A Very Special Chess Set

Chess Table from English Russia

Check out this beautiful custom chess set, featured on the website English Russia. It seems to be a work in progress but, from the description, we gather that the grand scheme is for an ornately carved table concealing a glass chessboard and ivory pieces. Turning a handle shaped like a flamingo’s head will activate a mechanism that lifts the board out of the table and ready for play.

The work of an unnamed Ukrainian master ivory carver, each piece is a highly-detailed rendering of a Tenniel illustration – white players from Through the Looking-Glass and black players from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. See the website for pictures of the man at work and a longer description of the project. Let’s hope that pictures of the finished work make it online too.

Lion Knight from English Russia

Walrus Pawn from English Russia

Alice in Wonderland Embossed Collector Tin

Embossed Collector Tin by Prospero Art

A new tin and things to keep within from Prospero Art. This “first edition” tin is sold as a package with either a 150-piece jigsaw featuring the lid design, or two packs of Alice in Wonderland playing cards, or both. The tin is a limited edition (3,000 made) and measures 5 1/2  by 4 1/2 by 2 1/8 inches.  More images, ordering information and a 2.25-minute video introduction to the tin can be found at ProsperoArt.com!

Mongoose Press Anthology of Chess Fiction reviewed

Masters of Technique, Mongoose Press

In April this year, Mongoose Press released the “first ever” anthology of contemporary chess fiction. Subscribers to our Yahoo news group will already know that one of the stories was written by LCSNA-member and novelist Katherine Neville. Neville’s story featuring Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson sits alongside other stories diverse in genre and inspiration. Other contributors include Steven Carter, author of the New York Times best-seller Emperor of Ocean Park, and Paul Eggers, former United States Chess Federation master.

A lengthy review of the book, written by Sean Gonsalves, is now available on ChessCafe.com. In Howard’s Gambit, Gonsalves provides some interesting back story to the book and its editor Howard Goldowsky. He also reviews some of the contributions. For serious chess aficionados, let down in the past by implausible fictional chess, Gonsalves offers the following reassurance:

… for all you expert chess players out there, the icing on the cake with MOT is the realistic description of actual chess moves in each of the twelve stories, unlike the impossible positions found in lots of pulp chess fiction.

To wit, from Patrick Somerville’s short story, The Game I Once Enjoyed:

“There was a fork on his next turn – king and bishop – but I had to get my queen out of the way of the long diagonal he’d opened up in his last turn, another little something I had missed. He’d be up a piece, whichever way I went to save my queen. So be it, I thought. Been here before. I reached forward to move, but stopped.” More…

Masters of Technique: Mongoose Chess Anthology of Chess Fiction (Hardcover) can be purchased from the Mongoose Press ($24.95) or from Amazon ($17.96). Proceeds from the book will go to support chess schools and clubs.

The Future of Alice Books, Part III of an Infinite Part Series

Several LCSNA members have noticed Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland featured in magazine advertisements for something called 100 Classic Books. Gary Brockman describes one ad thus: “Against a background of bookshelves packed with mostly leather-bound volumes, a pair of manicured hands holds open an electronic reader. On the left ‘page’ are the last lines of ‘All in a Golden Afternoon’ (there not being room for an entire stanza) and on the right page the beginning of Chapter 1 of AAIW (there not being room for the entire first sentence). The ad copy reads in part: ‘Own an instant library of 100 of the greatest books ever written, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Hound of the Baskervilles.’”

The list price is $19.99 for Nintendo DS (a latter-day Gameboy), and is exactly what it says it is: 100 classic books that you can read on your Nintendo DS. How comfortable these little hand-held gaming devices are for reading full novels is open for debate. But how excellent would it be to find that the teenager zoned out on his gameboy at a restaurant is not rescuing princesses (‘princi‘?) but instead reading Don Quixote? I’ve seen young people huddled around tiny iPod screens to watch full length movies, so the idea of having a hundred classic books in miniature at your disposal for long trips might not be entirely claustrophobic to the right demographic.

From the blurb at Nintendo.com:

The postage stamp-sized game card includes a variety of books for all different ages, including seven separate works by Charles Dickens. There are novels that people can enjoy on the beach, such as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; adventure and mystery novels that can be devoured during summer travels, such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle or Bram Stoker’s Dracula; and books that kids can read at home, such as The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Twinkle, twinkle little bat: Carroll at the ballgame

"The Mad Hatter" sold by New Era Hats

What number connects Lewis Carroll with the noble game of baseball? For the answer to this question, please welcome guest blogger and LCSNA-member Ron Papp. ~ Rachel

Jackie Robinson Day has come and gone again. As you may know, on April 15th each year all the Major League Baseball players wear the number 42 on their uniforms.

Beginning in 1997, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier, MLB revived his (the only) league-retired number. At first it was just one player per team who became 42. Subsequently, the number is worn by every player, coach and umpire. With some 20 teams playing on that day, and with four coaches per team and three umpires per game, there’s a ballpark figure of 630 wearing the number 42.

One plan for the coming year is to pass out t-shirts stamped with the famous integer to the thousands of fans at any given stadium.

But, of course, it would be difficult to tie in this annual phenomenon with Lewis Carroll other than it was his favorite number. Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, not the Brook-leaping Dodgsons. Yet, the beginnings of baseball do hail back to Carroll’s time. Abner Doubleday invented the game in 1839, when Carroll was about seven. Baseball teams (wearing straw caps) rose in popularity during the Civil War when Alice in Wonderland was written. Also, the Cincinnati Red Stockings became the first all-professional team in 1869, with the regulation size and weight of a baseball being decided in 1872 – both around the time of Through the Looking-Glass’s release.

A pity there isn’t more, considering the great number of people commemorating (in part) the number 42 while playing games. And always just nineteen days before Alice’s birthday!

Rachel: That sounds like a game to me! Can anyone think of some more connections between Carroll, Alice and the game of baseball – numerical, historical, linguistic or spurious? Next week we’ll try curling…

Help Alice solve puzzles, wait tables in new computer games

Alice needs your help! The the type of help, however, varies from game to game. Help her fall down the rabbit hole! Help her avoid death by playing cards! Help her wait tables in a poorly-managed Wonderland cafe! These are some of the many choices available in recent games for your Mac, PC, or iPhone.

First up is the inevitable Disney/Tim Burton spin-off game, available for iPhone/iPod Touch, Wii™ and DS™ systems.  “Alice in Wonderland – An Adventure Beyond the Mirror” is a 2D platform puzzle in which players are invited to “explore a world filled with whimsical settings, optical illusions, challenging puzzles, and formidable adversaries.” According to reviewers it is ok:

“Alice in Wonderland makes a very good candidate for the videogame treatment. After all, she discovered how to shrink and grow large a century before Mario ate his first mushroom, and the Lewis Carroll stories are filled with memorable allies and enemies. … a puzzle game, with some clunky and imperfect platforming between puzzles…We were surprised that Alice in Wonderland contains some genuinely clever puzzles and Hollywood production values.” Andrew Podolsky, Slide To Play

"Alice's Teacup Madness"

Whether Alice is searching for points or hard cash, Wonderland seems to have discovered wage society. Take “Alice’s Teacup Madness,” available for Mac and PC; in this game Alice has to earn her way out of Wonderland by serving tea and pastries to difficult customers. Suddenly the question of who stole the tarts becomes one of petty larceny and it’s Alice’s job on the line.

Despite the excitement, reviews have been a little lukewarm:

“A lackluster presentation … not worth recommending except to the most die-hard of time management game fans… While the comic strips at the beginning of each location are cute, the characters who actually visit your cafe during a level remain one-dimensional and do not differ notably in tipping habits, patience levels or other behaviour.” David Becker, Gamzebo

"Alice Free Fall"

Alice Free Fall” is an iPhone/iPod download in which players guide a tumbling Alice to collect points in the form of roses and avoid death in the form of collision with playing cards. It has recently been updated and improved and the developers are promising new levels, new magical items and better visuals. If you have dismissed it in the past it might be worth another look.

And finally, we can’t omit the iPhone app “Alice’s Adventures: Rabbit Hole of Death.” As far as I can tell it takes the same basic premise as “Alice Free Fall” – “help Alice fall down a hole,” but this time Alice has been to see those nice plastic surgeons and invested in some fishnet stockings. One reviewer described it as your basic “move the limbs to fit through body-shaped holes” game. Basically, players must contort nubile Alice, as she falls through space, in order to prevent her colliding with pots of marmalade etc. Charles Dodgson please look away now.

"Alice's Adventures: Rabbit Hole of Death"

"Alice's Adventures: Rabbit Hole of Death"

I am sure there are many more out there. Additions and reviews below please!

Disney Japanese Pocket Puzzle

Japanese Pocket Puzzle from ThinkGeek.com

And now for something completely different: drive yourself mad with a Disney-themed interlocking pocket puzzle, sold online at ThinkGeek.com. The puzzles are based on the classic mechanical games involving two interlocking pieces which must be separated – only this time you are offered motivation from the Magic Kingdom: help Alice navigate the Red Queen’s maze, extract Winnie the Pooh from Rabbit’s hole, separate Minnie and Mickey (?…).

The vendors says that the puzzles are intended for adults – “kids might be pretty frustrated,” by which I think they mean they will be quiet for hours (good), right until the point they pitch the thing through the passenger side window (bad).

Alice's Kitchen Sink Released on March 2nd, 2010


Paramount’s Alice in Wonderland (1933), directed by Norman Z. McLeod, has been mentioned a lot in the past few weeks, as the first big Hollywood all-star blow-out adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s books (with such stars as Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and W.C. Fields.) Slightly lost amongst the thousands of other Alices being released this month was the fact that this film, which was never released on VHS or DVD, is finally available (list price $19.99). Why is it being released as Universal Homes Entertainment? Our source from inside Paramount answers that question:

Back in 1957, Paramount sold most (but not all) of its pre-1948 film library to Universal for some quick cash (at the time, Paramount was ailing, financially). Thus, a number of Paramount films are now distributed by Universal, under their corporate and home video label [...] Paramount no longer owns the rights to these films.

There’s a review from the New York Times here.
Also released on DVD on March 2nd is the SyFy miniseries Alice (list price $19.99), which originally aired last December. Jonathan Miller’s 1966 adaptation was issued on DVD (featuring John Gielgud, Peter Cook, Peter Sellers; list price $14.98). I noticed that Amazon has a deal selling all three for $38.97, the price of which won’t even get a family of three into the IMAX to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 3D.

There’s more: Hallmark’s “overblown” 1999 television special of Alice in Wonderland (with Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Short and Christopher Lloyd) is being reissued on DVD (list price, $19.99) along with its companion Through the Looking Glass (with Geoffrey Palmer and Ian Holm; list price only $9.98!)

Now, several tie-ins to the Disney movie were also released March 2nd: several hot new video games for Nintendo Wii (list price $39.99), Nintendo DS (list price $29.99), and a Disney Interactive computer game for PC ($19.99). The movie soundtrack by Danny Elfman was released on March 2nd (list price $18.98). And merchandise, merchandise, merchandise, too much to mention here.
Did you know Alice stories can also be purchased in a book form? Many editions of this “book” were released in conjunction with the big movie premiere, but the only book rolled out on March 2nd (to keep true to the theme of this post), was one called “The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages” by C.M. Rubin and Gabriela Rubin (list price, $29.95), from AuthorHouse. A day after it was released, it appears to already be out of stock. From the product description:

In 2006, award-winning author C.M. Rubin and her daughter, Gabriella Rubin (who are related to the Liddell family), began an incredible journey to create the ultimate book about the original Alice in Wonderland’s life. Their grand pictorial, biographic vision for the book involved collecting photographs spanning two centuries, reaching out to many celebrated Alice in Wonderland artists (including Vik Muniz, Annie Liebovitz, Mark Steele, Lizzy Rockwell, Helen Oxenbury, Frances Broomfield, Jeanne Argent, David Cooper, Bruce Fuller, Tatiana Ianovskaia, Jewel, and Tom Otterness), and connecting with museums, libraries and schools around the world. The Real Alice in Wonderland book is told using never before seen pictures along with prominent voices from Alice’s lifetime and from the present day. C.M. Rubin and her daughter Gabriella explore the theme of inspiration. Behind every great person there is the person who inspires and believes in him or her. The person who motivates them to realize their dreams. This magnificent cross-atlantic epic will fascinate you — it will make you think again: what does it mean to inspire?
The Real Alice In Wonderland book is dedicated to all those who inspire the minds and souls of human beings.

However, don’t miss Simply Read Books edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, no longer out of print, with Iassen Ghiuselev’s unique and beautiful illustrations, reissued in hardcover on March 1st (list price, $24.95).

Alice in the Boston Globe's daily bridge column today

Anyone for Lanrick?


“Curiouser and Curiouser: The Games and Mind Games of Lewis Carroll,” an interactive exhibition of Lewis Carroll’s games and puzzles opens today at The Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Library.

From the Library:

The exhibition is drawn largely from the Flodden Heron Collection of Lewis Carroll materials in The Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Flodden W. Heron was an American bibliographer and collector of rare materials on Lewis Carroll. While this exhibition primarily coheres around Carroll’s fascination with puzzles and games, the items also reflect Heron’s own interests in the author, particularly Carroll’s penchant for play and the nature of his relationship with Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the little girl for whom “Alice in Wonderland/”was first written and dedicated.

The University of Illinois owns Carroll’s own chess and backgammon board–two pastimes he combined into an entirely original game called “Lanrick.” Carroll preferred games of skill and logic over those of chance. His games sought to instruct, but never at the expense of amusement.

The Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition includes special “game tables” where visitors can try some of Carroll’s puzzles and games, including Lanrick. Exhibition visitors can also try “mirror writing”–one of Carroll’s favorite forms of correspondence. Children are encouraged to attend the five-week exhibition.

The exhibition concludes on March 5 with a Mad Hatter Tea Party for Young People.

“Curiouser and Curiouser: The Games and Mind Games of Lewis Carroll” at The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Library, 1408 W. Gregory Dr., Urbana, IL. from 2 February to March 5, 2010