The theme for this one is one of my more ambitious, and I was stoked when Patti accepted it. Constructing any [American standard]* crossword is a lot of work, but putting together a 21x21 is a real time investment. And as with any investment, it is nice to see it pay off [metaphorically, mostly. There's a pride in seeing a puzzle of one's own in print. And while there is a financial pay-off, and for UPC it is better than most, it rarely pays you enough for your time.]
I currently have a couple of puzzles into editors with the hopes of keeping on keeping on, but this is my last one scheduled for publication as of now. And with turn around times of sometimes 6 months or more (I remember working on edits of this puzzle while I was in DR bac in Dec.), it might be a while before my next ones hits the presses. Luckily this one should be enough to keep you busy for a while. If you want a copy and aren't a subscriber, let me know and I'll see what I can do.
|Sunday May 31 2015||File under: crosswords, work|
|What better activity to fill the gorgeous Sunday of Memorial Day weekend than a nice round of frisbee golf. Even more exciting is that it was my first time playing the Anacortes Frisbee Golf Course! For years I had heard talk of plans to put it in here or there, but never materializing. Finally, though, it is a real thing—9 holes complete with official innova baskets!
We were a group of 6 which was proved really helpful for spotting and searching for errant discs. The course is dense with plenty of undergrowth making for more time spent looking for discs than actually throwing. If you are planning on checking it out, I do recommend long pants and close-toed shoes. The hope is that after the frolfers have their way for a while, it will keep the undergrowth in check, esp. the super invasive ivy.
The course was fun with short-ish holes (having pro and beginner tee "boxes") that covered some beautiful forest. And being walkable/bikeable from downtown is a definite plus as well. The downside, however, is the dense underbrush in which we lost 3 discs in only 7 holes. (We had to cut the course short because we spent so much time looking for lost discs.)
I'll definitely play it again. A course is always more fun after the first time, because you start to get to know the pitfalls and shortcuts of the course. Plus, you're more apt to find one of your old lost discs! So if you're ever passing through town and looking for a fun little adventure, check out the Anacortes Disc Golf Course.
|Monday May 25 2015||File under: Anacortes, games|
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|File under "My Life Is Awesome": I recently had the great opportunity to attend the e.g. Conference in Monterey, California. It was 3 days full of inspiration, ideas, schmoozing, high class living, and, of course, a little juggling.
The best way I can describe e.g. is that it is a lot like TED. In fact, it is held at the same place TED was started, and there is much overlap between the organizers, attendees, and concept: get really interesting people and have them talk about what they are doing. The presenters ranged from photographers and film makers to adventurers to scientists to artists to even YouTube stars. The presentations were well prepared (with slide shows and hitting time points uncannily) and always interesting.
On top of just being interesting, I was familiar with a lot of the presenters' work, which made it so much more engaging. There was the artist who makes snow art with just his footprints, the youTube science guy whose demonstration on spools kept us debating for a good hour on the drive home, the adventurer and photographer whose journey across Australia I had just seen a movie about, an author whose books I've read many of, and Adam Savage of TV's Mythbusters. Adam did a fun talk on juggling(!) which was totally awesome. A bunch of us jugglers found him in the lobby to talk juggling with him afterwards. I even got to show him a trick!
The conference was relatively small with only maybe 400 attendees and presenters, which gave it a great intimate feeling. And besides the presenters being super interesting, all the attendees seemed to be top of their field or have something super interesting to add. It was lots of fun striking up comversations with whomever and realizing that they were an exec, inventor, or previous e.g. presenter.
Another interesting aspect of the conference for me was the aura of money. Tickets to the event were $4000, so most of the attendees weren't likely to be found behind me in line at the local taco truck. Many of the adventures or pursuits presented about were not something I could head off on tomorrow (the guy that drove one Mercedes-Benz SUV 500,000 miles around the world, the guy that replicated a float plane his father took to Brazil and retraced that journey, the guy that flew drones around volcanoes to get spectacular footage). It was a bit of a glimpse into how life can be with lots of money, which triggered as many thoughts and ideas as the presentations themselves.
The e.g. is something I am still processing and will probably for some time to come. The inspiration and ideas, the rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, and the great community time with Chautauqua* made the event something that I won't soon forget. Now it's time to start scheming how to find an invite to next year's e.g.!
|Tuesday May 19 2015||File under: misc|
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|I've recently returned from a work trip up near Mt. Rainier National Park. It's my third time on the much fabled excusion (previously posted about here). When people ask about it, I have a hard time explaining it. There's the work side of it: lots of hours landscaping, manicuring, building, maintaining, and restoring the grounds of a nice mountain escape property. That's straight forward enough. But it doesn't even come close to capturing the feel. For that, I came up with the term Dude Camp.
Though not exclusively (Della was there for a few days last year), it is mostly dudes that make the trek to work the long hours in often inclement conditions*. As such, there is a very dude-y feel. Free time activities include playing poker, watching action movies, snoring, throwing horseshoes, and eating a lot. The dude food is a topic unto itself: steaks, beer, hamburgers, tequila, bacon, bourbon, brats, and more snacks than you could shake a Slim Jim® Meat Stick at. And I don't mean to imply that it's not awesome, because it is. Aside from the fact that I gain 7+ lbs in the 10 or so days, I'm in hog heaven.
This year's work projects included replacing an aging water feature with a very nice oriental inspired one. It was quite a bit less work than installing last year's basalt pentagon fountain. My project was extending the trail system that I worked on 3 years ago. The new sections complete a loop around the property that I mapped using GPS on my not-a-phone. I'll clean up the readings into a fancy trail map that we'll give to them. Good times.
Yes, I'd say Dude Camp was a success: jobs completed, fun had, and some money earned. If only all jobs included a once-a-day horseshoes break...
|Wednesday May 6 2015||File under: work|
|Last weekend, I co-taught a puzzle making workshop at the Foundry in Bellingham. My part focused on making crosswords. The workshop attendance was low but enthusiastic and everyone had a great time.
I've been hearing about the Foundry for quite some time. It is one of those makerspaces with 3D printers, sewing machines, and all sorts of creative people. Even though our workshop didn't really take advantage of any of the machines, instead just using the ample open space to meet and collaborate, the environment was perfect for the workshop. If you have an interest in making, stop on by for a tour.
As for my crossword lesson, I crafted this rough outline of how I go about constructing crosswords. Being that I've never had any formal instruction on the subject, who knows if I led the students astray. But we had a good time and they seemed interested, so I guess it was worth at least that. I ended my crossword talk with the firm threat that if any of them gets a puzzle published in the New York Times before me, they will be sorry. So come on Will, accept one of my puzzle and it won't have to come to that.
The workshop was so fun that we might just do it again. If you're interested, hit me up and I'll keep you in the loop. And if you get a puzzle in the NYT using my guidelines before me, I might just have to hit you up.
|Thursday April 16 2015||File under: crosswords|
|Della and I just finished our first week teaching afterschool Circus Club up at Mt. Erie Elementary here in Anacortes, and so far, it's been a blast! Each group meets for an hour, 2 days a week and has 18 or so 4th-6th graders. We teach juggling, unicycling, diablo, devil sticks, spinning plates, cigar boxes, poi, and so much more. The kids are awesome: self-motivated, focused(-ish), so interested, and quick learners. And between the staff facilitator, Della, me, the number of kids is very easy to manage.
Circus club runs for 4 weeks. Hopefully by the end of the time, all the kids will have many new skills and lots of appreciation for the circus arts. Della and I, I know, will have a little more teaching experience under our belts, the joy of having shared our skills with the next generation of circus folk, and little money in our pocket. Talk about win-win!
(Forgive the lack of pictures, but the politics of picture of kids in schools is more than I was wanting to deal with. Going through the school's application, hiring, and fingerprinting process was annoying enough.)
|Friday April 10 2015||File under: circus, juggling|
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|The large room was full of people, more than 600, but it was so quiet, you could hear each cough and sneeze of the winter* weary locals. The large countdown clock in the front of the room was ticking down, only 3 minutes into the allotted 15 minutes when the first paper shot up. A silent murmur of disbelief went through the crowd; how can someone possibly do a crossword that quickly? But this is how it goes at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Well, that's how it goes for some people, not so much for me.
I recently attended my second ACPT, which this year moved back to Stamford, CT after a couple years in Brooklyn. I go for the culture, to surround myself with others like myself that have an unhealthy affinity for the black and white beauties. I also go to rub elbows with the celebrities of the crossword world, almost like it is a professional mixer for my burgeoning career in constructing. There are lots of reasons I go, but competing isn't really one of them.
Sure, I try. I love doing puzzles, and while I don't normally try and solve them for speed, it is a neat test of this "skill" that I spend so much time "honing". And I do alright. This year, I finished 349th out of 567, putting me in the 61 percentile, a 3 percentage point rise from last year. And just like last year, I had a couple of stupid mistakes that cost me about 25 places in the ranking. My puzzle breakdown was like this: 2 perfects, 2 puzzles with 1 error, 2 with 3 errors, and then the notorious puzzle 5 where I barely filled in half the squares. Overall, I'm pleased enough but have left plenty of room for improvement for next year. (Here are the numbers, for posterity.)
Sometimes, when I think about it, it is a little excessive to travel all the way across the country just to sit in a room with other people silently solving puzzles. But the way I come away from the weekend with a huge smile and inspired in all things crossword—upping my solving game, upping my constructing games, and more—I know that while it maybe excessive, it is totally worth it. I can't wait until next year to come back again!
|Monday March 30 2015||File under: games, crosswords|
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|Back in the beginning of my professional career, I remember seeing my friends get their business cards and hand them out with a sense of pride. It's like having a business card meant you had made it, you were a productive member of society almost. Well, my professional career was a short-lived one and I never got around to having a job with business cards. But every now and again, someone asks me for my card and I wish I had one to give them.
So I went and made my own! I've been toying with the layout in my head for quite a while and all it took was grinding it out*. While some of the "titles" aren't ones that I foresee ever gaining me much business per se (e.g. "Supertaster"), I thought this might give whomever receives it a better idea of who I am and what I could do for them.
I don't think I'll ever be in the habit of plopping these bad boys in the drawing for 15% off happy hour margaritas at the local drinking hole (they are a bit too tedious to make for that), but I look forward to the time when someone asks me for my card and I can say "here you go!" Professional career #2, here I come!
|Saturday March 21 2015||File under: work, misc|
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|This year's Pi Day has been getting a lot of attention, as it should. It's a once a decade event!* (If you've somehow missed all the news coverage, it's a big deal because it is 3/14/15 to correlate with 3.1415....) But as longtime BdW followers may know, Pi Day has always been a big deal here*. It is usually celebrated with the baking of a pie (or two) and a reciting of the first 50 digits, which I still remember from 9th grade*.
This year I plan to bake (and eat) a pie or two, of course. What would Pi Day be without pie? But since it is a special Pi Day, I wanted a special way to celebrate, one that I started working towards 5+ months ago. I set out to create a crossword to commemorate the day and get it published in a nationwide publication. I'm happy to say mission accomplished (ish).
My puzzle, Pi Row Technics, appears in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education online. It was slated to be in the print edition, but some quarterly insert preempted the crossword section, and since the puzzle was time sensitive, they couldn't push it to next week, so online is where it ended up. Not ideal, but as the editor pointed out, most of the solvers use the online version anyway so the audience isn't much diminished.
This marks my third published crossword and my glee is as high as it was for that first one. And with each published puzzle, I'm learning more about the industry. What was interesting about this experience was to see how many changes the editor made for publication. Besides changing ~75% of the clues, he also changed 7 grid squares. I know these changes are the editor's job, as he knows his target audience and difficulty levels, but I was surprised to see the volume of changes.
One of the downsides of CHE's online crosswords is that you need a special program to download and play them. And since I know all of you want to have a crack at it but don't want to install new software, I've created a PDF of the puzzle for you to print and solve. Just be sure to visit CHE and surf around a bit as a thank you for continuing to make my dreams of professional crossworder come true. (In case you are interested to see the before and after edit, you can see the submitted puzzle here.)
Each experience with getting a puzzle accepted amps me up to get in even deeper. I've got another puzzle slated to come out in a couple months and a few out for consideration to various places. So keep watching BdW to see the excitement unfold. In the meantime, go eat some pie and do a crossword!
(03/20/16 Edit: In preparing my 2016 Pi Day post, I noticed that I didn't post any pie pictures for this year's Pi Day post. Even with the excitement of this crossword coming out, I figured I would have celebrated the holiday properly, so I went back through my instagram feed and found this! Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that I can be very predectable.)
|Saturday March 14 2015||File under: crosswords, holidays|
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|An escape to a warm tropical place in the middle of a northwest winter is really a treat. When it is a fancy vacation paid for by Wheel of Fortune and spent with the one you love, it is ever better! Such was the case on our recent Hawaiian trip. And while there was hiking, exploration, friends, and more, what will really stick is how nice a true relaxing vacation can be.
The hotel they put us up in was quite fancy, the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, where our balcony was right on the ocean (from which we even saw whales!). The hotel had a manta ray viewing deck*, a free trolley to town, and, possibly most exciting, a wonderful pool with waterslide! We took part in the daily speed races (even training in between). I never achieved the glory of a first place finish*, but Della did.
As part of the package, the Sheraton also treated us to an all out luau. Held outside against a beautiful sunset, we were treated to an all-you-can-eat buffet of traditional fare and lovely history and storytelling through dance and music. They even had some demonstrations of traditional activities, like tattooing which Della took full advantage of (process/result).
As luck would have it, we had lots of friends on the Big Island, either as locals or who happened to be visiting at the same time. Almost every day, we got to do some visiting, and, with the help of the locals, some exploring. My friend Becca* took us on an epic hike that included adventurous climbs and culminated in a hunched hike through tunnels carved through mountains. She even made a video to document it! Later, we were led on a hike down a lavatube by another friend. At the bottom, in the pitch darkness, freshwater filled the caves making for a place to do some epic (albeit a bit eerie) snorkeling.
After our week at the Sheraton, we headed over to the other side (courtesy of our "ugly" rental car) for more exploration. We had some serene beach time, saw some fun waterfalls, power-hiked Waipio Valley, and snorkeled in some of the clearest water I've ever been in. We also got to check out Bellyacres* and even attend a juggle club!
With everything from relaxation to adventure, this Hawaiian vacation was a wonderful prize. During the trip, we sang the praises of Wheel of Fortune, often wearing our custom shirts to spread the word (leading to some wonderful conversations*). And that's how I'll end it here, with a big old thanks to Wheel of Fortune for an incredible trip to Hawaii.
|Wednesday March 11 2015||File under: travel, hawaii, wheel|
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