I recently had the opportunity to be an extra (or "background talent") for a TV show called

Being a film/tv extra has been my latest quest, an item on my life goal list that I hope to be able to check off soon.* Getting a chance to go on set for a TV show and participate in a few scenes was a big step in that direction.

And while I'm stoked to be moving in the direction of my goal, in reality, being an extra has its ups and downs. On the one hand, it is super interesting seeing how a set works, all the people around*, different jargon, number of takes to get a shot, the make-up process, famous people all around*, the food arrangement, talking to other extras and crew about experiences they've had, hearing how a director directs, stunts and stunt doubles*, and so much more. Really, with so much magic surrounding TV and movies in my eyes, seeing its inner-workings in person was really really interesting.

On the other hand, being an extra, esp. a zombie extra, has its downsides. Pay is minimum wage (8-hours guaranteed). The make-up takes forever to get off*. The outcome of your day on set is very random*. In my 2 very long days, I might be in 5 seconds of film (which mostly just shows my back). Kind of lame. And above all, it is super boring. Hours upon hours pass just waiting in the waiting tent (while totally covered in make-up, including your hands, so you can't even dinkle with your phone). Occasionally crew will chat, but mostly, they've got jobs to do. You never know when anything is going to happen or what it will be.

Despite the ups and downs, I'm really stoked to have had the opportunity. I put a few bucks in my pocket, got to see a behind the scenes look, got a really neat story to share, and snapped a few interesting pictures along the way.

If my footage doesn't get left on the cutting room floor, look for the back of my zombified head in Season 3, Episode 14, probably airing sometime in the spring. (My hands might make a guest appearance in episode 11 or 12 too!). However it pans out, I'm sure I'll post about it here, so stay tuned.
Wednesday September 21 2016File under: extra, pics

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Summer Performing 2016

This past summer has been a whirlwind of performing for Della and me. This weekend is the first in months we haven't had a gig*. And looking forward, there's at least one per weekend for the next month. So much for me "not being a performer." :-)

Although it's been busy, it's been super fun. Going to festivals and parties ain't a bad way to make a buck or two. And Della and I have been honing in our acts and are getting ready to debut our first show this weekend at the Sh'Bang at the Lookout Arts Quarry. It should be a blast.

The photos below hardly do justice to all the running around we've been doing. We're usually just so busy we forget about taking photos. Luckily, folks are kind enough to share theirs with us (which are way better than ours would be anyway).

So here are a few photos from Summer 2016. I hope you enjoy having a look as much as I enjoyed putting them together! (Photo captions give some context.)

by the
New Old
Lots of
Fun Stuff

Sunday September 4 2016File under: pics, juggle

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Sleeping Around 2015-2016

Another year, another year's worth of sleeping around data. This brings me to 8 years worth of data on where I slept every night. That's 2922 nights. It's kind of crazy having a log of something so simple for so long, but I love it. And I love analyzing it. So, without further ado...

  • Housesitting is off the hook, almost doubling from years past.*
  • Nights At Home, correspondingly, are way down at less than 40% of average
  • Domestic Travel (travel outside of Washington state) is at an all time low, meaning that while I may not be at home much, I'm sure staying close to home
  • International Travel is up nicely, reflecting that rambling trip to Egypt, etc.
  • Car nights are down, due in part to the uptick in housesitting and Della getting the Green Room*
  • Another year of just one tent night, though it is almost cheating because it was quite a deluxe tent out in the desert in Jordan

Additional Stats
# of Housesitting Houses8Some were Della's, some were mine. Some were one off, some were long-time clients
# of states (other than WA)5OR, AZ, WI, NY, CT
# of countries (other than US)7Hungary, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, UAE, France, [International Waters]*
Longest stretch at home8The longest stretches away from home, though, were 60, 58, and 45

If you care to have a look at the data yourself, do so here*. And if you really want to get into the weeds of data, you can look over my last 7 Sleeping Around posts: '08-'09, '09-'10, '10-'11, '11-'12, '12-'13, '13-'14, '14-'15. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed my analysis even a tenth as much as I enjoyed making it. Really, nothing better than this data set helps me encapsulate my life in numbers.
Wednesday August 3 2016File under: stats

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Half Beard 2016

My ridiculous beard posts have gotten noticeably fewer in recent times (perhaps following the trend of BdW posts in general). One of the main reasons for this is that I've been growing the beard longer than usual. To me, it's more or less the same, except that I do enjoy have something to fidget with. But as I'm reminded when I head out into the world, it can catch some people off guard, which in turn catches me off guard. Some people, esp. those who I've met more recently, very much do not recognize me beardless.

With the heat of summer weighing heavily and with the knowledge if I didn't shave it soon, I'd have to wait until next Spring(!?), I gave Della the clippers and said "have a go!". She decided it was time to chop the hair as well which was fine by me! Plus, she beat her personal best hair cutting time by 10 minutes (which even included time for a mid-trim photo shoot!)
Monday June 20 2016File under: beard

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Wall Street Journal Crossword

Today I got another big notch in my crossword bedpost with my first Wall Street Journal puzzle. Coming shortly on the heels of my big NYT puzzle debut last week, it has a week of crossword accomplishments that has been so fun to sit back and enjoy.

A fun little story behind this Wall Street Journal puzzle: I have had my eyes set on getting a WSJ puzzle published ever since they started doing daily puzzles about a year ago*. While out at the Crossword Tournament this spring, I made a point to seek out Mike Shenk, the WSJ puzzle editor, and shake his hand in hopes it might get my name noticed when my puzzle crossed his desk. He explained that it wasn't him that did the culling, but he'd try to mention me to his assistant who did. Sure enough, 2 weeks later, I got the e-mail with my puzzle's acceptance. Whether or not my deliberate socializing helped my puzzle or if it was accepted on its merits alone, I'll never know. But it's a fun story nonetheless.

As always, I encourage you to support the people and publications that support crossword creators by going out and buying a copy of the puzzle. It's in today (June 7th, 2016) Wall Street Journal. But if you missed your chance, you can download a copy of the PDF here. Once you've done the puzzle (or if you get stuck), you can go read the review/solution at Diary of a Crossword Fiend. This one also got a gereally encouraging review, which started with the awesome line "Wren Schultz completes the hat trick today for getting a puzzle published in all three major dailies".

This crossword publication thing is pretty neat. Knowing that there are people out there doing (and hopefully enjoying) something that I've created and worked hard on really makes me feel great. And so much because of that, I hope to keep creating crosswords and getting them published. Stay tuned!
Wednesday June 8 2016File under: crosswords

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My First New York Times Crossword Puzzle

Today is a big day in my world—like really big. Today is the day my first crossword gets published in the New York Times. This is like getting drafted by your favorite NBA team (but with way less money). Or winning the lottery (but with way less money). Or performing on stage at Carnegie Hall (but, again, with way less money). This is a dream come true, an accomplishment that I've diligently worked towards and finally achieved.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. All the mushy stuff aside, it's still pretty neat. It was over 3.5 years ago that I first submitted a puzzle to the NYT (post here). Since then, I've gotten puzzles in various other publications (L.A. Times, Chronicle of Higher Ed (twice!), Uptown Puzzle Club) and learned lots in the process (through the help of some really great editors). This puzzle was maybe my fourth NYT submission (and actually a reworking of a previously submitted theme) and an idea I've been stoked on for a long time. So 11 months after I printed it out and sent it in, here we are.

Crossword folks always want the juicy details of what crossword creation and getting published is like. And while they might not be at all juicy, here are a few details. NYT pays $300 for a daily crossword. (Others generally pay less.) This crossword probably took me 40+ hours to create (accounting for making the rejected first version and the totally reworked second version, cluing, printing, communicating, etc.). That works out to less than minimum wage. The editor has final say on the grid and clues. Will Shortz (the NYT puzzle editor) changed one square in the grid and about 80% of the clues. That's his job, to tweak clues to account for difficulty, audience, style, etc. And I get that. But some of the clues I liked better before (ex: mine: Great Scott! vs. his: Scott in 1857 news* or mine: Glass with glasses vs. his: Part of a financial portfolio (for short)*. It's kind of funny, not really understanding all the clues to your own puzzle. But that's the way the game works, and as I get more savvy, I'm sure my clues will be tweaked less and less.

Another really neat thing about this experience is all the attention my puzzle gets out in the blogosphere. I'm writing this the night before it comes out and I've already read 4 reviews, all of which were more good than bad (xwordinfo.com, NYTs Word Play blog, Diary of a Crossword Fiend, and Rex Parker). I was actually pretty nervous about these reviews as my last puzzle (in the Chronicle of Higher Ed) got somewhat panned in its review, but I was really pleased with how this one was received. (I think it helped that many of the reviewers are constructors themselves so can appreciate the difficulty of the theme.)

So now you want to do the puzzle, eh? What, you mean you weren't waiting for Starbucks to open so you could pick up your copy of the NYT? That's okay. You can download the PDF of the puzzle here (but I do encourage you to support those who make the puzzles possibly by buying a paper every now and again). The puzzle will also run in syndicated version in about 5 weeks, so you can catch a copy of it then too.
Wednesday June 1 2016File under: crosswords

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Something Wonderful

Arrrrrggg! I'm a pirate— or at least I play one in the Bellingham Circus Guild's new production, Something Wonderful. The show tells of a boy taken through a magical world of sea creatures, ship wrecks, dreams, and more. The show is more highly produced than any I've been a part of so far which makes it really exciting. The costumes are top notch and the professionalism regarding timelines, rehearsals, and contracts has been very refreshing.

Last week, we had our first showing, on the big stage at Western Washington University. The huge stage with all the necessary contraptions, lights, staff, and more made it feel all the more big deal. The show went great, except for a couple drops by the pirates (opening night jitters, I guess). This upcoming weekend, we have a 3 show run at the Cirque Lab in Bellingham. There are tickets still available. The shows are going to be so fun!

The pirates do a juggling bit that involves 2-highs, complicated moving patterns, and a neat little passing the bottle routine. I also got roped into doing a little black suit puppetry as well, a new one for my resume.

While the amount of time spent on this, between rehearsals, teching, etc. has been more than I've been used to in the past (and makes the hourly wage far lower than minimum wage), the experience has been helpful and even fun. I'm proud of the show and I'm excited that it might get staged again in the future, maybe even at bigger venues! In the meantime, I look forward to the run this weekend. I hope to see you there!
Tuesday May 17 2016File under: circus, juggling

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Tax Breakdown of My Wheel of Fortune Winnings

One of the more common questions I've gotten about my experience of winning on Wheel of Fortune has to do with taxes. People want to know how much of the $50,150 I get to actually keep. To this point, I've just been able to share what I've known (which isn't much) and defer until I get my 2015 taxes done (since my winnings check didn't come until 2015, though my episode aired in 2014). Well, tax time has come and gone. Now I have a clearer picture of the whole Wheel/Tax thing.

First let it be said that I don't know much about this tax stuff. So if you're an IRS agent, please understand that I tried my best to get it right. I hired a well-respected tax guy and didn't try to cut any corners. I played by the book. But even you've gotta admit that that book isn't so easy to follow. So if there's an error, please understand that it is an honest one. Let's talk about it.

My big shiny number at the end of the show was $50,150—$41,200 in cash and a trip to Hawaii valued at $8,950. But the actual value of the trip was much lower than that. Looking at actual airfare, hotel costs, perks, spending cash, etc., the trip was $4,600. I don't fault Wheel at all for the overvaluation. Had I had to fly from the East Coast at a different time of the year, the numbers might have been much closer. So it was only because of the details of my situation that the valuation was off as much as it was. And to their credit, in the post win interview, they even pointed out that I only had to pay tax on the actual value of the trip, rather than the assessed value.

So that brings us down to $45,800 actually won. Then there are the expenses that it took to win that: hotel, flights, parking, meals, etc. You don't have to pay tax on that. All those deductions came to $800, so leaves the taxable amount at $45,000. That's my net.

Here's where I wish I could just say "and tax on $45,000 is $X" and we'd be done. But winnings are just a part of one's income. And with our progressive federal income tax, the percentage of tax you pay is based on how much you earned. So had I won this money in a year where I made a different amount of money, I might have had to pay a different amount of tax on it. Luckily for me, I'm what the government calls a "worthless lackabout", so my meager income puts me in the lower tax brackets.

So taking my tax bracket into consideration and the taxable net from the show, my tax guy figures I paid about $5,860 in federal income tax on the Wheel winnings*. And since the money was earned in California, there's gotta be California state income tax as well. That came to $1,788*. So where does that leave us?

Correction for actual trip value-$4,350
Federal Income Tax-$5,860
CA Income Tax-$1,788
Tax Prep*-$250*

Overall, this is much much better than I was expecting. I was thinking I would be walking about with more like $30,000 after taxes. And while a portion of that $37,102 was in the value of the trip to Hawaii (i.e. not cash), the post tax cash portion of the winnings is still nothing to sneeze at. Yep, while it is sad to say goodbye to the last bit of excitement associated with my Wheel experience, it is nice to have the tax question no longer hanging over my head. And as long as no auditors come knocking on my door, I'm a happy dude.
Saturday April 23 2016File under: wheel


Chronicle Crossword Number 2

Earlier this month, I had a crossword published in the Chronicle of Higher Education (my fifth published puzzle for anyone that's counting). While it was my second puzzle with CHE (the first being Pi Row Technics last Pi Day (covered here)), it was my first with them to actually get printed (since the previous one coincided with an online only publication).

The publication of this puzzle coincided perfectly with the crossword tournament. It was neat, when chatting with people, to mention "Did you see today's CHE puzzle? Yeah, I did that." (No one had, but that's okay.) It was also neat to shake hands with the editor (best. editor. evar.) and discuss the review* .

Since I am still relatively new at this crossword publishing thing, the novelty of having something I made be printed for millions—okay, hundreds—to solve hasn't worn off (and possibly never will). To this end, I wanted to track down a copy to frame for my wall and save for posterity. This task proved much more difficult than you might think. Visits and calls to university book stores, news and magazine stands, and university libraries all turned up empty. While it was a fun exercise in pre-internet sleuthing, it was a bit of a let down, not only because I wanted to see my handy work in print, but also knowing that there are so few copies out there for people to solve*. I ended up getting a university library (one of the few to carry it) to set aside a copy that they can give me instead of throwing away at the end of the month. Luckily, after all the running around, the magazine itself sent me a couple copies so I've at least got the wall hanging copy worked out.

With all this analysis, I can only imagine you're now ready to have a crack at the puzzle yourself. Download the PDF of "Code of Silence" here. Or if you want the .puz file, go to the Chronicle's Crossword Page. I hope you enjoy!
Tuesday April 12 2016File under: crosswords


Puzzle 5 Pride at the Crossword Tournament

I recently attended the American Crossword Puzzle tournament in Stamford, CT. It was my third adventure in surrounding myself with all the wonderful crossword madness and once again, it was great! I continue to meet the big names in the crossword world which makes me feel all the more invested and inspired. This time I talked my dad into having a go at the tourney as well. It was fun to see this glimpse into the subculture of crosswording through his eyes.

The tournament consists of 7 puzzles* varying in size and difficulty. The puzzle that stands out every year is the dreaded Puzzle 5, a puzzle so notorious it generates tributes and parodies that dominate the talent show and can change the standings drastically. In years past, I've fallen victim, ending with a grid that is more empty than filled and walking away questioning my crossword chops. This year, however, I'm so proud to report, that I nailed it: a completely full grid and not a single error!

It's hard to understate this personal achievement. The gal sitting in front of me, someone who has attended the tournament for more than 10 years, said completing puzzle 5, much less doing so perfectly, was a life goal of hers (which she also attained this year). The puzzle had a very tricky theme than involved words making multiple 90° turns and using parts of words backwards—it was a really well crafty, witty puzzle.

The improved performance on Puzzle 5, combined with the fact I had only 3 squares wrong in the whole tournament, boosted me in the standings, helping me finish almost 100 places higher this year than last, at 287/576, putting me squarely in the middle of the pack (50th percentile (vs. 61st from 2015 and 64th in 2014)). Not that my primary goal at the tourney is high achievement (I really go with business in mind to expand my crossword constructing empire (kind of)), but doing well always feels good.

So now, to my crossword resume, amongst the various published puzzles I've had, I can add a completed puzzle 5. I'll take it.
Tuesday April 5 2016File under: games, crosswords

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