|Last month, I had my second New York Times crossword puzzle published! It was a Tuesday with what I thought was a quite clever theme. I promptly and proudly added it to my crossword wall of fame. And while the wall continues to get filled, getting an NYT is always a thrill!
The thrill of this NYT, however, was a bit tempered. On its publication day, I immediately checked out the reviews (#2). They were not good. I comforted myself with the fact that the puzzle wasn't geared for hardcore cruciverbalists, but instead, as Tuesdays should be, it was more for the beginner. The occasional review comment did step to my defense, but overall, the wind was a bit out of my sail. On the upside, some of the criticism was fair and I trust that it will help me make better puzzles in the future.
If you want a chance to make up your own decision, the puzzles runs in syndication today, so it can be found in papers across the country (and world!). Or, if you're happening upon this post days* later, here's a PDF copy*.
As kind of a neat coincidence, it just so happened that I had a puzzle in the USA Today that very same day! It makes my 6th or so USA Today puzzle, so the thrill is a little less, but neat all the same. Three cheers for being a published crossword constructor!
|Tuesday May 22 2018||File under: crossword|
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|Della and I again this year had the privilege of being in Bellingham Circus Guild's My Circus Valentine. It makes the 4th year I've been in the event and Della hasn't missed one yet (often times with 2 acts!) Our act this year turned out to be our best, IMO, but it was hard fought to get there. Dual creative pursuits, such as act creation, isn't our strong point and each year, after going through it, we swear we'll never do it again. But we do and after we have an act that I can be stoked on, I'm so glad that we did.
You could see the act, posted along with other videos of our acts, over at our website www.wrenanddella.com, but I will post it here as well in the interest of posterity. We ended up getting this awesome edited copy from BTV show broadcast the event. I hope you get as much a kick out of it as I did totally nailing it.
(The costumes (a.k.a diapered cupids) were made by none other than Della, of course.)
|Saturday April 14 2018||File under: juggling, circus|
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|This year marks the 5th year I've attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. I've never been under the delusion that I had any chance of actually competing at the competition, but instead go to schmooze, network, and be surrounded by people for whom an enjoyable day is spent inside a ballroom doing crosswords silently: in other words, my people.
I figured five years is enough to start tracking my progress (after all, what fun is collecting data if not to be able to analyze it), but first, a report on this year. I finished 366th out of 675, putting me in the 47th percentile. I aced 4 out of 7 puzzles, with just one dumdum mistake on puzzle 7. Without that silly mistake, I would have jumped up to the top half, my very attainable goal. Puzzle 5 destroyed me this year, part of which I attribute to the fact it was written not with solvers in mind, but to outsmart Dr.Fill, the crossword solving computer program. I'm sore about it, but the puzzle was actually really good. I got to chat up some old friends and say hi to some of my editors and get some suggestions on where to submit new puzzles to. Overall, it was a good time, if not remarkably so.
When asked about how it went, I find myself responding, "Oh, about like always." And the data seems to support that theory. Here is a chart of my performance for the past 5 years. After a year or two getting comfortable with the format and pressure*, and with the fluke of acing Puzzle 5 in 2016, I can usually count on ending up just barely below the middle. Granted it's not a brag-worthy place to be, but being that these are the best solvers in the world, and I'm just merely a guy with a hobby, I don't feel so bad.
And while I don't feel so bad about my ranking, it sure would be neat to do a little better. And that's what will drive me back again: I would like to get 6/7 perfect puzzles and finish in the top 40%, both of which seem doable. Who knows, maybe I'll even get a mini-trophy for doing well in my category (affectionately called the "At-least-they-tried"s)
With crosswords becoming a bigger and bigger part of my life (and livelihood), attending the tournament was kind of a no brainer. It is a little oasis of nerdiness in this otherwise cool world, and I for one love it.
|Friday March 30 2018||File under: crossword|
|Last year, I made a post that summarized my earnings for the year. It started with all sorts of caveats regarding the taboo of talking about money, etc. etc. All the same caveats apply for this year, so feel free to go back and review them. But basically, I'm posting a summary of my yearly earnings for the same reason I post about my sleeping around data—because I think it is neat and an incredible tool for self-analysis.
In last year's post, I talked about achieving a life goal (of sorts) of having no more than one quarter of my income come from a particular source. This year, I guess I juggled my way out of that one. But I think it's good. With this data, I can see that I'm succeeding as a juggler and I have no small amount of pride in that. Other numbers–housesitting, trivia, labor, crosswords–aren't changed too much. It's neat to see that those elements aren't necessarily suffering from juggling's big takeover.
I look forward to continuing tracking, analyzing (,and probably blogging about) this data in the upcoming years. It is truly mind-boggling how much interest I find in these simple numbers. But for now, it is just nice to have an answer to the question "What do you do for a living?".
|Thursday February 22 2018||File under: stats|
|Whenever I travel, I'm drawn to skip the air-conditioned plush tourist buses in favor of whatever transportation the locals use. I tell myself it is to get to know the place better, to mingle with the locals, but I imagine cost plays no small role. But whatever my motivations, it is a travel habit I'm glad to have as it leads to some wonderful experiences. On our recent trip to Jamaica, these local transport adventures proved to be among the most memorable from the whole trip!
The two dominant non-tourist transport options were route taxi and mini-bus, both variations on the same concept: pack a regular old vehicle as full as possible with people going from here to there. When I say full, I mean FULL. Think of a regular sized car, like a Toyota Camary. Put 4 full-sized adults across the backseat and 3 adults plus the driver across the front (with additional cushion for the middle person to span the e-brake). Now drive that vehicle at a million miles an hour around curvy mountain roads and you've got an idea.
We chose Christmas day to venture from the north of Jamaica down to the south, a 77-mile journey through the less inhabited center of the island. While there was some fear about transpo not running, we found that with the exception of 1 leg of the 6 leg journey, we were in luck. Each leg took us from one small town to the next, about 45 minutes to an hour, costing about $1 or $2 per person. After each leg, you'd hobble out, try to get feeling back in your butt and legs, and then cram into the next rig.
By the end of our time in Jamaica, I truly felt like I had grown accustomed to the experience of getting nice and friendly with your neighbors and riding in companionable silence (albeit with the Reggae blasting). I won't say I loved it, but it wasn't the hardship it was on that first mini-bus.
In chatting about the mini-buses to a local friend, he casually mentioned "Yep, like two white girls on a mini-bus". In quizzing him, he told us of a once popular song that recounted the public transit experience from the perspective of a non-local. Della and I looked it up and found it couldn't be more accurate. So I'll leave you with this, Two White Girls on a Mini-Bus.
|Saturday January 13 2018||File under: Jamaica, travel|
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|One of Della's and my favorite things to do while traveling is to find a deal, to save money. It's what's led us on the cruises we taken, to the countries we been, and it guides our every day choices. And we get great joy out of it.*
But this deal/savings seeking leads us to a frequent dillemma: do we take the tour or not? Tours are usually lots of fun and frequently are the only way to see something, but they almost always cost a lot of money so we often end up skipping out, instead opting for the free activities like exploring, hanging out on the beach, and juggling.
In the interest of expanding our horizons, after much hemming and hawing, yesterday we took a tour. The tour promised three-fold adventure: dolphins (35% chance), the Black river and crocodiles, and a stop at the Pelican Bar, a bar on stilts in the middle of the bay.
In short, it was totally awesome! We saw both dolphins and crocodiles, the Black River was amazing with its mangroves, nesting snowy egrets, and truly jungle-like vibe, and we can now say we've been to the world famous(?) Pelican Bar. Beyond the three-fold promise, there were lots of other great perks: meeting other travelers, a neat swimming hole/rope swing/jumping tree into the river*, an adventurous boat ride, and lots of great information that we might never have gotten otherwise.
Our super successful tour will no doubt help encourage us to penny-pinch less when the next opportunity arises. And I look forward to it! But in the meantime, we'll be keeping an eye out for deal. Old habits do die hard.
|Thursday December 28 2017||File under: travel, Jamaica|
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|Twas the night before Christmas
Reggae beats drift on by
So it goes in Jamaica
For my sweetie and I
We've come down to visit
This Caribbean island nation
For escape and adventure
To have a nice little vacation
And so far, it's worked!
A week in and we're thrilled
We done a few things
But mostly we've chilled
Last night was Grand Market
A sight to behold
We found our way to the right town
Or so we were told
Music was blaring
Up and down every street
With stands of all kinds
Especially jerk meat
The place was packed full
Of revelers and glee
Della and I were the only
White faces to see
But that makes it authentic
Not what most tourists get
Following our noses
Hasn't failed us yet
With the reggae still ringing
through us to the core
We spent X-mas eve day
Exploring some more
After fresh smoothies of star fruit
Picked right from the tree
We cram ourselves in a mini-bus
Which flies at speeds unsafely
We arrive at a place where
the sea meets a cascade
I proceed to re-enact
A blog post from last decade
Next we walked into Ocho Rios
A little too touristy for us
After a quick dinner and crunkies
We were back on a bus
Now we're settled at "home"
A quaint little AirBnB
Outside the reggae drifts by
Inside its just Della and me
We won't do anything special
Maybe watch a movie or read
But we'll be totally at peace
Because we have all we need
Adventure, warm weather
Time to ourselves
Santa couldn't make us happier
With all of his elves
Now I sit back and reread
My Twas posts from the past
I get quite a kick
From the pile that's amassed ('07, '08, '09, '11, '12, '13, '14, '15)
For while I'm kind of a grinch
About most yule themed things
These silly little poems
Much joy to me brings
I hope you have a your own reasons
For joy this fine night
May the upcoming year
Bring you much love and delight
Now I'll end it right here
With this last seasonal cliche
Merry Christmas to you
On this joyous day
|Sunday December 24 2017||File under: holidays, poetry|
|This year, the Bellingham Circus Guild put on its first Halloween show* and it was awesome! Della and I wrote a whole new act for the occasion. It was a little gimmicky, a little over the top, a little funny(?), and hopefully a lot fun. I sure liked how it turned out, anyway. Check out the video below.
(Since you can barely see our costumes in the video, here's a shot we snuck in the photo booth. And since we're talking about photo booth photos, here's one of the cast and crew. What a group!!)
Before the show, I did ambient as a fire juggling fireman. Della was the cutest little teapot you could imagine.
Overall, it was an awesome experience. The gal the put on the show did a knock out job promoting it (3 total sellout shows plus a last minute show that almost sold out!) as well as all other aspects. It was really an honor to be a part.
|Wednesday November 15 2017||File under: circus, juggling|
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|By my rough count, Della and I had approximately 40 shows during our busy time, July and August. While it felt like we barely had time to catch our breath or do laundry, it rarely felt like we had time to capture it in words or pictures. But now that things have calmed down, I thought it might be fun to consolidate some of the photos, videos, and observations into an end of the season wrap-up (like I did last year!) Info and photo credits in the captions.
|Sunday October 8 2017||File under: pics, juggling|
In today's USA Today newspaper, if you look on page 4D, you might find a familiar name...ME!! It's my first USA Today crossword and I'm very excited to have it published. The USA Today having one of the highest daily circulations in the country, it means that there are people in hotels, airports, and Starbucks all over the country that might be cursing my name and that makes me smile. Just kidding. I like to think either that they stop and appreciate the puzzle and maybe even glance at my name, or in the very least, think it no better or worse than the other puzzles they've done and that it sufficiently filled their time.
[Spoiler Alert] About this puzzle in particular, my theme idea started out somewhat different than what made it to the page. I proposed "DROP THE BALL", as in screwing something up but the editor liked "DROPPED BALL" better. While I think it is a less common phrase which makes the theme slightly less strong, I'm definitely not the one with years experience putting puzzles out to the world on such a huge scale, so I was definitely inclined to defer. In addition to the theme change, there were the wealth of cluing changes (that even make it hard for me to complete my own puzzle!) As I work more with an editor, I get more in tune with their style. Luckily, I think this USA Today relationship will be one where I get that chance! I've gone another puzzle in the pipes and submitting another one today!
As with all my puzzles so far, I've framed this for inclusion on my Wall of Puzzles* which keeps on growing! Does that mean someday I'll have to stop framing every puzzle? Or I could just buy a bigger house. We'll have to see when it gets to that point. Stay tuned!
While I always encourage you to go out and support the media that supports crossword creators, I know that isn't always possible. So here's a PDF copy of the puzzle (also available at puzzles.usatoday.com/crossword
|Thursday September 21 2017||File under: crosswords|
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