Alex  Belloli

Superstitions Around the World

Alex Belloli

You’ve probably heard some of the popular US superstitions: don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back, knock on wood, don’t walk under ladders and avoid broken mirrors. But across the world, there are some very different superstitions!

In South Korea, it’s believed that sleeping with a fan on can kill you! This superstition is so ubiquitous that many Korean fans have timers on them. The Korea Consumer Protection Board issued safety alerts about the topic.

In Russia, wishing a happy birthday or celebrating one in advance is believed to bring bad luck.

In India, Japan and other countries, cutting your nails at night is believed to shorten your lifespan.

Women in ancient Britain believed that carrying an acorn in your pocket helped maintain a youthful appearance. In the present-day UK, catching a falling leaf in autumn is good luck!

In the Philippines, going straight home after a wake is believed to bring bad spirits into your home. It’s customary for mourners to stop at a store or restaurant first—a practice called pagpag, which, in the Tagalog language, translates to “shake it off.”

Knock on wood that bad luck doesn’t follow you around!

Erin Sherry

Bookish Big Shots: Actors Turned Authors

Erin Sherry

I’m always stunned when the actors who portray my favorite characters on screen are revealed as writers. We previously published a blog post about popular Hollywood actors turned poets and novelists, but the list is still growing—and fast! Here are some actors turned authors whose work I can’t wait to read.

Seeing as B. J. Novak wrote for The Office as well as acted in it (and also lauds a degree in English Literature from Harvard), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that his short fiction is as clever as it is chock-full of his characteristically infectious charm. In 2013, he signed a seven-figure, two-book deal with Alfred A. Knopf, and both titles went on to be bestsellers.

Though she’ll always be Tibby to me, Amber Tamblyn has made a significant leap from films like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to making a name for herself as a poet. Between bylines at BUST and the New York Times, she also found time to pen her first novel.

Chad Michael Murray, the golden-haired gent of early 2000s’ television dramas may not be gracing tabloid covers much anymore, but you can find his name in a bookstore. In 2011, he wrote a graphic novel, Everlast, and in 2017 he teamed up with crime writer (not fellow actor) Heather Graham to produce American Drifter, reportedly inspired by one of his dreams. Maybe Murray’s as much of a wordsmith as the closet poet he portrayed in A Cinderella Story!

Keep an eye out—your favorite actor may soon become your favorite author!

Melina Leon

That’s A Law?

Melina Leon

Laws are important and should always be followed, of course, but every US state has at least one law that at first reading you wouldn’t think was actually real. I gathered some of the craziest sounding laws in New England for a sampling.

Republican Representative Max Abramson filed a repeal for this law after it won a contest for “New Hampshire’s Dumbest Law”—a 40-year-old ban on carrying and collecting seaweed during evening hours.

In Augusta, Maine, it is against the law to play drums, sound trumpets, sing loudly or make any other loud noise on the street or in public.

In Vermont, clotheslines and solar collectors cannot be prohibited because they are both considered energy devices.

If you are about to eat a pickle, make sure it bounces! Otherwise, it is not considered a pickle—at least in Connecticut! Though it is not directly included in the state’s legislation, in 1948 a man was fined $500 for selling pickles determined to be bad because they did not bounce.

Last but not least, one must not bite off a person’s limb(s) in Rhode Island. Common sense tells me that law should be followed around the world, but if it’s committed in Rhode Island it could result in 1–20 years of prison time.

You can learn a lot about a state from its laws, so be sure to go through and check out the other crazy laws that citizens are expected to abide by!

Alex  Belloli

Summer’s Most Anticipated Movies

Alex Belloli

What are you looking forward to this summer? The warmth? The sunshine? The beach? Of course all three, but you should also be looking forward to movies! I’ve assembled a list of this summer’s most anticipated movies.

Avengers: Infinity War (April 27, 2018)
Infinity War has outsold the previous seven Marvel movies combined in pre-sale tickets, making it by far the most anticipated superhero movie of all time.

Tully (May 4, 2018)
From the writers of Juno, this film stars Charlize Theron as a mom of three, who is gifted the help of a nanny named Tully.

Deadpool 2 (May 18, 2018)
The sequel to the highly popular Deadpool stars Josh Brolin as Cable, a cybernetically enhanced supervillian.

Ocean’s 8 (June 8, 2018)
Featuring an all-star female cast, Ocean’s 8 follows Danny Ocean’s sister, Debbie (Sandra Bullock), and the crew she assembles to pull of a heist at the Met Gala.

Incredibles 2 (June 15, 2018)
The teaser trailer for this sequel became the most viewed trailer ever for an animated film.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado (June 29, 2018)
Described as a stand-alone spinoff rather than a sequel, this movie follows Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin’s characters from Sicario.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6, 2018)
This sequel to 2015’s Ant-Man brings back Evangeline Lilly to star as the Wasp.

Don’t miss out on these blockbusters and remember to save your ticket stubs!

Erin Sherry

Reading Up an Appetite: Stuffed Avocados Inspired by The Bell Jar

Erin Sherry

Ever since I purchased my first collection of Sylvia Plath poems in high school, I have been absolutely entranced by the lyrical prose and verses of New England native Sylvia Plath. My copy of her unabridged journals has been loved to near tatters, and I’ve even been known to pay casual visits to her childhood home whenever I find myself in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston.

Though I admit the heart-wrenching story of Esther Greenwood isn’t one that immediately comes to mind when I think of my favorite culinary moments in literature, I’ve been nursing a bit of an avocado craving lately, and luckily, Plath’s novel was the right place to look! For the next installment of my literary recipes series, I’m whipping up an avocado salad inspired by The Bell Jar.

Early in the book, Esther indulges in stuffed avocados at a luncheon in New York. Paired with “overstewed coffee so bitter it made (her) nose curl,” the meal leads her to reminisce about the avocados her grandfather used to steal for her as a child.

To make Esther’s Ladies’ Day banquet dish for yourself, just combine lump crab, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and old bay seasoning together before scooping the mixture into the hollows of halved avocados. Unlike Esther’s overstewed coffee, this simple snack is delicate and refreshing! Bon appétit!

Trina Scuderi

Life Swap: Literary Edition

Trina Scuderi

Have you ever imagined switching lives with a literary character? Going on adventures, fighting villains or even being the villain—the possibilities are endless.

Here are a few characters who I believe lead envious lives:

Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson (and currently continued by David Lagercrantz)
Lisbeth is one of my favorite characters. Although she’s faced an abundance of adversity in her life, she doesn’t let it subdue her. She’s incredibly smart and her computer hacking skills are unrivaled.

Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Hermione is smart, hard working, brave and loyal. She has a strong sense of morality, and doesn’t let anything compromise her integrity.

Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie is such a sweet and kind person, and he also inherits the chocolate factory in the end of the book. I also adore the 1971 film adaptation, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. Although I’d rather switch lives with Charlie, in reality I’d probably pull an Augustus Gloop and dive head first into the chocolate river.

While these characters lead amazing lives, I think I prefer reading about their adventures in the comfort of my own home.

Tess Renault

Springtime Blooms in Boston

Tess Renault

If you live near Boston, it may not look or feel like spring just yet (we’re getting there!), but there are plenty of upcoming events that will help us put the cold winter months behind us!

If you’re feeling artsy, make sure to check out the Museum of Fine Art’s annual spring celebration, Art in Bloom. During the last weekend in April, the museum pairs some of its artwork with floral arrangements. The event also hosts floral arrangement classes and lectures, guided tours, and a market selling floral and garden-inspired items. Catch a preview of the event on the night of April 27. 

SoWa, the popular arts market in South Boston, starts its season on May 6. Short for “South of Washington,” this trendy spot is a perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon. Every Sunday through October, you can visit local vendors selling their handcrafted products and enjoy live music while taste-testing different foods from the farmers’ market. Also, make sure to check out the nearby vintage market! 

Looking for ideas for Mother’s Day? Try a visit to the Arnold Arboretum for Lilac Sunday. This annual event has been held since 1908 and it’s a great place to take a stroll through the arboretum’s impressive collection of lilac plants. 

Hopefully warmer weather will catch up to Boston soon, but at least there are some great upcoming events to look forward to!

Alex  Belloli

PSG Playlist: Our Favorites

Alex Belloli

Ask someone what their absolute favorite song is, and odds are they’ll have difficulty choosing just one. The staff here at PSG are no exception. I went around the office to compile a list of everybody’s favorite songs, but could only get an answer by ensuring it only had to be one of their favorite songs.

With the responses I got, I decided to create a PSG playlist, perfectly ordered for guaranteed enjoyment. Get ready to kick back and relax with the PSG staff as you get to know their favorite songs!

1. “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode (Lori)
2. “Warrior People” by Nahko and Medicine for the People (Sarah)
3. “The Way It Is” by Bruce Hornsby and the Range (Melina)
4. “Defying Gravity” from the Wicked soundtrack (Trina)
5. “Hallelujah” covered by Brandi Carlile (Colleen)
6. “Familiar Taste of Poison” by Halestorm (Alex)
7. “Hate to See Your Heart Break” by Paramore (Nora)
8. “Sweetness” by Jimmy Eat World (Annette)
9. “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” by Sufjan Stevens (Erin)
10. “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s (Don)
11. “Something” by The Beatles (Tess)
12. “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush (Tim)
13. “Baba O’Riley” by The Who (Kate)

Maybe you’ll discover a new favorite song or a band you’ve never heard before—enjoy!

Erin Sherry

Boston Off the Beaten Path: Some of the City’s Most Unusual Sights

Erin Sherry

When I first moved to Boston three years ago, I was overwhelmed by how many fascinating attractions the city had to offer. But after hitting up all of the most famous sights, I soon became curious about what other eclectic spots I might be missing. Here are some of my favorite unique spots!

6 Clearway St., Boston

Don’t be fooled by this shabby convenience store’s appearance, it’s actually a luxury shoe store—If you can find the entrance! (Hint: It’s behind the old Snapple machine!)

The “U” Bench
Jamaica Pond, Jamaica Plain

The history of this less-than-functional park bench is almost as quirky as its appearance! Located unsuspectingly at the edge of picturesque Jamaica Pond, this U-shaped bench has no discernable front or back, and was erected as an art prank in 2006. Despite not having originally been city-approved, it’s been there ever since!

Museum of Bad Art (MoBA)
55 Davis Square, Somerville

Located in the Somerville Theater, MoBA is exactly what it sounds like: a space dedicated to sharing the worst of art with the widest of audiences! If you love a good art museum like I do, a trip to MoBA is a fun break from the norm.

Whether you’re visiting Bean Town for the weekend or have considered yourself a local for years, try paying a visit to one of these unusual attractions for an off-the-beaten-path Boston experience!

Trina Scuderi

Books Coming to a Theater Near You

Trina Scuderi

It’s always exciting—and a little nerve-racking—to hear one of your favorite books is getting a film adaptation. Hopefully, 2018 will not disappoint!

Here are some books heading to the big screen later this year:

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is getting another film adaptation. Mowgli is slated to be released on October 19, 2018, and is said to have a darker tone than Disney’s 2016 version of The Jungle Book.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (November 9, 2018) is based on the novel of the same name by David Lagercrantz. The book is Lagercrantz’s first addition to the Millennium series, which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Stieg Larsson, who died of a heart attack in 2004, wrote the first three books in the series.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (November 16, 2018) is based on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling. Eddie Redmayne reprises his role as Newt Scamander, while Johnny Depp and Jude Law make their first appearances as Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore, respectively.

Though not much is known, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is said to have a film adaptation released sometime in 2018. Kirsten Dunst is directing and Dakota Fanning has been cast to play Esther Greenwood.

With these adaptations, 2018 will be a great year!

Alex  Belloli

Patriots’ Day at the Races

Alex Belloli

The Boston Marathon is more historic than you may think! Starting on April 19, 1897, it is the oldest annual marathon in the world, and is one of the best-known road racing events globally. It has traditionally been held on Patriots’ Day because the Boston Athletic Association, which established the event, wanted to link Athenian and American struggles for freedom. The holiday used to be on April 19 regardless of the day of the week it fell on. But in 1969, Patriots’ Day started being observed on the third Monday in April, and the marathon date adjusted accordingly. This is why it’s referred to as “Marathon Monday”!

From a humble beginning of 15 participants in 1897, the race now draws in tens of thousands of participants, with 30,251 registrants in 2015, 46 percent of which were female. Women were not allowed to officially enter until 1972, but in 1966, an unregistered Roberta Gibb became the first woman to run the entire marathon. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was the first woman to run and finish with an official race number, but only because she registered as a man, “K.V. Switzer.” In 2007, astronaut Suni Williams ran the Boston Marathon from space (on a treadmill)! She circled the globe a few times during her run!

The Boston Marathon is, of course, still one of the most popular road races on Earth. For 2018, several companies have designed some awesome shoes just for the event! If you’re racing this year, good luck, do your best and stay hydrated!

Erin Sherry

Lost in the Stacks: My Favorite Bookshops Around the World

Erin Sherry

I’ve spent countless hours wandering the shelves of my favorite bookstores and always carve out ample time for bookshop hopping whenever I travel. A city’s bookstores are usually what I remember most about my trips. My three favorites are located in France, Italy and Scotland.

Shakespeare and Company – Paris, France
This Parisian staple is easily one of the most famous bookstores in the world. It’s been open for nearly a century, and has served as a home to many famous writers. To amble through Shakespeare and Company is to amble through literary history itself—a dream come true for a booklover like me!

Libreria Acqua Alta – Venice, Italy
Situated right on the edge of a Venetian canal, this sprawling shop is truly magical. However, it’s on the verge of sinking, so get there before it’s gone! Books are piled up in bathtubs and gondolas, with whimsy tucked into every nook and cranny.

Armchair Books – Edinburgh, Scotland
Nestled into the cobblestone streets, it’s the perfect place to duck for cover if you’re waiting out a Scottish rain spattering, or scoping out rare editions of the Harry Potter series. My bookish friends and I like to say that our favorite bookstores are the ones that possess a comforting sort of “glow,” and Armchair Books glows brightest in my memory!

In the words of author Neil Gaiman, “a town isn’t a town without a bookstore.” What are some of your favorite literary locales?

Trina Scuderi

California Dreamin’

Trina Scuderi

In a few weeks I’ll be headed to San Diego, California. My sister is typically my travel buddy, but this will be my first trip without her.

I planned this trip a few months ago with one of my friends, and booking the trip was a lot easier than I anticipated. When we booked the trip we were able to bundle our flight, hotel and rental car all together.

I was very hesitant when I agreed to this trip. I am the mother of all worrywarts, second only to my own mother, and spent two weeks trying to decide if I wanted to go away or not. Did I want to spend the money? Would it be worth it? What areas should we stay away from? I had millions of questions that were all silenced with the mention of Disneyland.

Most of my vacations are usually to Walt Disney World in Florida. Although California has a lot to offer, I almost passed on the trip. Then my friend promised we could spend one day in Disneyland and I was immediately sold. She knows me all too well.

Other than Disneyland, we don’t have specific plans, but we have a general idea of what we’d like to do. We may go to the San Diego Zoo and possibly drive up to Hollywood.

I’ll be sure to give an update after my California adventure!

Alex  Belloli

The Charm of Odd Pricing

Alex Belloli

You’re doing some grocery shopping and come across a box of crackers priced at $3.99. “Why don’t they just make it $4?” you ask yourself. It’s a common question, and the answer might change the way you think about prices.

Prices that don’t end with a rounded number are called odd prices or charm prices. You’ve probably noticed that a lot of goods have these odd prices—about 90 percent of them do—but have you thought about why? One interesting explanation is that, because of how people handle information, they judge price differences on the left-most digits. This suggests that people are more likely to perceive the difference between $1.99 and $3.00 to be $2.01 rather than $1.01. Another reasoning behind odd prices is that the more “specific” a price is, the more likely a shopper is going to believe it as an accurate representation of value.

Here’s something else you’ve probably noticed: expensive or luxury products tend to use rounded pricing ($500, $350, etc.) to prevent a correlation between odd pricing and lesser quality.

Think about that the next time you shop!

Erin Sherry

April Fools! The Questionable History of the World’s Wackiest Holiday

Erin Sherry

This week, people across the globe are dusting off their pranking shoes and plotting which practical jokes they’ll attempt to pull on their friends and families for April Fools’ Day. From good-humored gags to elaborate hijinks, there’s no shortage of fun to be had on the year’s unofficial day of tomfoolery . . . but where did it all start?

Turns out, no one’s quite sure!

According to a Time article, countless cultures around the world have celebrated a version of April Fools’ Day since antiquity, yet historians remain locked in heated debate about when and where—not to mention why—April 1 became recognized as a day of international funny business.

Some trace its origins to the Greco-Roman Hilaria festival, which celebrated the first day following the Julian calendar’s vernal equinox with parades, masquerades and jokes.

Others think the answer lies in after the Christian world transitioned from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, which moved the date of New Year’s Eve to January instead of early spring, and made “fools” of the uninformed folks who continued to celebrate the new year on the wrong day.

Though hotly contested, one theory even points to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales as predicting April 1 (alluded to in the text as March 32) as a day of trickery, as it is when the character Chauntecleer is outsmarted by a fox. However, most scholars seem to be in agreement that the March 32 reference was most likely the medieval version of a typo, and warn of its extreme unlikelihood as the origin of early-April antics.

Maybe April Fools’ Day can’t claim one creation story for certain, but we at PSG think the beginning of spring is an excellent time to celebrate light-hearted hilarity. Bring on the friendly fooling!

Erin Sherry

Reading Up an Appetite: Stir-Fry Inspired by Haruki Murakami

Erin Sherry

Earlier this month, I shared a recipe for Butterbeer Cupcakes inspired by the wizarding world of Harry Potter. After indulging in the magic of their butterscotchy goodness, I found myself craving something a bit more savory, but no less literary. This time around, I looked to the mind-bending novels of Haruki Murakami to guide me in the next chapter of my culinary literary quest.

The characters that populate the surreal worlds of Murakami tend to share a few things in common: most notably, when things get sticky, it isn’t unusual to find them putting on a pot of coffee and cooking up a meal. One of my favorite Murakami confections comes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, when the narrator, Toru, makes dinner while waiting for his missing cat to come home. The “simple meal” Toru whips up becomes almost a recurring character throughout the novel, and every time it’s mentioned, I crave it more and more.

Just like the novel, this delicious and original “simple stir-fry” is easy to fall in love with. Just sauté cubed beef with a handful of chopped onions, green peppers and bean sprouts along with a generous portion of soy sauce, garlic, salt, pepper and ginger. For the full Murakami effect, enjoy with a fresh pot of coffee, and if the phone rings—don’t answer it!

Trina Scuderi

Viva San Pietro! Inside Gloucester’s Fiesta

Trina Scuderi

Summer is my favorite time of the year. Not just because of warm weather and beach days, but because of a celebration in my hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

St. Peter’s Fiesta is an annual celebration of St. Peter—the patron saint of fishermen. Gloucester is known for its large Italian American fishing community, so it’s no surprise that St. Peter is so heavily celebrated.

Fiesta Sunday is the last and most important day. My aunt lives down the street from all the activities, so she’ll host a cookout every year. Shortly after we arrive to my aunt’s house, we’ll all walk down the street to watch the parade. My mom will buy flowers and pins of St. Peter for all the girls. 

Somewhere between the marching bands and baton twirlers, a statue of St. Peter is carried through the streets of Gloucester. The men will shout, “Me chi samiou tutti mutti?” and expect the response, “Viva San Pietro!”

The Greasy Pole competition is later in the afternoon, and hundreds of people will congregate on the beach to watch it. Men will run along a horizontal greased pole—sometimes hitting it on the way down, more often slipping off the side and into the ocean—to capture a flag at the end.

The first round is considered a courtesy round; no one can take the flag. This gives all of the contestants a chance to run before the actual competition starts. Winning the Greasy Pole on Sunday is one of the most prestigious honors. The Sunday winner is paraded through the streets, and congratulated by everyone they pass by.
This year, St. Peter’s Fiesta begins on Wednesday, June 27, and ends on Sunday, July 1. I can’t wait!

Erin Sherry

PSG Bookshelf: Our Childhood Favorites

Erin Sherry

As a creative writing major pursuing a career in publishing, it might not come as a surprise that books have always been important to me. From memorizing P. D. Eastman’s Go, Dog. Go! at age two to penning whole volumes of fan fiction inspired by Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy in middle school, I still carry the childhood books I loved most close to my heart.

Thankfully, I’m not the only member of the PSG team who still harbors a soft spot for their favorite children’s books. Don thinks Theodor Geisel was a genius, and is a longtime fan of the lesser-known Seuss stories, especially On Beyond Zebra! He first read Stephen King’s The Stand when he was “tween-ish,” and finds himself returning to it again and again. Kate devoured Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted “dozens of times,” and loved imagining herself in Ella’s shoes so much that the 2004 movie didn’t quite live up to her expectations.

Though she hasn’t read them in a while, Nora says she was obsessed with “anything and everything” Winnie the Pooh growing up, and that A. A. Milne’s stories still mean a lot to her. Tess loved Barbara Cooney’s charming illustrations in Elinor Lander Horwitz’s When the Sky is Like Lace, and Colleen still remembers shedding more than a few tears at the hands of Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows.

If you’re like the PSG staff, the books you loved most in childhood never really leave you. What are some of your favorites?

Trina Scuderi

Shh…It’s a Secret (Recipe)

Trina Scuderi

As mentioned in my previous blog, I bake a lot of cookies. Walnut cups are my most requested, and I’m here to share the recipe with you!

The walnut cups consist of two parts: the dough and the filling. The dough requires 2 sticks of butter, 2 cups of flour, and 1 package of cream cheese. I mix all my dough by hand, and have learned that room temperature butter is a lot easier to work with. You’ll be fine with butter fresh out of the fridge or freezer, but your hands will be cold.

When the dough is ready, you’ll want to start lining the cupcake tins with the dough. This requires patience, as it is time consuming.

The filling is just as simple. All you need is 3 large eggs, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 cups of brown sugar, and 2 cups of chopped walnuts. I prefer dark brown sugar as opposed to light. It’s sweeter and gives the cookies a deeper flavor.

I typically use mini cupcake pans so the cookies will be bite sized. Although, by using a smaller pan, you’ll want to double the filling recipe. It’s also a good idea to keep an extra cup of walnuts on the side, because when you get towards the end of the filling the nuts somehow seem to disappear and then all you have left is sugary goop.

When the tins are lined with dough and the filling is ready, scoop about 1 teaspoon of filling into the cups. You’ll want to leave some space because, similar to cupcakes, they will rise.

Bake them for 10–20 minutes at 375 degrees (Fahrenheit) and bon appétit!

Alex  Belloli

Striking a Chord: My First Concert

Alex Belloli

To me, it seems like most people have been to several concerts before they hit 21. I’m a little different. I went to my first concert when I was 24. I always wanted to go, but the opportunity had never come about. That all changed in 2016. I was determined to go to a concert, and my favorite band—Halestorm—was performing at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut.

I had never seen so many people in the same place. As I wove through the clamoring crowds to my seat, I was left speechless by the grandiosity of it all. I waited in anticipation for Halestorm to take the stage. Seeing and hearing my favorite band performing 100 feet from me completely blew me away. The power of the instruments combined with the vivacity of the crowd charged the experience. In those moments, I finally learned why people love going to shows: there’s an entirely different connection that forms between you and the band. It becomes personal. It ignites musical passion and the determination to entertain.

Everybody remembers their first concert, and now I understand why.

Erin Sherry

Reading Up an Appetite: Butterbeer Cupcakes Inspired by Harry Potter

Erin Sherry

As a reader, writer and self-proclaimed foodie, some of my favorite moments in literature are when an author makes my mouth water with vivid descriptions of a character’s meal. From Heidi’s fire-roasted cheese on toast to Edmund’s Turkish delights in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the books I love most tend to be packed with decadent details that ignite my cravings.

In the fourteen years since I first opened a J. K. Rowling novel, I have attended and hosted more Harry Potter themed events than I can count. From book release parties to movie premiers, I’ve become quite seasoned in the art of crafting muggle versions of the wizarding world’s tastiest treats. No matter how many different recipes I come up with, these butterbeer cupcakes always seem to catch the snitch and steal the show!

The magic behind them is simple: start with your favorite recipe for vanilla cake batter, but stir in a cup of butterscotch pudding, a splash of cream soda, and a generous sprinkling of butterscotch chips. For the frosting, combine more butterscotch pudding and another swish-and-flick of cream soda with your favorite buttercream frosting base, and you’ll have a bewitching baked good faster than you can apparate to Hogsmeade!

So . . . maybe your kitchen isn’t Honeydukes, but with these Potter-inspired treats, magic isn’t hard to conjure! 

Trina Scuderi

From Big-Screen to Broadway

Trina Scuderi

I have always loved musicals. Growing up, I would sing along to every Disney movie I owned, and in high school I joined the drama club and discovered Broadway musicals.

Broadway has recently looked to a different source of inspiration: the big-screen. There have been stage adaptations of film favorites Groundhog Day (1993), Anastasia (1997) and Shrek (2001).

One of my favorite musicals started as a movie as well. Legally Blonde: The Musical is fun, upbeat and perfectly captures the essence of its film counterpart. The characters in the musical are just as lovable and zany—possibly zanier—than the ones in film.

I was impressed with how the musical adds more depth to certain characters. Emmett reveals in the song “Chip on my Shoulder” that he grew up in Roxbury and worked multiple jobs to get himself through law school.

I saw a production of Legally Blonde: The Musical at the North Shore Music Theater a few years ago. My rants and raves about the musical convinced my mom—and entire extended family—to go, too. It was a lot of fun, and I hope to do that again someday.

The success of Legally Blonde has strengthened my excitement for more movies-turned-musicals and up next, I look forward to the musical adaptation of Mean Girls!

Alex  Belloli

The Lure of the Lake

Alex Belloli

In the 1970s, my grandfather started building a house with his family, including his four, then-teenaged sons, right on the edge of Great East Lake in Acton, Maine. Decades later, my dad would take his family back there every summer. The drive was 2.5 hours—what felt like a long way from my hometown of Framingham, Massachusetts—so during my early years visiting, I would often fall asleep on the ride.

I would be awakened by the rumbling of my mom’s minivan as it lumbered down the narrow, gravel road that ran through the woods surrounding the lake. As we got closer, the car’s roof would break through the trees, and on the last turn onto the property, the bright, blue shimmer of the lake beckoned me.

During these vacations, mornings were filled with the smell of bacon frying, afternoons were spent either learning how to swim or throwing rocks into a nearby quarry, and nights had us trying to adjust the giant antenna hanging from the porch ceiling so we could watch TV.

The house and all the memories living within were the cornerstones of my childhood. When my grandparents broke the news over 10 years ago about having to sell it, I was distraught. Though we don’t own the house anymore, I still possess all of the memories.

Erin Sherry

Craving Some Movie Magic? Reading Recommendations Based on the Year’s Best Films

Erin Sherry

Did you fall in love with a film this year, or can’t figure out how to fill the hiatus of your favorite Netflix series? If so, step away from the screen for a while and try one of these binge-worthy books instead! 

If you liked the movie Lady Bird, read The White Album by Joan Didion

  • Like Greta Gerwig’s film, Didion’s essays explore coming of age in Sacramento, California, and recognize the importance of the places that make us who we are. Lady Bird even begins with a quote from Didion!

If you liked the movie The Shape of Water, read Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

  • If you were entranced by the magical world of Guillermo del Toro’s film, you’ll love this whimsical cult classic about a lonely housewife finding companionship where she least expects it.

If you liked the movie I, Tonya, read Gold by Chris Cleave

  • With the 2018 Olympics in full swing, try filling those commercial breaks with this gritty novel about the inner lives of two Olympic cyclists. Just like I, Tonya, Cleave captures the athletes at their least glamorous, yet most intimate, moments.

As the Olympics wind down and awards season approaches, take a break from the television to curl up with one of these timeless tales!


Trina Scuderi

Beauty and the Remake

Trina Scuderi

When I was little, I would have Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast playing on loop. I watched those movies so often, I’m sure even my mom could quote them verbatim. 

Recently, Disney has been reimagining these classic tales as live-action; replacing animation with actors. So it was no surprise that I was thrilled when Disney released their adaptation of Alice in Wonderland in 2010.

The 2010 version wasn’t bad as a standalone film, but it couldn’t compare to the magical quirkiness of the original. I was left disappointed. It just didn’t hold the same enchantment as its predecessor.

When the live-action Beauty and the Beast was announced, I was much more skeptical. My hesitation grew with every cast report and photo release. I almost expected to be disappointed.

Instead, the remake held the magic of the original. I was enthralled by the music, cast, CGI, everything. The cast was especially incredible. Luke Evans and Josh Gad were the perfect Gaston and LeFou, respectively. It was the Beauty and the Beast of my childhood. 

The sheer perfection of Beauty and the Beast has restored my excitement for Disney’s live-action remakes. I’m definitely looking forward to the upcoming remakes of Aladdin, The Lion King and Mulan!

Alex  Belloli

The Great Debate: Pens vs. Pencils

Alex Belloli

The Great Debate: Pens vs. Pencils
by Alex Belloli

Which is better: pens or pencils? It’s a controversy that has been plaguing academia for centuries. Math teachers often tout pencils as superior due to the paramountcy of the eraser. But does the ability to erase mistakes always translate to preference?

Well, here at PSG, that doesn’t seem to be the case:

• Melina prefers writing with a Sharpie ink pen because of the smooth motions it allows across the paper. To her, that outweighs the inherent neatness of the pencil.
• Tess is also partial to pens, though her preference didn’t solidify until college. The four-colored pens are her favorite, as they allow for easy color-coding!
• Nora often does creative writing in cursive, which is the perfect style for her preference: pens. Contrastingly, she likes using pencils when taking notes, especially when she anticipates erasing a lot.
• Trina sides with the math teachers of the world on this: pencils are her choice, largely for the ease of correcting mistakes.
• I almost exclusively use pens (the Pilot G2 is my favorite) because they glide across the page, which allows me to write faster (albeit messier).

It seems PSG by and large prefers pens, though the merits of a good eraser aren’t lost on the staff!

Erin Sherry

The Hostel on Mango Street: Following Poet Sandra Cisneros to Greece

Erin Sherry

Have you ever fantasized about meeting your favorite writer? How about serving her a plate of mountain trout, with a hearty helping of Sriracha sauce on the side? While working at a restaurant in Western New York last summer, not only did I get to serve dinner to the beloved poet Sandra Cisneros—I got to tell her about the time I followed her words all the way across the globe!

Sipping a pot of green tea, my favorite writer listened as I told her that, while studying abroad in Europe, I traveled with three of my fellow Cisneros-loving friends to the postcard-perfect island of Hydra, Greece, where she had written The House on Mango Street.

Using Cisneros’s memoir, A House of My Own, as our travel guide, we ate calamari at the crest of the mountains, took turns reading her poetry aloud as we hiked along the turquoise coast, and admired the limestone houses she had accurately described as seeming “carved out of feta cheese.” Cisneros’s eyes lit up at the mention of Hydra, and she said she was thrilled to hear that she had sent a group of young female writers like herself to such a special place.

Though I often feel like my favorite books have transported me around the world, I’ll always remember the time one actually did!

Trina Scuderi

PSG’s Kryptonite: The Staff’s Favorite Superheroes

Trina Scuderi

Over the past few years, superheroes have emerged as Hollywood’s victors. Between the Avengers series, Wonder Woman and the many incarnations of Spider-Man, the hype hasn’t faltered. 

Here are some of PSG’s favorite heroes!

Annette’s favorite is Wonder Woman. She’s been waiting a long time for a female superhero, and believes the wait has been worth it. She loves how fierce, smart, inspiring and brave Wonder Woman is. You may even see Annette donning her Wonder Woman shirt—complete with a cape!
• Although Tess isn’t a huge fan of superheroes, she also loved watching Wonder Woman over the summer. She too was happy to finally see a strong, independent female superhero. 
• Given her love of cats, it’s no surprise that Melina’s favorite is Catwoman. She loves how Catwoman is able to strike the perfect balance between heroism and villainy.
• While Nora loves Black Widow and believes she’s exceptionally underrated, the members of the Incredibles are her favorite heroes. She thinks The Incredibles is one of Disney-Pixar’s best films, and is eager for the upcoming sequel.

My favorite superhero is Spider-Man. He’s awkward yet sweet, and proves what we all want to believe—that anyone can be a hero.

Alex  Belloli

Nap It Off!

Alex Belloli

One thing got me through college with (most of) my sanity intact: napping. Whether it was in my apartment or in the library, napping gave me the energy to carry on. Even after graduating, I find a good nap to be immeasurably helpful in energizing me when I need it.

There are three types of napping: planned, emergency and habitual. Planned napping is what I often did between classes—napping to give myself energy before I got exhausted. Emergency napping is more rare: if you’re driving at night and find yourself too tired to drive, pull over and take an emergency nap. Habitual napping is just daily scheduled naps. Napping for 20–30 minutes daily is recommended in order to increase alertness and productivity!

The length of the nap is important! Sleep comes in five stages: Stages 1 and 2 are light sleep, Stages 3 and 4 are deep sleep, and Stage 5 is REM sleep (where most dreaming occurs). Humans cycle through all of the stages in about 90 minutes, so if you have the time, a 90-minute nap can be as beneficial as 8 hours of sleep! If you wake during the deep-sleep stages of a cycle—something that I am often guilty of!—you’re more likely to be groggy and irritable. So if you’re going to nap, nap smart!

Erin Sherry

Rare Reads and Expensive Editions: Some of the World’s Priciest Publications

Erin Sherry

As a lifelong book lover, I’ve been known to rack up quite the bookstore bill, and often find self-control difficult to exercise when I’m lost in the stacks. Unique copies of my favorite books, such as a holographic edition of Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase and a signed copy of the illustrated Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, are among my most prized possessions. However, there are some limits to how much I’m willing to spend on books, and these rare reads—cashing in as some of the most expensive titles in the world—definitely make the cut!

The Tales of Beedle the Bard (“The Moonstone Edition”), J.K. Rowling: $3.98 million
Arguably, you can’t put a price tag on the magic of the Harry Potter series. However, two copies of this handwritten and illustrated companion collection have sold for upwards of 4 million (muggle) dollars!

The Birds of America, John James Audubon: $10 Million
Only 120 copies of this hand-colored, life-sized book were ever completed by the renowned artist, so its frequent moniker as “the most expensive book in the world” comes as no surprise.

Codex Hammer, Leonardo da Vinci: $30.8 million
Microsoft’s Bill Gates took this rare notebook (full of over 300 original notes and illustrations) off the market in 1994, though he has been lending it to museums once a year ever since.

Though I think I’ll remain loyal to the discount tables at my favorite bookshops until I strike the lottery, it sure is fun to dream!

Alex  Belloli

From Crop to Cup: Coffee’s Humble Brew-ginning

Alex Belloli

I am only a morning person by one means: coffee. Until I take my first sips, I’m basically a corpse. Growing up, I always heard adults rave about coffee, but it was a phenomenon I never understood until I experienced it. Most people know why coffee boosts our energy, but not how it came to be one of humanity’s favorite drinks.

There are many legends about the first discovery of coffee, but one in particular has become the most popular. Long ago in Egypt, a goatherd called Kaldi noticed his goats became very energetic after eating certain berries. Curious, Kaldi ate some himself and experienced a similar boost in energy. He went to a nearby monastery and told the abbot of the phenomenon, who then turned the berries into a drink. He found it allowed the monks to stay awake during nightly religious services, and thereafter, this proto-coffee was quickly adopted by many monasteries and became an important part of prayer sessions.

What began as a crude concoction is now one of the most popular crafted beverages on Earth—in 1999 it was reported that 2.25 billion cups were consumed in the world every day. I have proudly contributed to today’s daily statistics and, so long as I need to wake, will continue to consume cup after cup.

Trina Scuderi

Cookie Swap: Sweet Treats at PSG

Trina Scuderi

Every year for the holidays, I’ll bake hundreds of cookies. For two full days, every flat surface in my house will be covered with ingredients, baking trays, dough, and freshly baked cookies.

It hasn’t always been such a big production at my house. It all started with one cookie: Walnut Cups. I learned how to make them from my aunt, who was more than happy to teach me. When I asked for help, she came over, apron on, ready to go!

Since then, the walnut cups have become my responsibility, and I’ve added many more recipes to my repertoire. A few of my favorites include:

• Walnut Cups: The crust is buttery and flaky, while the center is sweet and nutty.

• Lemon Filled: These are my dad’s favorites. They’re simple, sweet, and traditionally Italian. If you don’t like lemon, you can easily switch the jelly flavor.

• Salted Caramel Dark Chocolate: One of the few recipes I’ve found online that hasn’t failed me. The chocolate is almost overwhelming, but can easily be balanced out by the sea salt—or a glass of milk!

I’ll make all of these and more, and package them into tins.  I’ll give them to family, friends, and coworkers. I haven’t had a complaint yet!

Image Source: Whitney

Melina Leon

PSG Bookshelf: Biographies

Melina Leon

The reality of living in New England during the winter is that it is very cold and snowy. Why not escape that reality, stay indoors, and read about other people’s lives?

Here are some of the PSG staff’s favorite biographies and autobiographies.

• One of Kate’s top choices is Mindy Kaling’s Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Kaling narrates how she started her writing career and gives behind the scenes information about her time on the US television series The Office. She also recommends Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father for a more serious reading experience.

Colleen has a rule that she will not reread books; however, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is the exception to that rule. She found Midnight Riders: The Story of the Allman Brothers Band to be another fascinating read.

Melina fell in love with To Selena, With Love by Chris Pérez. The book is Pérez’s reflection on his relationship with Mexican-American singer Selena Quintanilla.

Nora likes to read about the lives of writers. Her favorite book is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. Also, both she and Melina agree Stephen King’s memoir On Writing deserves another blog shout-out.

Tess has always admired Audrey Hepburn, so any biography about her will find its way on her reading list. She also loved reading about Natalie Wood’s background in Natalie Wood: A Life by Gavin Lambert.

Sarah Rush

World’s Smallest Penguin Wins Big

Sarah Rush

You’re driving to work in the morning, hustling to arrive on time, and suddenly the car in front of you slams the breaks. Annoyed, you poke your head out of the window to see what the problem is and—to your surprise—you spot the tiny, paddling feet of a mother duck and her chicks waddling across the road in a tight line before the car in front of you. Are you still irked? Maybe, maybe not. Now imagine if the ducks were actually little penguins!

In Australia and New Zealand, it’s a common sight to spot groups of the little blue penguin (also called the fairy penguin, but officially known as Eudyptula minor) tottering about on sandy roads near the coast. The smallest penguin species in the world, these little blue birds weigh about two to three pounds and nest their colonies on rocky island shores or around the bases of cliffs in parts of Oceania. Feeding on small fish, squid, and krill, they hunt in inshore waters and return to their nests at night.

But their commute poses a problem for the town of Oamaru, New Zealand. The city, in an effort to protect the penguins and promote tourism, had assembled nest boxes in secure areas for the small birds to colonize, and also provided nearby vantage points for visitors to watch them. However, the penguins must cross a busy and therefore dangerous overpass road when traveling from their hunting waters to their nests. Philippa Agnew from Oamaru’s Blue Penguin Colony knew the penguins needed further help, and came up with an idea to protect the birds by constructing a tunnel below the road.

Some residents feared that the area’s historic character would be compromised by the tunnel. But the majority of the community of Oamaru and the neighboring towns largely supported its construction, and a significant portion of its funding came through donations.

The tunnel was completed in September of 2016 and only took about three weeks to build. Video footage shows that about 20 penguins have taken to the tunnel and have used it daily since its installation.

Efforts do not stop at the tunnel. Plans to protect New Zealand’s little blue inhabitants include galvanizing awareness of penguin conservation and inspiring similar protection efforts. 

These little birds certainly deserve such a big win. Next time I watch a flock of turkeys or Canada geese wobble across the road, I’ll have penguins on my mind.

Did You Know?
A long time ago, penguins could fly. Science suggests that the birds lost this ability as their wings eventually became smaller and heavier. These wing changes made flying more difficult—and, eventually, impossible—but resulted in wings that were far more useful for swimming, diving and snatching up tasty fish.

Tess Renault

A View from The Mount: Visiting Edith Wharton’s Home

Tess Renault

New England has no shortage of historical sites to visit, and if you’re like me, visiting historical homes is a favorite tourist pastime. I always try to scout out any old homes of famous writers, so I was pretty excited that Edith Wharton, one of my favorite authors, once lived in my home state. 

Located in the Berkshires in Lenox, Massachusetts, is the Mount, a 42-room estate that was designed by Wharton in 1902. Wharton’s interest in design and architecture is apparent as you stroll through the impeccably decorated rooms that you can tour either on your own or through a guided tour. Wharton’s ingenuity extends outside to the beautiful gardens, which are a must-see during the spring and summer months. However, if you’re visiting during the fall, the estate offers ghost tours.

It always fascinates me to see the environment where a role model once lived and worked, especially one as talented as Wharton. Over 40 years, she wrote more than 40 books and she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Age of Innocence. During her time living at the Mount, she wrote some of her best novels, including The House of Mirth and Ethan Frome.

In addition to a museum, the house is now a cultural center for all things Edith Wharton and also hosts other historical events. Even if you’re not familiar with Wharton’s writing, it’s still a beautiful architectural site to visit!

Sarah Terrazano

MASS MoCA: The Mill-Turned-Museum to Visit in MA

Sarah Terrazano

Tucked away in a Berkshire valley, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is one of the most innovative museums in New England—and one of the most fascinating art museums I’ve ever visited.

MASS MoCA was converted from a nineteenth-century mill into a contemporary art behemoth, making the building an attraction in itself. Consisting of 26 buildings, the sprawling property has extensive courtyards, tunnels and bridges—often displaying the factory’s original red brick.

The museum’s vast space allows for especially large exhibits. One of the most striking that I saw is Sol LeWitt’s A Wall Drawing Retrospective, a display of massive wall drawings occupying an entire three-story building. Each wall in the exhibit captivates visitors with large color blocks, patterns and line drawings. Typical of LeWitt’s exhibitions, which are often commissioned for a long period of time, these wall drawings will be on display until 2033.

Another fascinating exhibit I experienced is James Turrell’s Into the Light. Using light as a sculpture medium, Turrell creates mesmerizing holograms, backlit walls and dark rooms with designs so dimly lit that your eyes take 15 minutes to fully adjust to them.

If you’re nearby and have a day to be amazed by contemporary art in refurbished mill buildings, definitely head to MASS MoCA!

Image Credit: Beyond My Ken

Melina Leon

Sit, Stay, Listen to Jane Austen?

Melina Leon

Some dogs do great when left alone, but others have a harder time being without their owner throughout the day.

Cesar Millan, dog trainer extraordinaire, explains that the separation anxiety your pet feels often results in undesirable behavior. It can also cause your dog to feel depressed.

As a solution, Millan created a line of audiobooks for dogs. The point of playing these audiobooks is to keep your dog calm while no one is home with them. Millan also says the audiobooks affect dogs’ behavior differently than having your pet listen to the TV or radio. The difference lies in the tone of the voice of audiobooks, which lets the dog stay relaxed. In fact, according to one study, three out of four dog owners noticed a positive change in behavior after playing an audiobook for their pet.

Millan also recommends listening to audiobooks with your dog at first to find one that works. He says the audiobook you choose should be the same gender as you and played at an average volume.

Some of Millan’s suggested audiobooks include Pride and Prejudice, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the Mary Poppins series.

Christine Chen

Sheep Can Recognize Your Face!

Christine Chen

The ability to recognize familiar faces or to learn to recognize new ones is a complex image process that we, humans, take for granted. Other mammals such as chimps have that ability, but what about sheep?

A recent study revealed that scientists succeeded in training sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities by repeatedly presenting the sheep with photographs of their faces. Then the sheep were shown two different photos on separate computer screens—one of the “learned” celebrity and one of an unknown face. The sheep were able to identify the learned face eight times out of ten.

The sheep were also able to recognize their handler from a photograph, a task that requires shifting from a 3D to a 2D representation, demonstrating that sheep have face recognition abilities similar to humans’. Further research might also shed light on whether sheep can identify emotional expressions on human faces—imagine that while you’re counting sheep at night!

Christine Chen

From Carpenter to Library Benefactor: Francis Buttrick

Christine Chen

During my frequent trips to the Waltham Public Library, I noticed a plaque with the name Francis Buttrick on a wall of the brick building. Though I could safely assume that Francis Buttrick was a benefactor of the library, I was curious to learn more about him and the history of the building.

Francis Buttrick came to Waltham in 1838 as a carpenter, bought a lumberyard in 1857 and eventually made a fortune in real estate. In 1894, he left a $60,000 bequest for a new library, though legal issues prevented use of the money until 1914, when the sum had increased to $123,731 from interest!

Boston architectural firm Loring and Leland designed the building in the Colonial Revival style. The construction broke ground on October 23, 1914, on Main Street, and was completed the following year when it opened to the public on December 13, 1915.

Renovations and modern additions have updated the building since then, but its amazing history still symbolizes the American Dream: a modest carpenter’s rise to fortune and his legacy to give back to the community, which has enabled access to free books and education that patrons—including me!—still benefit from today.

Image: Tim Pierce

Melina Leon

Create Your Own Winter Wonderland

Melina Leon

The season is changing, and as the winter chill arrives—especially here in New England—what better way to enjoy it than to stay indoors and get crafty. Let’s bring winter inside our homes with these fun DIY ideas!

  • A new take on classic snow globes are DIY waterless ones. Items needed include glass jars, or clear plastic ornaments, artificial snow or glitter, small decorations such as trees or snowmen to include inside the globe, and a hot glue gun.

  • 3D snowflake decorations are also a cool way to say hello to winter. Materials needed to craft these are six to eight pieces of paper, scissors, tape and a stapler. Adding glitter, sequins or using different colored paper can also make each DIY snowflake one of a kind.

  • Glittered pinecones are another option for making some great wintery decor. They make beautiful tabletop decorations. The materials needed are spray paint, spray adhesive, glitter and pinecones—store-bought or from your backyard. Finish off the project with a pretty glass jar or vase.

  • Pinecones are also a crafty way to make a wreath. All you need is a wire hanger, a hot glue gun, beads to attach to the pinecone, ribbon and white spray paint for a nice snowy effect.

Although I love the winter, I’d rather celebrate its beauty from inside my home!

Bridget Marturano

En Garde! The Niche Sport of Fencing

Bridget Marturano

When I was younger, I always dreamed of being a pirate or a knight. When I discovered the sport of fencing at age 8, that dream came true.

There are three different types of fencing: foil, epee and sabre.

In foil, the target area is only the torso, and you must hit with the point of the weapon (there’s a little button that gets pressed in, it’s not sharp!). There are also special rules called “right of way” to determine who gets the point if both people hit.

In epee, the target area is the whole body, and you must hit with the point, but there is no right of way—if both people hit, they both get a point!

In sabre—the weapon that I fence—the target area is anywhere waist up, including the head! Like foil, the right of way rules apply, but unlike either of the other two weapons, you don’t have to hit with the point of the weapon. You can hit with the side of the blade, which makes it seem more like the fencing you might see in Pirates of the Caribbean.

After fencing for 13 years, I’ve had the opportunity to travel across the country for national tournaments, compete for an NCAA team, and meet Olympians. Fencing is a thrilling and unique sport that you can start at any age. Try it!

Christine Chen

Science and Sweets: Why Some of Us Like Candy and Others Don’t

Christine Chen

With the holiday season upon us, many of us will indulge in sweet treats at the office and at home, unless you are someone who does not care much for sweets, a concept that may surprise some of us candy lovers!

It turns out our sweet tooth has to do with two genetic variants of a hormone known as FGF21. Published research from the University of Copenhagen showed that individuals with the genetic variants rs838133 and rs838145 were 20 percent more likely to eat sweets than individuals lacking these variants. These two genetic variations of the FGF21 hormone are amazingly specific to the craving of candies like lollipops, but do not seem to have any effect on the fattier sweets like cupcakes and other pastries.

A separate study asked participants whether they liked sweets or not, and found that those who did had 50 percent less FGF21 hormone in their blood, suggesting that the hormone regulates sugar cravings. In other words, having lower levels of FGF21 or having a mutated version will cause you to eat more sugar.

The good news is FGF21 levels do not necessarily correlate with weight gain, so don’t let that hold you back from enjoying some holiday treats this season!

Bridget Marturano

PSG Favorites: Video Games

Bridget Marturano

One of my favorite ways to unwind after work or on the weekend is by playing video games. Here are some of our staff’s favorite games to play!

  • Don jokes that Adobe InDesign is his favorite “game” because he’s so good at it. But as far as console games go, he prefers to stick to Forza and Rock Band—racing and rocking!

  • Melina enjoys scary games such as the Silent Hill and Resident Evil franchises. Even though they’re very creepy (she always keeps the lights on while playing), she has a lot of fun solving the puzzles they contain. She also loves the music from the Silent Hill games.

  • Lori used to play Ms. Pac-Man after school every day in junior high and also loves Tetris. Years ago a friend told her, “Your brain operates like Tetris. Not everyone’s does, so use it well!”

  • Sarah is a fan of older games that she grew up with. She still regularly plays her Nintendo 64 and PlayStation 2 as well as her Game Boy Advance SP. She also loves World of Warcraft.

  • As for me, my favorite series will always be The Legend of Zelda, but I’ve recently gotten into the Final Fantasy series. In my opinion, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Final Fantasy VI are two of the best role-playing games (RPGs) ever. I love games that have a good balance between fighting and puzzle solving, as well as a good story!
    Melina Leon

    When Is the Movie Better Than the Book?

    Melina Leon

    I think one of the surest ways to find yourself in a disagreement with someone is by telling them a film adaptation is better than the original book. Of course, it is all a matter of personal opinion, but what films make that unpopular opinion true?

    Here are some films I feel succeeded the books.

    • Girl, Interrupted: The book lacked so much detail that the movie included, especially about the characters.

    • The Witches of Eastwick: The women are much more likeable in the film and are supportive of each other, unlike in the book when they always use magic against other women.

    • The Rules of Attraction: The book is great, but lost me toward the end because it included a lot of unnecessary detail, and the main character, although always shallow, became unbearably self-righteous. On screen however, he had qualities that made me understand why he was the way he was.

    • Pyscho: The character of Norman Bates is so much more charming on the screen than he is on the page.

    Whether or not you always believe the original format is best, it’s always fun to see the words come to life on the screen!

    Bridget Marturano

    dOGUMENTA: an Art Exhibit for Dogs!

    Bridget Marturano

    This past August, an art exhibit took place in New York City. This doesn’t seem too unusual, considering that NYC is a great place for art. What made this exhibit so special was that it wasn’t for humans—it was for dogs.

    This unique idea formed when art critic and dog owner Jessica Dawson took her dog, Rocky, for walks through art galleries. Dawson believed that dogs view and interact with art differently than people do, and that they could teach us something new about art and ourselves.

    The name of the exhibit, dOGUMENTA, took its name from a contemporary art exhibition in Germany called Documenta, and featured a variety of media that incorporated color, sound, scent and touch into the pieces. This was the first art exhibit for dogs in the United States, but hopefully there will be more events like it in the future!

    Christine Chen

    PSG Picks: Our Favorite Mystery & Crime Books!

    Christine Chen

    Halloween is over, and with it, the sense of mystery and spookiness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t submerge ourselves in a good mystery or crime book! Here are what some of us at PSG have to say about our favorite books and authors when we’re seeking suspense.

    Nora loves reading mystery novels from classic authors Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as young adult mystery writers like Brittany Cavallaro, who wrote a series based on Sherlock Holmes with a modern female detective as the protagonist. Nora is currently wrapped up in The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, whom she heard speak at a book festival.

    Kate doesn’t turn to mystery and crime novels often, but a few have caught her attention. When she found out J K Rowling had written a detective novel under a pseudonym (Robert Galbraith), she bought The Cuckoo’s Calling, and really enjoyed the plot twists throughout the novel before the final reveal. Rowling/Galbraith has since released two other novels about the same detective, and Kate is looking forward to reading those next! The BBC even made a television series (Strike) based on the novels, which Kate hopes will be available on American TV soon.

    Tess doesn’t usually read mysteries, but, a few summers ago, she read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and loved the thriller aspect of the sci-fi novel. Tess generally enjoys reading stories with a twist at the end, so she is considering reading more mystery and crime books, especially by classic female authors, such as Nora’s favorite, Christie.

    • As for me, I have a fascination for Scandinavian mystery and crime writers of the likes of Jo Nesbø (his novel The Snowman has been recently made into a movie of the same title) and Stieg Larsson (author of the Millennium trilogy). I’ve also recently finished binge-reading the Inspector Wallander series by Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell. I look forward to watching the adaptation of Mankell’s characters in the Swedish TV series Wallander and comparing it to the novels.

    With winter on its way, what better way to make use of the cold, dark days than getting wrapped up in a great mystery or crime book? Consider these suggestions from our staff!

    Melina Leon

    Glossophobia: Better Not Eat Before a Speech

    Melina Leon

    Just kidding . . . it’s probably not best to make a speech on an empty stomach. But don’t worry, if you’re one of many people with glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, there are some tips and tricks to calm the feeling of nervousness—and, in some cases, nausea—before publicly speaking.

    This Harper’s Bazaar article gives some great advice to get over the fear. Some good tips are to know your audience and their expectations; find your natural voice and what you’re comfortable with; write down notes for reference if allowed and familiarize yourself with them; and, most importantly, breathe!

    The best way to conquer nerves is to focus on breathing, says Patsy Rodenburg, a Shakespearean voice coach who has worked with many famous actors. Rodenburg also recommends practicing out loud. In an article with the Guardian, Rodenburg says, “The body houses the voice, and the breath energizes it.” A physical warm-up is just as necessary as a vocal one because it is all connected.

    However, warm-ups are often overlooked, which can hinder the quality of the speech. There is more to preparing than just memorization. A simple stretching warm-up, paired with breathing exercises, can make a big improvement in the presentation.

    Not only will these exercises make you feel more prepared, they will help ease away the nerves so you can feel confident in how you are speaking! So long, glossophobia!

    Bridget Marturano

    Meeting One of My Heroes: An Evening with Patrick Rothfuss

    Bridget Marturano

    A few weeks ago, I got to meet my favorite author—Patrick Rothfuss. He was doing a book tour to celebrate the release of the tenth anniversary edition of his fantasy novel The Name of the Wind, and made a stop at Brookline Booksmith to do a Q&A session in the store’s basement and a signing upstairs afterwards.

    I wasn’t able to secure a ticket for a seat at the Q&A, but because I arrived almost two hours early, I was able to go downstairs and stand in the back for the Q&A. Everyone who hadn’t arrived so eagerly early was still able to listen to the session over a loudspeaker upstairs.

    After the session, I waited for about an hour to get my book signed. There were hundreds of people crammed into this small bookstore, but he happily talked with each person as he signed their books. When it was my turn, he greeted me with a smile and asked how I was doing in a way that wasn’t just a greeting, but a genuine question. We talked briefly and then I said goodbye so the next person could have their book signed.

    Getting to meet the person behind the writing I’ve admired for years was amazing and definitely worth the wait!

    Christine Chen

    Pok-A-Tok: A Mayan Ball Game

    Christine Chen

    In my recently found passion for pre-Colombian cultures, I went to visit Chichén Itzá, a world famous site of Mayan ruins in Yucatán, Mexico. The site hosts one of the largest surviving stone courts where the Maya once competed in a ball game sport called Pok-A-Tok, derived from the Yucatec Mayan word pokolpok.

    The court at Chichén Itzá measures 551 feet long and 230 feet wide—about twice the size of an American football field— with surrounding walls that are 26 feet high. Teams of two to three players competed by using their padded elbows, arms, knees, thighs and shoulders—but no hands—to bounce a solid rubber ball through an inverted stone hoop in the center of the wall. The ball, ranging from the size of a softball to a soccer ball, could weigh up to 20 pounds.

    Can you imagine how challenging it must have been to throw a 20-pound rubber ball through a 20-foot-high hoop without using your hands? According to my guide in Chichén Itzá, the feat proved so difficult that modern men were unable to replicate the game in the stone court!

    Melina Leon

    The Text With No Meaning: Lorem Ipsum

    Melina Leon

    Imagine randomly hitting the keys on your computer, creating nonsense words as you type. I like to imagine that is how Lorem Ipsum—the filler text that often comes standard with many digital publishing programs—started. However, it actually started with a printer from the 1500s who scrambled up one of Cicero’s works, which may be why it’s often mistaken for Latin.

    To my surprise, though, Lorem Ipsum isn’t readable Latin. The text doesn’t mean anything at all. It does consist of some Latin words, but the words go through “Greeking,” a process that makes the text unreadable.

    Lorem Ipsum is the dummy text of the design world. The purpose of it is to make it easier for designers to get an idea of how their work will look until they have the final text to insert. Another purpose of this filler text is to avoid any distractions that readable text could cause during the layout process.

    It’s a shame I can’t write my college papers using Lorem Ipsum!

    Bridget Marturano

    PSG Reads: Our Favorite Nonfiction

    Bridget Marturano

    Fall is a great time to curl up with a good book, and it’s no surprise that we love to read at PSG! This week we asked our staff about nonfiction. Here are some of our favorite titles:

    • Nora loves In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. The first nonfiction book that she read and loved, Nora says that the story was enveloping and chilling to read. She also loves Stephen King’s memoir On Writing for its humor and advice to writers.
    • Melina agrees with Nora and also loves Stephen King’s On Writing, which she describes as “a refreshing read with a lot of useful tips on becoming a better writer.” She also enjoys how King shares a lot about his life, making the read both informative and entertaining!
    • Don enjoyed Alone by Richard E. Byrd, who spent five months alone in a shack in Antarctica in 1934. The autobiography is based on the author’s diary entries, which become more and more incomprehensible as he slowly succumbs to carbon monoxide poisoning from his malfunctioning heater. (Spoiler alert: He lives to publish the book!)
    • Annette’s favorite nonfiction book is Me Talk Pretty One Day, which is a collection of hilarious essays by David Sedaris.
    • Tess usually prefers fiction, but has a wide range of interests when it comes to nonfiction. She enjoyed Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer when she had to read it in high school. She also loves reading biographies about classical Hollywood actresses like Audrey Hepburn and memoirs written about people’s experiences during WWII.

    As for me, I read fiction almost exclusively but I’ve been having a lot of fun reading the textbook for my Intro to Linguistics class—learning about language is a reader’s dream!

    Christine Chen

    In Sync: How Our Brain Waves Affect Each Other

    Christine Chen

    Most of us have, at some point, felt in sync with a friend or a family member because of a shared experience or shared perspectives. Not only can this “feeling” be measured in oscillation patterns of electrical signals—brain waves— that occur when brain cells communicate with each other, but brain-scanning studies revealed that human brain wave patterns do synchronize in an interactive group of people.

    In one such study, researchers had a group of students wear portable electroencephalogram (EEG) headsets to measure changes in their brain wave patterns for the duration of a biology course at a New York high school. Brain waves known as beta bands started synchronizing among the subjects as they were learning. When the students’ brain waves were in sync with one another, the students became more engaged with the class and gave positive feedback about the course and the teacher.

    What this study suggests is the mutual benefit of interacting with one another one-on-one or as a team: syncing our brain waves can help improve collaboration and advance a mutual goal. So let’s sync!

    Melina Leon

    Tired of TV? Try Binge-Reading Your Favorite Author

    Melina Leon

    Binge-watching TV shows has become a popular hobby and it had me wondering if the same could be done with books. Not just reading one book after another, but reading books written by the same author.

    I have been reading a lot of work by Stephen King recently. This is partly due to taking a course about him for school, but also because he has such an imaginative mind and has written so many books. I read his memoir, On Writing, over the summer and that sparked major interest in his novels.

    A pro of binge-reading authors is getting great insight into their writing habits and common themes used throughout their stories. Another pro is seeing if they take risks and expand out of their go-to genres. King is known for his horror novels, but he dabbles in science fiction and mystery as well. The latter could be seen as a con as well because many authors stick to one genre, so you limit yourself as a reader. Another con is missing out on the creativity and writing styles other authors have to offer, and after reading On Writing, King has made it clear that writers have endless possibilities with their work.

    Cons aside, so far I’ve really enjoyed binge-reading King—I definitely recommend it to any fan!

    Nora Chan

    For the Love of Fall

    Nora Chan

    Many are disappointed that summer has come to an end. There are no more beach trips or sandals, no more s’mores by the campfire, and school begins once again. But for me, the end of the summer marks the beginning of my favorite season of the year, and it’s not just because of all the pumpkin spice flavors.

    Where there is fall, there are apple and pumpkin pies, chicken noodle soup, sweaters and blankets. Not to mention the glorious sound of fallen leaves crunching beneath your feet as you walk. I even enjoy raking the leaves in my yard! It is the best time of the year to curl up under soft layers, drink a hot cup of tea and read all the books in my growing to-be-read pile. And don’t forget about watching football with friends and family every week—and all the food that comes with it.

    For the ultimate in comfort clothing, food and activities, autumn is the only season for me. And if this doesn’t convince you that fall is the greatest season, find yourself a place to go apple picking, and get yourself some apple cider donuts—I promise they won’t disappoint.

    Bridget Marturano

    Sing-Song and Ping-Pong: Ablaut Reduplication

    Bridget Marturano

    Did you know that English is full of little unspoken rules? One of these strange rules happens in ablaut reduplication, which is the repetition of a word with a change in one of its vowels. Terms like criss-cross, Kit-Kat and sing-song are examples of this linguistic phenomenon.

    But have you ever noticed that there’s a pattern to these phrases? Try saying them backwards: cross-criss, Kat-Kit, song-sing. It just doesn’t feel right. It turns out that there is a specific order to the vowels we use in these phrases. We always start with the “high” vowels and move progressively towards the “low” vowels. A high vowel, like the i in criss-cross, is formed when your tongue is closer to the roof of your mouth, while a low vowel like the o in sing-song is formed with your tongue in a lower position.

    One theory of why we do this is because low vowels are closer to our mouth’s natural resting position, so it’s easier to start in an unnatural position and work our way back to normal. So the order of these phrases will always be I-A-O: sing sang song!

    Further Reading
    Ohio State University Department of Linguistics, Language Files: Materials for an Introduction to Languages and Linguistics (Ohio State University Press, 2016), 59–60.

    Christine Chen

    From Candy to Chemistry: Working in a Factory Turned Laboratory

    Christine Chen

    Before joining PSG as an editorial intern, I worked as a chemist in Cambridge, MA, in a six-story structure that once belonged to the New England Confectionary Company—famous for their colorful wafers and conversation hearts, and more commonly known as Necco.

    Back in 1928, the Necco candy factory embodied the “promising future of American architecture,” but in 2001, with manufacturing industries moving out of the Cambridge area, Necco sold the building to a pharmaceutical company. The building was gutted out to include an open space at the center. Glass-enclosed elevators moved between floors of biomedical research laboratories.

    The cafeteria where I’d meet my colleagues for lunch used to be the power plant. A “winter garden” with tropical plants had replaced the loading dock. The water tower, once painted in colorful stripes like the Necco wafers, was replaced with a double-stranded helix of DNA.

    How amazing that a candy-making factory became a center for a cutting-edge research facility, a place where I had been going day in and day out mixing chemicals to synthesize new molecules. The same place where, years ago, workers had mixed batches of sugars and flavors to churn out Necco treats. There were days my lab mate swore he caught a whiff of peppermint candies!

    Melina Leon

    New Season Means New Seasons: PSG’s Favorite Fall Shows

    Melina Leon

    Fall has arrived and there are new television shows starting up this season that some PSG staff members are very excited for, while others are returning with new seasons that are garnering just as much enthusiasm.

    During this time of the year I always get ready for a new season of “American Horror Story,” but am also looking forward to “Bob’s Burgers”—I like to balance out the creepiness of one with the comedy of the other.

    Here are what others at PSG are watching:

    • Kate is excited for the revival of “Will and Grace.” She has also been loving “The Good Place,” so her Thursday nights will be filled with great comedy!
    • Don prefers to binge-watch his shows, and is consumed with dramas like “The Walking Dead,” “Better Call Saul,” “Detectorists,” and “Game of Thrones.”
    • Bridget hasn’t been watching a lot of TV lately, but she really likes “Águila Roja,” which is a Spanish show similar to “Game of Thrones” and “Zorro.”
    • Tess is another staff member who is very excited for the return of “Will and Grace.” She also enjoys “This Is Us” and the British drama “The Crown.”
    • Annette is eagerly awaiting the final season of the hilarious sitcom “New Girl,” which is scheduled to be short, but guaranteed to be sweet.
    • Nora is making her way through the original “Will and Grace” so she can dive into the reboot. She is also excited about “Young Sheldon,” which is a spin-off of “The Big Bang Theory.”
    • Colleen is also enjoying the heartfelt series “This Is Us,” and is very excited for the return of the fantastic cast, especially Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown.

    We at PSG have a range of taste in TV shows, but it seems like we will be tuning into some of the same shows this fall. So there will be plenty to chat about on breaks—but we’re always wary of spoilers!


    Bridget Marturano

    Slaying Dragons on the Weekends: Why Dungeons & Dragons is More Than Just a Game

    Bridget Marturano

    I’ve always been a fairly geeky person, so when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons (also known as D&D) it was no surprise that I immediately fell in love with it. For those who don’t know, D&D is a tabletop roleplaying game that uses polyhedral dice to determine the outcome of in-game events in a fantasy world controlled by the Dungeon Master (DM). Each player creates a unique character and acts out the role of that character throughout the course of the game.

    I love D&D so much because, unlike with traditional forms of storytelling, I get to directly participate and help create the story with a group of friends for several hours every week. My particular group of adventurers consists of my human wizard, a half-elf ranger, an elven cleric, and a few others. We’ve spent countless evenings together in taverns, hatched and raised a baby dragon, slain powerful evil entities, and even brought a fallen comrade back to life.

    While it’s fun to pick up something like The Lord of the Rings and read about a group of heroes going on a grand quest, it’s even more fun to experience such an adventure firsthand.

    Katy Rosen

    Zip Into Boston!

    Katy Rosen

    At the start of this summer, my first time alone in Boston, I felt some mild trepidation about having to ride the subway system fondly known as “the T.” Coming from rural Vermont, it was a completely foreign concept to me. But now Boston offers an even more eye-opening way of getting around.

    “The Z,” a newly opened zip line in the heart of Boston, spans over 220 feet and carries one to two riders. Perched atop a 30-foot tower, it gives riders a unique view of downtown Boston, the waterfront and the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and for $8 a ride, you can have access to this unique viewing spot!

    Functioning as the centerpiece of a temporarily revitalized parcel of undeveloped land, the zip line is an initiative by the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy, a non-profit that looks for temporary ways to bring engaging experiences. The installation is scheduled to run through the middle of September, so come and enjoy it while you still can!

    Image Credit: Danielle Walquist

    Rachel Matthews

    Must-See Mini Monuments

    Rachel Matthews

    Some landmarks are designed to stand out: DC’s Washington Monument, London’s Big Ben, Russia’s the Motherland Calls (a sword-wielding stone woman who reaches nearly 300 feet!). But other marvels are easy to miss if you aren’t looking for them.

    In contrast to its towering warrior, Russia houses the smallest public monument in the world. The tiny frog statue, named the Frog Traveler, sits at only 1.7 inches high! It was inspired by the Russian children’s book The Frog Went Travelling, and pays homage to all travelers of the world.

    You may have been to the Washington Monument, but did you know that it has a mini-me buried nearby? This 12-foot replica is officially called “Bench Mark A” and serves as a geodetic control point—a point of reference for creating accurate maps. If you want to see it for yourself, you’ll need a park ranger to help you open the manhole cover!

    London has an even smaller sight to hunt for. High up on the side of a building on Philpot Lane is the Two Mice Eating Cheese. These mice may be cute, but they have a devious past. Supposedly they commemorate two construction workers who fell to their deaths in a fight after one accused the other of stealing his cheese sandwich. The real thieves got away squeaky clean.

    Stockholm is home to the Järnpojke, the Iron Boy (also called the “little boy who looks at the moon”). This monument is less than 6 inches in height and has been sitting in Old Town for 50 years. In the winter, visitors even dress him in warm clothes!
    I know on my next vacation, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for small wonders like these!

    Image Credit: Pieter Claerhout

    Karla Accorto

    Fiction’s One-Hit Wonders

    Karla Accorto

    While authors like Agatha Christie and Stephen King have published dozens of novels, others are known for their publication of a single novel.

    Emily Brontë, for example, only published Wuthering Heights, and it wasn’t well received until after her death. Critics either judged it very harshly or were unsure how to react to her dramatic romance. Whether Brontë ever intended to publish another book is unknown—she died of tuberculosis before she had the chance.

    Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell may have been discouraged from publishing again after the great media attention her first novel garnered. While initially a willing participant, Mitchell eventually stopped partaking in interviews and signing autographs, citing poor health. Ultimately, World War II broke out, and she turned to volunteering for the Red Cross.

    J. D. Salinger also found himself disliking the spotlight after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. He was always a private person and did not enjoy the attention gained by his novel. Fame and public scrutiny made him a recluse, and though he published some stories and novellas, he never published another novel.

    For some authors, the success of one novel appeared to be too much, discouraging them from publishing a second. For others like Brontë, however, we will never know what might have been.

    Katy Rosen

    Waltz This Way: How Dancing Can Slow the Aging of the Brain

    Katy Rosen

    I did not like the dancing portion of high school theater; every dance was a painful experience for me and anyone nearby. To this day, I cannot confidently do the Charleston, but luckily all that time spent on the dance floor wasn’t wasted. It turns out even poor attempts at dancing can help your brain!

    A team led by a Colorado State University researcher conducted a study on the effects that dancing has on the brain. The team also set out to find if changes in the aging brain are inevitable. The study focused specifically on the areas of the brain pertaining to memory: the hippocampus and the fornix.

    Of the four groups within the study, those that partook in dancing had the least amount of decline within their brains. Within all groups there was some decline, but the good news is that every group that participated in exercise had less of a decline than those that did not!

    The takeaway here is that while we know of nothing (so far) that can completely stop the aging of the brain, there are definitely actions that can slow this process down. So, Charleston connoisseur or not, get out on the dance floor and get your groove on!

    Rachel Matthews

    An Intern’s Industry Insight: The Other Meaning of “Signature”

    Rachel Matthews

    Picture this: you’re nearing the conclusion of a thrilling book, and you can feel three pages left in your fingers. But the ending comes more abruptly than you thought—the last two pages are blank!

    I used to wonder how those extra pages ended up in my books. But PSG staff members Alyssa and Don clued me in on an alternative definition of the word signature that is little-known outside of the publishing world.

    I had no idea that the book pages I see are not printed individually, but in sets called signatures. Since these signatures tend to be 16, 32 or 64 pages each, a book needs to be planned out accordingly. Any unfilled pages in the last signature will still be included in the final product—which finally explains the mystery at the end of my thrillers!

    Now that I know that, I understand why I sometimes see advertisements at the end of my books. And if content can’t be reworked to fill the signature, I can definitely see why the best option is to end with a blank page or two.

    I feel better knowing the whole story—and that’s just one of the many industry insights I’ve gotten from PSG!

    Katy Rosen

    Austen Fancies “Fancying” and Nabokov Loves “Mauve”: Patterns in Popular Literature

    Katy Rosen

    Synesthesia is generally described as a neurological crossover of the senses. Essentially, the stimulation of one sense causes the experience of another. In his autobiography, author Vladimir Nabokov wrote that his synesthesia caused his brain to conjure colors when he heard different letters and sounds.

    In Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, data journalist Ben Blatt seeks to learn more about the Russian-American author, as well as other famous writers, by quantifying their writing styles. Blatt created a database of text from twentieth-century classics and bestsellers to discover patterns within great writing. By analyzing the novels of popular writers, Blatt created an extensive library of data to draw from.

    One general trend he found was that shorter opening sentences and fewer adverbs are two characteristics of many popular novels. Other findings were more specific. For instance, Danielle Steel mentions weather in the first sentence of 46 percent of her 92 analyzed novels, and Jane Austen’s top three most-used words were civility, fancying and imprudence. Fancy that!

    Based on Blatt’s title, I bet you can guess one of Nabokov’s trends. Blatt found that Nabokov “used the word mauve 44 times more often than the average writer in the past two centuries.” This makes a lot of sense, given his synesthesia. I wonder which words caused Nabokov to see mauve?

    Karla Accorto

    A Tale of Two Readings

    Karla Accorto

    If you ever had to read A Tale of Two Cities at a young age, you probably felt like I did—a little overwhelmed and not exactly in love. I never thought I would willingly pick it up again. As a senior English major, however, I felt I had to give the popular classic one more shot, and I was pleasantly surprised when I did.

    My second reading has been so enjoyable because I actually understand what is happening. Dickens is famous for being a verbose writer, and enjoying his work today requires skills that I lacked at the age of fifteen. Now, however, I have a much larger vocabulary and can better understand Dickens’s once-baffling diction.

    I also favor the story more now because years of studying literature have given me the confidence to be critical of a novel’s characters. I now have more faith in my literary judgments, and I’m not afraid to admit that I dislike a character from an esteemed “classic.” Knowing that I don’t need to like the characters allows me to form my own opinions about them—without the fear of being wrong.

    As I begin the final book of the novel, I realize that reading A Tale of Two Cities in high school might have been “the worst of times,” but reading it again now is absolutely “the best of times.”

    Katy Rosen

    Qwerty Waltz: The Boston Typewriter Orchestra

    Katy Rosen

    I love the sound that typewriters make almost as much as I love satire. These are two elements rarely brought together, so when I started researching the Boston Typewriter Orchestra (BTO), I got unreasonably excited.

    Self-described as a group that combines “elements of performance, comedy and satire,” the BTO, a group of five typists, uses typewriter keys to create music. Bedecked in 1950s-style with starchy white shirts and polyester ties, they pound on the keys to self-created rhythms. Their website serves as a place for both updates and pithy inter-office jokes, such as, “There is some leftover Limburger cheese in the company cafeteria. Please take a pound home.”

    They have, however, drawn some negative attention for the harsh way they treat their machines. Derrik Albertelli, the “executive typist,” acknowledges that “we whale on them pretty hard and we break a lot of them,” but that the group strives to repurpose the mostly obsolete machines. By transforming an antiquated piece of office technology into a musical instrument, the BTO is keeping the intricate typewriter from rusting away. So, thanks to this group, long lives the typewriter!

    Image Credit: Pixabay

    Rachel Matthews

    PSG is Sweet: Our Staff’s Favorite Desserts

    Rachel Matthews

    After a busy day at the office, it can be nice to unwind with something sweet. At PSG, we all have different ways of treating ourselves. Here are some of the staff’s favorite desserts.
    Katy enjoys lemon squares and homemade banana “ice cream” (which is actually just blended, frozen bananas!).
    Matthew is more into appetizers and entrees, but has a long-held love for zabaglione—a light, whipped treat made with sugar, egg yolks and wine.
    Sarah makes s’mores in the summer, with golden-brown marshmallows and half-melted chocolate inside a graham cracker. Her treat isn’t complete without the smell of the campfire.
    Don is a chocolate fan, but would usually turn down dessert in favor of a second helping of his meal!
    Karla loves cheesecake, but it must have a classic cheesecake crust—no New York style for her. She’ll top it with strawberries or other kinds of fruit. Cheesecake ice cream also has a special place in her heart.
    Tess likes cheesecake too—it’s one of her many favorites! She also enjoys homemade jellyrolls, strawberry shortcake (especially in the summer) and anything chocolate.
    Alyssa doesn’t have a huge sweet tooth, but sometimes she’ll indulge in a homemade cannoli.
    Colleen’s favorite dessert is a local specialty called “Chocolate Decadence.” It’s a bit hard to describe—something like half-cooked brownie batter and half-baked cookie dough, all topped with homemade whipped cream. Yum!

    I’m more of a savory type, but I have a habit of pouring myself a tall glass of chocolate milk before bed. It’s just the right amount of sweet to end my day. And as the summer winds down and the temperature drops, I might start turning to hot chocolate!

    Karla Accorto

    Dogs “Speak” in Comic Sans

    Karla Accorto

    Ever since I was a child, I have loved the Comic Sans font because of how much it resembled my own handwriting, even as my handwriting developed into a more adult-like form. But how did this childlike, whimsical font come into play?

    Initially, Comic Sans was created for a digital dog named Rover. While testing a beta version of a Microsoft program, designer Vincent Connare noticed that all of Rover’s speech bubbles were written in Times New Roman, which he thought looked too formal. In his opinion, “Dogs don’t talk in Times New Roman!” and so he set out to remedy the situation.

    Using comic books—specifically The Dark Night Returns—as references, Connare worked tirelessly to create a new font, and Comic Sans was born.

    Since its inception, Comic Sans has found its way onto many a page, sign or digital interface. Those who favor it praise Comic Sans for being “casual” and “welcoming.” But did you know that Comic Sans is also one of the typefaces preferred by some dyslexic readers? Its unique sans serif quality, clear ascenders and descenders, and spacing between letters help some dyslexic readers distinguish the letters better than some other fonts.

    And to think, it all started with a talking dog!

    Image Credit: Startup Stock Photos

    Sarah Terrazano

    Tracing History: A Literary Tour of Ireland’s Great Writers

    Sarah Terrazano

    My mom and I are most similar in our Irish heritage and love of reading. We recently traveled to Ireland together and soaked up not just the cloudy countryside, but also Ireland’s rich literary history, by creating our own literary Dublin walking tour.

    We began with the Dublin Writers Museum. In an unassuming yet charming eighteenth-century brick house in northern Dublin, we saw unique artifacts like an early edition of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and a rotary dial phone that belonged to Samuel Beckett.

    We left the museum to see where many Irish writers got their start: Trinity College. It’s the alma mater of Swift, Beckett and other greats like Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker, and you can practically inhale the literary history from this beautiful, historic campus in the heart of Dublin.

    Trinity is home to the Old Library, an eighteenth-century building of literary wonders. The Old Library’s massive Long Room is a breathtaking hall with leather-bound books stacked floor-to-ceiling and marble busts of notable Trinity figures placed at the end of each row. The Long Room is also home to the famous Book of Kells, a ninth-century illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels written in Latin.

    For the final leg of the tour, we hit the streets of Dublin to find two iconic statues: James Joyce, leaning on a cane, and Oscar Wilde, lounging on a boulder—telltale smirk and all!

    Image Credit: David Iliff

    Katy Rosen

    Read Like PSG: Our Reading Habits

    Katy Rosen

    When I delve into a book, I like to read every chapter name before I start in. I always like to have some idea of what I’m getting into. This is a practice I sort of fell into, though I never realized the other PSG staff members might also have curious reading habits they’ve fallen into!
    Alyssa’s main habit, which she gets a lot of flack about, is to read the last few pages or the final chapter of a book. She likes to make sure the main character meets a happy end before investing her time.
    Matthew reads the summary on the jacket or the back cover, then flips to random pages to determine if the style and content is engaging. He is also using Audible more now these days, so he can listen and multitask.
    Eileen will go months without reading, pick up a book, and finish it in a single sitting!
    Rachel will often get so caught up in characters’ conversations that she’ll skim and only read dialogue. She wishes she could get out of this habit, but she always makes sure she goes back and reads what she skipped.
    Sarah always starts with the “About the Author” section to determine who is pulling the strings of her book.
    Colleen avoids spoilers at all costs, meaning she never looks at chapter titles ahead of time, and even goes so far as to put her hand over upcoming text on a page, in fear of spoiling something even seconds too soon. 
    •If Karla gets into a good mystery novel where the anticipation is killing her, she’ll flip to the end and read the last sentence. Most of the time, it doesn’t make sense, but she enjoys having some knowledge of the ending.

    The PSG staff clearly have a love for all things literary, but the ways in which we express that love differ quite a bit!

    Rachel Matthews

    See the World Without Leaving Times Square

    Rachel Matthews

    There’s something oddly comforting about seeing everyday objects scaled down to miniature size. It reminds me of the days of dollhouses and army men, when I controlled my own tiny worlds. I can only imagine the thrill of seeing Gulliver’s Gate: a tiny world of epic proportions.

    Since May 9, 2017, visitors to Times Square could pay to enter the 50-thousand-square-foot exhibition of miniatures known as Gulliver’s Gate. Inside, they could see models of sites from all over the world—87 times smaller than the originals!

    Gulliver’s Gate was named after Jonathan Swift’s fantastical novel Gulliver’s Travels, in which an adventurer encounters new places (including Lilliput, an island country where he is considered a giant) that change his view of the world. The project aims to create that change in its visitors.

    The mini locations feature such landmarks as Grand Central Station and the Abbey Road crosswalk—complete with tiny Beatles! Visitors receive keys that they can turn within the exhibit to make things move. Turn one at Loch Ness, and a certain infamous monster just might pop out!

    If you visit this magical world, and you find it too hard to leave, don’t worry: visitors can have their bodies scanned into mini-mes, and leave them as Gulliver’s Gate residents!

    Karla Accorto

    An English Major’s Dream Come True: Visiting Shakespeare’s Globe

    Karla Accorto

    While I have been in love with London for as long as I can remember, William Shakespeare did not capture my heart until ninth grade, when I first read Romeo and Juliet. Since then, my love for the Bard has only continued to grow.

    Then, this past March, I had the opportunity to visit the Globe Theatre—an English major’s dream! At first glance, the theater seemed very out of place; then it occurred to me that it was not meant to fit in with the modern world—it belonged to a different era.

    While visiting, I was also lucky enough to see a performance. The play was performed at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, an indoor theater attached to the Globe. The show I attended was The White Devil, a revenge tragedy written by John Webster, one of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. It was a haunting performance that was lit solely by candlelight, and it left me with chills.

    On my way out after the performance, I couldn’t help but notice—of all things—the trash cans, which boasted a quote from As You Like It: “I like this place, and willingly could waste my time in it.” As I left my beloved Globe Theatre behind, I couldn’t have agreed more.

    Sarah Terrazano

    Mark Your Calendars! Total Solar Eclipse to Sweep Across the Country This Month

    Sarah Terrazano

    Binoculars? Check. Protective solar glasses? Check. A clear view of the sky? Check! You’re ready to watch the total solar eclipse sweeping the nation this month.

    August 21, 2017, marks the first total solar eclipse to cover the entire country in 99 years.
    Tracing a path from Oregon to South Carolina, the eclipse will only be visible in the United States. It’s predicted to be one of the biggest events of the year, if not the decade. Many hotels in the eclipse’s direct path have been booked for months or years, and celebratory events like viewing parties, telescope workshops and planetarium shows are cropping up all over the country.

    If you aren’t in the eclipse’s direct path, you’ll likely still be able to see a partial eclipse (get a better idea of what you’ll see here). But those who can’t see the total eclipse in person shouldn’t worry—universities across the country will be launching 57 balloons equipped with cameras to record and live-stream the eclipse! The Eclipse Ballooning Project has been over three years in the making, and will broadcast the eclipse on NASA TV, YouTube and television stations nationwide.

    I’ll definitely be tuning into my first balloon broadcast this month. Will you join the live stream, or are you lucky enough to watch within the eclipse’s direct path?

    Karla Accorto

    Lighting Up the City That Never Sleeps

    Karla Accorto

    Just across the Hudson, the Empire State Building shines as the star of the Manhattan skyline. Often lit with a classic white light, the Empire State Building is even more breathtaking at night. Every so often, however, the building can be seen sporting a wide variety of colors and images.

    This past April, for example, Harper’s Bazaar used an LED light system to project 150 past covers of their magazine on the skyscraper. The covers rotated frequently, and each image was an astonishing 500 feet tall and 186 feet wide. Popular covers included Audrey Hepburn on the February 1954 issue as well as Beyoncé’s November 2011 issue.

    Past notable lightings also include red, white and blue in celebration of Independence Day as well as violet and white to commemorate NYU’s 185th commencement ceremony.

    The next special lighting is scheduled for August 7. The Empire State Building will appear in purple, honoring the brave men and women in our military who have received the Purple Heart.

    Sarah Terrazano

    Upping the Stacks: NYPL’s Long-awaited Midtown Renovation

    Sarah Terrazano

    I have a tradition of visiting the public library in every new city I visit. Call me a bibliophile, but a library says a lot about its city. I’ve been to the New York Public Library (NYPL) Midtown branch numerous times, but the next time I’m in New York, I’ll have a “new” library to visit—the Midtown branch’s Mid-Manhattan Library is beginning a long-awaited renovation this year.

    The Mid-Manhattan Library is the NYPL’s most heavily used circulating branch, and the renovations could not be coming a moment sooner. The library first opened in 1970 in a building that was erected in 1914 as a department store. New Yorkers rely on the Midtown branch for services like research, technology training, language classes and children’s story hour. The $200 million renovation will provide the library with much-needed public seats, study spaces and brightly lit bookshelves. Specifics include a new full-floor business library, separate libraries for children and teens, classrooms and a rooftop terrace (the only public one in Midtown!).

    The Mid-Manhattan Library will close in August 2017 and is slated to re-open in early 2020. I cannot wait to join New York patrons in checking out the renovated branch—if not a book or two!

    Image credit: Galaksiafervojo

    Katy Rosen

    My Shakespear-ience: Not-Your-Average Shakespeare Course

    Katy Rosen

    At seven o’clock on a rainy November night, I headed back to class to start a five-hour screening of King Lear, where my professor met me and my classmates with a bag of secret-recipe homemade popcorn.

    As an English major at Smith College, I was required to take an intensive course. I got the very last spot in a class that meant 15 straight weeks of Shakespeare, which was taught by the most established professor in the English department. To say I was terrified was an understatement.

    The professor’s eccentricity preceded him, and the popcorn story is only one of many. My class became well-known for getting way off topic. My favorite tangent was a discussion when the class agreed that comparing your romantic relationship to Romeo and Juliet’s is kind of like using Hamlet to demonstrate how close and well-adjusted your family life is.

    When it came down to the serious stuff, this class was by far one of the most intense and challenging things I’ve ever done, but I can confidently look back and say it was the best class experience I’ve ever had—and that popcorn was pretty good too.

    Rachel Matthews

    Boston Students See a Whole New World

    Rachel Matthews

    Once, in grade school, I was given a blank map of the world and asked to label every country (in pen—yikes). I may have gotten a lot wrong on that test, but it turns out the map I was working with may not have been accurate to begin with!

    I was probably being tested on the Mercator projection, one of today’s most common maps. It was created in 1569 with colonial trade routes in mind. As a result, North America and Europe ended up disproportionally emphasized.

    Since Earth is round, any two-dimensional map will be distorted. But the Boston Public School (BPS) system is trading out its Mercator maps for a more geographically accurate model: the Gall-Peters projection, which first started gaining traction around 1974.

    When I first saw it, I was suspicious; the continents seemed oddly stretched. But the Gall-Peters projection accurately scales surface area, so you can see how big (or small) places actually are.

    For example, on the Mercator map, Greenland rivals Africa in size. In reality, Africa could swallow Greenland nearly 14 times!

    Hopefully the Gall-Peters projection will give BPS students a more well-rounded view of the world (pun intended).

    Sarah Terrazano

    PSG Reads: The Staff’s Favorite Places to Read

    Sarah Terrazano

    We’re a staff of passionate readers at PSG, and when not working with words in the office, we make time to read for fun in some of our favorite places.
    Kate’s favorite place to read is reclining on her porch on a warm weekend morning, but she also does a lot of reading as a commuter, where she can be caught peeking at what others on the bus are reading, looking for suggestions.
    Alyssa can get lost in a book anywhere she’s comfortable, but often prefers a sunny deck. She’ll also admit that as a kid, she loved finding a good hiding spot, where she’d bring a book and be good for hours.
    Tess also loves a sunny deck to concentrate on a good book; although she envies how others can read in coffee shops—she knows she’s too much of a people-watcher.
    Colleen enjoys relaxing with a book on the beach, but now that she has kids, she doesn’t have much beach-reading time when she’s keeping an eye on them. Now she prefers to read before bed, because even if it makes her stay up too late, the alternative is not reading much at all—which isn’t an option, in her book.
    Matthew enjoys reading either on the beach or on a plane, as he concentrates best with some background noise.
    Karla can curl up under a blanket on the couch for hours with a good book.
    Rachel likes to read in bed late at night to wind down for the day, which she also thinks is because she “never grew out of bedtime stories.”
    Don enjoys reading in a comfy chair in the shade while on a camping trip, where he can fully relax. Unlike other staff members, reading in bed just puts him to sleep.
    My favorite place to read is on the beach in the summer, with the sand in my toes and the wind in my hair. Hopefully we’ll all have enough downtime this summer to unwind with a good book or two!

    Rachel Matthews

    Spotlight on the Stage: the 2017 Tony Awards

    Rachel Matthews

    My first theater experience was in fifth grade, when I joined a community production of Guys and Dolls. I had a tiny role, but it gave me a lifelong love of the stage. I’m always looking for new Broadway obsessions, so naturally I never miss the Tony Awards.

    The Tonys are up there with the Emmys and Oscars in terms of prestigious awards. Presented by the American Theatre Wing, the Tonys reward those who display excellence in theater. The annual ceremony turned 71 this June!

    This year the coveted Best Play award went to the newest rendition of J. T. Rogers’s deep and ambitious Oslo. The biggest musical of the night was Dear Evan Hansen, a compelling story of youth that took home six awards—including Best Musical! It beat out my personal favorite, the jaunty Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, which won 2 of its whopping 12 nominations.

    If you can’t make it to Broadway to see these newest gems, never fear! Boston has a thrilling theater lineup for the 2017/18 season. I’m eyeing the national tour of Fun Home, the heartfelt show that won Best Musical in 2015. Also in the circuit is Hamilton, which took Broadway by storm in 2015, and had a record-breaking 16 Tony nominations last year.

    Wherever you are, if you have a chance to see the newest stage hits, it’s a great time to do so. And if you make it to the Boston theater district, maybe I’ll see you there!

    Image Credit: Booyabazooka on English Wikipedia

    Karla Accorto

    PSG Staff Screams for Ice Cream!

    Karla Accorto

    For the past seven summers, I have been scooping homemade ice cream at a local shop in New Hampshire. In honor of July being National Ice Cream Month, and as the resident ice cream expert on site, I decided to investigate which frozen treats the PSG staff holds nearest and dearest to their hearts.

    Ken, a native of Ohio, admitted to loving his local shop’s lavender berry ice cream.
    Matthew also expressed a preference for a floral-infused dessert, citing his favorite flavor as rose latte. 
    Don is easily satisfied by a scoop of plain chocolate.
    Tess loves Milky Way ice cream, but she occasionally switches it up and orders black raspberry or orange pineapple.
    Annette prefers peanut butter cup. To meet Annette’s standards, however, it must be either a chocolate or a peanut butter base with a fudge swirl. Pairing vanilla with peanut butter is simply a hard no, in her humble opinion.
    Colleen expressed a preference for a flavor I had never heard of before—a rare phenomenon. She described her favorite as a vanilla based ice cream with caramel and fudge swirls as well as brownie chunks.
    Kate also enjoys pieces of pastry in her ice cream—her favorite is strawberry cheesecake, a cheesecake-flavored base with strawberry flavor swirls and pieces of real cheesecake.
    Eileen was the only one to declare soft serve as her favorite, citing the classic twist on plain cone as her preferred frozen treat.
    Rachel also enjoys a great classic, mint chocolate chip, and puts a fun twist on it in the winter by dropping a scoop into a steaming mug of cocoa.
    Alyssa has a passion for So Delicious’s dairy-free frozen treats, particularly the coconut flavor.
    Sarah prefers Lactaid’s cookies and cream flavor because it is made with real milk, giving it a similar taste to traditional ice cream. And because it also contains an added lactase enzyme, those who are lactose intolerant can happily feast.

    For me, cotton candy ice cream from my own local shop will always hold a special place in my heart. While the PSG staff may have very different flavor favorites, we definitively all appreciate a good scoop—whether traditional ice cream or dairy-free friendly.

    Photo Credit: Renee Comet

    Sarah Terrazano

    Fond of Fonts? Try #FontSunday, the Typeface Treasure Hunt!

    Sarah Terrazano

    As a college student, I’ve been programmed to type in Times New Roman—the font most often required for school assignments. But as the Font Sunday movement shows, I’ve been missing out on a whole wide world of fonts.

    Font Sunday is a weekly font-spotting Twitter project spearheaded by the Design Museum in London. Every Saturday, the Design Museum tweets out a font theme. Followers then have a day to spot fonts around them that match the theme. The fonts may come from dusty book covers, be found online or be seen in a storefront. On Sunday from noon to 6 p.m., users around the world share pictures of their font finds with the hashtag #FontSunday.

    Past Font Sunday themes include futuristic, psychedelic, neon, propaganda and jazz fonts. The popularity of Font Sunday has contributed to the Design Museum’s online following—with 4.2 million Twitter followers, the Design Museum is the second most followed museum in the world, second only to MOMA.

    For those who may not give fonts a second thought, Font Sunday is giving a face to typefaces used all over the world. As for me, I’ll be taking a break from Times New Roman to spot some Font Sunday typefaces of my own!

    Samantha Perry

    Storm Chasing in the Arctic: History’s Largest Polar Expedition

    Samantha Perry

    When I think of the North Pole, I think of the harshest winter weather times 10, a wasteland of snow and ice, the glare on the snow so bad I probably wouldn’t even be able to open my eyes. It’s a no-man’s-land.

    But not for long. The North Pole might be one of the most important places to study weather patterns in the world and, thanks to a new expedition, a team of scientists will find out just how important.

    Project MOSAiC (Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate) involves a yearlong expedition, during which scientists hope to understand more about global weather patterns and climate. Doing so will make maritime and offshore operations safer, as well as improve fishing and travel along northern sea routes. With a budget of about $65 million, the crew of scientists has a pretty daring plan designed to take advantage of the harsh landscape. The crew will start their expedition onboard the RV Polarstern in the summer, when the ice is thin and easy to maneuver through. By November, the RV Polarstern will be completely frozen in the ice and simply float along with the current.

    MOSAiC takes much of its inspiration from an 1893 expedition by Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen, who also allowed his vessel (the Fram) to naturally drift through the icy waters. Nansen and his crew set out in hopes of discovering the exact location of the North Pole. At one point, they realized the Fram would never make it close enough to the pole, and tried to continue the rest of the way on dog sleds, but were again unsuccessful. The Fram did make it through the ice caps, emerging intact through what is now known as the Fram Strait between Greenland and the Svalbard Islands.

    The MOSAiC project is the first mission of its kind since Nansen’s expedition, hoping to cross the polar ice caps entirely by ship this time. The journey will be about 1,500 miles, with temperatures reaching as low as
    –58° Fahrenheit and months of complete darkness. A total of 50 institutions and 14 countries will be working together during this project to study weather patterns as well as organisms like algae that seem to thrive in the “melt ponds” that collect on the ice in the spring.

    Even with Nansen’s journey as a model, the RV Polarstern and its crew still have a lot to find out. Hopefully, in a year’s time, we’ll know a few more of the secrets of the Arctic.

    Eileen Neary

    A Boston July Fourth Tradition: The Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular

    Eileen Neary

    As a kid, one of my family’s traditions was watching the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular on TV on the Fourth of July. Boston’s greatest orchestra plus other musical guests plus an amazing fireworks display is always the perfect way to end a New England Independence Day. Inspired by the orchestra’s compelling performances, I began learning to play the violin when I was 8. Performing at the Hatch Shell one day seemed like a dream come true (next to being Mia Hamm, of course).

    My mom adored (and still does) the Boston Pops’ conductor, Keith Lockhart, like most people adore their favorite singer or actor. To date, Lockhart has led over 1,800 Boston Pops concerts during his 22 years (1995–present) as conductor. But if you think that’s a record, you’re wrong—Arthur Fiedler was the conductor for 49 years (1930–1979). Fiedler is responsible for introducing pop culture to the Boston “Popular Concerts”—later shortened from “Popular” to “Pops.” He is also responsible for organizing the first free Charles River Esplanade concerts.

    Composer John Williams (yes, that John Williams, most-nominated-living-person-in-Academy-Award-history John Williams) also deserves some major credit for his tenure as the Pops conductor (1980–1993). Williams introduced to the Pops repertoire some of his film scores from famous movie scenes, helped lead the orchestra to record some national best-selling albums and used some of his Hollywood connections to have Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and iconic characters like Darth Vader and R2-D2 appear onstage. 

    Today, the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular is broadcast worldwide and inspires more than half a million people each year to grab their blankets and folding chairs and flock to the Charles River Esplanade for the celebration. This year, the Independence Day tradition includes a fighter jet flyover while “The Star-Spangled Banner” is performed, Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr., pop singer Andy Grammer and singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, as well as new compositions and old patriotic favorites. And best of all? The 20-minute Fireworks Spectacular, which lives up to its name every year.

    For more info on the show, visit

    Marianna Sorensen

    PSG Staff’s Must-Have Music

    Marianna Sorensen

    Here at PSG, it’s clear that our musical tastes cover a range of styles and sounds. I have a soft spot for Irish music—both traditional and contemporary—with a fondness for all songs involving Heidi Talbot. But I wanted to see what others thought, so I asked around to see what everyone’s favorites were—and some of my coworkers surprised me!

    Ken loves James Taylor because of Taylor’s compositions, arrangements, fun rhythms and unexpected chord changes. Only true music lovers like Ken have a preference based on chord changes!
    Alyssa grew up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but also loves a lot of Top 40 pop, including artist Vanessa Carlton.
    Tess also loves the Beatles (George is her favorite) and other bands from that time. For newer music she’s into groups like Walk the Moon and Florence + the Machine.
    Kate’s favorite band is U2, who she’s seen in concert twice. She also got to see one of her favorite artists, Adele, live at the House of Blues in Boston right in front of the stage.
    Eileen likes hardcore rock, and her favorite band is Our Last Night. She first saw them almost 10 years ago, when the lead singer was only 14—talk about being a fan from the beginning!
    Sam likes albums of indie music, dream pop and “shoe gazer” music, with the Fleet Foxes being one of her favorites.
    Colleen especially enjoys both traditional and new folk and has been going to the Newport Folk Festival for over 20 years now, so she’s seen tons of folk legends and been introduced to amazing new music.
    Don likes a whole variety including punk, bluegrass, hip-hop, metal, folk and classic rock. He also had a radio show in college, where he played almost exclusively Nirvana demos, live recordings and import versions, which is the ultimate indication of a music lover.
    Annette has a self-described eclectic taste in music. She loves alternative rock music—Pearl Jam being her all-time favorite. She also loves the Decemberists and Jimmy Eat World and makes it a point to see those bands any time they tour nearby.
    Sarah also enjoys a large variety—reggae, rap, hard rock and nu-metal are among her favorite genres.

    I never expected to receive such a wide range of answers! One thing’s for sure, if I ever want to try out any new music, I know who to ask—the staff here at PSG are one music-loving bunch!
    Did You Know?
    Your skull’s size, density and shape affect the frequency at which you hear music. This means people may hear the same piece of music differently. Scientists have found that this could be a part of why you like or dislike certain songs.

    Samantha Perry

    Ancient Smartwatches: The Statement Piece of a Roman Sundial

    Samantha Perry

    In high school, we had three foreign languages to choose from: Spanish, French and Latin. I decided to take Latin, hoping it might take me on a school trip to Italy as a senior. Although I didn’t make it to Italy in high school, I did study Latin throughout and learned quite a bit about ancient Roman culture. 

    One thing I learned was that the ancient Romans stayed on top of new technology just as fervently as we do today. The wealthiest Romans often owned the newest tech and the latest styles, which were used to show off just how much wealth someone had. A portable sundial was a combination of both, and therefore the perfect status symbol.

    The Roman day was divided into 12 increments of daylight and 12 increments of nighttime, with an hour measuring about 45 minutes in the winter and 75 minutes in the summer. Wealthy Romans who sported portable sundials could boast about knowing the time wherever they traveled. But these flashy pieces did require a good bit of technical knowledge in order to be used correctly. Many of the sundials that have been recovered were found with “cheat sheets,” collections of coordinates for different locations, which were used to calibrate the sundial to find the correct time for the desired area.

    One of the most famous portable sundials was discovered in 1706 in the ruins of Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum. Think your Hello Kitty iPhone case is cool? This sundial is in the shape of an Italian ham, and has been dubbed the “pork clock” since its discovery. It was recently recreated in a 3D model, which includes a replication of a grid on one side of the ham that marked the months of the year as well as hours past sunrise or sunset. The actual dial piece (called the gnomon) is missing, but it had been described in the past as being in the curly shape of a pig’s tail, so the 3D model includes this unique feature. A sundial of this shape is an extravagant example of a Roman status symbol, possibly intended for an Epicurean philosopher. These thinkers used a pig for their symbol and were known for their carpe diem attitude. Seize the day—and the pork, apparently!

    But, similar to today, there were always those who preferred simpler ways over new technology. Some ancient Romans insisted that their stomachs were the best judges of time, since they told them when it was time for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’d probably have something similar to say about roosters vs. alarm clocks—too bad they never got the chance to experience the snooze button!

    Did You Know?
    The month of January is named after the Greek God Janus, the god of beginnings and ends. He is depicted as having two faces, one looking forward and the other back, to represent the transition between the old year and the new.

    Marianna Sorensen

    Around the World in 95 Minutes: What it Takes to Be a Celestial Telescope

    Marianna Sorensen

    Imagine if it were your job to literally go around the world every 95 minutes. Wouldn’t you want to retire after 27 years? Well the Hubble Space Telescope, the “world’s first large, space-based optical telescope,” has reached that point. NASA is beginning its final tests on its replacement, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

    JWST, costing nine billion dollars, is going into its final round of ground tests before it’s set to launch in October of 2018. One part that needs to be completed is a shield to protect it from the sun’s heat. Because JWST is designed to look at infrared wavelengths, it has to be kept really cold. Once JWST is deployed, this sun shield will have to go through a series of steps to unfold to its full size, a process which takes two weeks. Scientists and engineers have spent almost 20 years in its design and building, so those on the team are very excited to finish it.

    NASA has additional tests to run on JWST before sending it up to space. One test they have completed recently checks whether JWST can withstand vibration and acoustics necessary for traveling into space. Scientists and engineers put JWST in a test chamber and exposed it to noise loud enough to cause comparable vibrations.

    What makes JWST different than Hubble is its infrared vision. Because the first stars and galaxies are always moving farther away from us, their light is moving toward redder wavelengths. This means JWST, because it’s a near- and mid-infrared telescope, will be able to show us the early stars— a site that we have never seen before.

    JWST will also search for extraterrestrial life on exoplanets by providing information about their atmospheres. It will also study the “transit method” of those exoplanets, or how they are traveling around their stars. And, using coronagraphs, it will get direct, colored images of exoplanets, which will provide scientists with data related to seasons, vegetations, rotation and weather.

    Is there life in galaxies far, far away? JWST may just help us find out.

    Did You Know?

    Hubble is so accurate that it could shine a laser beam through a dime from two hundred miles away. And when Hubble is outside of Earth’s atmosphere, it can see astronomical objects so well, that NASA compares it to being able to see fireflies in Tokyo all the way from Maryland.

    Ken Scherpelz

    Kudos to Ken—PSG’s Ken Scherpelz Retires

    Ken Scherpelz

    Please join us in extending the very best wishes to our VP of Sales and Business Development, Ken Scherpelz, as he retires from Publishing Solutions Group after 11 years of dedicated service.

    Ken has a long and storied career in educational publishing. After receiving his BA in elementary education and English from Augustana College, Ken entered the workforce as an elementary school teacher. Five years later, his 38-year stint in the educational publishing industry began. Ken wore many hats over the years, including working as an acquisitions manager at Scott Foresman, a managing editor at Zaner-Bloser, an editorial director at SRA/McGraw-Hill, and a vice president of two educational development and production houses.

    For over a decade, Ken has been a part of the PSG family, and we’ve all been very lucky to learn from his experience and to be able to work with him on countless projects and endeavors.

    When asked his thoughts about retirement, Ken wanted to share:

    • The first item on my Retirement To-Do List is to have dinner on the table each evening for my wife and me.
    • We also have a young granddaughter in Minneapolis who needs to be spoiled and taught the ways of the world.
    • And I’d like to get back to playing the harmonica and expanding my repertoire beyond just “Oh! Susanna.”
    • The PSG staff are some of the best and most talented publishing professionals I have known and worked with, and I’m thankful every day that I have had the opportunity to collaborate with them in building a strong and successful business.
    • My advice to all of you (c’mon—you expected some words of wisdom, didn’t you?) is simply work hard and treat each other fairly.

    Ken is known for keeping the office laughing and entertained—and busy, of course. There is never a dull day with Ken around. His wit and know-how will be greatly missed by every member of our PSG family. We wish him the very best in his new role as Grandpa–Golfer–Musician Extraordinaire!

    Samantha Perry

    A Giraffe, a Scientist and a Reporter Walk into a Podcast

    Samantha Perry

    Even when I was young, I remember struggling to find the perfect radio station to listen to in the car. My favorite channel featured a two-hour-long show called The Playground that played requested children’s music with limited interruption. The two-hour window meant I couldn’t tune in too often, so I can only imagine the never-ending stream of Harry Potter–inspired songs I could have had access to if The Playground had existed as a podcast.

    Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find a subject not covered by a podcast. There are ones for academics or entertainers, for dedicated listeners or podcast passerby, for adults or children. It’s been a while since we talked about podcasts for kids, but several new ones have emerged. Below are a few examples of podcasts designed by and for children to keep them entertained and learning.

    Eleanor Amplified is a series of adventures featuring the radio reporter Eleanor, who pursues truth and quality journalism as she encounters various kinds of villains. The show, which is designed for kids aged 8–12, encourages kids to keep asking questions and inspires interest in journalism.

    Tumble is a science podcast for kids. It hopes to instill curiosity and exploration in children with real science. The hosts, a married couple with backgrounds in journalism and teaching, created the podcasts in the hope that getting kids to ask questions early in life will also help them to ask the right questions about science in the future.

    Kids aren’t just standing by, either. There are several podcasts in which kids take an active role, like Ear Snacks and But Why. Both podcasts focus on the curiosity of children, either by interviewing them or featuring questions submitted by children. Ear Snacks, created by Andrew Barkan and Polly Hall who also compose music for the children’s TV show Wallykazam!, commonly interviews children about various topics on their podcasts. They’ve also interviewed 35 experts . . . and 2 giraffes!

    With But Why, questions are submitted and answered on the show. Parents are encouraged to record their child asking a question and email an audio file into the show for a breakdown. Kids will get a great question answered and parents will get a kick out of the kinds of things kids think to ask.

    The great thing about podcasts is that you can plug in and listen almost anywhere—from the playground to the poolside to the porch swing. And kids will love listening to the ones that are specifically made with them in mind!

    Did You Know?

    Broadcasting over 250 stations around the world, Global Breakfast Radio is a 24-hour program that only airs during breakfast time in each time zone.

    Photo Credit: Brad Flickinger

    Sarah Rush

    Super Balloons Bring Space Tourists a View from the Top

    Sarah Rush

    When I was a child, I remember once accidentally letting go of a pink balloon. I was distraught that I’d lost it, but my mom told me not to worry, because the balloon would float up all the way into space! I’ve since learned this isn’t true (the air eventually escapes the balloon and it pops), but fairly soon we will be able to fly balloons up into space—near space, at least!

    Companies are now developing balloon space tourism: pressurized pods hanging from massive high-altitude balloons that can travel into an area of Earth’s stratosphere called near space. At this height, not only can you view hundreds of distant stars, you can also observe the curvature of Earth!

    One company developing these space balloons is World View Enterprises. Called Voyager, the tourist trip involves an enormous balloon that carries a passenger pod which can hold five people in addition to two crewmen. When aboard, you will rise to more than 18 miles above sea level! For comparison, commercial airplanes fly at about 6 miles above sea level. At this incredible height, you don’t yet experience weightlessness due to a lack of gravity, but you will be about three pounds lighter—talk about an instant diet. The balloon trip takes about five or six hours in total, with two full hours in near space. There is even Wi-Fi on board! Check out a simulation of the World View balloon trip here.

    A ride in the Voyager is projected to cost $75,000 per passenger, but this price is actually far cheaper than rocket-based space tourism, such as Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, which will cost $250,000 a pop.

    The Spanish company Zero 2 Infinity is likewise developing a balloon for near space tourism, one that flies even higher than the Voyager program. The project is named Bloon, and would take passengers a whopping 22 miles above sea level. The company is still working on their space tourism venture, but continues to succeed with its balloons for other purposes. On March 14 of this year, Zero 2 Infinity successfully launched its first test flight for Bloostar, a project that uses high-altitude balloons to launch satellites.

    It seems that the final frontier will soon be open to all people (well, those who can afford it), not just those lucky enough to become astronauts. Who knows, maybe in the future it’ll even be possible to send tourists to Mars! Only time—and space—will tell.

    Did You Know?

    In Versailles, France, in 1783, the first living beings to fly in a hot-air balloon were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. The Montgolfier brothers, the pioneers of balloon travel, were behind the flight, which lasted about eight minutes and crossed nearly two miles—don’t worry, the animals landed completely unharmed!

    Annette Cinelli Trossello

    A Passion for Proper Punctuation

    Annette Cinelli Trossello

    Here at Publishing Solutions Group, we are passionate about punctuation. We take joy in seeing em dashes used properly in subway signs and cringe when holiday cards incorrectly include our beloved serial comma before an ampersand. So it should be no surprise that a New Yorker article about the roots of popular punctuation marks as well as more archaic ones quickly made its way around the office.

    The article explains that the pound sign (#) originated in the fourteenth century from the Roman libra pondo, which means “pound weight.” The Latin abbreviation for this term, lb, was written with a tilde—a horizontal bar—across the top of the abbreviation. Over time, scribes scribbled this mark in such a way that it morphed into the ubiquitous hashtag we use today.

    Professor William H. Sherman notes that a handwritten version of the manicule (☞) was once “the most common symbol produced both for and by readers in the margins of manuscripts and printed books.” First used in 1086 and wildly popular between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries, the manicule was used to draw the eye to interesting and important portions of a text. When printing was popularized in the fifteenth century, the manicule symbol and other reference marks were more readily available. This allowed printers to include them in the text and margins and left less room for readers’ own marks. The drawn manicule was replaced with the printed “mutton fist’ character and later by numbered footnotes.

    In searching for more articles about punctuation, as we words nerds are wont to do, we came across an Economist article about the interrobang (‽). Invented by Martin K. Speckter, the interrobang is a mark that combines the question mark and an exclamation point. Speckter was a journalist and later an advertising executive, who did not like the look of two ending punctuation marks. Though it never took off, it is included in a variety of current typefaces and could gain popularity on the web, where brevity is boss, leaving us to beg: Can we make the interrobang happen‽

    Did You Know?

    In discussing what new punctuation marks we would like to see, our copyeditor, Kate, made a great case for a mark that combines a period and an exclamation point, for when you would like to show a mild level of enthusiasm, but not as much as an exclamation point indicates—ideal for friendly office greetings or simply a semi-interested text response. Just when we thought we had stumbled across a new copyright, however, we found out we weren’t the first to have the idea. It seems that new punctuation is on a lot people’s minds these days.

    Photo credit: Cateartios

    Marianna Sorensen

    2017’s Marvelous Museums: Writers, Revolutions, and Revamped Art

    Marianna Sorensen

    Who hasn’t been back to the same museums innumerable times? Museums are great sources of information, with not only incredible research behind everything they share, but also interactive and engaging methods of informing visitors. You can learn everything you want to know in a totally different way than reading about it. 2017 is going to welcome several new museums across the country—three of which I’m especially excited about.

    The first is the American Writers Museum (AWM) in Chicago, which opened in May. Its aim is to celebrate the lives and works of American writers and their influence on history and culture. It has some awesome permanent exhibits. One is Writers Hall, which includes an interactive activity that lets you find authors who lived where you do. They also have the Word Waterfall, where projected words float down from the ceiling to floor, forming stanzas and paragraphs. Then there is the Mind of a Writer exhibit where AWM staff provide a prompt every day for visitors to contribute to each day’s story, and an exhibit called Word Play with an interactive tabletop that has games for visitors to experiment with words. Other areas of the museum will show artifacts on loan from historic writers’ homes to tell the behind-the-scenes stories of those writers.

    In Philadelphia, the Museum of the American Revolution opened on April 19, purposefully chosen as it is the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The museum’s exhibits are organized by time span, the first of which is The Road to Independence, which involves a giant interactive map about various groups of people, a reproduction of the Boston Liberty Tree (under which the first ideas of the American Revolution were discussed) and original versions of the first state constitutions. The Darkest Hour exhibit has an object theater with weapons used in the war and a panoramic battlefield theater where visitors feel as if they are in the charge of the Battle of Brandywine. The museum also has a replica of a revolutionary-era ship that visitors can climb aboard, as well as a collection of artifacts from that era bearing symbols of the emerging republic.

    The third museum of 2017 I’m excited about is the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (previously the Santa Monica Museum of Art, and now at a new location). It has no permanent collection, and will instead constantly show new exhibits made of loaned and donated works. It will open this fall with a café and space for public programs. Its goal is to support the community and make contemporary art accessible for everyone.

    Each of these new museums sounds amazing—looks like I have some trips to start planning!

    Did You Know?

    The oldest museum in the United States is the Charleston Museum in South Carolina, which was founded in 1773, although it didn’t open to the public until 1824. The Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts is the country’s oldest continuously operating museum, which opened in 1799.

    Samantha Perry

    Fahrenheit 250: The Temperature for Reprintable Paper

    Samantha Perry

    Since I was in middle school, the possibility of a paperless society has seemed to be right around the corner. But every year I found myself with a backpack full of books and a desk cluttered with notebooks and paper. I was even given a printing allowance in college to ensure I did not print more paper than was necessary (which was impossible to quantify as a writing major). The digital age has certainly contributed to using less paper, but if the goal is to continue to use less, will we have to go fully digital?

    Maybe farther in the future we will, but for now, recent innovations have struck a compromisen—ew technology mixes both print and digital formats. The Everlast notebook allows you to write, draw or doodle on what appears to be a normal piece of paper. With an accompanying app, you can take a picture of your handwritten pages to save them before wiping each sheet clean with a bit of water. The saved document is formatted to look like it’s always been on your mobile device, is saved in the correct page order and can be easily transferred to other online platforms.

    There are other similar products on the market as well, including Wipenote, which acts as a reusable whiteboard-like notebook. Their pens have ink that dries in seconds as well as an eraser tip for easy reuse of the pages. And anything you write is smudge-proof!

    Studies have shown that information is processed differently when seen on a screen versus paper. We connect better with words and images on a physical piece of paper, which usually means we end up remembering it better as well. So products like those from Everlast and Wipenote provide an ideal compromise in a digital world, especially for people looking to save a few trees in their lifetime. 

    Another innovative solution to reducing paper use is the idea of reprintable paper. In a recent collaboration between the University of California, Riverside, and the Shangdong University in China, researchers developed a coated paper that will make reprinting possible. The coated paper works with a printer that does not require ink, but instead uses the power of light. Nanoparticles on the coating change colors when exposed to the printer’s light, producing the desired letters and words. And reusing the paper is as easy as adding heat—250 degrees to be exact. This causes the words to “disappear” from the page, and the coated paper can then be used at least 80 more times.

    Based on these developing technologies, it looks like paper will still have its place in the digital age among our smartphones, tablets and other screened devices. So those who may be reluctant to give up their notebooks and paper products don’t need to worry just yet.

    Did You Know?
    Engineers are taking advantage of the complex and sturdy structures of origami to make robots, aid future space missions and design new medical equipment. Technical origami can be used to innovate surgery and change the world of design. 

    Photo Credit: Christian Sisson

    Sarah Rush

    Wading Through Walden: Live Like Thoreau

    Sarah Rush

    I grew up in a small New Hampshire town and whenever I needed a moment to myself or a breath of cool, fresh air, all I had to do was walk into my backyard to enter the woods. I welcomed the escape from civilization, the solitude, the quiet, the diverse array of forest life. But for many people—including me, now that I’ve moved to Boston—nature can be difficult to come by.

    Now there is a digital way for everybody to experience the beauty and simplicity of the woods, honoring how Henry David Thoreau did centuries ago. How? Its’ called Walden, a Game, and it’s a highly detailed simulation of Thoreau’s years living by Walden Pond in Massachusetts. A famous author, philosopher and environmentalist, Thoreau was one of the leaders of transcendentalism, a movement that prized the natural world over civilization, emotion over reason, and the individual over the masses.

    In 1845, Thoreau moved to Walden Pond for two years to practice a mostly self-sufficient way of life and write about his experiences. During this time he produced a renowned collection of essays called Walden. Now we can all share in these revelations through a rather unusual medium: the computer. Walden, a Game, is a six-hour simulation of Thoreau’s experiences, beginning in summer and ending after his first year.

    In the game, you spend the year building and maintaining your cabin, harvesting beans, exploring the woods, interacting with animals, collecting wild fruit and vegetables, fishing, entering town to buy supplies and chat with Ralph Waldo Emerson, and recording observations in your journal. Meanwhile, excerpts from Walden are read to you over soothing music and the sounds of birdsong. The game’s dedication to reality is uncanny—you can faint from lack of energy if you don’t eat enough, and if you work too hard, your “inspiration” will lower, causing the colors and music to fade. Don’t forget to spend time contemplating and meditating, just as Thoreau did.

    Designed by the founding director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, Tracy J. Fullerton, the game is intended to encourage balance and a love of nature in our technology-crazed world and inspire young people to read Thoreau’s Walden. An alpha version of the game is currently available for about $19, but the full game will be released some time this year in 2017.

    While most of us cannot take two years to completely immerse ourselves in nature, we can certainly spare six hours to wade through Walden Pond with Thoreau. What will you discover out there?

    Did You Know?

    This isn’t the first digital venture honoring Thoreau and Walden. In a previous blog post, we covered Digital Thoreau, a project that provides digital access to several versions of Thoreau’s work. Check out the blog post here!

    Photo Credit: Ekabhishek

    Marianna Sorensen

    The Business Behind Beatrix’s Bunnies

    Marianna Sorensen

    When I think of the books of my childhood I hear the warm words and picture the creative illustrations. But I have never considered the business ventures behind those pages and images. Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit books, was a pioneer for lone authors leading their own businesses.

    Potter used her books and her ideas to build a business empire and became an innovator in licensing and merchandising literary characters. It all began in 1893 when she wrote letters to the child of her former governess with stories about a character she called Peter Rabbit. Her former governess suggested she publish the stories along with the hand-drawn illustrations in the letters. The publishers she approached with The Tales of Peter Rabbit rejected the early draft, saying it was too plain and small. So she decided to publish it herself, and wanted to make sure it was inexpensive and easily accessible for readers. A year later, she came to an agreement with one publisher after a compromise on the length of the stories and colored illustrations. From October to December of 1902, the publisher sold 28,220 copies.

    Thanks to Potter’s approach, Peter Rabbit is one of the oldest licensed literary characters, but he had existed in Potter’s mind for far longer. Her childhood had a great effect on the creation of Peter Rabbit and the stories she wrote. She loved drawing and would spend time drawing her pets, which included mice, frogs, snakes, a bat and—of course—rabbits. Her two pet rabbits were named Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper, and they gave her the inspiration for her future books.

    Potter also planned, patented and sewed together a doll of Peter Rabbit. She even designed a board game. In the end, she was able to secure an unusual amount of merchandise and patents to accompany her books—an idea unheard of at the time. This merchandise also included tea sets, handkerchiefs, bookcases, stationery, slippers and wallpaper.

    If you would like further proof of Potter’s legacy consider this: two million of her books are sold a year—so approximately four books of hers are sold every minute. So next time you see Peter Rabbit, consider the business behind him and the publishing pedigree he began.

    Did You Know?

    Though rabbits and hares appear very similar, they actually have many differences. The jackrabbit (which is, in fact, a hare) can move up to 40 miles per hour and leap more than 10 feet high. Rabbits just can’t quite reach those levels.

    Samantha Perry

    Maps as Art: Collages, Clothing and Culture

    Samantha Perry

    A lot of my early memories seem to take place in the car with me sitting in the backseat with my siblings. We always had a stack of maps with us in the car, usually tucked into the pockets behind the seats or on the floor beneath our feet. During family trips, I loved looking through the maps and tracing my fingers along the outline of the coast or over the serpentine curve of roads that stretched out across the page. To me, the maps I looked through on these trips played just an important role as the memories I made with my family during our adventures.

    Even though our relationship with maps might be changing in the digital age, artists are still finding ways to incorporate maps in their work. You can easily spend hours losing yourself down a rabbit hole of map-themed art, including those that specifically use old maps as a medium. Some are collages of maps that create peoples’ faces, others are ghost-like sculptures of bodies made out of pages of rivers and roads. One artist, Elisabeth Lecourt, even makes clothing out of maps!

    Other artists enjoy putting a graphic twist on maps. A common cartographic interpretation features typography. Artists like Nancy McCabe strip out everything but the continental outlines of world maps, and fill the “land” proportionately with text in a variety of typefaces, colors and font sizes. Some of these font maps have country and city names sized by area or population, others create the land with keywords that apply to the area.

    Some other great examples of map art can be found on the website Mapping London. I spent four months living in London during my junior year of college, so looking at these maps brings back a lot of great memories! The website includes hundreds of different renderings of maps of the London Underground (“the Tube”), a map of ghost story locations in a Pac-Man layout, a map of the different greetings from the many prevalent languages used in the city and a map detailing the olfactory level of each street. The street I lived on was pretty stinky according to this map! 

    Did You Know?
    There are 270 Tube stations, each of which inspired a graphic design by artist Mark Wallinger. Labyrinth is a collection of maze-like maps rendered in minimalistic black, white and red graphics. Each stations’ unique labyrinth has a red X to mark your starting position at the entrance of the Tube station, and you are encouraged to trace the path that represents your journey.

    Sarah Rush

    Micro-Literature: Short Tales Going a Long Distance

    Sarah Rush

    Have you ever texted or tweeted a story to a friend? If you have, you’re officially an author—you’ve written micro-literature, or micro-lit for short.

    What exactly is micro-lit? It’s literature designed to be consumed quickly, often thanks to technology. In the mid-2000s, videophones and the first smartphones hit the streets, and people wanted to read and write on their phones. But at the time, no one could really squeeze a 300-page novel onto those tiny screens.

    A solution presented itself: smaller screens called for smaller (read: shorter) writing. In this way, new technology gave birth to a new writing format. The increased use of text messaging and tweeting also encouraged a character-limitation mindset, which helped the idea of micro-lit grow. Classifying what is and isn’t considered micro-lit is relatively subjective, but the concept has certainly expanded over time.

    Numerous programs and websites began popping up where users could share their micro-lit, such as, which still runs today. Contributors have transformed classics and bestsellers into condensed micro-lit versions and added their own stories written specifically to fit the short format.

    Micro-lit became quite popular, especially in Japan—tens of thousands of cell phone users read micro-lit in 2005. This is perhaps due to the fact that certain traditional genres like mystery, thriller, horror and humor seem to adapt well to micro-lit‘s disjointed rhythm. Micro-lit also appeals to readers who are running low on time—they can consume complete stories in short bursts whenever they want.

    Some writers turn to Twitter to publish micro-lit—a single tweet can tell a whole story, or authors can choose to serialize a tale through multiple tweets. Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jennifer Egan published a Twitter micro-lit short story in 2012 called “Black Box,” a sci-fi tale grouped into 47 “chapters.” Click here to give it a go! Others have turned elsewhere to serialize their writing. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes published a full-length novel, Belgravia, in 11 weekly “episodes” via his website and corresponding app. Serialization of the past is gaining a renewal thanks to today’s technology.

    Prefer books to screens? Micro-lit has also migrated into the realm of traditional publishing. Check out a list of six print examples of the writing form here.

    Always dreamed of being an author? Just sit down at your keyboard (or pull out your smartphone), punch out a few lines and send it to a friend or coworker through your favorite social media. I wonder how new forms of electronic communication will transform the way that we write and read in the future.

    Did You Know?
    The world’s heaviest book is a stainless steel tome weighing just over 4,400 pounds! It’s a Hindi translation of The Buddha and His Dhamma (1957), originally written in English by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. The 24-page colossal volume contains all the text of the original book, but each page is about 9 feet tall, 5.5 feet wide, and 2 inches thick. This is certainly no light reading!

    Marianna Sorensen

    Museum Makes Way for Ducklings!

    Marianna Sorensen

    Children who’ve grown up in Boston have likely seen the bronze sculptures of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack. The children’s book that inspired the models, Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, is fondly remembered by many Bostonians. Honoring the book’s 75th anniversary, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) currently has an exhibit showing some of McCloskey’s original illustrations, as well as some of his independent work.

    McCloskey was born in 1914 and lived until 2003. He wrote and illustrated 8 children’s books and illustrated 10 more for other authors. He won the Caldecott Medal twice for his books, the first for Make Way for Ducklings, which is at the center of the MFA’s exhibit. When I heard about this exhibit, I knew I had to go!

    As I walked into the exhibit, the first thing I saw was a series of panels displaying the original illustrations for Make Way for Ducklings. Along one wall, at a child’s eye level, there were various activities for kids: “Honk! Quack! Look for drawings of Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings making sounds. What do you think they are saying to each other? Can you honk and quack like a duck?” Not only do these activities inspire kids to look closer at the illustrations, they also offer them ways to interact with the art.

    Nearby, McCloskey’s books are laid out on a cushioned bench to show how the drawings appear in their final form. A basket of books gives children something to focus on that they can touch, unlike the paintings and prints on the walls.

    Duck footprints are laid out on the floor leading from the main entrance of the museum to the McCloskey exhibit to ensure that visitors find it and that kids have fun following the ducks’ tracks. The exhibit also has a miniature version of the sculptures found in the Boston Public Garden. The policeman from the book is actually included in this version, but he never made it to the Public Garden—if he had been created to scale to the ducks, he would have been much too tall!

    The surrounding walls of the exhibit also have panels with illustrations and information about other books McCloskey worked on. Anyone who enjoys the story of Make Way for Ducklings, cultural icons of Boston, art history or book illustrations would, like me, most certainly enjoy this exhibit, which can be viewed until June 18, 2017.

    Did You Know?

    When he was working on Make Way for Ducklings, McCloskey felt stuck on the illustrations so he bought the real thing and brought them back to his apartment to study. McCloskey studied these ducks for more than two years and during this period he lived with no less than 16 ducks!

    Photo Credit: Rizka

    Tess Renault

    Motion Paintings: New Movie Brings Van Gogh’s Masterpieces to Life

    Tess Renault

    A few summers ago, I found myself exploring the streets of Kraków with some classmates. We had just arrived in Poland after a train experience we were eager to forget and had one thing on our minds: pierogi. We eventually stopped at Pierożki u Vincenta, a hole-in-the-wall café near our hotel. The pierogi didn’t disappoint, but the atmosphere is what I remember most. Living up to its name (which translates to “Vincent’s Pierogi”), the café was reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting—even the ceiling swirled with blue and yellow paints to create a mural of his iconic The Starry Night.

    In other parts of Poland, artists have created a tribute to Van Gogh in a different way—through film. Loving Vincent is a biopic on Van Gogh’s life and death, but the film adds another dimension to his story by being the first ever hand-painted film. Altogether, the movie is composed of 62,450 oil paintings created by 125 artists in Van Gogh’s characteristic painting style.

    Dorota Kobiela, a Polish painter and filmmaker, came up with the idea for the film after revisiting Van Gogh’s extensive letters. Intrigued by both his personal life and his art, Kobiela wanted to make a short animated film about his work. However, her husband, producer Hugh Welchman, convinced her that a project of this magnitude deserved more than a few minutes of screen time. Together they’ve directed Loving Vincent, which turned into a full-length feature that took six years to make.

    Described as “87 minutes of relentless interplay of colors,” the film was an ambitious undertaking. Each shot of the movie consists of a series of frames painted on top of one another so that each resulting oil painting is the last frame of the shot. In order to make the scenes appear seamless, each second of the film was created from 12 frames. With each frame taking between one hour and two days to complete, it could take an artist up to a month working on a single second of the film!

    Artists from all over the world traveled to Poland where the creativity flowed in special studios called painting animation work stations (PAWS). Professional actors assumed the roles of the characters in the film and they performed in front of green screens. This live action material was then used as reference points for the painters, who had to make sure each frame conveyed a sense of movement while retaining Van Gogh’s signature style of thick, heavy brushstrokes.

    Blending painting and film is certainly an artistic feat, but considering Van Gogh’s place in art history, it’s a perfect homage to his innovation. In the end, Kobiela hopes that her film, which is slated to come out this year, is an accurate representation of this line from Van Gogh’s final letter: “We cannot speak other than by our paintings.”

    Did You Know?
    Ever wanted to live inside a painting? For a brief time last year, you could! As part of a Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, the museum created a life-size replica of Van Gogh’s room, which he depicted in several paintings that were the focus of the exhibit. For $10 a day, guests could stay in the room overnight and dream within the walls of a painting come to life.

    Samantha Perry

    Sci-Fi Skyscrapers: The Architecture Competition Creating New Worlds

    Samantha Perry

    Taking inspiration from some of my favorite stories and sci-fi movies, I often drew maps and made up my own worlds when I was a kid. I remember sitting hunched over a large piece of paper drawing a squiggly coastline of my dream island, that may or may not have contained a river of lava somewhere in the middle. If ten-year-old me had heard of Blank Space’s architectural competition, I would have jumped on the chance to contribute some of my own renderings!

    Blank Space is described on its website as “an office for thought provocation, challenging architecture to rethink its role in society by speaking about things we can all relate to”. Blank Space hosts an annual Fairy Tales competition, which prompts contestants to enter an original piece of fiction (typically fantasy, fairy tale or sci-fi) and artwork to represent their imagined world. Many submissions use creative architectural structures to represent the theme of these new worlds, like these past submissions. The accompanying piece of fiction goes along with the artwork to detail the more subtle aspects of the submission.

    Hosting one of the largest architecture competitions in the world, the creators of the competition aim to do many things, including challenge current architectural norms, create new opportunities in the field of architecture and strike up a conversation with society. So entries must be creative and outside the box to ensure a good look from judges. The competition is open to anyone, and the panel of judges features prominent architects, designers and writers.

    I think what I like most about this competition is seeing what the contestants decide to bring out in their imagined worlds and how that speaks to the world we actually live in. The 2017 winner, Mykhailo Ponomarenko, for example, combines landscapes and sci-fi architectural forms to comment on modern society’s relationship with nature. His submission also includes the current mixed with the future, with people posing for pictures in front of these futuristic landmarks. It’s cool to think about these submissions as a glimpse into the future. Imagine living on an island in the sky, equipped with roadways, malls and movie theaters!

    Blank Space announces three winners and ten honorable mentions each year with a celebration at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Both the winners and the honorable mentions are featured in the newest volume of Blank Space’s publication Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story, but I think we can agree that we all win with this competition.

    What kind of world would you design?

    Did You Know?
    The post at the top of the Empire State Building was originally meant as a place for dirigibles to dock. The plan was for passengers to disembark and enter the building by an open-air gangplank (yikes!) and be on the ground in just seven minutes!

    Sarah Rush

    Life Finds a Way: Crystal Caves May Contain 50,000-Year-Old Microorganisms

    Sarah Rush

    Have you heard of microscopic animals called water bears? When I learned about these little guys a few years ago, my idea of what life is capable of was turned upside down and inside out. Also called tardigrades, water bears can survive extreme temperatures, pressure, radiation and even the vacuum of space! I’m fascinated by extremophiles—microorganisms that can withstand unimaginably harsh conditions—and what their existence could mean when we consider just how adaptive life can become.

    Well, scientists have found yet more mysterious and fascinating extremophiles trapped inside enormous crystals. In Chihuahua, Mexico, there is a massive cave system connected to the Naica Mine called the Cave of Crystals. Named for its breathtaking selenite crystals (some have grown up to 30 feet long!), the cave was discovered by miners in 2000 and sits above a repository of magma. It’s exceedingly hot: it can reach up to 112 degrees Fahrenheit with intense humidity. In 2008, Penelope Boston from NASA and her team collected samples from fluids trapped in pockets within the giant crystals, and in February 2017 she announced their discovery of new microbial specimens—nearly 100 new extremophiles, most of which have likely never been studied by scientists before.

    The creatures were found in a state of geolatency, trapped dormant inside geological materials (in this case, inside the crystals). Boston’s team was able to revive a number of the microbes, and they believe they could be anywhere from 10 thousand to 50 thousand years old! Scientists hypothesize that they survived by consuming iron, sulfur and other traditionally inorganic material inside the crystals, demonstrating that life may be more resilient and flexible than we previously thought. Some even think the existence of extremophiles makes it more likely that life could exist on other planets.

    Other researchers are skeptical about Boston’s conclusions, specifically those concerning exactly how old the microbes are and whether possible contamination might have skewed the team’s results. Boston’s findings have not been peer-reviewed, and some scientists speculate that it may not be true that the microscopic organisms came solely from inside the crystal, as it may be possible some were accidentally introduced during the extrication process.

    Another expedition into the Cave of Crystals might provide more answers, but the mine has since closed and the cave is now flooded with groundwater. Hopefully, a second look at these new extremophiles might further illuminate life’s limitations … if there are any.

    Did You Know?
    The very center of Earth may actually be made up of a massive conglomerate of crystals! Scientists used data collected from seismic waves to determine that Earth’s inner core—a solid region the size of the moon—may consist of two huge chunks of iron crystals, each aligned in a different direction (some north to south and others east to west).

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