Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Crossword Stuff

Today's New York Sun puzzle is Wacky Weekend Warrior by Trip Payne and it took me 30:42 to complete it with no errors. I really enjoyed this themeless puzzle and it gives me a chance to show you what I was talking about when I said crossword puzzles make me laugh, cuz this one cracked me up.
19 Across: Prequel to a Spike Lee Movie? MALCOLMIX (Love those Roman numeral jokes!)
4 Down: Techno version of a Patsy Cline song? IFALLTO PCS
6 Down: Solver's dilemma when faced with the clue "Telecom letters" ITTORATT (if you're a crossworder that is hilariously true.) (If you're not a crossworder, then what it means is "I've got the TT part, but is it ITT or ATT that goes there?")
I'm still chuckling over 23 Down The philosophy behind colatherapy SODASHEAL, cuz I didn't figure out it was "Sodas heal" and not "soda sheal" till after I finished the puzzle and looked up the word "sheal" which means "To take the husks or pods off from; to shell; to empty of its contents, as a husk or a pod. [Obs. or Prov. Eng. & Scot.]" and I knew that couldn't be right. So yeah, I LOLed when I finally figured it out.
I did a lot of erasing here -- I kept wanting Doc Marten to be Doc Scholl (well, the clue does reference "air-cushioned soles" which sounds more Scholly than Marteny to me); I had TWADDLEFREE instead of the correct TWADDLELESS at 44 across for the longest time. My Pushee took me forever to figure out (ONEISHOVE): I had CADRE instead of CORPS for a while and kept trying to make ATEASE fit where only ONLEAVE would work.
I don't know that I've ever solved a Trip Payne puzzle but I'm definitely looking forward to the next one. He's got some entries in here that look pretty incomprehensible but he makes it work with great clues (ISTOOATS is Part of a grain analogy; KENSCD is "Songs of Barbie and me")

I'm not sure I'll have time to do the NY Times puzzle today before I leave for Marion, South Carolina for my brother-in-law's wedding. We're not actually going for a couple of hours, but I probably better have something other a couple Friday puzzles done -- like packing maybe -- before Kim gets back. I don't think I'll have internet access in Marion either, so it'll probably be Sunday night before I get back.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Movies I've seen in 2007, part 1

I don't watch a lot of movies. There's just usually something else I'd rather be doing with what little spare time I have -- reading, writing, crosswording, organizing my comic book collection, tweaking my fantasy baseball teams' lineups, drawing, eBaying, walking in the sunshine -- lots of things seem more appealing than sitting and passively soaking up entertainment through the eyeballs. But I watched "Mrs. Henderson Presents" on the train from Connecticut and I loved it. It's based on the true story of the Windmill Theatre in London, which stayed open during the blitz of World War II, to entertain the troops and keep up morale on the homefront. This theatre was very popular because they exploited a legal loophole and were just about the only place in England that offered nudity -- although the nudes were never allowed to move but had to stand as still as paintings or scultures.
This is definitely the wholesomest movie I've ever seen with full frontal male and female nudity. Beautiful, life-affirming and with a message about war as unfortunately relevant now as it was in 1940.

Thursday Crossword stuff

I guess I might as well start posting my times on daily crossword puzzles, although compared to Amy the Crossword Fiend and Rex Parker, my times are not going to be too impressive. Also, since I never see them listing any mistakes I have to assume they bat 1000, but I don't and I'll tell you what I missed and why.
Today's NY Times puzzle took me eleven minutes and 55 seconds, which is pretty good for a Thursday for me. (My best so far his year on a NYT Thursday is 10:16.) And I missed one letter, where I had 35 across: Trombonist Winding KA_ intersecting 25 down: Music radio station data: SP_NS. I don't know any trombonists and I had a hard time making the down clue make any sense. It looks pretty obvious now that SPINS is the correct answer, but I put down SPANS, as in the span a radio station covers on the dial -- I guess that's what I was thinking -- and because I thought KAA was a better name for a trombonist than KAI. I also wasted some time on 50 down: "Fear Street" series author. I knew the answer right away, but first had it spelled "Stien" then "Stein" than finally (correctly) "Stine."
On the New York Sun puzzle I finished in 6:36, which is definitely a record for 2007 Sun Thursdays. Everything just kinda fell into place. I didn't miss any letters either. The theme was DEF Jam, which means there were a lot of D's, E's and F's in the puzzle -- three of my favorite crossword letters. I didn't miss any letters on this puzzle, even though I had to guess on one: 39 across was Unit of length used for measuring nuclear distances FER_I and 29 down was Minstrel troupe figure END_AN. I have never been to a minstrel show or had a need to measure anything nuclear, but I guessed the correct letter: M.
I did the Jonesin' puzzle too. I really like this puzzle, although my batting average is lower on this than any other, just because there are so many references you have to be young and hip to get, and I am neither. I did it in 10:55, with one wrong letter, couldn't get the middle letter in 1 Across: Masi of "Heroes (O_A) cuz I don't watch that show, and didn't get the crossing 2 Down: Rivera's wife _AHLO, even though I knew it and I should have got it, but I was looking for a hip, happening Rivera, not the Mexican artist who died in 1957

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More Stamford pictures

This is me freaking out about seeing snow -- there was a lot of it actually, not like a lovely blanket of white, frosty goodness, more like a big pile of brownish, rusty crap that wouldn't melt even though the temperature was in the 50's.

This is me at the banquet, that's Tyler Hinman, the King of crosswords visible at the table behind me.

My beautiful wife Kim and I enjoying dinner Friday night.

Robert Loy and Robert Moy

I first ran into Robert Moy at the water cooler between rounds and then I kept running into him all weekend long. He was very nice, and very good at crosswords -- I think he came in like 80th. I guess next year if we can find a Robert Joy and a Robert Koy, we could have our own Friday night team.

Random Stamford Stuff

I'm not going to attempt to put all of the Crossword Puzzle Tournament weekend into anything resembling chronological order. I think Amtrak jostled my brain so bad that a lot of the memories are starting to run together, all the sweet green icing flowing down. So I'll tell you about it as it comes to me.

I met Will Shortz Friday night, got his autograph, told him how much I appreciate his work. He recognized my name -- maybe from all the years I've done the solve-by-mail ACPT option -- and he was the first of many people to tell me that there is a Robert Moy who also competes at the tournament (more about Moy later.) I told him how excited I was to be there and that I would have come before before I hate going North at the end of Spring. And he said, "Well, I've got good news for you. We're moving South next year." (South to Brooklyn, where the 2008 tournament wil be held.) Will Shortz is a visionary. He was at the forefront of the movement that revolutionized crossword puzzles in the late 1970s. There hadn't been any real crossword competitions since the crossword fad of the 1920's, and nobody thought it was a good idea, and now there are lots of people just like me, already looking forward to next year.

I met Merl Reagle too, and he told me about Robert Moy as well. I got to spend a couple of minutes with Peter Gordon, the crossword editor of the New York Sun. I told him I much I enjoyed the Sun's puzzles, but I was still a little irked about one clue from a month or so ago. The clue was "bug midsection" (6 letters). The answer was "SHORTU" as in a short U vowel sound in the middle of the word "bug." I'm fine with the clue, I just thought it should have a question mark to show that it involved some wordplay or misdirection. Anyway, Peter said it wasn't his, it must have been the Times. So that was embarrassing. Although I could still swear it was the Sun. Oh well.

On the the seventh and final puzzle I sat by Scott Weiss, the guy who engineered the first and only three-way tie on Jeopardy. I told him that I saw him do the tie, but I didn't catch the next episode so I didn't know what happened after that. He said he lost, and I asked him if he was still glad that he went for the tie. And he laughed. "No, of course not!"

My goal for my first tournament was to finish in the top 50 per cent. Since there were 700 people there, that meant I was shooting for 349. I got a couple lucky breaks in that the two times I had to guess at a letter (one was for COHO salmon, which I'd never heard of, and one involved a three-letter abbreviation for lawyer, and I couldn't tell if it was "ATT" or "ATY") I guessed right. When the standings were posted on Sunday morning, I was in 158th place. And after the last puzzle I moved up ten spaces to finish at 148. That's top 20 per cent. So that was exciting. (Well, thrilling, actually, but I don't want to sound like too much of a crossword nerd.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I've heard songs about it, but never seen it

I picked this up at the Starbucks gift shoppy place at the Stamford Marriott -- a very popular place, by the way, althought probably more for the coffee and the Cokes than gopher guts.
More about Stamford soon.

Getting to Connecticut

Crossword puzzles frequently make me laugh. The humor therein is usually pretty corny and often its based on wordplay. And there's nothing I love more than corny puns. (Here's an example from the NY Sun: "Incapable of littering?" NEUTERED. Ha-ha-ha-ha.) Sometimes I laugh out loud -- I think I laughed out loud at least once at the tournament this weekend -- if I remember what it was that prompted that reaction I'll tell you about it.
Today's New York Puzzle made me laugh -- not because it was funny, it wasn't. The theme was pretty straightforward, four signs you don't want to see on the highway: ROAD WORK ONE MILE, LEFT LANE CLOSED, REDUCE SPEED NOW (which, now that I think about it is not a sign I've ever seen before -- I've seen "Reduced Speed Ahead" in lots of podunk speedtrap southern towns, but never one that demanded you reduce your speed immediately; And I hope said podunk traffic enforcers never realize they could give you a ticket for not reducing your speed as soon as they think you've had time to read the sign they hid behind a shrub) and FINES ARE DOUBLED.
I know, not exactly knee-slapping. And my laughter was of the rueful variety. Because the very last word I filled in was 66 Across and the clue was about how to avoid these traffic signs and resultant headaches. And the answer was "TRAIN."
And the reason that gave me a mirthless laugh was because I took the train to Connecticut and I can tell you that you're not avoiding headaches, you're just exchanging one set of headaches for another.
So I want to tell you all about the tournament and how I did, and all the highlights and lowlights of my first (but hopefully not last) crossword puzzle tournament.
But first let's talk about tracks, baby:

One of the the reasons I have not attended the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament before even though I've wanted to for years is because I am a sun-worshipping, winter-hating, Southern boy. By the time I have sneezed and sniffed my way through South Carolina's admittedly pretty mild winter, it just goes against my instincts to go north. In past years, even after planning to attend and once actually paying to go, I usually end up going to Florida to see some Spring Training baseball games instead.
Another problem was how to get through the 800.86 miles between my humble abode and the Stamford Marriott. I hate to fly. It scares me and I usually lose my hearing for 24 hours after I land. It seemed like it would be a big disadvantage to not be able to hear, "Ready, set, solve!" And I have the world's worst sense of direction, a bad relationship with Mapquest (he's lied to me too many times) and a bad habit of slowing down to about 10 mph and looking as stupid as humanly possible when I am confused (as I am always on unfamiliar roads in big cities) which past experience has shown me Yankees don't have much patience with.
So a train seemed like a great solution. I could actually do crossword puzzles all the way to the tournament and be in real fighting trim by the time I got there instead of getting screamed at by irate Northerners or copiously wetting myself and wondering if I'll ever hear again.
And it actually was pretty good on the way up. I could solve crosswords even though I couldn't really read what I wrote because my pencil kept getting derailed by all the bumps, thumps and jostles. You can drink on the train too, but you can't drink much unless you're wealthy cuz beer is $5.00 a bottle, and you might not want to drink much even if you can afford it, cuz train restrooms are only maybe a step above Port-a-potties. Trains in the South are nicer than trains in the North. They're cleaner for one thing -- although one Southern train has a big oniony red stain on its carpet where my chips and salsa flew from my hand and onto the floor. And they have more leg room and nicer footrests -- and better scenery out the window. In the South there are rivers and houses and people and dogwood trees to look at. Up north all you got is garbage, rust and graffiti. Admittedly, trains don't run through the best parts of town. I'm sure there are some lovely rivers and trees up north. (I am equally sure that those rivers and trees are covered in grafitti.)
But anyway we slept most of the way up, left Charleston around 9:00, got into Stamford about 1:00 on Friday afternoon, after having lunch at Penn Station in New York.
It was the ride home that was the problem. There were only two trains leaving Stamford after the tournament heading South. One left at 1:00 in the afternoon on Sunday and I was worried about missing the big play-off and the banquet, so I bought tickets on the other train which left at 1:00 in the morning. I thought it might be all right to and around Stamford, see a few sights, have a leisurely dinner at a nice restaurant. What I didn't know was that right after the tournament the adrenalin I'd been running on would leave my body and all I would want to do was sleep -- and I still had 10 hours before I could board the train and a nineteen hour ride after that. It was a long night and a looong next day. Our train was delayed by a freight train derailment on the tracks ahead of us and we were three hours later getting back to the Promised Land. A tad the worse for wear, as you might imagine.
Next year I'll fly. To Brooklyn. In February.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Books I've read in 2007, part 12

Tomorrow night I will get on a train and head to Connecticut for the 30th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. It's my first time competing -- and my first time riding a train since I was a kid. My beautiful wife is coming along with me, so that means motel sex.
So yeah, I am excited.
I bought this book to try and learn more about the tournament and maybe get a glimpse at how crossword constructors think -- Matt Gaffney is one of only a handful of people who make a living making crosswords, and I enjoyed this book a whole lot more than Crossworld. I did get some insight into how crossword puzzles are constructed -- whether that will help me at Stamford remains to be seen -- I got to meet Henry Hook, one of my all-time favorite constructors, and was pleasantly surprised when someone I knew made an appearance in the book -- Stephanie Barna, the editor of the Charleston City Paper, and for whom I did a few articles a few years ago.

I also read this book -- well, "read" might be overstating it, since it's mostly pictures of old 45 record sleeves. But I did think it was interesting that 45 art reached its peak in the 1990s when you couldn't find any of them anywhere.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hallalujah! Our long nightmare is over!

It must be Summer -- or Spring at the very least. I saw my first Italian Ice girl in the park today, a sure harbinger that that frigid groundhog-worshipping season is over. There might have been a robin or two over there as well. No baseballs though, that other indispitable sign of better days, just a couple of leftover Winter people tossing around a football.
I came up with a theory when I was about six that there were Winter people and Summer people, and although there are a few loose ends I can't quite wrap up, I think I was dead on. I mean, the beautiful, bronzed, healthy people I see in the Summer just cannot be the same people as the withered, pale, sniffly people I see all Winter long. One of the loose ends I can't quite wrap up is how I get stuck with the snifflers every GD groundhog season.
So, hey Summer People! When October comes and y'all go to Hawaii or into hibernation or wherever it is y'all go, take me with you!!!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Sunday 3-11 New York Times Crossword Puzzle

Unlike some other crossword bloggers, I don't usually post the times it took me to do the puzzle, probably because I'm not that proud of them. But I did today's puzzle in 25 minutes and 55 seconds, which is not a record for me, but it's pretty close. I did have four letters wrong, two of which I feel bad about. For me, there are three types of errata (there's a good crossword word for you) I make in puzzles: the first is just a careless mess-up, the second is one where I guessed too soon and I would have gotten the correct answer if I'd just spent a few more seconds on it. Both of these I berate myself for. But the third type is where two words I just don't know and will never dredge up from my brain no matter how long I sit there chewing on my pencil intersect. Today it was ten-across: "Concord Hymn" writer's inits and 11 down: Early Chinese dynasty -- sorry, never heard of the "Concord Hymn" and as for Chinese dynasties, I can do Han and Ming (a merciless time in Chinese history) and that's about it. I guessed RHE and HEI, trying to use logic ("It's not RTE or they'd've clued it as "route" and it's not PEI, he's an architect.") The correct answer is RWE (for Ralph Waldo Emerson) and the WEI dynasty.
I also missed Kathryn ERBE of some TV show cuz I have never heard of her and it intersected with RONDO, a "Repetitive musical piece" another term I am unfamiliar with. So without some hella luck guessing I was destined to miss two letters. The other two mistakes, however, were entirely my fault, and I don't want to talk about them.

Captain America

Everybody at work knows I'm a comic book reader -- I guess it's the Wonder Woman poster and the Superman toys on my desk that gave me away -- so they've been coming up to me this week and asking me if I'm upset about Captain America's death. I tell no because he isn't dead or won't be for long, not with a big movie deal in the works, don't forget Superman died a few years ago and he got better. (I don't add that with those hacks at Marvel these days he might be better off dead.)
One thing that I think must be confusing to non-comic-readers is that every newspaper article I've seen about this event says that Captain America has been around since 1941 and was killed in the 25th issue of his comic. So, if you didn't know about all the reboots and reborns and "First Issue Collector's Items" you might think (if my math is correct) that the good captain's mag is only published once every 2.64 years.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Things I learned from reading today's NY Times

In an article about George the Second's trip to Brazil and the opposition he has met with, it says "A group of Mayan priests in Guatemala said Friday they would "purify" a sacred site of "bad spirits" after Mr. Bush visits it early next week."
Mayans? I didn't know there were any Mayans left. I thought they were gone like the Incas and the Aztecs. Maybe we can get a couple of them to come to America in January 2009 and purify America of the bad spirits Bush Junior has unleashed.

What I learned from doing today's NY Times Crossword Puzzle

I learned a bunch of stuff -- Gene SARAZEN won the US and British Opens in 1932, a PONIARD is a narrow bladed weapon, Tesla was a SERB -- that I'm sure will stay in my mind for such a brief time it's probably inaccurate to say that I actually learned them.
I did learn one thing I'd like to remember, however. MAENAD, which means (stealing from Wikipedia) "
In Greek mythology, Maenads were female worshippers of Dionysus, the Greek god of mystery, wine and intoxication, and the Roman god Bacchus. The word literally translates as "raving ones". They were known as wild, insane women who could not be reasoned with." Although I don't think I've ever come across that word before, I have definitely run across some maenads in my time, and it would be good to know what to call them.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Things I Learned From Today's Crossword Puzzle

This is something I've learned a thousand times from a thousand crossword puzzles, but it never seems to sink in -- "Amah" which means "A housemaid, especially a wet nurse, in India and the Far East." It comes up all the time in crossword puzzles and nowhere else. I am determined to remember it, so I'm thinking mnemonics-- about Asian Mother's Assistant Housekeeper?

"Rhine Tributary" AAR -- Aargh! I hate all rivers and geographic terms.

Maginot -- the clue was "Frenchman with a famous line" and I'm thinking fashion designer, but it turns out to be, according to "French politician who as minister of war (1922-1924 and 1929-1932) proposed a line of fortification, called the Maginot Line, along France's border with Germany. Thought to be impregnable, the line was bypassed and later captured by the Germans" Unlike Amah, I give myself permission to forget this one as I don't imagine I'll ever see it again.

Katzenjammer. All I know about katzenjammers is from the Katzenjammer Kids comic strip, so I figured katzenjammer must have something to do with bratty kids, but katzenjammer is (again from "the discomfort and illness experienced as the aftereffects of excessive drinking; hangover," which I guess pretty well describes parenthood.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Things I learned from doing today's crossword puzzle

A skein is not just a bunch of wound-up yarn. It can also be a flock of geese or ducks in flight.

Usually a three-letter answer to a clue about a Wall Street abbreviation is either MBA or IPO, but today it was ARB, which is short for arbitrager --someone who engages in arbitrage, who purchases securities in one market for immediate resale in another in the hope of profiting from the price differential. As Johnny Carson used to say, "I did not know that."

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Jean-Luc Picard would be so proud of me

I've finally learned to enjoy Earl Grey Tea.
It always sounded so cool when he got a cup of it from that atomic synthesizer thing on the Enterprise (but then everything Captain Picard said sounded cool,) and I wanted to like it too, but I just didn't like the bitterness that had to come from bergamot, since Earl Grey is just black tea and bergamot. I always assumed bergamot was some herby, planty thing put in British tea for some reason, maybe cuz Henry VIII drank his that way or something. But bergamot is actually an orange -- well, actually it's a cross between a pear lemon and the Seville orange . The essential oil from the peel that is used to flavor Earl Grey tea is also used in candy, perfumes and in aromatherapy to treat depression. It's definitely an acquired taste, but now that I've acquired it, I really like it. Now if I'm ever on the Enterprise having a spot of tea with Captain Picard, I won't have to wimp out and whisper to the computer: "Lipton, please."

Books I've read in 2007, part 11

When I was 12 years old, I bought every single Marvel comic that came out every week -- not just the big ones like Spider-Man, Avengers and Captain America, but also Millie the Model, Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandoes, Two-Gun Kid, hell, I even bought Iron Man.
I was able to do this with an allowance of one dollar a week.
I make a little more than that now, but I don't think I could afford to buy every Marvel comic book even if I wanted to. Fortunately, I don't want to. Nowadays, I don't follow any character (primarily because Marvel has just about succeeded in ruining all those characters I loved so much) but I still love going to the comic shop on Wednesday and becoming a carefree kid again for a few
minutes, looking at all the cool comics on the shelves. But I only buy Marvel or DC comics when there's a great artist and writer combination on a title (as with Joss Whedon and John Cassaday on "Astonishing X-Men") or a writer who is good enough to make me overlook the artist's shortcomings (like the great Dan Slott's "She-Hulk", where Marvel consistently sticks him with absolute bottom-of-the-barrel artists and he rises above it). (And by the way, there is no artist goood enough to make me overlook crappy writing.) I've been reading "Black Panther" because of the first reason. Reginald Hudlin and Scot Eaton made a great writer-artist team and together they've made me care about this character for the first time in a long time. But I'm afraid I might have to give it up soon, because Eaton is gone, the new artist sucks, and Hudlin is good, but he's not quite Slott-Whedon good.
Too bad cuz this book is top-notch. They bring in just about every 1970's ethnic character Marvel had, including Luke Cage, (the hero for hire that inspired Nicolas Cage to change his name) Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung-Fu, the Falcon, Blade the vampire hunter and even Brother Voodoo, and throws them up against ninjas, Fu Manchu (although they can't use his name anymore since Marvel has lost the rights to that character and it's amusing to see how they get around it) cajun vampires and Hurricane Katrina reconstruction.

Books I've read in 2007, part 10

I've talked about this book before. Everyone who enjoys the combination of words and pictures to tell a story talks about this book. Even though it says "A Graphic Novel" right there on the cover, it's actually a collection of short stories all set in the same tenement during the 1930's. I guess people called it a novel cuz Will Eisner does things here that no one had ever considered doing before in such a vulgar artform as comics, and nobody knew what to call it. Instead of musclemen in garish costumes beating each other up, talking ducks and mice, or teenagers chasing girls to get a kiss, Eisner dealt with real people trying to make their way in a harsh world.
And I do mean harsh, in these pages, a rabbi's beloved daughter dies, a wife-beating street singer misses his one chance to make it, there's rape, adultery, dog-poisoning, pedophilia, alcoholism and lies and despair. Quite a ways from Captain Marvel and the guys.
The reason this book is still read, besides its historical significance, is that Eisner doesn't offer any easy answers, the reader has to try and figure out whether God honors his contract with man or whether we're missing a loophole somewhere.
And also because nobody, but nobody, drew rain half as wet or half as well as Will Eisner.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Books I've read in 2007, part 9

Catsby is unemployed, his girlfriend left him and married a rich guy, all he wants to do is drink and lay around on his friend's kitchen floor.
Sounds like a lot of fun, right? But it isn't. I don't know whether the translation was crappy or if somebody who shouldn't have was trying to be poetic, but a lot of this stuff sounds clunky and you have to go back and try to figure out what was meant.
By the way, this isn't manga, this is "manhwa" which is Korean for manga. Manga of course is Japanese for "whimsical pictures," which is probably why comics are so much more popular in Japan than in the US. It's probably a lot more respectable to read and enjoy Whimsical Pictures than it is to enjoy what my grandmother always called "Funny Books."

Books I've read in 2007, part 8

There are a lot of manga series about a nerdy insecure guy with a monster-sized crush on a girl who is clearly light years out of his league. In a way that's what my two favorite manga series -- "Maison Ikkoku" and "Oh My Goddess" -- are about.
"I's" is a little different, it's about a nerdy insecure guy pursuing two girls way out of his league.