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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Wheel of Fortune Audition(!)


I auditioned for Wheel of Fortune and all I
got was this LO_S_ _ENC_L NUB...for now*
Last week, I got an e-mail inviting me to an invite only audition for Wheel of Fortune (yes, the TV game show). Score! So I RSVPed, downloaded the app for studying purposes, donned my neglected pair of fancy pants, and hopped the bus(es) down to Seattle for my chance at fame!

The audition was held in a conference room at the Edgewater Hotel on the downtown Seattle's waterfront. There were about 50 of us auditioneers with the demographic somewhat skewed towards men in their 30s and 40s. I felt I fit right in*.

The other online recounts* of what to expect at the audition were pretty much on the money. There was a first round with the whole group where we were called on randomly to shout out a letter and try to solve a puzzle presented on a screen. They told us they were looking for loudness, clarity, confidence, and "vibe". Those who solved the puzzles got a t-shirt or tote bag. After a time or two around the room, we took a 5-minute written puzzle test. There were lots of WoF-style puzzles in 4 different themes and I'm sure no one got them all right. Then they took our tests and left the room for 15 minutes or so, leaving us to mingle amongst ourselves. Lots of fun people there trying out. Then they came back and announced 15 names of those who got to continue while everyone else headed back to work.

And that's where I expected my experience to end. But no! When the contestant search crew left to deliberate, the fellow next to me, apropos of nothing, said "You're in" with such confidence that I started to believe it was true. He said I nailed my "shouting a letter" test and that was the most important thing. I chose to believe that he knew what he was talking about. As for the written test, I felt pretty good about it. While I'm no Grandma Schultz, I pulled a few obscure ones out. I'm convinced that the 3 hours of App time on the bus ride down got my mind in the mode for it.

Now that we were just down to 15, we did some more mock games, this time standing in front of the group, mimicking spinning the wheel and with more opportunity to guess letters and solve puzzles. Then there was "tell us about yourself" portion. While I didn't have the requisite words "lovely wife/husband" in my spiel*, I had a few interesting things to say which the "judges" seemed to like, or at least humored me on.

Then we're done and they're getting the room ready for the next back of hopefuls. All in all, it was about 2 hours. From here, the deal is that we'll get a letter in the mail in the next 2 weeks if we get to be on the show. If not, better luck next time. While I can't say I feel confident per se, I will be anxiously checking the mail with my fingers crossed. Needless to say, stay tuned to BdW for any further developments.
Tuesday March 4 2014File under: wheel

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Standby

Killing time in an airport isn't the worst way to spend an afternoon. It isn't the best, but it isn't the worst. And I seem to be doing that a lot recently. Not because I've been travelling more, but because of how I've been traveling. Through the generosity of a friend, I'm in the in-crowd, able to hop on flights for free or little money (provided it's the right airline) without jumping through the hoops of time-sensitive fares, blackout dates, etc. Yes, I'm a travel companion!

The upsides of this arrangement are many. There's the whole cheap cheap travel, of course. And then there's the way the airline folks treat one of their own. I've had so many great experiences, esp. with the ticketing and gate people. And maybe they're this nice to everyone. If so, I didn't notice until now. And with the cost of travel a non-issue, freedom of travel increases. Hop to San Francisco for an evening? Why not? Weekend trip to Hawaii? Alhoa!

But as with anything, there are downsides. The two biggest for my situation are this: the airline I get to go free on has a business model that isn't conducive to flexible travel. They serve small airports via hubs and don't do any connecting flights. This works great if I'm just going Bellingham to Vegas or LA, but doesn't work well if I want to head to the east coast. It can be done, but it involves overnight layovers and transfers in obscure midwest locations. But the biggest downside is what has me killing full afternoons in airports unexpectedly: I only fly standby.

It seems when I was flying via traditional paying means, none of the flights I ended up on were fully booked. There was always one seat to be had somewhere. But now, a full 25% of my flights have been booked to the point of leaving me waving to them from the airport while they taxi away. It's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it can sure throw a wrench in one's planning*.

So here I continue to sit, poaching free wifi and counting heads as the waiting room fills up, hoping there will be one measly seat for little old me.
Sunday February 23 2014File under: travel

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8th Roses Are Red Off

Hey, I've got an idea. Let's write Roses are Red poems right here on the blog. It'll be great. I'll write a few to get you started. Then you can contribute your own. Over the next week or so, you can check back to read the awesome ones other people write. How about we set the rules as every poem much contain either the word "roses" or "red" and must follow the standard Roses are Red rhyming/stress pattern.

Full disclosure: this is not a new idea. It's been done many times, some of which were right here on this blog! Check out posts from '13, '12, '11, '10, '09, '08, '07
Roses are red
And contain a bug or two
When we eavesdrop dear Angela*
We feel closer to you
Rosas son rojas
Mi chiquita bañana
Besa me esta noche
Don't wait for mañana
You shouldn't buy roses
If you really cared
Buy local instead
And our earth with be spared1
Roses are red
But such a frivolity
And I thought you believed
In gender equality
Here, take your roses
Now I've done my duty
Is that sufficient
For you to show me your booty?


Wednesday February 12 2014File under: poetry, holidays

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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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A Brief Visit to Madison

The happy coincidence of having family in the same city as a well known juggling festival led me to hop on a plane and bounce on over to Madison WI for the weekend, a place I've always wanted to check out anyway. The verdict: pretty dang neat.

Seeing the midwestern version of a juggling festival was interesting. Madfest, now in it's 47th year is pretty big as far as juggling festivals go. Lots of people, lots of talent, and lots of age diversity, which was really nice to see*. And while between the awesome show and all the happenings in the gym, there was plenty of great stuff to watch, the overall vibe was a bit cliquey. I mostly juggled by myself* and am looking forward to getting back to the awesome Bellingham club meeting to get my fill of high level passing.

Aside from the juggling festival, there was lots to do and see in Madison, and I had a great tour guide and host. We walked the city in freshly falling snow, sampled a bit of the local cuisine, got a geocache(!), saw Cora's school, and much much more. It was the perfect taste of the place and it has me looking forward to coming back someday.

In short, my time in Madison was awesome. Getting there and back, however, there were a few more ins and outs. But that'll have to wait for another post.
Monday January 20 2014File under: travel, USA

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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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Trivia Database

Pub trivia (or trivia of any kind, for that matter) is becoming a pretty big part of my life these days. I do my darnedest to attend the three local events (as covered here) and always try to hit up new spots whenever I travel. It's fun. It's engaging. And it can be pretty dang lucrative.

Well, as is my way, I decided to start tracking me and my team's showings just for kicks. Not only will it be neat to look back at how we did, etc., but it will serve as a way to track winnings. At one spot alone last year, we earned an estimated $2000 in gift certificates. Not bad for a bunch of nerds.

Much in the same way I keep my sleeping around online, I've put the trivia data up as well, just for yucks. You can check it out here.

Take that NSA. No need to bug my phone or e-mail. I've got it all laid out nicely for you right here on my blog.
Friday January 10 2014File under: games, data

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Game Night 2013

Remember those game nights from back in the day, when a bunch of people gathered at my mom's house, chatted, ate yummy food, and played games? If you don't, here's a few links to refresh your memory (2006 and 2007).

Well, after a far too long hiatus, we tried it again. And again, it proved to be dang fun. Thanks to everyone that came and played along.

A first time addition to this game night was trivia, which I wrote and hosted. I really like writing and hosting trivia. I had a go at it this past summer with Chautauqua which proved to be a hit. And this turned out pretty great. An innovation I hadn't experienced before emerged: everyone contribute one question for the final round. Good times. The picture round can be seen here*.

To counter the new time addition, we played a couple rounds of the good old standby Pictionary Telephone (covered here on BdW before). Here are a few of the highlights: 1, 2, and 3.

Yep, to whomever suggested the resurrection of game night, a hearty thanks. And now that I remember how awesome it is, maybe we'll have to do it again next year!
Thursday January 2 2014File under: games

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