Floatin the Deschutes

Last weekend, Della and I cruised down to Bend, Oregon for some friends' wedding. The wedding was so great, with all of our circus friends in a super lovely location. The only draw back was me borking my ankle severely so not being able to participate in much of the circus-y fun. Alas.

After the wedding, many of the stragglers went for a nice float down the Deschutes River. We comprised 6 large rafts and a kayak, quite the flotilla. The float was about 2.5 hours, enough time to cycle from goofy pirate like antics to calm and reflective and back. It has been so long since I've done a river float, I had forgotten just how awesome they can be. Super thanks to the happy couple for making it all happen.

And here are a few photos:

Thursday June 26 2014File under: Oregon

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Tournament of Champions Champions!

Last night, at the Brown Lantern in Anacortes, the Tournament of Champions trivia night was held. It was an invite only affair that pitted the best teams of the last year and a half against each other with a different format and higher stakes*.

I'm pleased to report that our team, Poupon Parade, the team with the winningest record for the year, prevailed decisively. (For a look at our record, check out the trivia results database here.)

Big thanks to Nick (from The Business) for writing and hosting a great season of trivia and to my awesome team for just plain being smart. Here's to another great season!
Wednesday May 21 2014File under: games, Anacortes

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A Winters Worth of Beard (Before And After)

Have I ever mentioned how much I love the therm "A winter's worth of beard"*? Well, I do. This past winter, I grew exactly that: a winter's worth of beard (and scraggly hair to match). But with the advent of the warm weather (and constantly having small birds nesting in my beard), I decided to clean it up. Della so kindly hacked away at my hair (her second hair cut ever and a pretty dang good one, I'd say).

Yes the mustache is a bit silly/stupid. But what beard post here on BdW hasn't? It's kind of amazing what a change a good haircut and beard trimming can have. More than one person claimed they barely recognized me (which I don't know whether to take as a compliment or not). Anyway, the cycle begins anew. And I, for one, find that comforting.
Saturday May 10 2014File under: beard

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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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Tulipy Commute

Skagit Valley is a pretty dang nice place most of the time, but for about a month in Spring, it's super nice. While much of that is due to the emergence from the rainy, short-dayed winter, them purty flowers that show up all over the flats contribute nicely. Normally, I barely see the fields of yellow, pink, and purple from far off on the highway. This year, however, I get to see them up close almost daily!

In a slight divergence from my normal schedule, the last couple weeks I've been hauling gravel, shoveling dirt, and building with rocks (which is typically more of a fall occurrence.)* As always, I enjoy the work and income but lament the loss of free easy days. But that's beside the point. The place we are working requires a commute through the tulips. The first week, the daffodils were just peeking through. Now they've mostly been topped and some tulips are in full swing. Next week, when we're scheduled to finish the job, everything should be going great guns!

The tulips are one of those Skagit County events I take for granted. The last time I truly took advantage was 7 years ago (posted here*). This year, not only do I have the lovely commute to admire them from, I will also be doing the tourist thing when a friend comes up specifically to see the tulips.

For those of you who haven't experienced the glory of the acres upon acres of color, here are some photos from local superstar photographer and ex-blog du friend-er David Clumpner. (You can look at his wedding photography website here.)

Saturday April 12 2014File under: Anacortes, work

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More Housesitting Features

I've often said that my chosen profession, housesitting, is the best job one could have. And it is. I get to stay in nice houses, snuggle on animals*, always shop at new and different grocery stores, and make a little money on the side. But every now and again, there's a different perk, one that I would have never expected going in. I get to see so many neat and different house features.

Sure there's differences in architecture, design, and even stuff as little as appliances. And all those are neat. But recently I came across two house features that I just loved.

Feature 1: Magic sucking wall dustpan*

Central vac was something I only learned about through housesitting. And in my long career, I've come across it enough times for it to become common enough. But this extra use of central vac was just too dang neat. Basically, you just sweep your pile into the wall and it disappears. No more dustpan. No more leaning over. Just sweep and you're done! Not that I'd ever have central vac, because I can't imagine it is very efficient, but I can appreciate a neat feature when I see one.


In movies, it isn't uncommon for the dectecive to snoop around until he finds the secret book on the secret bookshelf that, when pulled, reveals a hidden room*. But those don't exist in the real world, do they? They do! At my current job, THERE IS A HIDDEN ROOM BEHIND A SECRET BOOKCASE! The story goes that the builder/first owner of the house had kids so built in a bunch of neat features like this. Besides the book shelf, there's another mini-room only accessible via crawling under a bed. So neat!

Yeah, housesitting is a pretty dang neat way to pay the bills (or avoid them). I know on all jobs, there is always something new to learn or discover. But with housesitting, you can do it all in your skivvies!
Thursday March 20 2014File under: work

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Pi Day 2014

It's that time again--the happiest of holidays, a day that combines two of the world's greatest things (math and dessert). It's Pi Day! And I wish you all the best pie and mathematical calculations ever.

As Pi Day Eve drew to a close yesterday, I was on the verge of resorting to my standard Pi Day fare: a pecan pie and quiche (posted here and here)*. But last minute inspiration brought forth this beauty, an apple pi pie. We think it turned out peachy. Della was responsible for the artistry while I did the culinary stuff. A little cocoa powder did the trick for coloring the pi dough.

Yay for Pi Day!
Friday March 14 2014File under: holidays, food

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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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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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