Friday, March 29, 2013

Party Time Again

It was one year ago yesterday that I shared a story about a party I hosted, one of epic proportions that Rolling Stone described as “a papal conclave meets a spelling bee.” Yes, it was that exciting.

Well, it’s bash time again. Last night I hosted a party here in suburban southwestern Connecticut that was so big it had mimes talking, so exclusive it had NBA star Dwyane Wade offering to legally change his given name to Dwayne to appease the editor host and gain access. Rumors of its grandiosity were as ubiquitous as the red plastic cups in my house last night. The favorable reviews even reached Kim Jong Un, who showed up at the front gate unannounced. He said he heard my party was going to be “hotter than an underground nuclear test site” and requested admittance. My guards, garish in their gold-plated unis, told him he met neither the height nor the heart requirements and sent him on his way … to Dennis Rodman’s house.

Before a visit from Roscoe P. Coltrane, John McClane and Clancy Wiggum put a fuzz finish to the festivities at 3 a.m. (Istanbul time), the party was a cornucopia of teen bacchanal tropes.

 rampant drug (caffeine) use

 women stripping (coats and jackets) upon arrival

 foul language (coming from the Django Unchained bootleg DVD playing on every TV)

 wild animals (including the elephant in the room when Drake bumped into Chris Brown while waiting in line for the loo)

The highlight of the evening was the oh-so-popular game called Place the Comma, which I won at last year’s shindig. All 6,731,004 guests participated this time around, and the last four standing were as follows: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Hell’s Kitchen chef Gordon Ramsay, a TSA screener and me.

Despite the game’s high stakes, the mayor couldn’t focus. The 2-liter bottles of Dr Pepper distracted him. “Don’t be a Pepper!” he shouted at no one in particular. “More than 16 ounces of Pepper is a sugary assault! Case closed!” he added, while placing his comma after case. Wrong.

While the mayor was distracted, the chef was disgusted. Ramsay complained nonstop about the catering (In-N-Out Burger). His vulgar tirade, replete with British expletives, scared away some of the guests, including Amy Grant and Will Smith. He screamed “Get out!” at anyone with a Double-Double in his hands. He screamed “Get in!” to his comma, sticking it in after Olympian. Wrong.

I had a hunch the TSA screener, an old high school buddy, would be off his game. Earlier in the evening, he had grumbled about the changes to his company’s “Prohibited Items List,” effective April 25. After he had finally committed the guidelines to memory, he told me, they were changing. Plus, he was tired of explaining to friends and family why pocketknives, ski poles and hockey sticks were allowed on board but 3.5 ounces of Listerine or Dannon yogurt was prohibited. His brain on overload, he attempted to put a carry-on comma after African. He failed to get past the security checkpoint. Wrong.

With the game on the line, I recalled last year’s contest and realized this one was shaping up to have a similar ending. I knew “the former lead detective in the investigation of the murder case against Olympian Oscar Pistorius” was a lengthy, preposition-filled phrase providing information about Hilton Botha. I also knew that because this informative phrase, known as an appositive, was not essential to the sentence, it must be set off by commas. Unsheathing my curved punctuation mark — one resembling the carbon-fiber prosthetic limbs the “Blade Runner” made famous at the 2012 Summer Olympics — I placed my comma after Pistorius. Correct. Winner! Two-time champion!

Will anybody take me down at next year’s party, or will I make it a three-peat?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Overlooked Underdogs

My girlfriend is having a Sweet 16 party in Texas on Friday night, and I’m going to have my fervent gaze fixed on her for hours. I love her. (No need to alert the authorities. I’m not breaking the law. My “girlfriend” in this instance is my alma mater.) Before her Big Dance, I thought I’d sow doubt into a USA Today article that went to seed, much like my 2013 March Madness bracket.

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament is broken down into four regions. Each region has 16 teams, seeded 1 (best) to 16 (worst). The 1-seeds are usually big-name programs from “power” conferences — teams such as Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. The 16-seeds are typically small schools from low-ranked conferences — unfamiliar (to most) teams such as Jackson State, Colgate and Eastern Kentucky. Indiana has been a 1-seed; IUPUI has been a 16-seed. You get the picture.

In the “Round of 64,” the 1-seed faces the 16-seed. The 1-seed, the heavy favorite, usually wins. Strike that. The 1-seed always wins. David has yet to defeat Goliath; a 16-seed has never won a game in the men’s NCAA tournament.* But it has come close on numerous occasions. This excerpt from USA Today would have you believe otherwise.

Below is a complete list of games in which a 1-seed beat a 16-seed by fewer than 10 points. Before this year’s tournament, it had happened a dozen times — not one time, as the article claims. Heck, it happened three times in 1989 alone.

#1 Michigan beat #16 Fairleigh Dickinson 59-55

#1 Duke beat #16 Mississippi Valley State 85-78
#1 St. John’s beat #16 Montana State 83-74

#1 Georgetown beat #16 Princeton 50-49
#1 Illinois beat #16 McNeese State 77-71
#1 Oklahoma beat #16 East Tennessee State 72-71

#1 Oklahoma beat #16 Towson 77-68
#1 Michigan State beat #16 Murray State 75-71 (overtime)

#1 Purdue beat #16 Western Carolina 73-71
#1 Connecticut beat #16 Colgate 68-59

#1 North Carolina beat #16 Fairfield 82-74

#1 Syracuse beat #16 UNC Asheville 72-65

#1 Kansas beat #16 Western Kentucky 64-57
#1 Gonzaga beat #16 Southern 64-58

Yes, 16-seeds have yet to fit into a pair of glass slippers, going an unsightly 0-116 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, but as you can see, 16-seeds came within single digits 14 times. Two of them were a point away from perhaps writing the ultimate Cinderella story, and another made it to overtime before falling.

This near-upset information is incorrect in USA Today, and that’s what has me upset. In order to be accurate, the article would have needed some sort of qualifier after game, such as “in the last 15 years” or “since 1997.”

“Only one game”? Like most (but not all) 16-seeds, USA Today, you weren’t even close.

* In the women’s tournament, a 16-seed has won once; Harvard upset top-seeded Stanford 71-67 in 1998.

Monday, March 25, 2013


Ahoy, mateys! Come aboard and feast ye eyes on this: a high-seas tale of murder (not really), wenches (uh-uh), sword fights (nope) and typos.

My brother, Paul, rented Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides from the library a while ago. Paul read the recap and — shiver me timbers — found treasure buried on the back of the DVD cover.

Set your gaze upon the end of the recap, readers, and you'll see what hit Paul like a cannonball to the gut:

"Directed by Rob Marshall, It's filled with eye-popping action, mystery and all-out wit. It's filled with eye-popping action, mystery and all-out wit."

So, do you think this movie is filled with eye-popping action, mystery and all-out wit? The writer sure wants us to believe this to be true. He's doubling his efforts to make it happen. Like many a peg leg, though, this DVD cover comes up short. It's filled with improper capitalization and scurvy sentence regurgitation.

Perhaps the writer swigged a tad too much Captain Morgan while writing about Captain Jack. I sentence him to walk the plank and spend eternity in Davy Jones' locker. That life sentence is the result of his like sentences.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Scoreboard Malfunction

Connecticut defeated North Carolina 86-35. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the story I'm going to relate.*

Someone input an incorrect score of 83-65. Got the 3 and the 6 transposed. That's understandable. Instead of simply flip-flopping the digits, however, USA Today compounded the problem by adding the correct score — in a different, less-than-ideal spot — and allowing the incorrect score to remain.

So now we've got two scores, one of them correct and one of them incorrect. The correct score is in an incorrect spot, and the incorrect score is in the correct spot.

Did you get all that?

* This sentence was co-opted from the opening lines of the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, starring Alastair Sim.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Not Prepared Properly

This quote is from a prepared statement? Really? Well, then I am prepared to reveal why the prepared statement's prep work leaves much to be desired.

As we all know, a plural subject takes a plural verb. The prepared statement got this elementary grammar rule half right (or, for the pessimists reading today's post, half wrong). The simple subject of the sentence is schools, so the plural verb share is correct, but offers should be offer. And the adjective its, the possessive form of the singular pronoun it, should be their, the possessive form of the plural pronoun they. The word that goes here needs to be plural because it refers to the member schools, not to one school.

We're not finished. Are you prepared for more?

Turns out, quoting from that (ill-)prepared statement affected the Connecticut Post writer. In the last sentence, the teams are slated to play, not the team. More subject-verb disagreement. To paraphrase a certain medication's tagline, the writers of the prepared statement and the newspaper article should have used Preparation H. In this case, the H stands for help.

Monday, March 18, 2013

I Have a Bad Feeling About This

If I were granted three wishes, one of them would be for my brother to fall in love, marry and have children. Studies show married people are happier, and I wish nothing but the utmost happiness for my bro. I must admit I also have selfish reasons for making that one of my three wishes. I think it'd be pretty cool to serve blue milk to nieces and nephews who'd refer to moi as Uncle Owen. I can't help it; it's the Star Wars fan in me.

I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and am a big fan — of the original theatrical versions, not George Lucas' "special" editions. Not to the extent that I'd tattoo Boba Fett's face on my bicep or dress as a Stormtrooper and attend a sci-fi convention, mind you, but a fan nonetheless. (Besides, at 5'7", I'm a little short for a Stormtrooper.) A fan who slept in Star Wars bed sheets as a child. A fan who still owns some of the vintage action figures, stored safely in their original Kenner collector's case. (Disclosure: I own zero Jar Jar Binks items.)

So, when my brother asked me a long time ago if I'd like to take a look at one of his issues of Star Wars Insider magazine, I accepted the offer. And, with When Write Is Wrong in mind, I made like a fearless bounty hunter on an intergalactic mission and searched high and low for something to capture. Mission accomplished.

Check out the image above, which I did my best to model after the films' famous opening crawls. Did you look at it? OK, good, now you must unlearn what you have learned, because you've been fed false information. It's not as severe a blunder as, say, putting C-3PO's head on backward or failing to make the jump to hyperspace, but it holds its own.

In Revenge of the Sith, the final installment of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, Natalie Portman played Padme, Princess Leia's mother. That's mother, not daughter. Oh, mama! How did this happen? I have a theory.

Portman, born in 1981, played a character in a 2005 movie who gave birth to a character that Carrie Fisher, born in 1956, brought to life in 1977. Whew. Even for Star Wars fanatics, it takes a moment to get all those numbers straight. It's only logical (sorry to throw a Spock term into this Star Wars post) to surmise that Portman would play the daughter of Fisher. Only in a galaxy far, far away could a 24-year-old actress be the mother of a 49-year-old!

Blast it! Who works at Star Wars Insider? Sand People? It can't be Stormtroopers, because they are much too precise to allow such inaccuracies to make it to print. If the Star Wars Insider editors, whomever they may be, agree to toss this error into the garbage chute, I'll make sure suffering is not their lot in life. It's going to take a grander gesture to appease the Emperor, however. From what I hear, he isn't as forgiving as I am.

Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good editor at your side, and this editor did a bang-up job on today's post. Two thumbs way up. Then again, I may just be having delusions of grandeur.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Mind Games

The Connecticut Post writer is playing mind games with his readers. When it came to selecting a college, Rog, a high school student, had not "changed his minded." He changed his mind. I suppose the kid had a change of hearted. Not that I mind.

I've heard the expression "drop the pretense." How about "drop the past tense"? In this case, the -ed. It would put my mind at ease if we could get rid of this suffix. Too late, I suppose. I'll have to put it out of my mind. I guess I can do that ... if I set my mind to it.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blow That Box to Kingdom Come

If you'll recall, twice last year I shared examples in which USA Today didn't provide enough check boxes in its Word Roundup puzzle. In January, the word search included the first and last names of a famous flag maker but offered only one check box. In June, I found the three words mph stands for yet had only two boxes to fill in.

In an effort to avoid any more instances of missing boxes, USA Today has headed too far in the opposite direction. Now the paper is gifting us with boxes that can't possibly be filled.

The home to England and Scotland is the United Kingdom. The clue provided United. We were looking for Kingdom. One word. Why two check boxes?

Today's post has left me feeling empty. Like that second box.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Another Two-for-One Special

Last year, I treated my readers to a two-for-one special. The feedback was phenomenal. The plaudits were plentiful. The judgment was jubilant. The pomp was no mere happenstance. OK, perhaps I've overhyped the aftermath of that August 2012 post. Still, it's pleasing to provide readers with a little something extra from time to time. That time is nigh.

Wait for it.

Wait for it...

It's here! The generosity spirits have moved me once again; it's time for another twofer special.

Do you see what I see? I see Tennessee spelled with an extra s. Because the word breaks between lines, the typo almost goes unnoticed. Almost.

Do you know who is ruining the opening sentence? It's who. Why is that word included? Who knows? Oh, right, who knows. But he isn't talking.

That's two. For you. The lucky ones.

Friday, March 8, 2013

By and By

What's that by your side, by? Ah, it's the byproduct of sloppy proofreading. Can we please say bye-bye to the "by by" in the second paragraph? Forget that query. I'm changing my wish to a command. Get rid of "by by." By day's end. By any means necessary. Such "bygamy" will not be tolerated. These are my "by" laws. Follow them.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Truth Lies Here

This photo caption is not right as rain, and I couldn't lie around and let it go unnoticed. I had to lay it on the line. So, lie back, relax and enjoy today's post — in which I accuse the writer of lying down on the job.

The error, as you've no doubt surmised, lies within the first sentence. A school bus does not lay on its side, at least not in the present tense; it lies on its side.

Getting the lay vs. lie debate straight can be as difficult as licking your own elbow. (Go ahead. Try it. I'll wait.) I won't lie — I sure as heck don't have it down pat. I know that lay indicates putting or setting something down and takes a direct object (ex: Owen is going to lay Jennifer Love Hewitt on the bed) and that lie indicates a state of resting or reclining and does not take a direct object (ex: Owen is going to lie down with Jennifer Love Hewitt after watching the game), but I have to crack open my AP Stylebook to figure out some of the forms of these two troubling verbs, which are as follows:

lie, lay, lain, lying
lay, laid, laid, laying

Here are some examples of each form:

I lie on the couch all day during Back to the Future marathons. I lay the bowl of chips on the coffee table when I need to get up and go to the bathroom.

I lay on the beach for two hours last weekend. I laid a towel on the sand before my two-hour beach nap.

I have lain in the street for long stretches. I have laid down orange cones so oncoming cars don't hit me.

I am lying in the tall grass. The hunter is laying his binoculars down and picking up his rifle.

Not to overstay my welcome, but I should note briefly that lie has another meaning, with another set of verb forms. When lie means to make an untrue statement, its forms are lie, lied, lied and lying.


When a 600-pound woman asks me if she looks fat, I lie.

I lied about telling the 600-pound woman she didn't look fat.

I have lied twice in the previous two sentences.

I'm lying about having lied twice.

OK, it's time to lay this post to rest. No lie!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Doing It on the Covers

Two weeks later and ... none the wiser. My friend Lindsay, of IAMNOTASTALKER, let me know someone has deflowered another Us Weekly cover. The magazine lost its innocence when it put virgin on its Feb. 25 cover, and it rounded third and slid safely into home again with its March 11 cover. Why, twice in such a short span, has Us Weekly been put to bed with the same erroneous word, which implies that a man has never gotten a woman into bed?

As I pointed out in last Monday’s post, Sean Lowe, the bachelor behind The Bachelor, had sex when he was in college. That was years ago, sure, but it happened, and the past, like a lump on a breast, can’t be ignored. Can a seven-year NFL veteran be named rookie of the year? Can a vintage Star Wars figure be removed from its package and remain mint in box? Can a butterfly shed its wings and be a caterpillar?

Let’s dispense with the questions and cut to the chaste. Sean went all the way back in the day, and his virginity, despite the proclamations of Chandler in a 1996 episode of Friends, can’t grow back. (You can watch a YouTube video — albeit one with a misspelled title — of this scene below.)

Someone on the Us Weekly staff needs to get laid. Off! Laid off! Someone on the Us Weekly staff needs to get laid off. Who, via repeated usage of the v-word, is insinuating that Sean has never rolled in the hay? Your inaccurate Lowe profile, Us Weekly, is not helping you maintain a low profile on When Write Is Wrong.

Sean narrowed the field to two last Monday. (Poor AshLee!) The season finale of The Bachelor airs a week from today. Tune in, readers, and find out whether Lindsay or Catherine is the lucky lady. The “virgin bachelor” parts with his final rose that night. He parted with his virginity a long time ago.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

"Dandy" Don Meredith probably would not think the error in this USA Today article about NFL announcers is fine and dandy. I'll give you three chances to find it. If you can't, it's time to punt.

The mistake is, obviously, with "would been seen." The writer simply omitted the word have between would and been. No big deal. But it does allow me to bring up the "would have" issue.

When used to express probability or presumption, "would have" is correct, as is its contractive form, would've. What is not correct is "would of." Why do I see this so often? I'm sensing it's because the contraction would've sounds like "would of." Any other theories?