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Test Pattern: Five-link Friday

"Amityville Horror" debate; Roald Dahl Museum; Understatement Weekly; Bush vs. Palpatine; color-changing Cheetos. By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Five-link Friday

It's time for another roundup of randomness, five fun links to end the week.

• I haven't seen yet, but I have fond memories of buying the paperback from some school book club in the 1970s, and my mom having a fit. She wasn't buying one bit of the whole haunted house thing, and was convinced the whole thing was a hoax. . Newsday with one of the now-grown children who lived in the infamous house at the time of the supposed events, and he claims the events were not a hoax, but were exaggerated.

• Back in the 1970s, when my sister was a young teacher, a fellow teacher read Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to her class. The class wrote to Dahl, and surprise of surprises, he wrote back, sending them a fabulous letter addressed to "dear Carole and all the lovely children." Dahl died in 1990, but the is set to open next month in Great Missenden, the English village where he lived and wrote. (Via the fun literary Weblog .)

• Why read Entertainment Weekly when you can check out instead? My favorite headlines: "Brad Pitt: His Recent Breakup Has Been Getting Some Ink," and "Jessica Simpson: She Doesn't Have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience." (Thanks to Jon for the link!)

• McSweeney's presents: President Bush or Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine from the "Star Wars" movies.

• Speaking of "Star Wars" (less than two weeks to go now...), Frito-Lay is offering (sorry, no photo...), which propose to change your tongue to either Darth Vader Dark or Yoda Green. You don't know what kind you have until the color change shows up.  Mouth changing color, it is. Frightening yet brilliant, kids will say. (Thanks to Jon again!)

Tom, a true ‘Survivor’

I've seen a lot of reality-show contestants come and go. I'm pretty blase about them at this point, and rarely pick a real favorite. I've been around enough to know how the shows can edit things to make one person a hero, another a goat, and that the picture we get of the contestants is rarely clear.

Well, I'm throwing that out the window today to say that I am unabashedly rooting for one contestant on "Survivor: Palau," and I'd better get this paean to him out there fast, because I have a looming suspicion he might not last long. Of course, the contestant is , the 41-year-old NYC firefighter and father, who's been the unchallenged leader of the Koror tribe from day one.

Start with the NYC firefighter part. It's still impossible for me not to love those guys as a whole, and Tom's displaying the qualities that make them best of breed. Although as a firefighter it was impossible for him not to have been touched by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, he has kept his personal losses of that day private. We all have our own devastating and personal memories of that day, none more than the FDNY, and for him to choose to keep that to himself and not let it be used to forward his cause on a game show is more than admirable.

Being a firefighter, Tom's been through hell. When his competitors whine about eating coconut or not having regular showers, you've got to think he's shaking his head and thinking "Is a building collapsing around you? Are you choking on smoke? Are you ON FIRE? No? Then shut up and deal."

Yet he doesn't lead with a snotty, I've-seen-more-than-you, my children, kind of way. Instead he leads by example, by giving his all in physical and mental challenges, by finding food for the tribe (even killing a shark).

He doesn't seem to discriminate against young or old, male or female. If you're giving your all, you're A-OK with Tom. Although he eventually voted against her to go along with his tribe, he was a big supporter of tough-as-nails Stephenie. He even paying her the ultimate compliment, saying saying "Stephenie would fit into 108 Truck in a moment and anybody in the company would be proud to work with her."

In a recent "Survivor" auction, where everyone bid on various food items, there was one item that Tom wasn't going to let anyone else get. When the auction for letters from home came up, there was no doubt that he was set to spend every dime he had to get precious letters from his wife and three children, and that he felt the money he spent on them was worth more than any meal. Yet before grabbing his precious mail from home, he took the time to graciously shake host Jeff Probst's hand, thanking him for the prize.

I know, I know, producers and editing and maybe I'm being taken for exactly the ride that Mark Burnett and the rest of the "Survivor" crew want me to go on. If that's the case, OK, ha ha, ya got me. But I don't think it is.

Tom tries to denigrate himself. He's called himself a "stubborn Irishman" and noted that he originally wanted to hide behind his age and not show his strength. That might have been a better game strategy, but it seems to go against every fiber of his being not to compete as hard as he can, or work to his limits. He may have Irish ancestors, but in every way that's good, in a world where it seems we only hear criticism of our country, he's the ideal example of a real American. That may sound corny, but I don't much care.

I'd like to see Tom win the million dollars of course, but I've resigned myself to the fact that's unlikely. The others know he's a threat and he's already been mentioned as a target. Yet I think even if he loses, he'd stand and watch his torch be snuffed, and walk offscreen straight and tall, and would eventually be the first one there to congratulate the actual winner. Because money or no money, he's already a survivor.

Liger, liger, burning bright

On , I posted a link to a in the Novosibirsk Zoo, commenting that when I first saw I had no idea ligers (lion-tiger crosses) were real.

Wow, did I get a flood of mail, from liger fans and also those who, like me, are new to ligerdom. Turns out the "Napoleon Dynamite" makers had good reason to include the animal — Idaho seems like Liger Central, although fans informed me of numerous nature parks and other places that have ligers throughout the U.S. I have to say, they're just beautiful. (And, if you believe Napoleon, "bred for its skills in magic.")

Here are some of your liger-riffic responses, and thanks!

RARE AND SHORT-LIVED“I’m a keeper at a facility for exotic animals (mainly large cats.) I read your comments on ligers and they do in fact exist. It is true that it’s extremely rare for a liger to be born in the wild. The majority of them are born in captivity for the sole purpose of creating an attraction to gain profit. Their life span is much shorter than that of a tiger or lion, and the majority of them are overweight (most weigh over 1,000 pounds.) They usually have many health problems, which is the reason for their short life span (usually 3 to 6 years.) Compare this to a tiger or lion that is born in captivity that can live for up to 30 years. ”    --Jeff

IDAHO REPRESENTS“Ligers are real.  The makers of 'Napoleon Dynamite' undoubtedly spent their childhoods making pilgrimages to Salt Lake City, where the Hogle Zoo had a liger named Shasta for many years (look at the ).  After its death, Shasta was stuffed and moved to the Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum at BYU, where several of the 'Napoleon' crew also have connections.”    --Aaron

“Jared Hess (writer/director of 'Napoleon Dynamite') did not make up the liger.  Everyone that’s ever been to Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, UT or to the Monte L. Bean Life Sciences Museum at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT (where Jared went to school), knows Shasta the female liger was real.  Sadly, she died in 1972 -- but I’ve seen the stuffed Ligeress myself (ok, so I’m not sure ligeress is the correct term, but it sounds good to me).   You can read more about Shasta the liger    and if you scroll down aways on , he has a picture of her.  Unfortunately, I don’t think she was magic and she probably didn’t have many skills since she was confined to a cage in a zoo, so that part is fake, but she was born May 14, 1948, her father was a lion and her mother was a Bengal tiger.  SWEET!”    --Amy

“Idaho (where Napoleon Dynamite took place) had a liger breeding facility in the 1980’s, until the owners had problems with containment.  Law enforcement had to shoot several, and many were put down because they were too sick to survive.  I believe the farm was by Lava Hot Springs.”    --April

“Ligers are real! The reason it appears in Napoleon Dynamite is that about an hour north of Preston, Idaho there was a compound that was breeding ligers. In the mid 90’s they all escaped and the police had to find them.”  --Travis

MASSACHUSETTS...“I saw your comment about Ligers and thought you might be interested in . There is some history there as well as a few pictures. I’ve seen one of their Ligers up close in Carver, MA and he was absolutely amazing. Enjoy!”    --Jeff

CALIFORNIA...“A zoo in California has bred a liger.  has a picture and some information about ligers and tigons.  This site says the cross-breeding is unlikely because the tiger would not associate with the pride of lions.”    --Mary

“There’s a Wild Animal Safari park in Pine Mountain, GA (south and west of Atlanta, just off of I85) that has Ligers as a special attraction.  No need to go all the way to Siberia.”  --Andy

WASHINGTON...“There are several examples of Ligers that have been bred in captivity. Such as this one that is currently located at .”    --Patrick

MEET THE WOLPHIN?“You thought ligers were crazy, check out — a whale and dolphin mix!”  --Stev

The Young, the Restless, and me

William J. Bell, co-creator of “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” the only two daytime soaps I’ve ever watched, died Friday of Alzheimer’s .

If you don’t care anything about soaps, you may not realize that for fans, Bell was not just a name on the credits. To Y&R and B&B watchers, the Bells had the kind of name recognition that Walt Disney has to cartoon fans, or that Bunim and Murray and Mark Burnett have to reality-show watchers. They created a soap empire, steered their shows to the top of the ratings, and kept them there. Not for “The Young & The Restless” the devilish doll plots of “Passions,” nor the short lifespan of “Santa Barbara.” When the Bells did a show, they did it right, with lavish weddings, glamourous settings, and best of all, sink-your-teeth-into-them stories.

If you’re shaking your head and feeling superior about the whole soap genre, hey, I understand, I was one of you. I came to soap operas midway through high school, raised to scoff at them by an educated mother who thought they were stupid (she was right, of course, but they can also be diverting and entertaining). As with everything, there’s a story to my stumbling onto soaps. When I enrolled at an all-girls high school 26 miles from my home, I ended up staying over at my dear friend Ann’s house all the time. She and her three sisters were hooked on Y&R (B&B started when I was in college), and at first I mocked them all sitting on their couch, laughing about who did what to whom. But soon I learned that it was fun to join in the sisterly camaraderie — watching the show was never half as fun as gossiping about the show — and they eventually taught me what was going on, and helped me identify such characters as Jack and Jill (who never went up any hills, except in the very best soap opera euphemism way).

Ann and I were teens at the time, and on the show was a young blonde actress about our age, Lauralee Bell, who played Cricket Blair. How we loved to hate her! In the same way that “Star Trek” fans groused about Wesley Crusher and watchers of “Beverly Hills 90210” moaned about Tori Spelling, so we complained about Cricket, known to detractors simply as “The Bug.” She probably wasn’t a very good actress back then,  but she almost certainly wasn’t as bad as we made her out to be.

We were flat-out jealous: We were going to high school in the snowy midwest, singing unidentified in the chorus of our high school musicals. She was on TV in sunny California, decked out in glamorous costumes and makeup. Admittedly, the scripts made Cricket so easy to hate. At 16, she was entrancing every handsome single man on the show, dating a rock star here, a doctor there; later, she decided to go to law school, graduated in about a second, and was soon solving every case that came her way. 

It certainly helped our jealousy that Lauralee Bell was the youngest child of Y&R creators Bill and Lee Phillip Bell. As viewers did with Tori Spelling on "90210" years later, we could snark to each other that, well, certainly she couldn’t have gotten this job if it wasn’t her daddy’s show. After all, if our parents were soap-opera moguls instead of college professors (Ann’s) or a businessman and a housewife (mine), we’d surely be lighting up the screen. (We were delusional. We were also 16.)

Cricket (now called Christine) is still on “The Young and the Restless,” though she doesn’t appear as often, the actress having cut back to spend time with her two children. She’s literally grown up on the show, and her two older brothers are in the soap business as well.

And I’ve grown up, too. Grown up enough to no longer be jealous of a pretty girl whose family ties gave her chances regular folks didn't have. Grown up enough to no longer be snooty about the soap-opera genre, which is fairly harmless entertainment for millions, even, sometimes, me. Grown up enough to look back wistfully on those times spent gossiping over stupid stuff with my dear friend Ann, who died at age 28 of a pulmonary embolism, and wish I could sit on her couch again for just a few more minutes of idle chatter. And grown up enough to read Bill Bell’s obituary and silently thank him, and his family, for telling stories, yes, even soap-opera stories, so very well.