Saturday, June 20, 2020

Truly misleading book cover:
"Witches' Sabbath"

So, let's get some of the confusing parts out of the way first. For reasons I cannot fathom, this gothic romance novel, Witches' Sabbath, was alternately marketed as a horror novel with this Paperback Library edition. It is not a horror novel. The last line of the 1962 Kirkus review makes that quite clear: "A little overwrought, but a patently potent, romantic entertainment." We can further see that it was originally meant to be marketed as a romance (and was, in fact, award-winning within that genre) via these two other covers.

And, regarding the author: This cover states that it's "Charity Blackstock writing as Paula Allardyce." Those are both pseudonyms, actually, so it's kind of weird to have one pen name writing as another pen name (and disclosing it as such). The actual author was Ursula Torday, whose name's letters could have been reworked to create Saturday Lour, which would have been yet another good pen name.

Now, on to the rundown...

  • Title: Witches' Sabbath
  • Author, per cover: "Charity Blackstock writing as Paula Allardyce"
  • Author: Ursula Torday (1912-1997)
  • Cover blurb: A haunting mystery of love and evil "filled with real horror, suspense, eeriness." ⁠— San Francisco Chronicle
  • Additional cover text: A Black Magic Novel of Terror
  • Publisher: Paperback Library (52-527)
  • Number on spine: 7 (presumably its number within the Black Magic Novels of Terror)
  • Cover price: 50 cents
  • Year: First printing, August 1967 (originally published in 1961)
  • Pages: 174
  • Format: Paperback
  • First sentence: It was a magnificent mid-June day of the best summer of the century when Tamar Brown arrived at Lanchester, the station for Meadway Bois.
  • What's Meadway Bois? The tiny (and fictitious) English village at the center of this tale. It's a good village name.
  • Last sentence: Mr. Kingham knocked purposefully on Mrs. Leigh's door.
  • Random sentence from the middle #1: Abigail's cottage had been built in Elizabethan times; Tamar, for all she was small, had to stoop to avoid knocking her head on the low beams.
  • Random sentence from the middle #2: Humphrey was not at his best in moments of crisis.
  • Humphrey Sloane mansplaining things to Tamar: "You Lunnon ladies are terrible iggerant. It's a witch bottle, with the face of a bearded gent on the front of it. You put bits of your enemy in it — nail-clippings and suchlike — and boil it up. Very tasty. Abigail did that for Ann Leigh who began to spit pins afterwards, which must have been a little trying. She certainly had it in for her, what with killing her baby and all."
  • Does Tamar end up with Humphrey? No. She ends up with someone named William, who's not much better.
  • Hey, that was a spoiler! Sorry. If you're really sore, I'll mail you some nail-clippings and you can make a Papergreat witch bottle to get revenge.
  • Internet review #1: On Goodreads, Charlotte wrote this in 2019: "I was expecting a thrilling Pagan mystery, potentially delving into past timelines and the age of suspicion and witchcraft. I was sadly disappointed. ... The misogyny of Tamar's relationship was absolutely staggering; I couldn't fall in love with her choice of man as I was expected to, as I couldn't see him as anything more than an emotionally stunted brute."
  • Internet review #2: On Picterio, @cobwebs_and_creepers wrote this circa 2017: "This book is... not so great. Interesting enough storyline though, about lovely redhead Tamar who is writing a book about Abagail [sic], the legendary witch of tiny village Meadway Bois. Surprise! ⁠— Tamar bears an uncanny resemblance to the long-dead beauty."
  • About the Black Magic Novels of Terror: Apparently there were nine titles total, all published in 1967 or 1968. The other eight were The Witch-Baiter and The Haunted Dancers, edited by Charles Birkin; The Torturer, Scream and Scream Again, and The Darkest Night, by Peter Saxon; Drums of the Dark Gods by W.A. Ballinger; The Dead Riders by Elliott O'Donnell; and The Black Art by Rollo Ahmed.
  • Rollo Ahmed sounds like a pen name: Yes, but it's not. Abdul Said "Rollo" Ahmed was an Egyptian-born Black man who studied and wrote about the occult and remains a bit of a history mystery.

The very grave back cover

Monday, June 15, 2020

My great-grandfather's personalized playing cards

These days, you can get a personalized deck of playing cards for, what, about $15? A little less? Print-on-demand services make it easy peasy.

But I'm guessing that, in the middle of the 20th century, personalized cards were a bit more of a luxury item. My great-grandfather, Howard Horsey Adams (1892-1985) had several decks, all like this one. I kept one of them when we cleaned out the house on Oak Crest Lane. They have a bit of Art Deco flair, with his initials HHA becoming nearly symmetrical.

I have no idea who the manufacturer might have been. Or why I'm keeping them at this point. I play cards approximately twice a decade. I have this deck and the cultural awareness playing cards. I should definitely stop there.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

A dramatically stained introduction to the MicroLeague Baseball posts

The years and spills have not been kind to this piece of my personal ephemera from the late 1980s. It's a dot matrix printout of a boxscore from a game of MicroLeague Baseball on the Commodore 64.

As you can see through the stains, this was a historic (imaginary) moment, because Roger Clemens of my Wallingford Smashers pitched a perfect game against the famed 1963 Los Angeles Dodgers.

MicroLeague Baseball was the computer game I played the most from 1987 to 1990. It's amazing how far electronic/computer baseball games came in less than a decade. I had 1979's Epoch Digit-Com 9 Baseball (below, left), which was far less common than Mattel's smaller handheld electronic game. The Epoch game featured a variety of pitches and the ability to play one-player or two-player games. And it had very distinctive audio, which I was reminded of in this YouTube video. In the first half of the 1980s, I also played a lot of Intellivision's Major League Baseball and the tabletop Statis Pro Baseball, which involved endlessly sorting piles of player cards and action cards and consulting many different outcome charts, just like J. Henry Waugh.

Then MicroLeague Baseball came along. It was released in 1984, but I didn't buy it until 1986 or early 1987. It was a strategy game. You didn't need to be great with a joystick or mash a button. Outcomes, much like Statis Pro Baseball, were determined by statistical probabilities based on players' abilities. And it was easy to simulate whatever you wanted, across all of baseball history. The 1927 New York Yankees could face the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, for example. (I staged many eight-team bracketed tournaments, and the 1975 Reds almost always came out on top.)

Then it got really fun with a MicroLeague Baseball accessory, the General Manager-Owner Disk. (My friend Matt and I called it the Jam-Owner Disk.) It allowed you to create your own teams and players and edit together rosters using players from across baseball history. And thus the Wallingford Smashers were born. The Smashers were a shameless powerhouse collection of baseball's best players from the mid 1980s. As you can see above, the Smashers' lineup for this historic game featured:

CF Kirby Puckett (RIP)
SS Tony Fernandez (RIP)
3B Wade Boggs
1B Don Mattingly
CF Rickey Henderson
2B Danny Tartabull
LF Ruben Sierra
C Ron Hassey

A couple of wonky notes: Matt and I went strictly by the information on games played by position published weekly in USA Today, back when that was the bible for baseball statistics. If you played a single game at a position, you became eligible to play that position in MicroLeague Baseball. Tartabull played 31 games at second base for the 1986 Seattle Mariners. So that, combined with his powerful bat, earned him the job of second baseman for the Smashers.1 Also, you might be wondering, Ron Hassey?!? When there were so many other great catchers of this era? But Hassey, for those who remember, had very good OPS seasons in 1985 and 1986, making him extremely valuable within the statistics-driven MicroLeague Baseball engine. And the game didn't care if the player had a small sample size of at-bats. So, two great MicroLeague players during this time were 1986 Jeff Stone and 1987 Sam Horn. Horn was especially legendary for his (unrealized) potential, and there is now a Boston Red Sox fan website named after him.

It is also clear that, in setting the lineups for this game, I gave Clemens some extra help toward his perfecto by removing the 1963 Dodgers' three best hitters — Frank Howard, Tommy Davis and Ron Fairly — from the starting lineup. That wasn't very sporting of me. But a perfect game is still a perfect game. The boxscore is not, however, perfect. Was the final score 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0? Sadly, there is evidence for all three of those possibilities.

More on MicroLeague Baseball to come!

Darkest Phillies Timeline Footnote
1. A decade later, the joke was us Philadelphia Phillies fans. Tartabull signed a $2 million contract to bat cleanup for the 1997 Phillies and promptly went 0-for-7 before suffering a season-ending foot injury.