Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Great Game (Sunday brunch: November 2, 2014)

Seeing as how Election Day is this Tuesday, I figured I should read one of the new books by a prominent politician.  No, not one of the people angling for the 2016 presidential nomination.  The author isn’t even American: it’s Stephen J. Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.

Though his degree is in economics, Harper has long had an interest in history.  Being a native of the Toronto area, he’s an avid Maple Leafs fan.  When the Society for International Hockey Research was formed, it inspired Harper to pursue that avocation.  He says the research and writing for the project, which began in 2004, was a pleasant release from the stress of politics and work in Parliament.  He had assistance in researching the book’s contents, but the writing is all Harper’s.

A Great Game: the Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey is centered on the emergence of professional hockey in Toronto, from the beginnings of the Ontario Hockey Association around the turn of the century to the first Stanley Cup for Toronto, won by the Blue Shirts in 1914.  Much centers on the tension between the ideals of amateurism in sport and the rise of professional sport as popular entertainment.  This story, which played out in other sports too, like golf and football, was driven by rising prosperity and the emergence of a middle class.  The upper class no longer had a monopoly on sport or other leisure-time activities.

In the manner of the best popular history books, A Great Game is both scholarly and accessible. There are plenty of anecdotes to illustrate the ways of life before the Great War, and intriguing bits of hockey history like the introduction of goal nets and the practice of dropping the puck in a face-off instead of laying it on the ice (which is how face-offs are conducted in lacrosse, which was an equally big sport in Canada at the time).  Harper also does a nice job fleshing out the main characters: not just the players, but the association presidents and promoters too.

Quotes from newspaper stories of the time knock down the myth that society’s preoccupation with sports is a modern thing: only fans gathered around newspaper and telegraph offices for play by play instead of around a television screen.  The parade welcoming a returning Stanley Cup challenger, even in defeat, was just as much of an event then as it is now.  That points to the only shortcoming of A Great Game: though it is well-illustrated, I would have liked to see more photographs of games and of the surrounding hoopla.

Amateur or professional, try solving these crosswords...

The highlight of the weekend is Hex’s variety cryptic in the Wall Street Journal: Spoonermania.  I don’t think I need to say any more other than some of the clue types will be obvious.  But a few aren’t so much, and in case those give you trouble, I have hints posted.  The solution is also up  Hex also have their usual straight cryptic in the National Post (blogged by Falcon).  More moderate difficulty than easy, but a smooth solve.   If you remember Hex’s fondness for second definitions, you’ll do well.

More straight cryptics are found in the Globe and Mail, and Down Under courtesy of the Stickler.  I found the latter to be a tough one, but I got through it.

BEQ posted a new Marching Bands he brought to Crosswords LA as a bonus for the entrants.  Small (11 x 11 instead of the usual 13 x 13) but creative as BEQ’s work always is.  The other puzzles from that tournament (all straight crosswords, I think) are available for just five bucks, proceeds going to charity.

The New York Times variety puzzle is an acrostic, blogged (with spoilers) by Deb Amlen at Wordplay.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you're responding to a hint request, please remember not to give more information than necessary. More direct hints are allowed after Monday.