The Pipwick Papers

Pipwick Papers

It’s the sort of weekend where the creep of summer becomes noticeable. There are sunny spots to sit in (or to try to block out if they fall on your PC monitor). Here are some bits and bobs to read while you lounge.

This is not the Sunday Papers:

  • Something I’ve been trying to do recently is get into cryptic crosswords. I remember my grandad chipping away at a single crossword over the course of a week and between him and my mother I know a fair bit about how to start unpicking a clue but really enjoyed The Allusionist podcast digging into the topic
  • New Scientist has Catherine Brahic asking “Did neurons evolve more than once on Earth?
  • Here’s how Martin Bellander worked out the colours used in paintings over nearly 800 years. There’s an observable increase in blue over the last hundred years and a decrease in orange.
  • I have two ideas about that, both of which are touched on in the piece – one is that perhaps degradation over time distorts the colour of older paintings (there are studies which look at how blues might become grey, how varnish might react with pigment turning bright yellow to orangey-grey, and we know that paintings like The Raft Of The Medusa have darkened over time thanks to bitumen in the paint) another is the general problem of “blue” – both in terms of its historical expense and its durability and stability. That’s just a bit of armchair theorising, though – Bellander invites interested readers to play around with the data and offer their own analyses.

  • Mound by Allison Schulnik
  • I love poking about in the LEGO Ideas proposals for cool ideas and I love that this Golden Girls set is being considered for approval.
  • A heavy one to finish with but an important one about exoneration and compensation by Ariel Levy in the New Yorker; The Price of a Life.

    1. Synesthesia says:

      That was some beautiful animation to wake up to. Thanks, Pip!

    2. RARARA says:

      What is it with blue complementing orange? It’s everywhere – from the entire color palette Michael Bay movies to 917s and GT40s being adorned in the Gulf livery.

      • Josh W says:

        I wonder if it has something to do with growing up with street lighting; I’ve always appreciated the contrast of deep blue and warm orange. Or it could be a sunset vs darkening sky thing. Anyway, out of the complementary colours, I’ve tended to find that it’s a lot more easy to find good examples of than say, pink and green.

      • ThTa says:

        I couldn’t tell you myself with any degree of certainty, but I do know a lot of thought has gone into complementary colours, with wheels dating centuries back positing orange and blue as complementary. The apparent explanation for as far as I have read is that these colours cancel eachother out when combined, and make for the highest colour contrast when placed next to eachother.

    3. Targaff says:

      Cryptic Crosswords were one of the subjects of David Baddiel’s recent Tries to Understand series as well – it doesn’t appear to be an expiring series at the moment either.

    4. thedosbox says:

      The links about colour are superb – thanks!

    5. wyrm4701 says:

      I would purchase the curmudgeonly heck out of that Golden Girls Lego set. It’s an ideal architectural kit for anyone trying to build an 80s suburban kitchen.

    6. Baines says:

      On the issue of blue in old paintings, there is also the article from a while back about people not recognizing a distinct color when their language didn’t have a word for it and that languages tended to develop words for “blue” later than the words for other colors.

      • Jhoosier says:

        I don’t know exactly which article you’re referring to, but this Wikipedia article(link to has a list of color name formation by Berlin & Kay:

        1. All languages contain terms for black and white.
        2. If a language contains three terms, then it contains a term for red.
        3. If a language contains four terms, then it contains a term for either green or yellow (but not both).
        4. If a language contains five terms, then it contains terms for both green and yellow.
        5. If a language contains six terms, then it contains a term for blue.
        6. If a language contains seven terms, then it contains a term for brown.
        7. If a language contains eight or more terms, then it contains terms for purple, pink, orange, and/or gray.

        Which is more or less what we covered in linguistics class. And for a real-life example, in Japan, where I live, traffic lights are called ‘blue’, even though they’re green to me, and green apples/plums are ‘blue’ also.

    7. Jalan says:

      Part of me wants a LEGO Golden Girls game. If only to be able to press a button/key and have LEGO Dorothy yell out “NOT NOW, MA!

    8. valrus says:

      If you’re trying to learn cryptics, I think it helps to stick to more “Ximenean” publications and setters. There are a lot more handholds for solving, because the setter is under stricter rules regarding clue composition.

      I don’t think any of the major British papers are strictly Ximenean, but some are close. Pretty much all U.S./Canadian publications are strictly Ximenean (because cryptics came to North America when the setter “Ximenes” was at the height of his influence) but the slanginess of cryptics also exaggerates the language barrier, so they might not be much help.

    9. Zekiel says:

      Just finished the last article, The Price of a Life. It has left me feeling simultaneously angry at the injustice, encouraged that there are people and organisations that exist to help fight that injustice, and grateful that such a thing hasn’t happened to me or anyone I know. Thanks Pip.