability of every day goods, and c is the presence of businesses selling the same goods. It has not been reported what f is.

    The formula has been used to show that Deptford High Street is the most diverse in London. The funder for the research? Yellow Pages.

    It succeeds on several of our criteria, but is somewhat lacking in scientific-looking symbols. The brackets don't do a bad job, but the Monitor (drawing on its O level maths) suspects that neither the brackets nor the commas are actually necessary.

    Mathematically-minded Monitor readers are, as usual, invited to inspect the algebra and submit their thoughts.


    24 February is the 24th anniversary of the announcement of the engagement of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer.


    Re the article on fairtrade (Fair Play to us, 22 February). As a supporter of this initiative, I recently spotted on a supermarket shelf some fairtrade strawberry jam. On closer inspection, the fairtrade actually referred to the sugar not the strawberries, which was disappointing as I was all ready to support the downtrodden market gardeners of East Sussex.
    London, UK

    Re: Dougie Lawson thinking that Jumping Jack Flash is the movie that displays the greatest disregard for computer capability. Have you not seen Weird Science? [See Internet links for IMDB reference] I was most dismayed to discover that my BBC computer could not be used to create a real woman, regardless of how much pseudobabble I used.
    Rich W,
    Leics, UK

    Dougie Lawson is absolutely right. Not even the luminescent presence of Scarlett Johansson in In Good Company [See internet links] could distract from the fact that e-mails (even those announcing the arrival of the corporation's uber-boss) do not appear on the screen on top of all other windows with a "ping", and do not arrive on computers in the same office one by one!
    Michael Hall,
    Eccles, UK

    I also find Hollywood's use of computers irksome. The epitome of this for me was when Jeff Goldblum's character in Independence Day [See internet links] uploaded a "computer virus" on to the alien mothership. All computer programs, including virus, are written specifically for one operating system, and to allow maximum propagation, viruses are all written to run Microsoft Windows. I realise Microsoft have a massive market share but I doubt Mr Gates has got his claws into operating systems for intergalactic super-spaceships just yet.

    You sly old so-and-sos! In Parties build up poll war chests, William Haughey OBE is referred to as a "refrigerator magnate". Nicely done.
    John Henry,
    London, UK

    David Bailey is right for the wrong reason (Monitor Letters, Tuesday); Americans, it's true, don't use "natch" (any longer) but because it's old-hat, not because it originated in Britain. It can be heard in Hollywood films of the late 40s, and appeared in The New Yorker as early as 1953.
    Brooklyn, NY, US

    RE: Natch. I'm fond of "sitch" for "situation", which I first heard in Buffy.

    Perhaps, judging by recent letters, the Monitor Slogan should be "The best page on the web, natch."
    S Murray,
    Chester, UK


    Saturday Night Fever album cover
    It's time for Punorama, our pun-writing competition.

    The rules are straightforward - we choose a story which has been in the news, and invite you to create an original punning headline for it.

    This week, the dancefloor featured in the classic 70s movie Saturday Night Fever, is to be sold. The floor, which has more than 300 coloured lights, played host to some of the hottest disco dancing in history, courtesy of the film's star, John Travolta.


    Let's kick things off with a few of meaty Bee Gees puns. From Cannibal Gymnastics, England: Ah ah ah ah, paying for lights; from Stig in London: How deep is your pocket? and from PJ, W Yorks: Floor the one that I want - right star, wrong film.

    Anyone old enough may recall how the last word in 70s humour was to pun "disco" with "this'll go". So Pete N's Disco-ing, going, gone could, charitably, be viewed as showing vintage inspiration. The same goes for Terry, Adlam's Disco nice in my living room.

    Martin Ellison, UK, and Tane Piper, Edinburgh, UK, were thinking along similar lines with these respective entries: Lights, camp-era, auction and Hot auction on the dancefloor.

    Finally, the best of the rest. Footlights revenue, from Kieran Boyle, England; The ultimate platform soled, by Sarah, Canada; Valtz on Travolta's volts, by Kate, UK, and BeeGee's dancefloor for some Lino Richie by Ian Carter, England.


    An ongoing battle against UK journalists using the word "natch".

    Today's citation comes from Richard Littlejohn in today's Sun: "[H]is lawyer immediately announced that he would take the case to the Court of Appeal, thus prolonging the agony and keeping the meter running, natch. "


    23 February is the 40th anniversary of the death of Stan Laurel.


    Our weekly guide to words behind the headlines, including new words, old words, old words in new contexts, ordinary words obscuring real meanings, and matters of linguistic interest.

    Blackberry Malarkey - Alastair Campbell's term for user error - see PICNIC below

    blatos - Reader Suzi, Portsmouth, writes: "I keep hearing 'blatos', meaning 'blatantly', as in 'I think they're having some trouble in Iraq'. 'Well, blatos!' This word is giving me a headache."

    flu-like symptoms - mystery illness suffered by celebrities and the work-shy. Reader Michael, Cheltenham writes: "If the symptoms are only like flu (rather than actually being flu), what are they really suffering from?"

    massive - in footballing context, to mean nothing. Reader David, Jerusalem, writes: "Everything is massive. A game can be massive, a goal can be massive, 'massive injection of cash by Roman Abramovich', 'Every single penalty I've had to take this season has been under massive pressure,' Thorne said. I think you get the idea."

    natch - annoying abbreviation for "naturally", an Americanism increasingly used by UK journalists (See Monitor letters).

    PICNIC - acroynym for "problem in chair, not in computer" (see PEBKAC error, also Error 17, in last week's entries, IT support terms for user error. Reader David from Ayr, writes that PICNIC error has much the same effect, but has "the twin benefits of being easier to pronouce, and since it's a real word can be slipped into conversation with the occupant of the chair not noticing". Also known as an id10-t error.

    Remembrance pornography - saturation coverage of an anniversary. Highly controversial, reportedly coined by French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala in response to the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust


    In CSI show gives 'unrealistic view', 21 February, you note that forensics in real life can't do what forensics from Hollywood can do. This doesn't surprise me any more than if you reported that the Pope is still a Catholic. I've worked with computers since 1981; I have yet to see anything from Hollywood that doesn't have computers doing things that computers can't do. Worst ever example was Whoopi Goldberg's Jumping Jack Flash (see Internet links for Internet Movie Database Reference).
    Dougie Lawson,
    Basingstoke, UK

    I know G W B maybe tried a probably harmless little spliff a long time ago (did he inhale?) but I really think this story (Dot.life: Why democracy starts with an e, 21 February) is now taking it a little too far.
    Nīmes, France

    I too am annoyed by the use of the word "natch" in British newspapers (Monitor letters, Monday). The Observer did it this weekend, in its horoscope for Virgo: "Remember: in High Noon scenarios (you're Gary Cooper, natch), the trick is to shoot first."
    Gillian Baker,

    I'm pretty sure Americans don't say "natch". It originated in Irony Central (oops, that's an Americanism) - Britain.
    David Bailey,
    Jerez, Spain

    The Monitor is too modest. For weeks now, you've been after a slogan. And yet the Sunday Times offers you one on a plate, in a remarkably kind review. "The Monitor is gem of interactivity," it said, adding that it was "the liveliest letters page on the web". Actually on reflection, this might say more about the web than it does about the Monitor.
    Clive Gibson,


    22 February is the 15th anniversary of Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage ending a 221-year-old tradition by including illegitimate and adopted children for the first time.


    I wonder, did Duncan Grisby How to catch a burglar with a webcam, 17 February) display notices that his premises were under survellance? Could the thief now sue him for violating his human rights, claiming that even when breaking and entering he has a right to privacy?
    Chris B,

    It was amusing to see that the burglar caught by the webcam was wearing the traditional burglar's striped rugby shirt, as commonly depicted in cartoons.
    Charles Frean,
    Bedford, Massachusetts

    May I propose that the Monitor institutes "Natchwatch" to guard against British journalists using the US affectation "natch". It's just too cute for words. One example from this weekend's papers: "Their wormery (made from recycled plastic, natch) is built up in a series of stacking trays." (Anna Pavord in the Independent.)
    Helen Dunn

    If London is successful in its bid for the 2012 Olympics, beach volleyball will take place in Horse Guards Parade. (Olympic venue guide). I wonder who will be PM then - No 10 wil have a grandstand view.

    As the Friday Challenge has now been AWOL for 2 weeks, I think we should guess where it has gone. Did it go looking for the Magazine's Postcard?

    Perhaps we could have a Friday Challenge to come up with the reason the Friday Challenge is AWOL two weeks in a row? Perhaps it's just an auditing issue like the 30kg of Plutonium that's missing?


    Every Monday, Si sets you a riddle to get your brain working.

    Starting Out

    How they roamed here and there
    Tower and castle, foul and fair
    Least to most pressing cases
    U-boat, aircraft and car chases
    Erects a memorial in their prime
    Evens the odds of fighting crime

    Send your solution using the form below.

    Your e-mail address
    Town/city and country

    The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

    The answer to last week's riddle is that the six terms decode to:

    Therefore the 9-letter word linking them is BUTTERFLY. "An extra shot of kudos for anyone who spots that encoding BUTTERFLY using the same cipher gives you MINNESOTA - hence the title," says Si.

    Winner Neil Golightly goes one step further than that. "Incidentally," he writes, "Minnesota's actual state butterfly is the BLYGSPX."

    Si is a contributor to the Puzzletome website.


    A regular note of anniversaries that might otherwise be overlooked.

    21 February is the 80th anniversary of the first publication of the New Yorker magazine. It would also have been Sam Peckinpah's 80th birthday.

    It is also the 24th anniversary of the death of Ron Grainer. His musical credits include the theme tunes for Doctor Who and The Prisoner.

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