March 14 – Bracket Day

On this day in 1985, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament began, the first time the tournament featured 64 teams.  The tournament originated in 1939, but at that time only eight teams competed. The birth of what has become known as “March Madness” began with the start of the 1985 tournament.  Fans across the nation feasted on a smorgasbord of first-round games, visually tracking the progress of the tournament using a 64-team bracket.

The moniker “March Madness” originated as a term to describe high school basketball.  Henry V. Porter, an official for the Illinois High School Association, first used it to promote his state’s basketball tournament in 1939.  With the gradual increase of teams in the annual NCAA college basketball tournament along with its growing popularity, March Madness graduated to the college ranks, becoming the operative term for the annual tournament. In 2010 the NCAA paid $17.2 million to trademark the term (1).

Besides the large number of teams in the tournament and ESPN’s saturation coverage of the games, the other element that made March Madness a cultural phenomenon was the bracket.  The bracket concept for tracking single-elimination contests is not new — it may go as far back as medieval jousting tournaments. Beginning with the large slate of teams in the 1985 tournament, fans across the nation could participate in office pools, filling out their brackets and tracking the progress of their predictions in each round. According to the American Gaming Association, $10.4 billion was spent on tournament betting in 2017 with approximately 40 million people filling out 70 million brackets (2).

In fact, brackets have become so popular that the concept has moved beyond just basketball and sports.  In 2009, Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir published a book called The Final Four of Everything where they used the bracket form to judge everything from “SAT Success Strategies” to “Songs by the Grateful Dead.”

Reiter and Sandomir explain in the introduction to their book that a bracket is much more than just a list.  Unlike a list that ranks things from best to worst, the bracket presents “discrete one-on-one matchups” and allows “the two to rub together and create friction to determine the superior players” (3).

The following are some examples that show the variety of topics that can be found in  The Final Four of Everything:

Most American Superhero, Disney Animated Films, Fears and Phobias, National Parks, Texas Sayings, Politically Correct Terms, Artisan Cheeses, Board Games, Presidential Speeches, Fatherly Advice, Acronyms, Fortune Cookies

Today’s Challenge:  Build A Better Bracket

What are some sample categories that might make good topics for a bracket?  Brainstorm some possible categories; then, select one and break it into 64, 32, or 16 parts.  Draw a bracket on a piece of paper and fill in your list of competitors along with a title. Fill in the bracket based on who you think would win each competition.  For example, if your bracket were “Songs by The Beatles,” which song would you pick in the showdown between “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You”? Write your explanation for the victor in at least six of the matchups on your bracket. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  A bracket is a more dynamic way of understanding personal preferences.  The practice of parsing people, places, and things into discrete one-on-one matchups works because it’s simple and the face-off happens right in front of you – in real time.In that sense, a bracket invests your opinions with a narrative of how you decided something.  -Mark Reiter



3-Reiter, Mark and Richard Sandomir (editors).  The Final Four of Everything.  New York:  Simon & Schuster 2009.


March 13:  Anachronism Day

On this day in 2012, The New York Times announced that the Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer produce its print edition.

First published in 1768, the Encyclopedia Britannica became the most recognized and authoritative reference work ever published in English.  Its more than 4,000 contributors included Nobel Prize winners and American presidents.

In the 1950s, the Britannica was sold door-to-door, and many American families invested in the multi-volume repository of knowledge, paying in monthly installments.  The last print edition, produced in 2010, consisted of 32 volumes and weighed 129 pounds. Its price tag was $1,395.

Before the internet, generations of students spent countless hours immersed in the pages of print encyclopedias.  The advent of the digital age, however, changed the way everyone accesses knowledge. The launch of Wikipedia — the online, open-source encyclopedia — on January 15, 2001 began the trend of internet-based reference sources.  

After 244 years in print, Britannica clearly saw the handwriting on the wall and shifted its focus to its online dictionary (1).

Today the multi-volume encyclopedia is an anachronism, something that belongs to another era or something that is conspicuously old-fashioned, such as a telephone booth or an 8-track tape.

Today’s Challenge:  Old School’s in Session

What are some things from the past that no longer exist or are near extinction (such as drive-in movies, VHS tapes, handkerchiefs, boom boxes, chalkboards)?  Brainstorm a list of things you remember warmly from the past, things that are no longer around today or things that are near extinction.  Select one item from your list that you have nostalgic feelings about. Write about why you have such fond memories about it. A note on the word nostalgia:  The word nostalgia comes to English from Greek, combining nostos (‘return home’) and algos (‘pain’).  When the word entered English in the 18th century it meant “homesickness,” but today it refers to “a sentimental longing for the past.”  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.  -Marcel Proust



March 12:  Analogy Day

Today is the birthday of Irish writer and politician Richard Steele (1672-1729). In 1709, Steele founded The Tatler, a newspaper that featured a new style of journalism. More than just reporting the news, The Tatler featured essays, reviews, gossip, and satire.

In the March 18, 1710 edition of The Tatler, Steele wrote a sentence to illustrate the benefits of literacy:

Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

Steel’s analogy is perfect because reading is not just about retaining information; instead, it is about training your mind to lift more mental weight.  When you consistently lift weights in the gym, your muscles adapt, allowing you to lift more and more weight. Similarly, when you consistently read, your mind adapts, allowing you to lift and grapple with weightier ideas. Reading nourishes and strengthens the mind, giving you a mental six-pack of memory, imagination, logic, creativity, language, and knowledge.

Steele’s memorable and insightful sentence is a classic example of an analogy.  Analogies reflect the ways humans learn: trying to understand what we don’t know by comparing it to what we do know.  

Analogies are similar to metaphors and similes, but unlike similes and metaphors — which captivate us with surprising imagery, the primary purpose of an analogy is to explain via logical balance.  Analogies are also a bit more mathematical than similes and metaphors; in Greek analogia means “proportionate,” and a good analogy reveals a corresponding relationship between two pairs of things.  As Steele’s analogy illustrates, the basic formula for an analogy is: A is to B as C is to D.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. uses an analogy to illustrate the way racial prejudice blinds us:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

To paraphrase King’s analogy, we might state it as follows:

Racial prejudice is to human love and brotherhood as fog and dark clouds are to seeing the beauty of the night sky.

The ability to think using analogies requires a high level of cognition.  It requires the thinker to synthesize complex concepts and to make parallel connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.   

It is no wonder, then, that analogies have been used to measure intelligence. The Miller Analogies Test, for example, is a graduate school admissions test made up of analogy word problems.

An analogy word problem follows a predictable format:

A : B :: C : D (A is to B as C is to D)

Steele’s analogy would be stated:  READING : MIND :: EXERCISE : BODY.

Try this analogy word problem:

story : fable :: poem : _______

  1. poet
  2. novel
  3. rhyme
  4. sonnet

The key to solving these analogies is to identify the bridge idea that connects both pairs.  In the problem above, for example, if you understand that a “fable” is a type or genre of story, you will probably realize that the answer is D because a “sonnet” is a type or genre of “poem.”

When you are solving analogies, try writing your answer in the form of a balanced sentence, a sentence that has two parallel independent clauses, such as “A fable is a type of story; a sonnet is a type of poem.”  Doing this will allow you show your thinking by explicitly stating the bridge idea.

Try the following:

  1. puppy : litter :: soldier : (A. group B. war C. army D. battle)
  2. entomology : insects : : etymology : (A. birds B. words C. foods D. ants)
  3. Grendel : Beowulf :: Hydra : (A. Achilles B. Vulcan C. Atlas D. Hercules)
  4. adverb : sadly :: conjunction : (A. the B. none C. but D. happily)
  5. Mark Twain : Huckleberry Finn :: William Shakespeare : (A. Tom Sawyer B. Jim C. Hamlet D. Hester Prynne)

Today’s Challenge:   Four-part Formula for Framing Analogies

As Windex is to a clear, picturesque view so are analogies to clear writing.  What are some topics that you know well enough to explain to someone less knowledgeable?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you might explain using an analogy. Use the basic four-part formula:

As ________ is to __________, so ________ is to _________.


As kindling is to fire so is brainstorming to creativity.

As weeding is to gardening, so is editing to writing.

As fast food is to the stomach, so is television to the mind.

As yeast is to bread, so is honesty to friendship.

As wood fuels a fire, so memory fuels the imagination.

As dancing is to walking, so dancing is to walking.

As the selection of bait is to fishing, so is audience analysis to public speaking.

Once you have written your complete analogy, follow it with some explanation that elaborates and expands the comparison.

Example Analogy with Explanation:

As the correct number of employees is to an effective business, so are the right number of words to effective writing.

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do. You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home. -Sigmund Freud

March 11:  I Remember Day

American poet and artist Joe Brainard was born on this day in 1942. Brainard was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but he spent most of his adult life in New York City where he collaborated with a number of writers and artists.  As a visual artist, Brainard gained renown for his work in painting, drawing, and collage.

Brainard is best known for his 1975 memoir I Remember, a kind of verbal collage, juxtaposing vivid details from his life.  I Remember is a book-length prose-poem made up of one long list of sentences, each of which begins with “I remember . . . “

I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry.  I was eating apricot pie.

I remember how much I used to stutter.

I remember the first time I saw television.  Lucille ball was taking ballet lessons (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Mining Memory

What are some specific ways you would complete the following sentence: “I remember . . . .”?  The simple two words “I remember” remain one of the best prompts for writers of all ages, opening the door to the mine of memory and helping them to practice recording sensory details that show, not just tell.  Create a list poem, cataloging at least five specific memories. Strive to show, not tell, using specific sensory imagery of what you saw, smelled, tasted, heard, or felt.

-I remember the smell of the freshly cut grass on a spring day in 1971 when I first learned to ride my bike.

-I remember my dad in the front yard, pushing the lawn mower, as I pushed my Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat onto its two wheels.

-I remember being too proud to ever use training wheels.

-I remember the overwhelming joy and freedom of finally staying up on the bike, pedaling up and down the street in front of my house in Renton, Washington.

-I remember the feeling of the wind in my hair, and, looking back, I think about the absence of a bike helmet, something that no one wore in the 1970s.

-I remember the smile that would come to my face each morning as I woke up and realized once again that I had a bike and that I knew how to ride it.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.

Art consists of the persistence of memory. -Stephen King