Just north of the SW 152nd Street exit from the Florida Turnpike, a pink-and-white checkered building with a 50-foot-tall rook's tower provides an odd counterpoint to the endless suburban sprawl of strip malls and cookie-cutter housing developments. The building houses the corporate headquarters of Excalibur Electronics (makers of electronic novelties) and the World Chess Hall of Fame & Sidney Samole Chess Museum. The museum, official hall of fame for the United States Chess Federation and the World Chess Federation, was founded in Miami by Shane Samole, whose father Sid in the Seventies created the first electronic chess game after watching Spock play chess against a computer during a Star Trek episode. The building's medieval theme continues outside, where a giant sword embedded in a boulder stands sentry at the front door, and inside, where suits of armor and stone façades set the aesthetic parameters. There are no audio recordings of Bobby Fischer ranting about the U.N. (although you can see Fischer's old competition table) but there are plenty of other tidbits to chew on. According to a chess timeline (weirdly set in a very dim hallway with pinpoint lights set like stars in the ceiling and ethereal music coming from unseen speakers), the word "checkmate" comes from the Persian "Shah mat," meaning "the king is at a loss," and the bishops seen in modern chess sets were elephants in the original version, which first appeared around 600 A.D. (medieval Europeans, most of whom had never seen an elephant, changed the piece to something they were a little more familiar with). You won't run into large crowds at the museum unless they're hosting a tournament, although Milena Migliorelli, in charge of PR, says they have a following among diehard chessheads: "People are always surprised we're here, although we do advertise in Chess Life."

Mandich may have the experience and credentials to be a jock-talk radio host (including three NFL Championship rings, one from his play as tight end on Miami's undefeated 1972 Dolphins squad), but it's his voice that really reaches out and boxes your ears. Where other jock-talk personalities embrace goofy sports-geek overenthusiasm or know-it-all laconicism (like Hank Goldberg, Mandich's colleague at WQAM-AM 560), Mad Dog's bombastic pipes carry the show. It's impossible to transcribe the stretched vowels and clipped consonants that roll around like gumballs in his mouth, but suffice it to say that the voice makes even the generic parts of his act seem fresh (the studied political incorrectness, barking at callers when the show gets a little slow). Almost everything he says seems funny, including his stock "Never better!" (delivered as if fired from a cannon) in response to callers' ubiquitous "Howyadoon' Mad Dog?" In addition to the afternoon call-in show (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.), Mandich can be seen on Channel 10's Sports Jam Live, though it's hard to get the full impact of the voice when you have to watch him too.

Readers Choice: Neil Rogers, WQAM-AM (560)

Three years ago we said Ricker was our Best Gadfly. Given his dedication and perseverance, this new honor, Best Citizen, is well deserved. Ricker goes to 2500 mind-melting meetings annually, from the Public Health Trust's purchasing subcommittee to the Efficiency and Competition Commission to the Alliance for Human Services' nominating council to the school board's audit committee. Sometimes he's the only public observer. Object: to be the Public Citizen for all those out there who can't attend, and to connect and serve as an information bridge among the special-interest-dominated Miami-Dade governmental institutions that seem so problematic and indifferent to the democratic process. This month his e-mail newsletter, The Watchdog Report, celebrates its fourth anniversary. In a former life Ricker made a handsome living as an international salesman of heart pacemakers. As the hard-working publisher of Watchdog, though, he's struggling financially -- this despite the fact that his weekly compendium of meeting summaries, analysis, interviews, and commentary has become essential reading for anyone involved in public affairs. What his written work may lack in polish, it more than makes up for in comprehensiveness. So raise a toast to the man whose official slogan says it all: "A community education resource -- I go when you cannot!"

Even as Riley (a former championship coach, and one of the NBA's top winners) saw his team take a nosedive in the standings and his pocketbook take a $70,000 hit for post-game tantrums about unfair referees, his hair remained unflappable. Riley has been rocking the evil-stockbroker, Armani-suits-and-slicked-back-coiffure look since the Eighties, and it doesn't look like he'll stop until he keels over (look for a sideline coronary next year if the Heat doesn't get a top-three draft pick) or the situation in the Middle East curtails production on petroleum-based hair-care products.

A good body is not enough for you. You're also looking for a good soul and a good mind. And so is she. Only those serious about complete body-mind development study the strenuous practice at Prana. She is not doing this for you. But if you are strong and faithful and prove yourself worthy, that Tantric future you are visualizing really might come true.

Or should we say "bus benches" -- because who are we trying to fool? We all know these new contraptions are lucrative mini-billboards disguised by Sarmiento Advertising Group as seating units for the bus-riding masses. And as bus-riders themselves will tell you, the proof is in the scorching heat that radiates from the benches' metal bars after a few hours absorbing solar radiation in 95-degree heat. In some locations Sarmiento didn't even bother with the bench decoy; only the sign. City of Miami planning directors, former Manager Carlos Gimenez, and all five city commissioners fell for the company's crafty sales pitch, in which the billboards were described as "street furniture." Apparently Sarmiento's metallic sofas looked so cool in photos that city officials agreed to let the company place some right next to those old advertising-delivery devices known as "bus shelters," and even alongside the old wooden "bus benches" the new ones were to replace. But they turned out to be so uncool that Sarmiento executives were soon scrambling to apply a heat-repellant coating to protect the tax-paying public's backsides, as well as their own.

This stunning, dreamlike musical was not only the clear champion of the season, it was the best of the past several years. Featuring the gorgeous, complex chromatic harmonies of composer Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's textured, character-driven book, Floyd Collins tracked a simple, true-life tale of a Kentucky man who got stuck in a cave, a misfortune that became a national media obsession. Everything about this production clicked. The cast featured an array of local and New York talent at its best. To this add David Arisco's fluid and inventive staging, a simple but hugely effective set design from Gene Seyffer, great sound design from Nate Rausch, evocative lighting from Stuart Reiter, and Mary Lynne Izzo's carefully detailed costumes. The result was a daring, provocative production that set a new standard for South Florida theatrical excellence.

Local movie lovers erupted in thunderous applause on opening night, February 21, when FIU president Mitch Maidique finally publicly acknowledged former festival director Nat Chediak and his eighteen years at the helm. But if this year's resurgence in attendance is any guide, Miamians seem to be moving on from that nasty internal imbroglio and are supporting the festival for the films and filmmakers it can bring to the city. The 2003 event was not flawless. Some films were genuine stinkers, some great films got lost owing to poor programming times, and new director Nicole Guillemet (formerly of Sundance) and her team were arguably too ambitious with a program of record size plus a third venue to manage. Still, packed screenings for documentaries like José Padilha's intense hijacking drama Ônibus 174 bode well for the future. Onward!

What other clan could blithely carve out a new U.S. Congressional district expressly for an ambitious family member? That ambitious one would be Mario Diaz-Balart, the termed-out state senator and brother of Lincoln Diaz-Balart, self-proclaimed future president of Cuba. The Diaz-Balart boys' addiction to politics stems from a vein that runs deep in the family. Their grandfather and father, both named Rafael Diaz-Balart, were important members of the ruling oligarchy during the fearsome reign of Fulgencio Batista. The younger Rafael was deputy minister for the Cuban amalgam of the FBI and the CIA, as well as Batista's dreaded secret police. Perhaps more significant, the highly cultivated Diaz-Balart hatred of Fidel Castro is thicker than blood. El barbudo's first wife was Mario and Lincoln's aunt, Mirta Diaz-Balart, daughter and sister of the family patriarchs. ¡Esto es de pelicula!

After dutifully plugging away at the Actors' Playhouse's usual lineup of tepid material, Arisco finally found the right vehicle for his considerable talents with the challenging, evocative Floyd Collins. Arisco's careful staging of the claustrophobic, emotionally powerful dialogue was balanced by his masterful handling of the carnival-like crowd scenes in a production that blew the roof off the staid Playhouse. Arisco has long shown his facility with a wide range of material -- from big, old-fashioned musicals to the inspired insanity of Comic Potential. But Floyd Collins reveals him to be a directing talent kept under wraps far too long.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®