Wednesday 14 December 2011

The Programmer’s Revenge

Broken Heart... A picture tells a thousand words…

Wednesday 20 April 2011

A Bun in the Oven

Hot Cross Buns

The things you learn...

Easter is not an especially Christian word. English-speaking Christians adapted it from a pagan festival that was already celebrated in April in their neck of the woods; they kept the name, but dropped the fertility goddess Eostre. It’s thought that this is why those Easter bunnies keep breeding each year, despite the vigorous efforts of countless children to exterminate them - they, along with their eggs, are fertility symbols that were held over from the old festival. Easter is after all about new life, so the symbols still worked, even if in a different way.

A fertility goddess named Eostre - well, it made me wonder about oestrogen, the hormone that’s so crucial in enabling women to bear children. Surely the
term came from the same source. And that, of course, made possible the delightful pun at the top of this article. Unfortunately, my guess was wrong. Oestrogen comes from the Greek term for gadfly or madness.

Don’t blame me, the Internet said it, so it must be true!

How to Sound Interesting

This one's worth remembering every now and then.

I think I rely too much on some of these and not on others. That ought to change.

Monday 18 April 2011

This One’s For Ryan, Because He’s Got Too Much Time On His Hands (Right?)


Here's the trick: clues marked with an asterisk need to be 4-across before entering them.

But relax - 14, 23-across applies.


1 Make no sound (5)
4 Voicing opinion reveals OK Corral itself (9)
8* Too‐hip cat is florid (9)
9 Unknown driver takes pole in tricky manoeuvre (5)
10, 1‐down* Heathen erred all over the place?! (4, 3, 5)
11* Roughly how fast plenty of 27‐down‐ing could make you, at best (5, 1, 4)
14, 23‐across For sure the reader preserves a yellow‐throated hake, initially at Niagara Falls, but not even fair to use tin! (3, 3, 3, 4, 5)
16* Wonder from the pits (3)
17 Top class business backer (1. 1.)
20 What she held back (2)
22* Small leak (3)
23 See 14‐across
25 Police have the right to take it for a spin?! (10)
26* Part of our digital culture?! (4)
28* Did Thomas find Henry hard to satisfy? (4)
29 King Herod to provide the appetisers (9)
30 Add standard condiments to mashed pear: wet or dry? (9)
31* Source of water everywhere: it's ice! (4)


1 See 10‐across
2 The study of a heretic worth the cost of 29‐across, perhaps? (8)
3 On top of Cleveland grout (4)
4 With nod to Bond girl(s), we look fearful (7)
5 Tight end drew flag for holding (7)
6* Time for 17‐across' trailer, perhaps? (2, 6)
7* Think about gravity failing, sir! (6)
12 Game with no first turn (3)
13* Creature could be a real find (4)
15 A silent remnant (3)
16 Could spend packet blaming second language (4)
18* Also known as a stone fruit, inappropriately (10)
19* Like All in the Family?! (8)
21* Chop nut in half (3)
22* Extra gold plating after 25‐across started up! (4)
23 Climber's final rest could not be more fey (3, 4)
24* He lets one put bet in ‐ at our odds… ?! (1, 6)
25* ...Two‐to‐one's the spot for this hound (6)
27* Almost the length of the bath (3)

Monday 28 February 2011

One for the Fans


Not quite so cruel this time – I’ve even included a hint! The six pink boxes in the upper right corner of the grid, reading from the left and then turning down, spell out the inspiration for this one in an appropriately non-linear way…

And yes, the numbering is correct.


1 Carry odd empty pot to tomb (5)
2, 14, 26-across One who takes along the fish designed to reach the stars?! (5,2, 5)
4 See 25-down
5 One that did not return, one that did, top chap, honest (5)
7 For some respect I've found a new angle on things (11)
11 Model sparred a round without red herring (5)
13 Speak cattily about me or Green (6)
14 See 2-across
17 Half of what Tom said to the setter (2)
18 To knock around with Jo and Uncle Noel (6)
19 Dense sound (5)
21 Drunk pig rattles harpy in stonework (11)
23 Lone wolf to take lad in?! (5)
24 His rector would settle for his singing! (9)
26 See 2-across
27 Angel, the psychic, has gout and amputates (5)


1 Pin one out of pride - that's a thought! (7)
3 A multi-level home that sounds like you'd never feel comfortable? (5, 2, 6)
6 Roommate ships out for a complete change (13)
8 To go out and about - may return without a measure of material in regular pattern (13)
9 Got half a dozen points right for inspector (6)
10 Print club hurt (7)
12 Salesman covers area of cold-blooded types... (8)
15 …receives setback to his goal at first, instead offering new season patterns (13)

16 Set off boredom in unearthly fashion? (8)
20 The first rat already ate every layer (6)
21 Set off boredom in unearthly fashion? (8)
22 Make a mockery of medicine - or unhappy ending (7)
25, 4-across Eagle reports inns in disarray, impossible shapes designed 8-down (7, 9)

Tuesday 15 February 2011

A Diversion

How might one profitably spend a day off? I don’t know, but this certainly was fun…


* I should probably mention that there is a theme, and that the theme affects how 15 of the grid entries appear. Not 16, though it could have been. And not 15 of the answers, because some answers are split on the grid.


5 The underhanded action that strained trans‐Tasman relations rose, perhaps? (4)
7 Before rink widened alarmingly, 10‐down played there (2, 4, 6)
9 Sit around all weekend and sketch (4)
11, 26‐down In the manner of 4‐down, how to share a pair of model vases taken to a fight (4, 3, 4, 5)
12, 10‐down Actor from Casino influenced by 31‐across, perhaps (4, 5)
14 Live with decent Cage film (2, 3)
15 13‐down on trial, done for speed (8)
17 Near purchase 14‐across (2)
18 Can Orient Express carry this luggage ‐ it could go either way! (9)
20 A two‐way street leads to house, for example (2)
23 See 21‐down
25 Consider 32‐across upset about nothing (5)
26 Songwriter for Valli's group didn't use 5/4 as an outlet (4)
28 At the Beginning, God was eons creating, with this the likely result! (2, 4, 2, 3)
29 The note says what to do in a lifeboat (4)
31 Accurate from the start?! (5, 2, 5)
32 Great Dane had to go for a walk on the beach, or go 21‐down! (4)



1 Take a stick to put down insurrection, and you'll end up with a shambles (8)
2 Father hangs around mixed pairs with kin, then takes off with ground pepper (7)
3 False attitude to entail getting into team (5)
4 Reflecting the sense of 16‐down, appropriately (9)
5 A group usually represented by its elders, so not about to take direction! (1, 1, 1)
6 9‐across a brilliant vehicle to turn into an art form (5)
8 All over with principal Oz dog found in capital after tipoff (4, 4, 2, 3)
10 See 12‐across
12 Positive hamburger is available in jail (2)
13 Come aboard yacht at the outset to reach the isle (3)
16 Now take the theme! (9)
19 Averse to a drawback?! (8)
20 The inspiration for first Beatles' hit, some say (1, 1, 1)
21, 23‐across A place to shelter from the storm, when muffled thunder on several sides surrounds the street (5, 3, 5)
22 Material used in shipping 18‐acrosses comprised of brown, unfinished paper (7)
24 Reported for intra‐venous drug use (2)
26 See 11‐across
27 Influenced by the vibe of the king's choice of footwear... (5)
30 … I met cobbler at his store (3)

Saturday 25 December 2010

Season’s Greetings: Fit For a King

A sermon based on Matthew 2:1-12


According to legend, Theseus was the son of the King of Athens, who volunteered himself as a human sacrifice. Every nine years, the city of Athens was forced to send a tribute of seven men and seven women to be given as food to the Minotaur of Crete, a horrible monster, half-man, half-bull. Each decade, the flower of the youth of Athens was lost, and Theseus was determined to make an end to the Minotaur.

Through courage, inventiveness, and his spunky good looks, Theseus won the heart of Cretan princess Ariadne, and won victory over the creature. When his ship returned home, there was understandably great rejoicing in Athens, for they were free of their terrible burden.

They commemorated Theseus’ victory by preserving the ship he sailed in – for centuries, according to the ancient historian Plutarch. Over the years, however, the ship began to rot away – so as each plank grew unsound, the Athenians would replace it with a fresh one.

But this was Athens, the city of the philosophers, and it wasn’t long before someone wondered: if every plank of the ship had been replaced, was it still the Ship of Theseus? Or was it a new ship altogether?

The Ship of Theseus is one of the world’s oldest paradoxes. There are books written about different opinions on the matter. In the end, though, it’s fairly academic. It was only a boat.

But tonight we remember another paradox, of similar antiquity, but much greater significance. It’s the paradox of one king holding court from a feeding trough, while another king is caught with his nose in it. It’s the paradox of the first Season’s Greetings being offered by dumb animals. It is, as we saw, the paradox of Christmas.

There is much about the first Christmas that appears to make no sense – either to us, or to those who were there to witness it. And tonight, as well as tomorrow morning, we’re going to explore the paradox by seeing how different people reacted to the news – what kind of greeting they offered the season of the Christ’s birth.

We’ll start with the wise men. We sometimes sing about them as three kings, although the Bible never calls them that. It’s ironic, because what we are told is that they have come to worship a king. They’re foreigners, from somewhere in the East, which makes their visit an unusual occurrence. Dropping in on your enemies – well, that’s what neighbouring countries always were by default in those days – dropping in on your enemies to wish their new king well…it’s pretty remarkable.

You’d have to think it’s safe to assume that these guys didn’t travel the world offering gift packs to every royal heir who was born. They’ve come to see this one, this one especially. That’s what they call him – ‘the one’, the one who has been born king of the Jews.

These guys have worked out that this one matters. And because he matters, they want to treat him that way. They’ve come to worship him, to recognise his worth, his importance. It’s just what you’d expect the appropriate greeting to be if the king of the world had been born. Their actions are fit for a king.

What’s more, there’s a joke that Matthew’s included at Herod’s expense. When the wise men turn up looking for directions, Herod’s research unit finally provides the answer by quoting the prophet Micah, specifically the second verse of chapter 5. If they’d mentioned the third or fourth verse, they’d have read out Micah’s prediction that the arrival of Israel’s promised king would be marked by … you guessed it … the arrival of people from outside Israel to acknowledge him.

And if they’d read the first verse, there’s one more indicator: that the current king of Israel would be the recipient of a slap on the cheek.

Well, there’s an excuse to see how Herod takes the news. ‘Disturbed’ is the word that Matthew used to describe his reaction. He’s a bit churned up over it. He needs to know more, so he calls his crack team of researchers together. And this, in itself, is an indictment of King Herod. The core responsibility of a Jewish king was supposed to be that he would know his Bible well, so that he could his people in obedient lives that honoured God. Herod should have had no difficulty in finding the words from Micah himself. Indeed, given how violent his reaction is, you’d have to suspect that if he’d ever read Micah before, he’d have noticed this passage and taken preventative measures.

But instead, he’s taken completely unawares – and we all know what it’s like when that happens. We call it being caught off guard, because it’s the time when you don’t guard your response. Just the opposite, you end up reacting purely on instinct, responding how you feel. Like, for example, if someone gave me a terribly ugly necktie just before the service tonight, when I wasn’t expecting a present, and then asked me straight out whether I like it. What do you do? I’ve got no prepared answer; I don’t have the luxury of sending a thankyou note where after three hours of racking my brains, I’ve been able to thank them for the tie because it matches my Hawaiian shirts. So you end up saying the first thing that comes into your head: oh my goodness, that’s awful!

Herod’s caught just like this, and his response shows his true character. He doesn’t manage the fitting response; instead, he has a little hissy fit of his own.

But here’s the thing that I noticed; yes, it’s appalling that he orders the massacre of Bethlehem’s sons to protect his throne; yes, he’s a lowlife with little imagination for trying to trick the wise men into leading him straight to Jesus; but the thing that really gets me is that he calls them secretly to find out when Jesus was born. Secretly. He doesn’t want anyone to know that his murderous orders have a reason behind them. He’d rather that they just think him bonkers.

Herod’s beyond the pale, really – he’s so far from any of us (I hope!) that we don’t pay much attention to him. He’s the nut job that you read about to feel better about yourself.

But there’s one more group in the story that we haven’t looked at. Matthew tells us that when the Magi arrived with their questions, Herod was disturbed… and, he adds, all Jerusalem with him.

The whole city heard the news. We often think of Jesus’ arrival as coming in pretty much under the radar. Small town, hidden in somebody’s backyard, only a few shepherds to spread the story. But here’s evidence that the story broke widely. The whole city of Jerusalem got wind of Jesus’ birth, and so then they…


Matthew doesn’t say. But I’m guessing that the answer is they did nothing.

They kept their heads down and got on with their lives. It’s a pretty common response, I think. You know, you steer between the two extremes…those wise men, well, they’re like stalkers, aren’t they? Tracking down an infant to present him with wildly inappropriate gifts, hanging around for photos with the family…it’s all just a bit too intense…sure, it shows they’re committed, but maybe they should be committed. And on the other hand, there’s the off-the-scale opposition of King Herod. He’s not just disturbed by the news of the Christ child, he’s disturbed, period. Off his rocker.

It’s not hard to see why many are attracted to a safer middle course. Yes, we pay our respects to Jesus, but from a distance. You don’t want to get too close. What kind of welcome do we give him? No cheers and whistles, no booing either, just a polite round of applause, not too loud or too long.

But think back to the story of Theseus again. He was the son of the King, accustomed to a life of privilege and comfort. But he gave that up to stand with his people. He was prepared to sacrifice his own life, if necessary, to free his people from their bondage, to save them from repeating the same deadly sacrifice time after time. Stripped of his royal power, he took on their monstrous enemy and defeated him with his bare hands.

It’s not too far from describing what Jesus did, in taking on human flesh, being born amongst us, taking up the battle against the forces of sin and death, and beating them, that we might no longer fear death.

When Theseus returned to Athens, he became king in his father’s place. The people honoured him then, and continued to do so throughout their history. He was their saviour king, and his people loved him.

How then should we greet the birth of our saviour? We may not have seen any star in the sky, but we know him to be the star of the story. We might never get named as wise men, but we know what is wise to do. Like them, we have come tonight to worship him. Perhaps, like them, we should make a careful search for the child. For our true king has come to us, and calls us to come to him.