My First Published Crossword

Just over six years ago, I made my first crossword (covered on BdW here). Creating it was something that was on my life goals list and I was pleased as punch to be able to cross it off my list. But in doing so, I added a new goal to the list: get a crossword published. I'm happy to say that I can now cross that off the list too! Sunday's* LA Times (along with 100+ papers elsewhere around the country and the world) carried my crossword! Knowing that so many people from all over are doing a crossword that I wrote feels huge and so so great.

The process of getting a crossword published was an interesting one. I got about 5 or so rejections before I submitted one that suited them, and even with that, they wanted one of the theme clues changed*. Then there was a little back and forth involving changing a few other squares (the editor actually suggested the changes rather than just telling me what answers needed to be rewritten) and then the long wait for publication (about 4 months from my original submission). It was only upon seeing it in print that I saw how much liberty an editor actually takes in changing clues. It bascially broke down like this: 25% unchanged, 25% changed very minorly (word order or capitalization/punctuation), 25% changed a bit (different wording but the concept stayed the same), and 25% changed significantly/rewritten. Many of the changes were warranted (for difficulty, availability to readers, consistancy, etc.), but some of the changes, however, I might have pushed back on*. Oh well.

And then there was publication day. After quite some time trying to figure out where we could find a physical copy of the LA Times*, Della and I drove all the way to Seattle only to be thwarted and buying a copy of the only local paper that carried it, the South Sound News Tribune. But crossword in print is a crossword in print, and it was still pretty neat. We also picked up a copy of the Peninsula Daily out of Port Angeles which carried the puzzle as well. (To find which papers carry it, check here* or do it online here).

Another really neat thing about having a puzzle published was watching the online community respond to it. There's a blog that follows each day's puzzle with answers and discussion. Reading what people had to say about mine was pretty neat, and insightful as to what areas gave people trouble.

It's kind of a funny thing that I am so extremely proud of this thing that to anyone outside of the crossword community is barely a blip of an accomplishment. But I am and I'm okay with that. And it has been so fun that I'm going to try to do it again, this time maybe shooting for a different publication.
Tuesday May 6 2014File under: games, misc

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End of an Era

Sometime around May 2000, I tied a little piece of seine twine around my wrist in the nautical knot known as a turk's head. At various times throughout high school, it was the hip thing to do given our towns nautical leanings. I was only 3 or so years late to the fad. Some 14 years later*, that same knot sits in place, never having been removed, not for a minute. Over the years, constant exposure to anything and everything took its toll: the color has faded, the strands have frayed, and the once 3 turn braid lost at least one wrap. But I still wore it proudly.

But all good things must come to an end sometime. So with a bit of nostalgia, I snipped it away. Without it, my wrist looked bare and frail. But I was ready with a new one at hand. With some help from Della in tightening and straightening this not so simple know, I was back in business.

It will take some time for the new knot to settle in to that perfect state of that which it replaces; where I might not notice its presence, but I surely would notice its absence. But once it does, I trust it will stay in place for another 14 years or more. Yay for continuity!!
Saturday April 19 2014File under: misc

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2014 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

The microcultures that exist in the world can be such a neat thing. Some phenomenon that, in general culture quietly hides in the background, when a large groups of its devotee gather, it takes center stage and becomes something entirely different. Such was the case of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, held this weekend in Brooklyn, NY. I was lucky enough to attend.

As with any microculture, there were celebrities, traditions, history, and more. To begin to glimpse into that was so much fun. There was a talent show, talks on the history of crosswords and computers' roles in creation, shaping, and solving, merch*, inside jokes, and more. Then, of course, there were the puzzles.

Even for a gotta-have-a-puzzle-with-me-at-all-times guy like myself, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of puzzles around, lying on the tables for anyone to take free. I think I've got my cereal reading library stoked for a while to come. But the reason we were all there, ostensibly, was to do the tournament puzzles: 8 puzzles varying in difficulty, size, and time allotment. The format was basically this: 3 puzzle Saturday morning, 3 Saturday afternoon, 1 Sunday morning, and one for the finalists to do on stage. We were scored first on accuracy then on speed. And the speed with which the top competitors solved them was incredible. The puzzles used were of high caliber* and would be even greater fun to solve not under the gun of the big bad clock.

As for my performance, I did alright. In terms of accuracy, I aced 3 of the 7 and got 1 square wrong on two others*. The puzzle that was my demise was the notoriously difficult Puzzle 5. And while everyone has a hard time with it, my showing was even worse than most. But in the end, I finished 369th out of 580, not bad for a first attempt. Out of the rookies, my rank was 38 of 99. Breakdown of my scores can be seen here*.

But seeing the microculture and how I stacked up against the heavy hitters wasn't the only reason I chose to attend. I wanted to network and glad hand. Getting a crossword published is a life goal of mine and while I'm making some progress on my construction through sheer brute force, chatting with other constructors, introducing myself to prominent editors, and getting to know the market should help me on the way to that dream.

A skeptical person might ask with incredulity "You came all the way across the country to do some crosswords?!?" and they would have a point. But with the wonderful experience and knowledge I gained at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, there's no question that it was worth it. I might just have to come back next year.
Sunday March 9 2014File under: games, misc

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Sheep To Shawl

Last summer, I got a call from a friend asking for some help shearing her sheep and alpaca. In the mood for an adventure, I hustled on over. And while I didn't do any of the actual shearing (quite a specialized skill), I did help round them up, hold them down, keep them happy (at least attempt to as some man was going at them with a buzzer), and be an extra pair of hands. In exchange, I received a nice lesson on farm life and a big sack of unprocessed wool. What a deal!

Summer passed and winter fell, as it tends to do, and I found myself feeling a little bit crafty. Enter: wool sack. I first tried my hand at carding and spinning. It's hard. Like really hard to get things nice and even. Ten hours of carding, spinning, and knitting just to make a 4"x8" 'shawl' is enough to make a person really gain appreciation for industrialization. But I know as I do it more, I'll get better. The end goal is to knit myself a new hat (as this one is getting a little ragged) having completed the process start to finish, or "sheep to shawl" as they say.

Another craft endeavor I tried with the raw wool was felting. Using youtube tutorials, I had a couple goes at it. While a bit faster than spinning and knitting, it still isn't fast or easy. But I'm excited about the products of my first attempt and look forward to dialing it in a bit. If I end up with a nice felt hand-made hat, I would be stoked beyond belief. So many crafts, so little time.
Monday February 10 2014File under: crafts, misc

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Taking Troothpicks To the Next Level

Interest, both mine and the world at large's, in troothpicks tends to wax and wane. Someimtes I'll go 10 months without thinking or hearing about it at all. Other times, there's seems to be something exciting happen with them every other week. Some recent excitement was inclusion in Nomad, a travelling trailer full of indy art, based out of Bellingham and some long overdue internet sales!

So keeping in form with this latest wave of interest, I've decided to step it up to the next level. I've open up a troothpicks store on Etsy! My hope is that the wider marketplace will bring troothpicks happiness to more people making the world a better place...and maybe putting a few bucks in my pocket*.

I've heard a number of Etsy success stories recently, including Della's! She makes awesome juggling bags and has sold out in just the last week on her Etsy store. You should go check it out yourself and get a pre-order in before demand drives the price through the roof*!

Anyway, it's my hope that this new move puts troothpicks where it deserves to be: on the verge of making me a million dollars! If you felt so inclined, I'd love help spreading the word. Tell your friends, 'favorite' my etsy shop, --heck, maybe even buy a package for yourself or a friend.
Saturday February 1 2014File under: misc

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2013 Year End Letter

For the past couple years, I've been meaning to get around to writing a year end/christmas letter. I always really appreciate it when I receive such a letter in the real mail as it keeps me informed about my friends' lives and let's me know that they are thinking of me. So this year I finally did it. It was a neat exercise, from picking the few pictures that I could include to narrowing down and summarizing my year.

If people still read the blog (like you do, which I am ever so grateful), most of the content would be a rehashing. And indeed, if you didn't get a fancy schmancy paper copy of this in the mail, it is most likely since I know you are a reader and it would all be redundant. But I wanted to post it here 1) for posterity* 2) because it is a nice summation of my year (and 3) If you can't tell, I'm desperate for blog material these days)

Anyway, click on the image* above and have a read.
Tuesday January 14 2014File under: misc

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2013 Shop My Friends Buying Guide

Any glance at a newspaper, TV, or billboard will tell you we've now entered into that Buy! Buy! Buy! part of the year, when anyone who questions the consume, gift giving attitude is sourly looked down on as un-American*. Well, although Black Friday and even Shop Small Business Saturday aren't my thing, there is a branch of this gift buying tree that I can get behind.

I'm lucky enough to have some pretty freaking creative friends who make things, neat things. So not only would you be giving a neat thing with a story to that somebody on your list, you are supporting a good creative person. And if supporting good creative people isn't one of the best parts of consumerism, I don't know what is. So have a look at my 2013 Shop My Friends Buying Guide.

(Oh, and if you have something neat for sale, post a link in the comments!)
Path Puzzles: My buddy Rod created this awesome book of a type of puzzle I had never seen before. It's a little like Sudoku, a little like Ken Ken, and a little like nothing you've seen before. Great for that puzzle enthusiast on your list!
Baby sweater patterns: Got a do-it-yourselfer on your list? A baby sweater pattern (knit or crochet) with an awesome story might just be the thing. My friend Stef* is doing this awesome project. Check out the site for all the info, and for goodness sake, buy a pattern. Don't let the babies freeze. (She's also got some pretty awesome earrings over at her Etsy shop.)
Chair Dancing: Learn the sexiest dance of all time: I posted once about it here, but it's worth calling it out again. If you've ever seen the chair dance, this book is a hilarious companion. Or it can stand alone for anyone who appreciates satire, humor, and maybe a little bit of hair flipping.
Troothpicks: You know them! You love them! Now buy them! Get 'em for yourself to take to holiday potlucks*, give them to that foodie with a great sense of humor, or stuff them in any stocking you can find. And if nothing else, at least it's good for dental hygiene.
Dexter and Stray: If you've got a young person on your list, then check this out. My fellow juggler, Chautauquan, and beard enthusiast Zack writes young adult books featuring Dexter (Tinkerer, bicycle mechanical genius) and Stray (free spirited juggling acrobat*). The adventures are great not only for their creativity and wackiness, but also for their exaltation of circus!
Friday Comics: Remember those hilarious weekly comics that graced BdW every Friday for all those years? Well, they can be yours to own or give to friends to enrich their lives. No reasonable offer will be refused! Contact me to order yours today! (be reminded of the hilariousness here!
Custom hand-carved block prints of your pets: Bill (yes that Bill of Spoonshine* fame) does something pretty neat. He hand carves block prints of your pet from a photograph. What a unique, thoughtful gift that would sure to be loved.
Music:It seems you can't swing a dead cat in the northwest without hitting a wonderful musician. But no need to start searching dumpsters, because I've got a few musician type friends that have music for sale, no cat swinging necessary.
  • Pepperjill & Jack: With a blend of classical training, old-school rock 'n' roll, and odball quirkiness, they're having a hard time defining exactly what genre we're aiming for, but it's safe to say it falls somewhere within "fun".
  • Strangely:Lively accordion often with bold messages, this street performer/juggler/etc. put lots of energy into his album for you to enjoy.
  • Rattletrap Ruckus: Rattletrap Ruckus is a rollicking four-piece instrumental band from Bellingham, WA. They play fiddle tunes, ragtime, tango, paso dobles, various breeds of waltz, klezmer, polkas, and oh so much more. Fun fun fun!

Saturday November 30 2013File under: misc, holidays

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Supporting Public Radio(ish)

I'm a big public radio guy. Three of my 6 car* radio buttons are dedicated to the different public radio stations around my area and their various translator stations. I enjoy being intellectually engaged, knowing what's happening in the world*, and being entertained.

But of late, NPR, esp. Morning Edition and All Things Considered, haven't been doing it for me. I started noticing last year that their political coverage esp. was becoming what I hate, why I can't stand to listen to CNN/Fox News/major network news. Since then, I've noticed it creeping into much of their "reporting" and find myself turning off the radio rather than listening to it.

I've been a contributing member of one NPR station or another since sophomore year in college*. I like what they offer and I'm happy to support. But lately, I'm less happy about supporting. When donating last year, I included a note with my check that explained why it was less than years past and I would love to see things change. They haven't.

So this year, I decided to try something new. I decided to support the shows I enjoy rather than the station (although I did contribute a little to my favorite station, Northwest Public Radio, as well). This concept of cutting out the middle man reflects how my listening has evolved; I'm downloading podcasts of my favorite shows (radiolab and freakonomics for example) rather than planning my radio time around them.

It feels good to know that my meager contribution is going directly to what I enjoy. The feeling is very much like those first couple years of donating to Maine Public Radio. So while I hope the news programs that I once really enjoyed find their way back from the icky mass media scene, in the meantime, bring on the podcasts.

(Are you a public radio fan? Do you contribute? If not, you should consider it. It feels great and is the right thing to do.)
Monday November 4 2013File under: misc

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Lazy and Easy

This photo, taken of last night's sunset and then pretty-ified with instagram, is meant to represent what I'm up to: chillin'. While I can't, for the life of me, think of what I've been busy with the previous 6 months or so, I feel like I haven't gotten a proper chance to indulge the lazy life that I once knew so well. These past couple weeks have been a return to that easy life, and it's been so nice.

Lazy and easy doesn't mean I'm not productive. I'm working on all the projects that have built up for me over the past months, both for myself and for others. I'm making websites, printing troothpicks, knitting(!), writing*, making crosswords*, and getting travel plans ironed out.

Lazy and easy, however, does mean that there is time for non-productivity too. I'm catching up on reading, tv, baking, and lots of Words and Scramble with Friends*. It's easy to let myself enjoy this because I know it's not meant to last. With spring travel then summer circus season just around the bend, I better enjoy the lazy life while I can.
Saturday February 9 2013File under: misc

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2013 Bellingham Circus Guild Calendar

Speaking of traditions, it's time* for the Bellingham Circus Guild's annual fundraiser calendar! This year Della took a break from design and layout and I partnered with the ever talented Kayla to make it happen. I did the template, grids, covers, and layout-for-printing logistics, and she did the picture gathering, grouping, and laying out. I think the result turned out super great and I'm stoked to have my portable, perfectly-sized, life-planning calendar to fill in with my busy busy schedule*.

The cover should be enough to make you want your own copy, but in case it's not, here's a few pages: June, September, and October. What's that? Now you've gotta have your own copy, you say? Well, don't delay. Go find a Cirque Guild member and plop down your big monies. Or contact me, and I'll see what I can do. And remember, you're supporting a pretty dang neat organizations whose state mission is "to assist and support the circus arts community of Whatcom County, to promote circus arts to the community at large, and to radically proliferate delight at every opportunity." How can you not want to support that?

Oh, and if you want to check out the previous calendars (which are also pretty dang neat), you can do so here: 2012, 2011, 2010. Yeehaw*!
Thursday December 27 2012File under: circus, misc

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