Symptoms of the Week
This is an article from the Oct. 12, 1959 issue
Nikita Khrushchev left for China just in time. If he had loitered around into World Series week it's pretty doubtful that he would have commanded much of a listening audience; certainly his Trendex would have gone down with a swoop. Because last week the Series was working its old fascination on the U.S. mind, a fascination scarcely interrupted even when Khrushchev's rocketeers sent up a space camera to girdle the moon. Signs of our national October preoccupation are all around, but these are a few worth setting down as examples of the symptomology:
The shrimp fishing fleet went to sea again off Charleston, S.C. after three days of sheltering from hurricane Gracie. There is an FCC ruling which prohibits unnecessary chatter on shrimp-boat and other marine radio frequencies. But the rule was forgotten last week as the shrimp fleet yakked back and forth about baseball. Skippers with handy standard-broadcast receivers picked up the play-by-play accounts from NBC and relayed the action by radiophone to skippers without them. Captain W. D. Coons, a White Sox fan, livened up the Atlantic Ocean with blasts on his boat horn every time the Sox scored in that 11-0 game.
In Honolulu the state legislature found itself in busy session, but—so as not to be cut off from vital incoming intelligence—instructed staff messengers to circulate inning-by-inning scores.
A baseball lover in the other new state, an Eskimo named Paul Tiulana, found he could delay no longer in setting out for the Bering Sea walrus hunt, so he pushed off from Nome with a reliable transistor set stowed in his skin boat.
In a way, though, maybe it's too bad Khrushchev had to leave when he did. When he visited the set of Can-Can at the Twentieth Century-Fox lot in Hollywood and made his wellknown sharp remark about preferring humanity's face to its backside, Actress Shirley MacLaine, the star of Can-Can, was properly upset. She thought it was unfair of Nikita to blame a French can-can, as he seemed to be doing, on some defect in American culture. And she was inclined to criticize the Los Angeles arrangements a bit, too. "Had they wanted to show him something typically American," she said, "they should have taken him to a baseball game."
Nikita might have had a hard time getting a couple of tickets to the sold-out Coliseum last week, but if he'd been there the sight would have been worth his attention.
Contest in Manhattan
They settled the Scotch pouring championship of the world in New York the other day by finding out which of 11 experts could fill 10 whisky glasses in the shortest possible time. The event took place on a golden fall afternoon at a prepossessing pub known as Sardi's East, and the experts included two bartenders from Britain, winners of an elimination contest in London in August; a man from the Royal York in Toronto; and eight Americans, from the Waldorf Astoria, the Plaza, the Harwyn, Sardi's East and such places; including the reigning American champion, Nick Aiello, of the Eden Roc Club, who won a strictly U.S. contest two years ago. Several young and pretty girls acted as timekeepers, carrying stop watches borrowed for the occasion from Abercrombie & Fitch.
The rules had a frank simplicity. Frosted lines were etched around each shot glass at the one-ounce level. Penalties were as follows: one second added to a bartender's time if he filled the glass above the line ("cheating the house"), two seconds for filling below the line ("cheating the customer"), one second for spilling the stuff on the bar ("does nobody any good"). To prevent misunderstanding, it was agreed the third penalty would be invoked only for a good-sized puddle, not for a drop or two.
The contenders were lined up behind portable bars in the rear of Sardi's East, and three dozen spectators had assembled when the contest began. To get to the swirl of the matter right off, the pouring championships were pretty clearly paid for by a firm of Glasgow distillers, William Grant & Sons, since Grant's eight-year-old Scotch was poured, and the spectators were offered free samples. Such preliminaries were soon interrupted, however, by the shrill piping of bagpipes offstage, and there entered Murdoch Buchanan, of the Isle of Barra in the Hebrides, a distinguished-looking elderly man in dark kilts, piping down the valleys wild. By this time, also, many auld acquaintances from the advertising profession were circulating freely in the crowd, slapping one another on the back. A man from Grant's arose and explained that countless million drinks of Scotch whisky are poured every year. He figured that 21 million seconds were spent just pouring whisky. If the time could be reduced, more time could be spent drinking whisky. It therefore gave him pleasure to introduce Basil Rathbone, the actor, who was particularly well fitted to act as umpire because he had made the role of Sherlock Holmes famous after World War I.
"Make it World War II, can't you?" said Mr. Rathbone, in an irritated stage whisper, climbing on a bar stool.
Eight bartenders were lined up for the North American elimination preliminaries. "Ready!" cried Sherlock Holmes. The bartenders held their bottles of Grant's at the ready. "I was in one of these before," said Frank Butrico, an amiable bartender from the Harwyn Club. "My time was 48 seconds and my nearest competitor was 87 seconds."
"Pour!" shouted Mr. Rathbone, looking more than ever like Sherlock Holmes in disguise. There was a roar from the crowd. Judges examined the glasses through magnifying glasses to check the measure. Then Mr. Rathbone said that Ralph DiLella, of the Royal York of Toronto, had won the elimination contest. His time was 17½ seconds.
By this time the crowd was in a well-bred uproar. Photographers were taking pictures and Murdoch Buchanan, with a rapt expression on his features, was playing The Blue Bells of Scotland.
Four finalists now lined up for the championship. Besides Ralph and the reigning champion, Nick, who wore an air of good-natured determination, they included George Beaumont, 40, from the Norfolk Hotel in London, and Monty Gates, 28, of London's Embassy Club. In 14 seconds Monty Gates eliminated his rivals and was crowned world champion. He really filled all 10 glasses in 12 seconds, but two penalty seconds were added for puddles on the bar. "I was born in Scotland," said Monty, accepting the gold-based shot glass trophy, "and I am flying home tomorrow." The man from Grant's came by saying, "Has anybody seen those magnifying glasses we borrowed from Abercrombie & Fitch?" Nobody had. The assembled bartenders nodded with the detached friendliness of bartenders, and the crowd filed out into the quiet of the autumn afternoon.
Not a very big crowd. Not a very big championship. Just something for New Yorkers in the first fall in 11 years with no World Series in town.
The Negative Approach
There's all manner of anti things these days; antimissiles and anti-Communists, of course, and even antimatter; serious reminders of trying times. But now, reversing this somber trend, it is possible to report the most entertaining anti since Auntie Mame.
It's called antibridge or negative bridge, and for some months now a group of Los Angeles engineers have been playing it at lunch hour sessions in the back offices of Thompson Ramo Wooldridge, one of the country's most respected space-age engineering firms.
It was in this atmosphere of slide rules and equation-covered blackboards last week that the engineers were found brushing sandwich crumbs and milk cartons to one side to play a card game that makes a kibitzer think he has stepped into a Kafka nightmare.
"You should have trumped my ace," one player glaringly accuses his partner. "Fine work; you took only three tricks," another offers in a sincere, if topsy-turvy congratulation.
What has befallen the most vicious of seated sports that its values should be so reversed? Not much. Simply the introduction of an added bid: a minus bid at any level.
A bid of minus four hearts, for example, means that you pledge you can avoid taking all but three tricks if hearts are trumps. If you take four tricks you are down one; five tricks, down two; etc.
As Peter Bolles, one of the founders of antibridge, explains, normal positive bids may also be made, though a corresponding minus bid is higher—minus four hearts is higher than four hearts but lower than four spades. The rules of play and scoring are unchanged, except in a minus contract declarer's partner plays the hand.
Thus antibridge combines regular bridge with a hint of high-low poker and the nasty venom of hearts, that game in which devious means are used to keep from winning tricks. What the new bidding does for bridge, Bolles claims, is end the traditional complaint that "we sat here all night and didn't hold acard." Now low hands are as interesting as high ones.
It also turns a good bridge player into a better one, says Bolles, for you must keep track of low cards as well as high ones during the play of all negative bids. If you don't you suddenly win tricks with fives and sixes that you didn't want to win at all. About 30% of all hands are played at negative contracts, say antibridgers.
Steady antibridge playing has led Bolles & Co. to develop bidding conventions, some of which must be watched as closely as a card shark's sleeve. Six points or less in high cards, for example, makes an admirable minus-one no-trump opener, says Bolles, but a minus-one bid in a suit actually shows an opening positive hand with a singleton or void in the bid suit.
The word on antibridge is beginning to get around; to the point, in fact, where the Los Angeles engineers have printed instructions for their game and passed them to friends on the outside, so to speak.
But if it becomes popular, look out. Those chaps at Thompson Ramo Wooldridge sound like a restless lot, and one of them is sure to start working on a new game soon called anti-antibridge. When it happens, you'll be told.
British governments can stay in power for five years, but British institutions are more permanent. So it was in keeping that this Thursday, General Election Day in Britain, in the interests of full turnout at the polls, all horse racing has been canceled except the Town Plate at Newmarket. Why the exception? Well, in the late 1600s King Charles II decreed that the Town Plate, a four-mile affair over the green turf, should be run on "the second Thursday in October for ever."
"Hallelujah, I'm a Bum!"
They Said It
Casey Stengel of the New York Yankees, joking with reporters while covering the World Series for LIFE: "Don't expect any straight dope from me. Why should I tell you anything? I'm saving it for myself. If you want straight dope, just write different from what I say, cause I'll switch it on you for my magazine. Then I might switch it again and we'll all be sorry."
Jack Dempsey, announcing he is no longer connected with Rosensohn Enterprises Inc.: "My agreement with Velella and Kahn ended September 22. That was the day we hoped to have Johansson and Patterson meet in the return fight for the heavyweight championship. Well, we didn't make the fight for then and my time has expired. I only got expenses out of this."
Antonio Dos Santos, bullfighter, on being jailed in Portugal for killing a bull in the ring, a violation of Portuguese law: "Something just came over me."