Archive for December, 2014

Top Five Posts of 2014

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

So… it’s been a light blogging year.

There seems to be a cycle where the more I write, the more people visit, and the more I want to write. But the same phenomenon works in the other direction. I also think that blogs are generally in decline these days. Many thanks to the readers who have stuck with the blog while it has been mostly riddles and anagrams. I hope to have more for you in the new year.

Still, we did manage to reach 150,000 views last month, just two short years after hitting 100,000, so that’s not nothing. Let’s have some cake.

The 150,000th hit came in at 11:02pm on Wednesday, November 26, 2014 from Denver, Colorado. The mile-high milestone found the site via a Google search and viewed the Teach Along with the Frozen Soundtrack post.

So I’m not giving up yet, and I’ve paid to renew the domain name and hosting services for another three years. So the blog will be here for us if we wish to be here for it, at least until December 2017.

And there were a few posts this year that I was proud to write and happy to see find an audience. There weren’t ten of them, but I’d put the top five up against the best of the rest, so let’s get right to it!

5. Thursday Morning Riddle: Ambiguous Edition (December 18)

This was a riddle that had two possible answers, each of which fit all of the clues. I’ve never done that before, and don’t expect to be doing it again any time soon.

4. A Good Pairing (February 9)

In a rare digression into teaching Shakespeare, I compare the literary devices between popular song lyrics and a Shakespeare sonnet. This pairing has been teacher-tested and student-approved!

3. Plantagenetics (December 2)

Do recent revelations about infidelity in the royal family cast doubts on the legitimacy of the Queen? No. No, they don’t.

2. Teach Along with the Frozen Soundtrack (June 2)

This is an exploration of some of the literary, poetic, and rhetorical devices in the soundtrack for Disney’s Frozen that you can point out for students, or have them find for you.

1. Family Trees for Shakespeare’s Histories (September 19)

I’ve been meaning to do this for years, and I finally did it! Each play’s tree shows who’s living, who’s dead, who’s related to whom, who is actually in the play, and what names might be used to reference them. Enjoy!

Have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in 2015! (Probably…)

A Christmas Enigma

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

I’m a week-by-week challenge you often have claimed;
I’m a wire mesh sieve that is handled or framed;
I’m to pepper with holes; I’m a band-leader famed;
And the birth name of Lord He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!

Who am I? (You-Know-Who…)

UPDATE: Enigma solved by Rebecca. See comments for answer.

Thursday Morning Riddle: Ambiguous Edition

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Today’s riddle has two possible answers.

If you’re not wearing pants, I’ll leave marks on your rear;
When you’re taming a lion, I’m time-honored gear;
A Congressional leadership role for the year;
And I’m used in a punishment most find severe.

Who am I? And who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answers.

Shakespeare Anagram: Love’s Labour’s Lost

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Inspired by recent discoveries

From Love’s Labour’s Lost:

The cuckoo then, on every tree,
Mocks married men; for thus sings he

Shift around the letters, and it becomes:

Somerset Y-chromosome not even King Richard Three’s.

Cue the funk.


Thursday Morning Riddle

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

I’m the opening scenes before “Shrew” has begun;
I’m to prove a first case, and then prove the plus one;
The event where you join; how electrons can run;
And to bring about birth, once a pregnancy’s done.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.

Thursday Morning Riddle

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

I’m that unpleasant reflex that comes when you choke;
I’ve been worn on the mouth so that nought could be spoke;
I’m a present that’s funny — a practical joke;
And an order from courts that’s a secrecy cloak.

Who am I?

UPDATE: Riddle solved by Asher. See comments for answer.


Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

In which I defend the honor of the Queen…

The DNA reports are in, and the skeleton they found in that Leicester parking lot is now confirmed to be that of King Richard III. Analysis also shows he had blonde hair and blue eyes.

Somewhat overshadowing the exciting news is a discovery that came from the research team’s comparing the old king’s DNA to that of his present-day relatives. It turns out that there is a break somewhere in the male-line continuity of the Y-chromosome, the collection of genes that are only passed from father to son, suggesting a false paternity event somewhere in the timeline.

The news media, with its trademark restraint, has jumped all over this, trumpeting that the already much-maligned Richard has infidelity in his family tree, with some even suggesting that this means that the Queen may not even be the legitimate heir to the throne anymore.

Okay, let’s all take a breath now. Her Majesty’s reign is in no danger here.

I spent a lot of time this past summer with my nose buried in the Plantagenet family tree, and may be able to add a modicum of perspective.

You can read the science team’s original report here, but a brief summary should suffice. Richard III and his distant cousin Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort are both direct male-line descendants of King Edward III. The Duke has five male-line descendants alive today who agreed to participate in the study, and four of them share the same Y-chromosome, presumably inherited from Beaufort. The one who doesn’t suggests a false paternity event (or “cuckolding” in the parlance) at some point along the way, but that’s not the infidelity that made the headlines. Richard III’s Y-chromosome also doesn’t match the Duke’s, which means that at least one of them is not actually a male-line descendant of Edward III.

Okay, so that’s pretty saucy news in itself. But it’s an overreach to drag Queen Elizabeth II into this story for several reasons.

First of all, what is the probability that the break in paternity is even in Elizabeth’s line? Here is the family tree for the relevant players (scroll down to the “Geneology of the Y chromosome lineage” graphic). It shows fifteen paternal links between Edward III and Beaufort, and only four between Edward III and Richard III. Assuming only one false paternity (which is all that’s been established here) and that all paternity events are equally likely to be false, the odds are 15:4 in favor of Beaufort being the non-heir rather than Richard. Also, if Richard III’s own parentage is the false one, it doesn’t affect Elizabeth, as she is descended from Richard’s older brother King Edward IV. So the odds of the break even being in Elizabeth’s lineage is 16:3 against or just under 16%.

Still, a 16% chance the Queen is illegitimate would indeed be headline-worthy, but let’s examine this claim more closely. Here it may be helpful to refer to the family tree I put together for Shakespeare’s King Richard III. In the column all the way to the right, close to the center of the column, you can find Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. This is the future King Henry VII. Five slots down, you can find Elizabeth of York.

Henry and Elizabeth will wed, and their offspring will include King Henry VIII and his sister Margaret Tudor. If you look one column to the left, all the way at the bottom, you will see Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester. This is the future King Richard III. From here on, I will use “Richard Plantagenet” to refer to his father, the Duke of York, who is also on the chart.

Queen Elizabeth II is descended from Margaret Tudor, which means that she is a descendant of Richard III’s brother Edward IV. Edward became king as a result of the Wars of the Roses, which were fought between the houses of York and Lancaster. His claim comes from his father, Richard Plantagenet.

Richard Plantagenet does indeed inherit his surname from his paternal lineage through the York line, being the grandson of Edmund of Langley, the First Duke of York. However, Richard Plantagenet stakes his claim to the throne from his mother’s side, as Anne Mortimer is descended from Edmund of Langley’s older brother, Lionel, Duke of Clarence. What’s more, Richard Plantagenet’s wife, Cecily Neville, who is mother to Edward IV and Richard III, is the granddaughter of John of Gaunt, who is also an older brother to Edmund of Langley (though younger than Lionel, Duke of Clarence). Henry VII is also descended from John of Gaunt.

What all of this means is that even if the Y-chromosomal break is in the 16% that would make Richard Plantagenet illegitimate, it would not affect Edward IV’s claim to the throne. It would therefore not affect Margaret Tudor’s legitimacy, nor would it affect the current monarch.

More to the point, it’s been almost one thousand years since William the Conqueror defeated the Anglo-Saxons in the Battle of Hastings, beginning the dynasty of which Queen Elizabeth II is the current representative. What else don’t we know? It seems very unlikely that, were a complete set of the genetic data magically available to us, Elizabeth would emerge as the clear genealogical winner. Not only do we have a millennium of regal shenanigans to wrangle with, but there is also the human element to consider. A lot of the lineage disputes from the past have been settled by people’s decisions and actions: who had political power, who was a bastard, who won a war, who was the right or wrong religion, etc. The question of whether women could inherit the crown changed the equation at several crucial junctures, so applying a single standard throughout English history would certainly change the outcome.

The bottom line is that we basically don’t know anything about anything, and we certainly don’t know much more today than we did yesterday. Queen Elizabeth shouldn’t start packing her bags based on this new revelation.

UPDATE: In the post, I claim the odds of the false paternity event being in the Queen’s lineage is 16:3 against. However, she is also descended from two other candidates: John of Gaunt and his son John Beaufort, the Earl of Somerset. So the odds of the break being in her ancestry would actually be 14:5 against. But she doesn’t derive her claim to the throne through this line either, so the rest of the argument still stands. See the comments for a clearer explanation.