I was Santa Clause at the Institute’s X-mas party this year. I asked everyone if they had been good, and handed out presents and chocolate. I made small children cry. I got chocolate in my long white beard. It was great. I think it speaks to how far Germany has come that no one thought it odd to have a Jewish Santa.
My favorite part of the party was the Powerpoint Karaoke. This is a game which could be popular only with academics. Each player gets up to give a talk with power-point slides, which sounds boring, until you consider that he has never seen these slides before, and they are on a topic he likely knows nothing about. There were three contestants, including Santa, and each of us prepared a set of slides another one of us had to speak on. We were not kind to each other. My friend Jon spoke first, on a set of slides I had made, on sesquipedalianisms. I had the longest and most complicated words in several languages under the bright red heading “SAY THESE WITH ME!!.” He made a valiant attempt. Next I got up, in costume, and my slides were entirely in Greek. I recognized the alphabet, but had no idea what any of the words said, and there were no pictures. Lucky for me, most of my audience also didn’t read Greek, so I pretended that I knew exactly what the slides said, and that they were designed to correct common misconceptions about Santa (e.g., Santa does not in fact employ any reindeer, as their odor offends his sensitive nose.) The talk went quite well, and only afterwards did I find out that it was a presentation in Greek on numerical modeling. Finally, my friend Mikko got up and gave a talk on obscure economic phenomena he knew nothing about. He did a creditable job of pretending he knew what he was saying, or rather of being so precise in his vagaries that it was a believable if entirely uninformative talk. It was the first time I’d played this game, but I think it will not be the last.
Frohe Weinachten! Ho Ho ho!!!