|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?
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 2016||File under: wheel|
|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 2016||File under: crosswords|
|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 2016||File under: games, crosswords|
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|We all can agree that Pi Day is the best holiday ever. It combines nerdiery and dessert and can be celebrated in the simplest possible way. I've documented 7 previous instances on this here blog (see archive) of me celebrating in one way or another (creating a crossword, getting a [different (and much better)] crossword published, testing my pi memory, and, of course, baking pies). The only 2 Pi Days I've missed posting on since the blog began were when I was travelling (Japan and Belize/Guatemala). So I can hardly let this Pi Day pass by.
This year, we didn't do anything too special, just baked a couple of pies: quiche for breakfast and an apple/rhubarb pie for dessert. The carved apple "π DAY" was a nice touch. But just because we didn't go all out celebrating doesn't mean we didn't appreciate the holiday in all its glory. 3.14 cheers for Pi Day!
|Monday March 14 2016||File under: holidays, food|
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|A couple years ago, I did an end of the year letter that I sent out to folks I don't cross paths with digitally very often (or ever). It was a "this is what's up in my life" letter, akin to Christmas letters that people often do. (You can read it here.) Well, it was fun then so I thought I'd try it again, this time with me and Della's year in review. It turned out pretty fun (in no small part because we have pretty fun lives, IMHO) so I wanted to share. I'm guessing that none of this will be news to you, as you probably read about it all on the blog (which is probably why I didn't send you a paper copy), but hopefully you'll enjoy it nonetheless.
|Monday February 22 2016||File under: misc|
One of the great purposes of this blog has been to serve as a digital scrapbook for my future self. I know that 90-year old me will love sitting in my hover bean bag chair looking through the fun exploits of his former self. It is with that thought that I started my Minor Media Mentions series, snippets of when I've made newspapers, etc. Two such snippets recently showed up. The first is from the Sunday Bellingham Herald dated 1/31/16 about the Talent Show at Mount Baker Theater we were in (blurb and video here). The other is from the super fancy Bellingham Alive magazine from December 2015. The article has nothing to do with us, but it's a pretty fun picture of the street show we did at the Bellingham Night Market.
|Tuesday February 2 2016||File under: juggling, circus|
|Della and I recently had the privilege of performing on stage at the Mount Baker Theater in Bellinghm as part of the Be In The Show community Talent Show. It was a neat event put on by the Dance Studio and served as a fund raiser for Blue Skies for Children, a great charity. Super big props to the folks that put it together. It was well attended, super tight (27 acts in less than 2 hours), and better organized than any event I've ever seen.
For those who don't know the Mount Baker Theater, it is the venue in Bellingham, hosting the biggest names that come through town. To have my 5 minutes in the spotlight on stage there might easily be the highlight of my performing career. Seeing backstage, the green room setups, and looking out at the beautiful hall was quite a treat. And the way it was so well organized made me feel like this is how it must be for a real rockstar. They even put us as the closing act, which only added to the rockstar feel. We had a few drops, but overall, not a bad showing.
Della convinced her intern to get some video for us. Enjoy!
|Saturday January 30 2016||File under: juggling, circus|
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|After spending 3 weeks across 5 countries in the Middle East, Della and I find ourselves in the decidely non-Middle Eastern city of Budapest...AND IT'S AWESOME! (This is not to say that the time in the Middle East wasn't great, because it was, but there's just something about a good old European city.)
The city itself is a treasure enough. Like any guide book will tell you, there are beautiful buildings, the Danube River (and its spectacular bridges), statues, and of course the city's thermal springs fed baths. After a visit to these baths*, we could see why they are so popular, esp. after Della and I nearly froze our buns off sightseeing our way around town.
But what made our visit to Budapest so much better was having wonderful hosts, Horge and Isabel. They housed us, fed us*, showed us the city and taught us everything we could possibly want to know with one exception...
Me: Hey, do you know if there is a circus in town?
Isabel: Uh, I think there was an Italian circus that came through a while ago, but probably not currently.
Budapest International Circus Festival Poster: On now...and tomorrow's the last day!
Click, beep, boop, bop, click
Me: Arlight, Della, we've got tickets to a 3.5 hour awesome circus show tomorrow
So, on our last day of our whirlwind 10+ country semi-unsuccessful-but-still-totally-awesome-winter-dodging adventure, we unexpectedly found ourselves enjoying a world class circus show with full bellies and full hearts. (It served as a nice bookend together with the world class Big Apple Circus we saw on our very first day of this adventure.)
Our brief stop in Budapest was just what good travel should be: new sights and experiences, good good people, and a little bit of magic*. Super thanks to Horge and Isabel for making our time great (and for being the reason to stop through). And thanks to Lady Luck for providing excitement along the way!
|Thursday January 21 2016||File under: travel, Europe|
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|Wadi Rum in southern Jordan isn't an oasis by the "look at these date palms and bountiful spring in the middle of the desert" sense. It's dry like you would expect a desert to be dry. But after the less than stellar experiences in our short visit to Jordan, the serenity and comfort of Wadi Rum felt like an oasis to us.
For our visit, we booked a night at a Bedouin camp along with a 4x4 tour of the area, with all meals and transportation included*. Our goal for the trip was to just spend the night in the desert, so we were a hard sell on the 4x4 tour, but it turned out to be awesome. We rode around in the back of a pick-up from site to site. We stopped at sand dunes, Lawrence of Arabia's "house", great rock formations, and, in general, just enjoyed the beauty of it all.
Since we were there off season*, our camp was practically deserted*, just us and 1 other traveler. Our tents were super comfy and we spent the evening around a fire inside a communal tent listening to the desert silence. The evening treated us to a gorgeous sunset. We went to bed very happy.
They say the desert has healing properties and I can see why. The calmness and beauty helped us wash away (or at least get the larger chunks off) our other Jordan experiences. If time and budget permitted, I would have stayed another week, spending the days meandering around the rock outcroppings and sitting and listening to the natural world. But, alas, we had a plane to catch, so back to the real world it was (with a stop along the way to look at camels). But the short time out in the desert at Wadi Rum refilled my precipitously low traveler's tank with wonder and excitement readying me for the final leg of this epic adventure. Thank you Wadi Rum!
|Friday January 15 2016||File under: travel, Jordan|
|There's no doubt about it: Petra, that lost city in Jordan of buildings carved into stone amongst narrow picture-esque canyons, is amazing. It's beautiful, magical, breath taking, and one of a kind. You can't go and not come away with some amazing pictures (see below). And you'll probably remember your visit for the rest of your life. But despite all that, I can't say for certain that I'm glad I went. There were just too many downsides to the experience. In short, it was a bad value.
Petra is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and for good reason. But it the most expensive UNESCO World Heritage by a long shot—more than the pyramids, Angkor Wat, and the Taj Mahal COMBINED! Sure it's just money, and if it were money that felt like it went to something good, it would be different. But the way it seems to me, Jordan just uses Petra as a built in ATM machine, gouging cash from tourists to be spent on anything but maintaining, preserving, and policing the site.
After our visit, Della and I made a list of grievances we plan to pass along to the park. It includes such things as poor treatment of animals, heavy [and rude] harassment by the vendors, extra charges for supposedly included features (bathrooms for example), lack of any sort of authoritative presence (to report abuses to), local hucksters running amok (playing their boom-boxes while donkey racing through the streets, climbing atop the priceless monuments), and, of course, the exorbitant fee.
What does all this mean? I can't, in good conscience, recommend that you go out of your way to see Petra. If you do, you'll see some spectacular buildings carved into stone, bedrock of amazing colors, narrow canyons that were traversed for millennia, and bits of history that are better preserved than maybe anywhere else on earth. But you also might go away feeling like you've just supported something that you don't feel good about, and that's not fun.
|Wednesday January 13 2016||File under: travel, Jordan|
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