Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 2/03/2004Mars attracts! For a couple of days now, NASA has been trailing a very important press conference, due at 7 p.

Tuesday 2/03/2004
Mars attracts! For a couple of days now, NASA has been trailing a very important press conference, due at 7 p.m. this evening UK time, when it promises to unveil some very exciting news from the Mars rovers. Being a space cadet of the first rank (even if I'm still waiting for a shiny tin-foil suit that fits), I find this very exciting -- but I've got an engagement this evening and can't be near telly or terminal.

Relief is at hand from the German press, where Der Spiegal has got the story early and splashed it all over its online edition like bits of Beagle 2 on the slopes of Olympus Mons. Not being au fait with the language of Goethe, it's time for me to wheel in the galactic aid of Babel Fish -- an exercise that, while it tells me much about Mars, is even more informative about German.

""I am baff, I am surprised", said Steve Squyres, scientific director/conductor of the Rover mission." And what set him up the baff? The "Tuxedo Gun" of irrefutable proof of past tides on Mars, says Der Spiegal (or The Mirror, as Babel Fish calls it).

Now, Tuxedo Gun is one of those phrases that is too good to be true. It had to be a 1960s Bond movie clone, or something SCO's Darl McBride would wear to a wedding (we learned this week from the LA Times that he often carries a gun and checks into hotels under assumed names because he thinks he has enemies who want to kill him. But I digress). Nope, no such thing exists. I check the original, where the phrase stands out like a lardy-white Brit on a beach full of tanned Continentals -- der "Smoking Gun".

Aha. And, of course, what we call a dinner jacket is what the Americans call a tuxedo and what the Germans call a smoking. Presumably from smoking jacket, although smoking jackets are nothing like tuxedos. And nothing like a small rock containing aqueously formed sulphates, which was the actual Tuxedo Gun of the article.

I am surprised, but I don't think I am baff. I am, however, now working on a screenplay for the first Martian Western. It was going to be called Cowpokes of the Canali, but now -- well, Tuxedo Gun cannot be bettered. Move 'em Rovers on, compadre. Head 'em up.


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