Saturday, November 28, 2009

Many Happy Returns

Thanksgiving has ended. We here at Liquid Ether hope you had an excellent holiday.

Regular posting will resume next week, as all of our staff is celebrating with their respective families until at least that time.

We have not forgotten you, our loyal readers. Remain with us, and enjoy the remainder of the holiday weekend.

The following posts are due in the next few weeks.

Chess puzzle from Kingsford
Another book review from Lee Strong
The return of the Governess
A cigar review from our esteemed Editor

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Prisoner of Zenda

Original publication 1894
Written by Anthony Hope (Anthony Hope Hawkins)
Reviewed by Lee Strong, the Librarian of St. Gilda’s

This book has been rightfully acclaimed as one of the best action adventures of all time.

The story begins with the hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, being nagged by his sister-in-law to stop moping about the old family scandal and to get out and do something with his life. To please her, he does, by taking a trip to the obscure European kingdom of Ruritania, where, it turns out, the old scandal jumps up and slaps him in the face. It seems that Rassendyll is an exact physical match for Rudolf Elphberg, the King of Ruritania. It’s all jolly fun until the King’s traitorous brother, Black Michael, kidnaps him and imprisons him in the remote Castle of Zenda. What will the loyal Ruritanians do? Their answer is to temporarily (?) place Rassendyll on his distant cousin’s throne while they try to rescue their King. Complications multiply rapidly as our hero must not only play the chief of state but also woo the King’s intended bride, Princess Flavia, fend off assassins and fight his way to the rescue of the rightful monarch! But wait! What if he fails? And what if he wants to fail – for golden crowns and sweet lips await the man who holds the throne, be he Elphberg or Rassendyll!!!

This is a delightful story of daring do set in the fairytale kingdom of Ruritania. While the basic plot is somewhat implausible, Hope carries it off well. He peoples his story with strong characters both fair and foul living lives of glorious excitement. While Rudolf Rassendyll is the hero, his co-conspirators, Colonel Sapt and Fritz von Tarlenheim, are stalwart men in their own right. The charming knave Rupert of Hentzau steals every scene he’s in and Princess Flavia is tormented by the conflicting demands of love and honor. Black Michael is decidedly two dimensional but his girlfriend Antoinette de Maubin more than compensates emotionally. I considered the visual descriptions to be somewhat weak but the bold adventure and swashbuckling conflict carry the day. Who wouldn’t be tempted by fame and fortune, and who wouldn’t think herself or himself capable of rising to the challenges of throne and rescue? Truly, this is a tale for the young of heart of all ages.

The novel’s concept of a hero switching places with a king is not original with Hope. Mark Twain used it previously in The Prince and the Pauper. However, once Hope popularized the idea, numerous authors including Edgar Rice Burroughs (The Mad King), Edmund Hamilton (The Star Kings) and Robert A. Heinlein (Double Star) used it to great effect in other realms.

I rate The Prisoner of Zenda as 4.0 stars on the 5 star scale because it’s a classic romantic story of daring do. – LS

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Budgey Snobbery 3: American Whites

Hello again and welcome friends! It has been quite a while since we heard from the Budget Snob, but with the current economic down-turn, scrapping together the good life has been a bit more difficult. But never fret my friends, I have come through the thick of it with some new tips, strategies and products to make you feel like a million dollars, or with current inflation rates, one-hundred million dollars.

Last time I spoke of wine, it was in regards to American Reds. The next step, American Whites, I must admit is a bit harder to find on the cheap. Why you might inquire? It is a twofold problem. First of all, white wine is more popular in America than reds; there are over a hundred different brands for Chardonnay from California alone. Another is that, unlike reds which have a long shelf-life due to high levels of tannins, whites are more delicate and have a shorter shelf life. So the combination of the short shelf life and popularity, good whites are a difficult flower to find. Nonetheless fellow snobs, follow this old truffle hound and you shall find riches!

Ah the lovely, sweet and dry Riesling. This is probably my favorite white wine grape for its lovely mixture of subtle fruity textures and flowery aromas. This grape comes originally from the temperate hills of Germany and shows that there are more things than beer and industrial determination that make Germany great. The best, and cheapest, adaptation of this German classic is Johannesburg Riesling by Robert Mondavi in the range of at 8.00-10.00 dollars. This wine is a great accompaniment to fish, chicken (grilled or baked), fruit and cheese. Drinking this wine will not only make you feel like you are on the banks of the Rhine during a cool spring day but also thankful for following Germanic conservatism. Wonderbar!

Now here we come to the most popular of the whites. Unlike Pino Gris or Riesling, Chardonnay is as subtle and varied as any wine out there. This is due to its sensitivity to not only climate but the type of barrels that the wine is fermented in. This has resulted in two distinct flavors that have become the most prominent in American Chardonnays. One is the wines that are put into steel casks. This removes the organic qualities of wood and creates a smooth, subtle, slight vanilla flavor to the wine. The other is wine in oak casks which can lead to a rather earthy, sometimes overpowering taste of oak. Depending on the oak barrel, this can impart other qualities, such as cherries or smoky flavors becoming prevalent. Due to this amassed diversity I have narrowed this delicate flower to two vineyards for your textual pleasure.

Smoking Loon: This fine wine from California is a good example of oak casting done right. At a lovely 6-8 dollar range, this wine speaks volumes in its richness and complexity. With slight mixtures of citrus and herbs, this wine has a very mild smoky taste which allows it to be paired with richer meals as well as something you can enjoy after a hard day’s work and be satisfied. Don’t let this loon pass you by because this bird is defiantly worth getting in hand.

Pepperwood: I would go through a dangerous wood to get this wine for one distinct reason, it’s so smooth, it’s like silk. This wine shows why steel casking is a worthy means of getting something wonderful and break with tradition. Vanilla and flowers are the first sensations one would have with this wine, but Pepperwood has a sneaky means of adding a slight tang of herbal richness to make this wine as flavorful as one could hope for. A bottle usually runs from 8-10 dollars, a bit high on the cheap-o-graph but quality demands it.

Pino Grigio:
Pino Grigio, also known as Pino Gris in the states, is a quirky little grape. More accentuated with a stronger citrus and fruity taste than most wines, Pino Gris tends to taste very similar to others, only varying in level of citrus and dryness according to climate of the grape. Some of the best Pinos, in my humble opinion, come from Washington state. A nice temperate climate with good seasonal rains makes it ideal for some prime Pinos that have a rich fruity blend with a dry to semi-sweet texture. The best in my opinion is Jeckel Vineyards. This one is hard to come by this part of the country, I have only seen it at Total Wine and Harris Teeter, but if you find it, get it! This wine is sunshine in a bottle, for lack of a better word. The citrus is delicious, like eating a ripe orange, but not overpowering thanks to the dry texture of the wine. I would recommend this wine for any meal with chicken, tropical or temperate fish, Italian meals that have an alfrado or other white sauces. This wine could also be used to cook with, gaining a Budget Snob recommendation for All-Around wine. So if one needs a citrus burst to make your tilapia special, at 8-11 dollars a bottle, grab Heckle Vineyards and enjoy!

Misc. Wines:
Now there are other varieties that I have not touched on, due to some, like Chablis, being cheaper out of the country for a better wine. One thing I must stress though is that blushes are not considered nor should they be white wines. Perfect example is White Zinfandel. The Zinfandel is a red grape, period, and white Zinfandel is simply a blush and therefore not included in this list. There are also desert wines, like Muscat a very sweet, almost sugary wine, which can also be on the cheap. If you must have this wine, the Sutter Home or Iron Star variety is actually not bad. I tend to avoid this wine due to a bottle tends to shoot up into the mid to high teens and twenties.

Well that is it for now my fellow snobs. I hope enjoyed yet another jaunt through the wine country and learned something new.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

More than One Way...

Happy Halloween, everyone. Today's puzzle is a tougher one, and a demonstration of contingency planning. There are at least two ways to win this puzzle, depending on your opponent.

Skill Level: Advanced

Your opponent and yourself have been trading pieces for much of the game, and have ended up even at this late stage. However, there are two ways you can close your enemy down and seize victory from him.

You are White. You must mate in four moves.

Scroll down for the solution.

Your first move is Knight to F7. Check.

Your opponent's best move in response is to move his King to G8, protecting his king and threatening your knight. He could choose to take your knight with his Rook instead, but if so, you could move your Queen to D8, placing the King in check, and forcing a mate in two moves.

Knight to H6. Check.

Your opponent's best move is to move his King back to H8, to avoid the threat from your knight.

Queen to G8. Check.

At this point, your opponent needs to take one of your threatening pieces if he possibly can, to take some pressure off his King. His best move in this case is to take your Queen by moving his Rook to G8.

Knight to F7. Checkmate.

Bruce Kingsford surprised the Editor of this publication by actually turning a chess puzzle in on time for a change. The Editor is thankful for this holiday miracle, and hopes that this is the only deadline he has to experience today. Happy Halloween from all of us at Liquid Ether to all of you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Antarctic Mystery

Original Title: The Sphinx of the Ice Fields
Original English Publication by the J.B. Lippincott Company, 1900
Written by Jules Verne
Reviewed by Lee Strong, the Librarian of St. Gilda

It seems that even Big Name Authors write fan fiction…!

Jules Verne openly acknowledged his debt to his predecessor Edgar Allen Poe in many forums. In this obscure novel, Verne creates a sequel and answer to Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Like all good fan fiction, it assumes the truth of the original but then carries the basic story further and in different directions.

Mr. Jeorling the geologist is sitting around waiting for a ship – any ship – to get him out of the justly nicknamed Desolation Islands. What he gets is a vessel captained by the emotionally overwrought William Guy, who insists that Poe’s narrative of Antarctic adventure is not fiction as Jeorling supposes but veritable fact! Soon enough, the two men are partners in an attempt to retrace the voyage of Pym and his captain, Guy’s brother! But wait! Who are the strange sailors who embarked in the Falkland Islands with hidden agendas of their own? Will the good ship Halbrane survive to reach the warm waters cutting thru the Antarctic continent, or will they will destroyed by the crushing ice fields, the hostile natives, and the unexplained mysteries of the Pole and its awesome Sphinx?

I found this sequel to be well laid out but not terribly exciting. Moreover, Verne seems to be conflicted about whether he is building on Poe’s story or refuting it. For example, Verne accepts Poe’s warm Antarctica despite its inherent implausibility but conveniently sweeps the latter’s hostile natives away. Likewise, Verne’s captain has the same personnel issues that Poe’s captain did despite the former’s supposedly careful study of Pym’s cautionary account. As a result, Verne’s characters are mostly a collection of clockwork clichés including the Stalwart Scientist, the Men with Hidden Agendas, the Loyal Servant, and the Traitorous Scoundrel. The scientist, the captain and the half breed searching for missing members of Pym’s crew are fine fellows but their motivations are telegraphed too far in advance. Even the various life threatening incidents don’t seem to arouse great feeling on the part of the author, much less the reader. While I enjoyed Verne’s rational exploration better than Poe’s emotional excesses, ultimately this book is boring.

I rate An Antarctic Mystery as 2.0 stars on the 5 star scale because it’s basically second rate fan fiction of interest to the Verne (and Poe) completist.

Lee Strong is Liquid Ether's resident librarian, archivist, and published author. Questions or comments may be directed to him care of the editor, at

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mixed Drinks: Liquid Ether

Today's mixed drink is an homage to this website. It is a moderately potent and visually stimulating concoction, guaranteed to catch the eye of all present.

Liquid Ether

1 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. orange juice
1.5 oz. coconut rum
1.5 oz. Midori

Float 1 oz. Blavod.



Bruce Kingsford's bartending skills are all that stops the Editor of this publication from beating him soundly about the head an face for his lackadaisical attitude toward deadlines.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Skill Level: Beginner

Today's Puzzle is about pressure. You have been playing a fairly even game with your opponent up until now, but the time has come to advance boldly and wrest victory from him aggressively.

You are red. You must defeat your opponent in three moves.

Scroll down for the solution.

Rook to Queen's Rook 8, capturing the white rook. Check.

The best move your opponent has is Rook to Queen's Rook 1, taking your rook. He could take the rook with his queen, but that takes pressure off your king, which makes the move sub-optimal. Your moves would be unchanged no matter which piece he uses, however.

Queen to Queen's Rook 8, taking the rook. Check.

Now your opponent has no choice but to take your queen with his, moving his queen to Queen's Rook 1.

Rook to Queen's Rook 8, taking the white queen. Checkmate.

Bruce Kingsford is Liquid Ether's resident chess enthusiast and bartender. His chess puzzles can be found once a week, as can his articles on mixed drinks.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Budget Snobbery: Oktoberfest Edition

Greetings, Guten Tag, Beinvanu, and welcome to another issue of Budget Snobbery. It is October, my second favorite month of the year, outside of March. The weather is changing, Halloween is coming up and the thing I wait for every year, like the migration of swallows, arrives. I am of course speaking of Oktoberfest beer! This wonderful concoction of deep woody flavors mixed with sweetened hops makes not only the chilly air less biting but brings about a generally warm feeling of contentment. But more about my favorite beer later, we must talk about some good beers that you can get for your upcoming party that is more than the usual Bud Lights or Schlitz. In this installment I will be going over the wide range of beers and introduce some you may not know, of course at a good price. I will include some imported beers in this list but please know that everyone has their own choices or views when it comes to beers, especially on the cheap side, so I hope that you can add these to your list of favorites.

American Lager
American lagers are best described as a mix between Pilsners with German lagers. This is no surprise since many of the first major brewers in the US were German immigrants back in the nineteen-hundreds. But since then American lagers have taken a different take on beer. They tend to be lighter, smoother and less infused with hops than other beers. Many American brewers have returned to the old traditions of brewing but good American lagers can still be found out there.

Coors: I know, a very common brand, but I am not talking about Coors Light but the regular Coors beer. You would think that such a stable would be easy to find, but on the East Coast not so much due to the Light version being far more popular. A typical 12 case of bottles comes to about 8-10 dollars, cheap compared to most. Regular Coors is a rich American Lager with a crisp ice-brewed taste. The reason why Coors is on this list instead of Budweiser or Michelob is due to the rarity of this item in most stores, at least where I live and it is a treat to find and enjoy.

Yuengling: Ah the all American staple that’s making a come-back. This beer has been around for ages and is what I consider the best of the cheap beers. Easier to get than Coors, richer in taste than Schlitz and Blue Ribbon, Yuengling is a great all around beer with a light mixture of hops and a smooth finish. One of the best things about Yuengling is that it is not over-powered by alcohol and can accompany almost any meal or event. Mind, this isn’t for a baby-shower but coming from Prescott, AZ my relatives would find a way to get it in.

Spanish beer has taken up a special place in the land of the brewmeisters. Usually accentuated by a citrus texture and tangy taste, this is the beer lover’s choice for something cold on the beach. I remember when my family would go down to Mexico and drink Coronas before they became popular over here, they even had to pay a deposit and return the bottles when they were done. It is memories like that which makes me feel have a special bond with Cervasas.

Dos Exquis: “He once wrote a book about his life. He didn’t publish it to be fair to everyone else.” We all know the commercials but I must say this, Dos Exquis is not only a superior beer to Corona, with a more refined taste and a bolder body to it, but also cheaper. Mind you that it is breaking the cheap-o-meter for the Snob, but considering a six pack of Dos is at least 7.00 while the same from Corona is 9.00, it needs mentioning.

Geman Beers
German beers tend to be the richest and thereby most expensive beers on the market. German beers ranges from the sweet, rich Marzen, to the crisp and tangy Schartzen, please forgive the lack of umlauts. Never fret fellow Snobs, I am here with your much needed salvation through Bavaria.

Gordon and Bercht: Yes, they are an American brewer but their beers are made in the same traditions as the German classics. At 12-pack cases around $11-13 they are at least two or three dollars cheaper than their Germanic cousins. Unfortunately, since it is not only local but also just starting out, they don’t have their full varieties out yet, but I will say this – each one is amazing.

Asian Beers

Asian beers are a strange group. They tend to have a more sour taste to them due to the low malts that they use but it lends itself a distinct richness, especially when paired with Asian food or anything with salty.

Kirin Ichiban: This is the oldest brewed beers in Japan, and one of the most popular, outside of Sapporo, which is made by the same company. Originating back in the early 18th century when it was sold to Dutch sailors, Kirin is not only cheaper than most of it’s competitors but it’s strong yet inviting taste of low malt hops makes it worth drinking by itself. The most popular version of this drink is the large can, usually running for about 4.00 but spend a bit more and get the six pack for 7.00, you will be happy with the many blessings this classic can bring.

Seasonal is just that, seasonal. I personally stay away from most seasonal beers due to they have too many weird varieties. This happens in winter the most with every kind of beer having spices or fruit added to it to make it distinct. The only exception, the only one that I would dare wait all year, cruel winters and blistering summers for, OKTOBERFEST beer! This beer, of the Marzen style from Munich, has more hops than normal, giving it a sweetened texture and a rich amber, color. Not a sweet beer like Winter ales, Oktoberfest beers are more the transition of savory summer brews to the winter flavored styles.

Old Dominion Oktoberfest: I must admit that though Samuel Adams is a preferred Oktoberfest beer, Old Dominion, a local brewery in Virginia, trumps it twice. First since it is local, it is cheaper by almost two dollars. Also, since OD is not as popular as Adams, I am almost guaranteed a six-pack of my favorite seasonal treat waiting for me. The taste is comparable only by degrees, Adams is smoother while OD has a bolder taste, but that is like comparing apple pie to cheesecake; no matter how you slice it, you’re in store for a wonderful experience.

Well my friends that is it for now. I know there are more out there but if I went over every beer, I would be writing a book, which is a good idea but who has the time when Snobbery is about! Next time we will take a look at fun and easy ways to have an amazing party that any of the upper crust would love to be a part of. As always, keep your nose up, and your eyes open.

Ryan Parson's column is submitted irregularly to this publication, due to author's interests in writing and producing films for the moving pictures. His first film is undergoing post-production at this time, and The Editor is grateful he could take the time to talk about beer with us.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Best Defense...

Skill Level: Intermediate

Today's puzzle is about swiftly overcoming defenses. Your opponent has placed his king in what he believes is a strong defensive position surrounded by a rook and a maze of pawns. Unknowingly, however, he has backed himself into a corner, making his defeat inevitable.

You are White. You must play to win in two moves.

Scroll down for the solution.

Queen to King's Rook 7, taking the pawn. Check.

The only possible move red has is to take the queen with his king. This places the red king at Kings Rook 7.

Rook to King's Rook 3. Checkmate.

Bruce Kingsford's love of chess is comparable only to his love for strong drink and beautiful women. His puzzles appear every Saturday in the Smoking Room.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Tommyknocker

Before it was an atrocious novel by Stephen King, Tommyknockers were the spirits of miners that had died in a collapsed mine, scratching at the dirt walls of their prison, trying to escape even after death. I don't know about you, but this sort of history makes me quite thirsty.

The Tommyknocker is much more pleasant than being buried alive, but gains its name from the manner in which it is served. Mixing the drink ingredients together as described creates a creamy, almost muddy substance, which is poured over ice cubes, "burying" them in the drink.

The Tommyknocker

1 ounce Créme de Menthe (Green)
1 ounce Amaretto
1 ounce Coffee Liqueur
1 ounce Dark Rum
1 scoop Vanilla Ice Cream

Combine ingredients in shaker and shake until ice cream is melted and all contents are well mixed. Pour over large ice cubes.

Until we meet again, live well and long.

Bruce Kingsford is a regular contributor to this publication, and as such can be forgiven some of his more annoying proclivities, such as reading Stephen King books and naming drinks after them. This column appears every Thursday (except for this one, of course).

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chess Against the Thinking Machine

When playing against a computer rather than a human being, the important thing to remember is that they are not really thinking machines as much as they are priority decision makers. Chess is a perfect game for computers because it is based on a limited number of available decisions at any given time. In order to defeat it, you must understand the programming "mentality" the computer uses. In order to beat the machine, you must play a human game. Play the opponent, not the game, and you will be far more successful. Below are some strategies to help improve your game.

A Chess computer assesses who is ahead differently than many human players would. The piece values are the same but not all humans would consider some of the other factors that a computer does. A computer uses the following sort of scoring algorithm (although these figures can vary from computer to computer)

Queen = 9 points
Rook = 5 points
Bishop = 3 points
Knight = 3 points
Pawn = 1 point
King = Between 41 and 200 points - this varies from computer to computer, but it needs to be large enough so that it isn't exchanged off by mistake.

Doubled Pawns = -0.5 points
Isolated Pawn = -0.5 points
Backward Pawn = -0.5 points

Any available move = 0.1 points as it is better to have more available moves than your opponent.

Factors such as weak pawns near the king should be penalized.

Well placed pieces, passed pawns, certain attacks, and pins should be added to the score.

In order to determine who is winning, the computer subtracts your score from its own score. A positive score means the computer is ahead and a negative score means that the human is ahead.


A good Chess computer will have a large openings database. For more common openings such as the Ruy Lopez, Giuoco Piano, Queen's Gambit and the Sicilian Defence a computer will have a database containing up to about white and black's first 20 moves of many variations of these openings.

Because of this, a computer will not need to use up any time at all if the human opponent sticks to the moves in the computer's database. This will give the computer much more time in the middle and endgames to do larger and deeper searches.

One possible tip is to play an unusual opening that will not be in the computer's database. This makes the computer start using up its time right from the start of the game, which will mean it can't search to as large a depth as it could if it knew the opening later on in the game. So if you happen to be an expert on the Hippopotamus Defence or some other unusual opening then you will probably know that opening better than the computer does, which could give you a bit of an advantage when the computer is doing large searches which is using up its time early on. It only takes one move not in its database and the computer will need to start doing large searches early in the game.

For example, supposing the time limit of a game is 40 moves in 2 hours before the time control. If the computer can play the first 20 moves directly from its database, it will then only have to start doing searches for move 21 onwards. Therefore it will only have to make 20 moves in the 2 hours which is about 6 minutes a move on average. But if the computer only had about 5 moves of a particular opening in its database then it will have to make 35 moves in 2 hours which is about 3 and a half minutes a move on average. This greatly reduces the search depths that the computer is able to do which will obviously reduce the standard of play that the computer is playing of the rest of the game quite considerably.


For a Chess computer the middle game begins as soon its opening database can no longer be used. In the middle game there are usually about 30 to 40 moves possible on each move. This is known as the branching factor and the larger this is then the larger a search is needed.

Therefore, when the computer is searching for moves it will need to search about 1000 positions for one move from each player, 1000000 positions for two moves from each player, 1000000000 for three moves from each player and so on. The depth of the search really depends on the speed of the computer and on the amount of time it has available to move. If you have exploited your opening strategies correctly you in effect have hurried the computer, preventing it from making deeper searches the longer the game goes.

The search algorithm that most of the more modern Chess computers use is called the Selective Iterative-Deepening Search. This algorithm searches all possible moves to a depth of one first, then to a depth of two, then to a depth of three and so on.

For example, if the computer calculates that there is a Checkmate or a loss of its queen, then it terminates that branch of the search. This means that the computer doesn't have to continue searching a large number of moves from that branch, so it can use its memory to search to a greater depth on other branches of the search tree. Knowing this makes it possible to rush the computer into a bad decision, if you play cunningly.

For example, if you sacrificed your queen knowing that in three moves time you could get checkmate using other pieces then that branch of the tree might get terminated by the computer before it realises that its just fell for a mate in 3 which it now can't avoid. Be advised, however, that some computers might not fall for this as the very best computers would still have continued searching that branch of the search - so this is a risky plan against more advanced programs, but is safer against home computer programs.

As with all things, it comes back to time. The depth that the computer searches to depends on how much time it has left. Looking at the example from the openings above about the computer having less time if it doesn't know the opening, this might reduce a search from about 12 plies to 10 plies (where 1 ply is a move from one player, 2 plies is one move from each player) on each move. This can help reduce the standard of play of the computer.

One thing that better computers do is think during your time. If you take about 15 minutes on one move you may find that the computer has already searched that move to a depth of about 13 plies. Try and avoid taking this long over a move unless it really is necessary to take this long.


Some of the better Chess computers use transition tables. They are used to remember some of the best lines from its previous searches and recent positions. So if you had a position and then two moves later that exact position was repeated then the computer would still have the best moves still stored in memory in a transposition table.

Try to avoid repetition (unless you are playing for 3 move repetition to get a draw) as the computer will probably have a recent position stored in memory and will be able to move instantly, which gives it more time to search on other moves.


Chess computers have databases of all 3, 4 and 5 piece endgames so they often don't need to use up as much time as you might expect them to in the endgame. An endgame like this favors the computer because of its database, and the branching factor on each move is reduced once pieces like the queens are exchanged off, so the computer can search to a greater depth than in the middle game while still using the same amount of time as it would in the middle game.

Try to avoid exchanging off pieces unless it really does help out your position. The branching factor on each move should be kept higher to force the computer into doing shorter searches on each move.

Bruce Kingsford's contributions to Liquid Ether are less sporadic than some, and are therefore much appreciated by the Editor of this publication.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What Would You Have Me Do? Part Two

“No.” Lincoln’s plain spoken denial was more devastating than any oratory. The latter swallowed and whispered, “Pray continue.”

“Mr. Seward is still alive. He received a knife wound to his throat but the doctors believe that he will recover.”

“In time for the Inauguration?”

“The very question that we posed to his attending physician. We are not sure.”

“Dear Lord,” breathed Lee, this time aloud.

“Mr. Hamlin and his wife are dead as is Secretary Trask. The Hamlins were en route to Washington when a mob entered their railroad carriage, dragged the Vice President-elect outside and hung him for allegedly inciting servile insurrection. He was a vigorous opponent of slavery and his enemies took his opposition as incitement. His wife was apparently fatally struck as she attempted to prevent her husband’s murder.”

Lee nodded mutely. The horrors of the Roman and Napoleonic Empires imported to America…! What was it that Lincoln had said a year ago when John Brown attempted to incite a genuine slave revolt? ‘The enthusiast broods over the oppression of a people till he fancies himself commissioned by Heaven to liberate them. He ventures the attempt, which ends in little else than his own execution.’ And the killing of a woman!

The present day Lincoln paused and asked quizzically, “General Lee, many of the night’s events have already appeared in the newspapers. I am surprised that you are unaware of them.”

The letter in Lee’s pocket blazed forth in white hot fury. The Virginian stumbled as he spoke. “I have been preoccupied, sir. I came to this house to res….” He caught himself before the fatal syllable escaped his lips. Lamely, he rephrased himself. “I came to this house to restate my love of our nation and abhorrence of secession.” That was truthful enough; merely incomplete.

Both politicians nodded in unison. Lee sensed rather than saw the approval of the two military officers standing patiently to his right. He gently requested, “Pray continue. I believe that you have not yet plumbed the depths of this iniquity.”

Lincoln made a half bow of agreement. “Secretary Trask was killed in a gun battle between the assassins and officers present with him in his home. Those officers captured two and chased the others to their refuge.” The Midwestern paused, staring into the distance. “That refuge is the Embassy of the Empire of France. Soldiers have surrounded the building but have not yet entered. Ambassador Jussarand has refused to hand over the assassins claiming that they are political refugees.”

“Dear God!” exclaimed Lee. Again the room whirled around him and he felt sick. As he struggled to master himself, he remembered Scott in Mexico City. The old warrior, conqueror of armies, liberator and ruler of Mexico, sitting in a throne borrowed from the Bishop’s Palace, the young Napoleon II captive before him. Scott could have humiliated the young man, so obviously out of his depth trying to play his father’s role as warlord – beaten him – thrown him to the Mexicans howling for bloody revenge after centuries of tyranny. Instead, the warrior had become the peacemaker. True, he had dictated the Treaty of Mexico City rather than negotiating it but it was a generous treaty – capable of bringing peace to four continents. If only it had been fully honored…. Perhaps the rumors that the young Napoleon’s assassin.... The first Napoleon had seated himself on the throne of France by violence and so, it seemed, had his grandson.

“What would you have me do?” Lee’s voice was barely audible. The ticking of the clock in the Executive Office seemed like thunder in comparison.

The new President spoke, “General Lee, President Scott asked you to accept the supreme command of the Federal armies. I also ask you to accept.”

Lee’s thoughts whirled. I oppose secession but I can take no part in an invasion of my home. But my home has already been invaded. The invaders were here in this very room, murdering a great man, a great mentor, a great peacemaker. The war has already begun and it has been thrust upon us. He straightened his bent frame, his bowed head.

“Yes sir, I accept. If General Wool consents.… He is my senior in rank.”

Major General John Ellis Wool spoke up. “I agree. President Scott wanted you as General in Chief of the United States Army. With you in command, we can swiftly subdue the seceded states and overawe the doubters. You can save the Union, Robert.” He thrust out his hand and shook Lee’s. A moment later, Rear Admiral Jeremiah Putnam shook Lee’s other hand. When they released their new superior, Seymour and Lincoln added their own approvals.

Numbly, Lee nodded. His head cleared. The heat from the letter in his pocket had abruptly vanished. I will destroy it later – in private. No one will ever know of my momentary weakness.

His gentle voice gathered strength as he spoke, “As General Wool has said, we must strike swiftly. We must disrupt the secessionists’ plans before those plans are realized. It is easy enough to understand what those plans must be. They have formed a pretended government sitting in Montgomery and must soon form an army and a navy to enforce their decrees.”

Lee looked at Seymour, his voice now firm, his grave face now resolute. “The Army and Navy of the United States must move swiftly and together. The Navy must blockade the ports of the seceded states and prevent any foreign intervention, especially French intervention. The Regular Army must march south and secure the principal cities and garrisons of the so-called Confederate States. President Scott manfully refused the secessionists’ demands that our garrisons be withdrawn from the seceded states so th… those people are weak everywhere. We must relieve those garrisons and occupy the capitals that the secessionists hold without delay. Mr. President, you must call up the militias of the loyal states and call for additional volunteers. It is possible that we face a two front war, one front against the secessionists and one front against Napoleon III. And, naturally, you must address Congress as quickly as it can be assembled.”

A giant map of the world opened up in Lee’s mind and he began moving troops and ships across it. “The Army of the Atlantic must occupy the yet loyal states of Virginia and Roanoke and enter the rebel state of Sparta without delay. The Army of the Center must march south into Franklin and then to Montgomery in Tombigbee. Units from our Caribbean states will occupy Florida and Louisiana. We should ask the Mexicans for a corps to occupy Tejas while we are mobilizing the Army of the West. And we should accept the offers of horse and elephant cavalry from Venezuela and Thailand. It will be good for morale to show our loyal citizens that we are not alone in our fight for freedom and to show our allies that we value their contributions.”

Seymour’s face furrowed. “Elephants? Are elephants of any use in modern warfare? And is not North America too cold for elephants?”

Lee smiled. “Elephants make excellent pack animals and engineers. I propose to use the Thais to reinforce our garrisons in India where the climate is suited to them. It is possible that Napoleon III intends to reconquer India and Australia while we are distracted by secession in North America.”

Seymour nodded his approval. “Yes, yes, the government will support your proposed movements with all the power at its disposal.” Lincoln somberly agreed.

Lee was struck by a political question. “Your pardon, Mr. President, but your term of office expires in a few days. Who will be President if Mr. Seward does not recover in time to take the oath of office?”

The President again gestured to Mr. Lincoln.

The Midwesterner intoned quietly but clearly. “In the event that Mr. Seward is unable to become President and since the Vice President-elect is dead, the office would normally devolve on the President Pro Tem of the Senate Mr. Joseph Bartlett. However, he is under suspicion of involvement in the conspiracy. He was taken into custody this morning. He denies any involvement but his elevation was apparently a chief goal of the conspirators. We simply do not know at this time. Assuming his inability, the office would then pass to the Cabinet officers in the order in which their departments were created. The first in line would be Mr. Seward as Secretary of State.”

“Pray continue.” Lee recalled that Lincoln had been a lawyer before joining the government.

“Further assuming Mr. Seward’s inability, the office would next pass to Mr. Abbott, the Secretary of the Treasury. Unfortunately, he is in Central America at the moment. He is negotiating with the United Provinces for rights to construct an interoceanic canal thru their province of Nicaragua.”

“I believe that we must assume his ‘inability’ for the moment,” stated Lee crisply. “We will need an active President here in Washington, especially if we are to fight France and its allies as well as the secessionists.”

“I agree,” intoned Lincoln in his grave voice. “The next person in line would be the Secretary of War. After that would be the Attorney General of the United States.” He paused and bowed his head.

Lee interpreted, “Yourself.”

“Yes,” responded the Midwesterner simply. He paused again but resumed. “If the Presidency should fall to me in the event of Mr. Seward’s inability, you may count on the continued full support of the Government. The Union must be preserved.”

Lee bowed slightly to the current President and then to the potential President. “Gentlemen, God willing, it will be.”

He turned to his new subordinates. “General, Admiral, we have much to accomplish and little time to accomplish it in. Let us leave the President to his political tasks with full confidence that the soldiers and sailors of the United States will not fail in their military tasks.” The three military officers saluted crisply and excused themselves.

As they left the Executive Office, Lincoln was struck by a historical comparison. In 1852 and 1856, the people of the United States had rewarded General Winfield Scott with the Presidency because of his military successes. Would General Lee receive the same reward in 1864?

What Would You Have Me Do? was written by Lee Strong exclusively for this electronic publication. All rights reserved.

What Would You Have me Do? Part One

“Without a command, [Robert E. Lee] returned to Arlington to wait to see what Virginia would do. He was called to Washington and offered command of a new army being formed to force the seceded states back into the Union. Lee, while he opposed secession, also opposed war, and “could take no part in an invasion of the Southern states.” -- Poor Richard’s Encyclopedia, 1988 edition, s.v. “Lee, Robert E(dward).”

“General Lee to see the President.”

“Yes, sir. This way, please.” The usher gave a dignified bow to Lee and moved out of his way. The grave Virginian officer stepped into the vestibule of the white painted Executive Mansion, hat in hand. The usher closed the great door behind him, shutting out the cold late winter air and the murmuring of the crowd gathering outside the cordon of soldiers.

Before Lee could enter deeper into the Mansion, he was stopped by a handful of armed soldiers, clad like him in the dark blue of the US Army. Lee repeated his mission. Their leader, a major, eyed the Virginian coldly and nodded. “Your pardon, General Lee, but we can not be too careful. I recognize you from when we fought together in Mexico. Please pass, sir.”

The Virginian nodded to the younger man and said something polite about the latter’s gallant service. The soldier’s eyes softened a bit as Lee stepped past the guard.

The usher escorted Lee thru a side door and up a flight of stairs. In the near distance, the visitor heard the little noises of a great house and office at work. His own footsteps seemed to echo. Perhaps it is the weight of history. I oppose secession but I can take no part in an invasion of my home. The letter making his own resignation from the US Army official burned in his pocket.

Following the usher, Lee passed into the Reception Room to the Executive Office. To his dismay, he was again challenged by soldiers, this time with a colonel in command. Lee noted that his interrogator’s holster was unbuttoned, the heavy sidearm ready for action. Fortunately, this man knew him from fighting with the Indians.

Finally, the usher escorted the puzzled Virginian thru the Ante Room and into the den of the old lion himself. The door closed firmly behind him.

Lee automatically began to repeat his mission but stopped partway thru the phrase, confused and even alarmed. The room was familiar enough and so were its four occupants. The source of confusion was the absence of the man that he had come to see.

The middle aged man behind the Presidential desk rose in greeting. The few seconds thus consumed gave Lee a chance to gather his thoughts. He spoke, “Mr. Vice President, I am here at the request of President Scott.”

The Vice President sighed, his buff English face a map of sorrow. He started to speak but stopped before words actually emerged, awash in some fierce emotion.

A lanky man standing next to the Presidential desk spoke up in a prairie rasp. “General Lee, are you aware of the events of last night?”

The Virginian’s brow furrowed. “No, Mr. Lincoln, I am not. I would assume that these events are related to the extraordinary security that I encountered when calling upon the President. I was challenged not less than three times by military officers of ascending rank. Once would be unusual. Three times seems… significant.” He eyed the Vice President thoughtfully. The latter quietly indicated that Lincoln should continue.

“General Lee, last night a band of assassins entered the Executive Mansion and murdered President Winfield Scott in this very office. Mr. Henry Seymour is now the President of these United States.” Lincoln gestured to indicate the former Vice President.

The Virginian gasped. The room seemed to spin around him. Nothing like this had ever happened in the United States. Assassination? A word for European empires and Asian autocracies! Not the United States! True, a madman had attempted to assassinate Andrew Jackson when the latter was a candidate for President but, thank God, that man had failed. Now…?

“How did it happen?” whispered the Virginian, his hands crumpling his hat.

“By treachery,” replied the tall Midwesterner. “Do you know Senator Louis Wigfall of Tejas?”

“Somewhat,” admitted the Virginian. “I do not normally share his social circle but he visited the military garrisons in Tejas stridently demanding that we renounce our oaths to the Union.” The letter in Lee’s pocket burned even hotter than before.

“Last night, Senator Wigfall and several accomplices entered the Mansion and requested an audience with the President. The Senator claimed that his accomplices were delegates from Tejas who had come to Washington with new proposals to end the current crisis and bring the seceded states back into the Union.”

Lee nodded numbly. Winfield Scott was renowned as a warrior. He had fought to defend the United States longer than the Virginian had been alive. Yet, he had also been a peacemaker in Aroostock, Mexico and Oregon. He would have wanted to hear any new proposal, even an unlikely one, if there was a chance that the so-called Confederate States would listen. The assassins had obviously studied their target well.

“When President Scott received Wigfall and his party, they engaged him in some argument. No one else was present but the butler heard the President shout ‘Senator Bartlett as President? A milksop! He will never be President!’ at one point. Shortly after that, Wigfall and his party left and the butler discovered the President’s body bludgeoned to death.”

“Bludgeoned? An old man? Only a few days from his retirement after a lifetime of service to his country?” Lee was horrified. Truly, war was a terrible thing but there was honor in meeting one’s enemies openly on the battlefield. This assassination…. This cowardly act of common murder…. Committed under the pretext of a peace negotiation? There was nothing honorable about it.

“Did the assassins escape then?” he breathed.

“So far, those assassins are at large,” confirmed Lincoln. “No one expected such a thing even with the nation divided as it is. The Army is hunting them as we speak.”

Lee noted the Midwesterner’s phrasing. “You said ‘those assassins.’ Were there more?” Please, dear Lord, no!

Lincoln sighed deeply. “I am afraid so. Wigfall’s band was one of a wide spread conspiracy operating in the darkness of the night. Other bands attacked the residences of Mr. Seymour, Mr. Seward and Mr. Trask as well as the railroad carriage of Mr. Hamlin….”

Lee interpreted, “The Vice President, the Secretary of State and President-elect, the Secretary of War, and the Vice President-elect. Truly a ‘coup d’etat’ as the French would say. I see that Mr. Seymour is well. Are the others as well?” His hat was a twisted ruin in his hands.

Book Review: The Mysterious Island

The Mysterious Island
Original English Language Publication by Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1875
Written by Jules Verne
Reviewed by Lee Strong, the Librarian of St. Gilda’s

Many a child has dreamed of being marooned on a desert island. In this tale of 19th Century science and courage, Jules Verne shows what competent heroes can do.

Daniel Defoe’s 1719-22 publication of Robinson Crusoe not only created a book of enduring value and appeal but actually established a new genre of literature: the robinsonade. Such novels typically stranded a castaway on a deserted island and followed his or her attempts to survive the physical and emotional isolation from civilization. Even today, science fiction writers will follow in Defoe’s footsteps with planets substituted for islands. Of the once large number of 18th and 19th Century robinsonades, only three are still widely read today. Perhaps the best of them is Jules Verne’s tale of the involuntary colonists of Lincoln Island.

Our tale begins during the American Civil War when 6 Federal soldiers and sympathizers break out of a Confederate prison via balloon. They unwisely choose to escape during a hurricane with the result that some of them are eventually deposited on the shores of a remote South Seas island. Unlike the authors of other robinsonades who thoughtfully provide their castaways with a ship full of convenient goodies just off shore, Verne boldly strands his heroes with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a few commonplace items in their pockets. How can anyone survive with so little equipment on an island full of wild beasts, wilder men, and mysterious presences? Verne’s literary genius shines brightly as he describes exactly what men of science and courage can do in even the bleakest of surroundings.

Verne’s story is good solid stuff about science and humanity in action. The colonists manufacture many of the conveniences of 19th Century life from the basic materials of their island aided only by one engineer’s professional knowledge. While the detailed description of research and development can be somewhat tedious at times, it demonstrates that the author has done his homework. His characters are more self reliant than their Swiss counterparts in another ocean and all the more interesting for that. Verne also took the occasion to wrap up a couple of loose ends from previous novels and the return of some of the islanders to civilization makes a fitting and satisfying climax.

To date, there have been several movies made from Verne’s novel but none of them hold a candle to the original.

I rate The Mysterious Island as 3.5 stars on the 5 star scale because of its solid story of 19th Century science in action governed by thoughtful human values. – LS

Lee Strong's contributions to Liquid Ether (both his reviews and original fiction) are best enjoyed with Cognac. The Editor suggests Remy Martin XO - its fine taste will compliment the textured prose perfectly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Faro - the Gentleman's Game

This game is seeing something of a resurgence in American Western stories in the moving pictures, but very few people understand how to play this gentlemanly card game. Unlike poker, this game is more fast paced and more exciting, as well as having an interesting tactical element. It is a fair and exciting way to pass the time at social engagements as a diversion from Rummy or any of the poker variants.

Despite many modern misconceptions, in an honest faro game, the player’s chances are just a little short of even, and are much better than most games found at contemporary casinos. Contrary to what you may have been told, faro is simple to learn and easy to play. Invented in Europe in the 1700's and introduced to America in 1803, by all accounts, faro was the most popular and celebrated saloon gambling game in the Old West, from 1825 through 1915. By 1925, it had all but vanished, in favor of craps and roulette; other "banking" games that have enticing pay-outs but actually give a much greater edge to the house.

The Rules

A single, standard, 52 card deck is shuffled, cut and placed face down in a stack or face up in a spring loaded card dealing box, in front of the dealer, on the playing table. The game begins with each punter (player) laying their wagers on or around the card layout (sample layout pictured left), consisting of all 13 card ranks (Ace through King) laid, glued or painted on the Faro table, generally in the spade suit (although the suits of cards in faro are not important).

If the wager is placed directly over a card, the punter is betting on only that card rank (also called, "backing" a card, such as "backing the queen"). A bet on a single card was also referred to as a "flat foot". Rather than reaching across the layout, a punter may hand his wager to another player or lookout nearer the intended card and say, "Flat the Ace" or "Flat foot the seven."

Subject to "house" rules, a punter (player) may wager on multiple cards by placing his bet mid-way between a pair or group of three or four cards (also called "splitting" cards, such as "splitting the five-six" or "splitting the Ace-King"). A punter may place as many separate bets as he wishes or can afford, up to the posted table limit. Split bets (between two or more cards) are not a "split" like in roulette. The full wager is actually being bet on all adjacent cards, meaning, if you split the five-six (place between the 5 and 6 cards) then if the 5 wins, you win a full bet, not half. If the 6 wins, you win the full bet.. See more on "splits" and "betting variations" in the detailed sections below. Similar to roulette, once a number of bets are placed, the dealer will wait for a lull or other indication that the players are satisfied with their bets and are ready for the turn to begin. The dealer will then state, "All bets are down" or make some other indication that players are to stop moving or placing their bets. Players are not to touch their bets again until the conclusion of the turn.

Once the dealer is satisfied the punters have stopped moving or placing bets, the first turn begins. If using a dealing box, the Dealer discards the top card of the deck (called the "Soda Card") by sliding it out of the dealing box (pictured right) thereby displaying the next card. The card displayed is the “losing card” and it will eventually be placed in the losing position, on the dealer's right, next to the dealing box. The House wins any wagers placed on the displayed card (e.g. if the card should be an Ace, the Dealer will collect all wagers staked on the Ace, regardless of suit). All other bets remain untouched.

Then the Dealer pulls the losing card (placing it in the right side of the box), revealing the next card, the “winning card.” If that card is, for example, a Five, he will pay off all wagers staked on the Five. The payoff is one-to-one (1:1 or "even money"). A dollar bet wins a dollar. The other card bets on the layout (other than the "high card" bet, explained below) are untouched by the dealer and remain in play for the next turn, unless pulled by the punter or clearly "barred" by the punter (meaning they suspend their placed bets for one or more turns).

After all losing bets are collected and the winning bets are paid, the Dealer will say, "Place your bets" or something similar to indicate the conclusion if the "turn". In the brief interval between turns, punters may pick up their winnings, place additional wagers, increase or reduce existing bets, move wagers from one card to another or leave the game (cash out). New players may also join the game between the turns. Usually, two turns were played each minute. Thus, each deck would play through in 12 to 15 minutes.

From 1853 on, punters had the option of "coppering" their faro bets. This means placing a copper token (traditionally a penny or later a 6-sided composite token , called a "copper") on top of a standard (often called an "open bet" or "straight bet") wager to "reverse" the bet. What this means is, a "coppered" bet wins on the first (losing) card, and loses on the second (winning) card, the opposite of a regular bet, whether it be on a particular card, a pair or group of cards or the "high card" bar.

If a player has a significant "spread" (meaning they have many markers placed on the layout) they may opt to sit out one or more hands, called "barring" their bets. To do so, they must make their intentions clear to the dealer (or his assistant/banker if there is one) and again (usually by pointing at the bet and saying, "it goes") when they wish to resume play. This is a courtesy and the dealer or banker may ask them to "pull" their bets or cash out to avoid confusion or arguments, particularly if the table is crowded or busy.

The game continues in turns, with the first draw going to the dealer (losing card) and the second to the punters (winning card), until the deck is nearly exhausted. The bank pays even money on all bets except for the last turn. There are 24 regular "turns" in a deck.

The Editor wishes to let you know that Faro is a fine game for Gentlemen to play at social events and fundraisers, but he prefers poker as a weekly diversion among friends, as it tends to yield more money and is more easily set up. That being said, he wishes more games of Faro would be played in our modern times, as it is a much better game than roulette or (Heaven Forbid!) craps.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Table Manners

The lesson for today is: Manners, specifically Table Manners. When I was a little girl I was taught how to chew with my mouth closed, to always put my napkin in my lap, and to always maintain respect for others at the dining table. Unfortunately, the families of today have allowed these elements of etiquette to become more of a novelty than a way of life. To correct this mistake of many, I shall make a small list of the proper way to behave at the dinner table. (This is for adults too, since children generally learn by example.)

When sitting down to the dinner table the first thing one must do is place their napkin in their lap. Always make sure that the napkin covers the majority of your lap, since it's first duty is to keep one's clothing clean. For smaller children, a bib is the wisest choice. The other function of the napkin is to dab at your face during the course of the meal to ensure that there is no food left behind. Please note: I used the word dab because you mustn't smear or broadly wipe your face, as this will cause any food there to fall into your lap that is now unprotected by your napkin.

The next thing to remember is that one should always have their off-hand laying in their lap (except when cutting of your food is required). Your off-hand is the hand that you don't eat with. For example, I am right-handed. Therefore, my off-hand is my left hand. So when I sit down at the table I eat with my right hand and leave my left hand in my lap. This discourages you from putting your elbows on the table or laying your arm across the table (both of which are etiquette no-no's by the way).

When you are chewing, always chew with your mouth closed. This means taking small enough bites that your mouth can properly close around your food. Be mindful: nobody enjoys having their meal interrupted by the smacking of lips or by the painful sight of chewed up food in your mouth. No exceptions.

If you need to cut your food (meat, vegetables, etc.) please remember to only cut one bite at a time, and make it small enough to accomplish keeping your mouth closed when chewing.

One of the most important things to remember about manners is: be respectful. That doesn't necessarily mean that you should only speak when spoken to (although many people still adhere to this mantra), but it also means that you should always be thinking of those who are at the dining table with you. Please take your hat off at the table. It is a sign of respect when you remove it as you're sitting down. Do not sing, hum, or shout at the table (unless you sing grace before the meal is eaten). Nobody wants to have the conversation interrupted by loud noises or attention-getters. If you own a portable game console or music player, please do not use it at the table. One of the most horrifying things I've witnessed is children with earphones on or absorbed in some electronic game. The music and game will be there for you when you are done eating. This is probably the most insulting and disrespectful thing a child could do. For adults, this includes your cellular phones, blackberries, pagers, etc. Don't think that just because you are an adult you are off the hook! I have seen this repulsive behavior from all ages and it's heartbreaking. Mealtime is a time to spend with your family/friends, not yourself. Participate in the conversation (if applicable) because you might just learn something.

When you are done eating do not jump up and leave the table immediately. Not only is this disrespectful to your dining companions, but it shows everyone that you believe you are more important than everyone else there. You should never leave the table without asking to be excused first, and you should always wait to ask after everyone has finished eating.

Note to parents/adults: children learn by example more than any other way. If you follow the rules of etiquette the likelihood of the children at your table following them increases. In order to instill proper manners in our children, we must insist that these simple rules be followed.

Thus ends today's lesson. You are excused.

The Governess' column appears sporadically in this publication, both to the relief and consternation of The Editor.

Contributors to Liquid Ether

The Editor has been with this publication since its inception, and is a connoisseur of cigars and comestibles. He contributes to the Smoking Room, and oversees and edits work from all contributors. He is an amateur card player and pool enthusiast. Queries, complaints, advertisements, and general persiflage can be directed to him by way of electronic mail.

Lee Strong is the Librarian for Liquid Ether. He provides book reviews and original fiction for the Victorian enthusiast. His articles appear sporadically, but are always appreciated, and worth the wait. Questions and comments to him should be sent care of the editor, at his request.

The Governess is Liquid Ether's etiquette specialist, and a mother of five. She is an amateur seamstress and chef, and a puzzle and gaming enthusiast. Her column, "The Governess," appears irregularly in this publication, and deals with whatever instruction and discipline she feels our readers require. Questions and comments to her should be sent care of the editor, at her request.

Bruce Kingsford is this publication's resident chess enthusiast and bartender. His chess puzzles appear every Monday, and on Fridays readers can be introduced to one of his exotic alcoholic concoctions in his column titled "Behind the Bar." Other articles dealing with chess and beverages are contributed sporadically. Questions and comments to Mr. Kingsford should be sent care of the editor, at his request.

Lord Magna is the lifestyle columnist for Liquid Ether. He brings all the needed qualifications - he is stuffy and old-fashioned, to say nothing of impeccably well-dressed. His articles focus on behaving like a true gentleman in our modern times. Questions and comments to Lord Magna should be sent care of the editor, at his request.

Ryan Parson was Liquid Ether's resident Sommelier, and contributed sporadically with his column "Budget Snobbery." He is an amateur director and screenwriter for the moving pictures. Mr. Parson has left the employ of this magazine, and the staff wishes him all the best in his future endeavors.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Budget Snobbery I

It is a common misconception that the finer things in life cost an arm and a leg. For the majority of us who don’t have spare limbs lying around, I offer this fine guide to the richer experiences in life without breaking the bank.

Now, one of the finest means of experiencing the “Good Life” is wine. Yes, that age old staple of the posh and pompous that many of us don’t fully understand, mostly due to the air of confusion and complexity. Well allow me to strip away this veil with a handy and helpful guide to some good, cheap wines that won’t make you cringe in your seat. We won’t go through the whole gauntlet, but devote a couple of articles to make things simpler. Today we will speak about the lavish American Reds, the bold and daring newcomers to the world of wine.

Pinot Noir
Ah, the wine made famous by the film Sideways. There are numerous pinot noirs on the market and since the rise in popularity the wine itself has reached new levels of expense. Not to worry though - there is hope on the horizon, like a cowboy from the high plains, only with wine.

Rex Goliath $8-$11: Don’t let the rooster on the label fool you. This is not some California knock-off of a good wine looking for a gimmick, but a rather smooth and robust wine. What people look for in a pinot noir is somewhere between the full body of a cabernet sauvignon and the mellow textures of a merlot, and this wine sits right on the fence. One of the key characteristics of this wine is its adaptability. With the hints of cranberry and slight earthy texture, this is one of the very few wines that match yet another complex bird, the turkey. The turkey, unlike other birds, is a dry and bland bit of meat, even the dark meat has no real flavor to it and doesn’t lend itself well for traditional wines like chardonnay. Not the case with this plucky rooster. Of course, the family meal isn’t Rex Goliath’s only avenue, for it also is a pleasant sipping wine, with no bitter after taste but a smooth, lingering ambiance of berries after it leaves. I highly suggest you cross the road for this little rooster.

This is the classic red wine that needs no meal and can add a warm glow to any evening. Merlots are by far the most common and most enjoyed wine in the U.S. and has created a veritable forest of confusion with many paths leading to disappointment. But never fear with this Budget Snob, for I have the compass to get you on the right path.

Pepperwood $7-$10: They say you can’t see the forest through the trees, well just be glad you found yourself in this neck of the woods. Pepperwood is an exceptional wine selection, despite the price, especially when it comes to their merlot. This wine has a distinct peppery taste to it that gives it a bit more texture and body than a normal merlot, but the undertones are not over-powering in any sense. The mixture of the woodiness of the barrels that it is fermented in allow it to be thoroughly enjoyed as a sipping wine, as well as something with a meal. Might I suggest, though, that if this wine is to be paired with a meal, stay away from really meaty dishes such as steak or stew, because the wine will be completely over-powered. A good combination would be Italian dishes, pork chops or even veal.

Cabernet Sauvignon
This is the wine that put California on the map in the world of Snobbery. Aside from its European roots, cabernet has become an American speciality, with all the robust flavors that California has to offer. It is true that there are other states that make fine wines but none more closely satisfies the flavors of berries and deep rich textures that California climate can yield.

Frei Brothers $10-$12: They say Philadelphia is the city of “Brotherly Love." Well, after having this wine, you might think that Napa Valley might be closer to the mark. The Frei Brothers have various cabernet, but the best for Budget Snob is the standard cabernet. This subtle wine still has all the strength and delicious flavor of the standard cabernet, but it doesn’t overwhelm the palate with tannin heavy texture.

For those not in the know, tannins are the organic compounds in wine that are created in the fermentation process from the skins, pits and stems of the grapes that give a wine its sense of body. High tannins means the wine is full-bodied and low means light. Too high a tannin count makes the wine tart and rather unpleasant, which can be common in lower quality cabernet.

This is not the case of course with the Brothers. With a complex taste of currents and spice, this wine has a rather mild, fruity nose which allows it to be a rather pleasant sipping wine. Now don’t think though that the Brothers shy from meals, due to their cabernet heritage, the Brothers are an excellent compliment for most stews, steaks and even hamburgers. So if you want to enjoy a rich experience, pick up the Frei Brothers, and keep it in the Family.

The long overshadowed wine of the famous White Zinfandel, which is more of a blush than a white, the Zinfandel has surprising depth and hearty flavor despite being rather sweet for a red. It can be said that due to the popular White Zinfandel incarnation, that regular Zinfandels are hard to come by and even harder to find cheap and good. Thankfully there are birds of a feather that flock together that help with this small dilemma.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend $7-$10: What is it when it comes to birds and wine that just makes everything better? So far I’ve had a giant chicken on this list and now I have ravens. Fret not, these are not the harbingers of ill-omen, but bringers of good wine at Snob approved prices. Now don’t let the “blend” fool you, this is a singular grape variety with all the lovely flavors of this highly misused grape. What makes Ravenswood a step above the others is that it allows the zinfandel to fully utilize its unique blend of sweet and robust flavors. The wine itself has a pleasant mixture of strawberries, spice and oakyness, and is a perfect companion for chocolate - especially cakes. This is not a dessert wine and not overwhelmingly sweet, but with the fruity aroma and lovely after taste chasing the chocolate makes an afternoon on the deck on a fall day even more memorable. Now pairing zinfandel, due to the inherent sweetness, is rather difficult. At best, zinfandels work with chicken or fish, especially if it is either grilled or baked. Anything else will upset the natural sweetness of the wine and make the whole dish bitter. So follow the flock and grab yourself a bottle of Ravenswood - it has a real shiny label.

Well that concludes today’s addition of Budget Snobbery. Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t include malbecs or syrahs in my list of American reds. Well, the reason is I have found better, cheaper equivalents in other countries which I feel should be given their own articles to fully explore their complexities and wealth. So I hope this list was of some help and until next time, enjoy lifestyles of the Moderate and Frugal.

Robert Parson is an employee of the Navy Federal Credit Union, and a connoisseur of fine wines. His article, "Budget Snobbery" appears in this blog sporadically, much to the relief of the editor, who can use the break from normal posting duties.

Monday, March 9, 2009


I’ve been on a CAO kick as of late and was preparing to review the CAO Brazilia, but haven't been able to get ahold of them at my local store. So I decided I’d to go back to one of the first cigars that really hooked me. I’d probably only smoked maybe 10 cigars at that point and was looking to try something different than the Africa I always pick up. There sat the Mx2, dark, dangerous and inviting with its black oily wrapper. I picked up a couple of the Toro’s and went down to the bar with a buddy of mine to grab a beer and enjoy some cigars. It was love on first puff and then some. I actually remember lighting up the second one right after the first because I’d enjoyed it so much.

I’ve smoked probably 5 CAO Mx2’s in the past few weeks (um... preparing to do this review... yeah) and I haven't had one with a bad draw. The Mx2 is a bit intimidating with its black oily wrapper and black band. Typically this cigar burned very even, with a dark gray ash. I also found the Mx2 to burn fairly slow, taking a bit longer than your typical robusto. Expect to take 45 minutes to an hour with this, and I tend to burn through cigars.

I didn’t remember this cigar being so complex, but I guess with tobacco from seven different countries your going to have some complexity. I could definitely pick out the flavors from the Connecticut Broadleaf. The smoke was heavy and seemed to coat the mouth like heavy cream.  Around the halfway mark the cigar starts to pick up some spice and lose the sweeter notes. Bitter chocolate, strong black coffee, pepper and a bit of licorice were dominant at this point. The Mx2 seems to lose some of the creaminess at this point. I’d say the cigar finished out like this, becoming a bit too harsh for my tastes with about 1 1/2 inches to go.

I would pair this cigar with Cognac in the late evening or early afternoon, or sambuca after dinner - the strength of the first would compliment the pepper and black coffee tastes, while the latter's licorice taste pairs up with the licorice in the burn.

Even after a few years of smoking so many other cigars the Mx2 is still one of my favorites. If you do some shopping around you can find pretty good deals on these as they aren’t as heavily promoted as some of CAO’s newer cigars.  I rate this cigar a 3.8 on a four-point scale.

Size: 5X52
Shape: Robusto
Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
Filler: Nicaragua, Honduras, Peru, and the Dominican Republic
Binder: Brazilian Maduro

The Editor requests that you buy a few Mx2s for your next social event - nothing will bring together men-about-town like this experience.