Puzzle Making Workshop

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 2015File under: crosswords

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Circus Club

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 2015File under: circus, juggling

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My Second Attempt at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament

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 2015File under: games, crosswords

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Cards of Business For a Man of Business

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!

This is what it looks like close up, more or less

Saturday March 21 2015File under: work, misc

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My Pi Day Crossword

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!
Saturday March 14 2015File under: crosswords, holidays

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A Wonderful Hawaiian Vacation

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 2015File under: travel, hawaii, wheel

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1000th Post!


Eight and a half years ago, I embarked on this blog not knowing what it might ever become. My reasons for starting it were both to document and share my life and to inspire me to do new things worthy of documenting and sharing. Even with those lofty goals, I could have never dreamed it would go on as long as it has and been as meaningful to me as it has. Through travel and comics, videos and poems, and pictures and data, Blog du Wren has been a wonderful constant in my life. So I only thought it fitting to take this post, post #1000, to look back.

Travel: Through road trips, bikes trips, business trips, or oversea adventures, more than anything else*, BdW has been a record of my travels. A rough count reveals that BdW has been with me through 30 or so countries. Among my favorite travel posts are the post-trip galleries and slideshows, a complication of all the photos I took on a particular trip. Just looking back now, I'm reminded of what amazing things I saw and did. To have a place to store travel memories is just one of the great services BdW has procided me.

Coding projects: I know I would have never dabbled with as many computer-coding related projects had it not been for this blog. And besides ending up with some really neat web-apps, games, and interactive posts (not to mention this blog itself), I also furthered my knowledge of web programming, a skill I have been able to actually use for work!

Data keeping: Much in line with coding, BdW has become a storehouse for a nerdy amount of data. From where I've slept, to the trivias I've done, to the books I've read* and more, I feel like I'm constantly checking back with BdW to remember or analyze some piece of data or another. And then there's the data on the blog itself: # of posts, # of comments, frequency of posts, popular referrer URLs. Data analysis is another job applicable skill that blogging has taught me.

Friday Comics: Though not much a part of the blog recently, there was a good five years when my poorly made comics were a staple, almost every Friday. The project even resulted in 2 books (which are still available for purchase today (here and here)!)

Accomplishments: An accomplishment means so much more when you can share it with people, and that's what BdW has allowed for so many of my accomplishments. From one-time, hey-ma-look-at-me doozies (like the epic Wheel of Fortune win) to well-documented, long worked on accomplishments (publishing crosswords, building of the cabin), it feels like it all happened here.

Everything else: Running maybe a close second to travel, totally random posts make up a good chunk of what's here and what's fun to remember. All my random beards, soap box derbying, becoming a "professional juggler", the great egg off, circus guild calendars, poetry series (Roses Are Red and Night Before Christmas), knitting, attempts at writing, shoenicycle, homemade salt—the list could go on. These random projects and posts are the meat of this blog.

One thousand posts over 8 and a half years. Not everyone is so lucky as to have that kind of chronicle of their lives, and lucky is exactly what I feel when I think about BdW. Lucky to have the record, lucky to be able to share, and lucky to have the inspiration. And while the posting frequency has fluctuated, I hope I can be so lucky as to be celebrating post number 2000 down the road. And I hope you'll be there to celebrate it with me.
Saturday March 7 2015File under: blog

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Hawaii Food Post

On our recent trip to Hawaii (thank you Wheel of Fortune!), Della and I had enough great food related experiences that I figured it deserved its own post. From new I've-never-even-heard-of-that fruits to delicious all-you-can-eat luau smorgasbord, it was a treat.

The logical place to start is at the farmers market, of which there seem to be lots of on almost any given day of the week. But somewhat to our surprise, of the 3-ish markets we went to, we weren't blown away by the selection. We did manage to score some star fruit and Della found a giant avocado*, but otherwise I guess there wasn't much in season. Luckily for us, however, a friend scoured the markets and put together a local fruits tasting that we enjoyed on the beach as the sun went down. The new fruits included lilikoi, chico sapote, dragon fruit, and a couple others I totally forget the name of. Super yum!

Then, of course, there were the coconuts. I first had a go at my traditional blood, sweat, and tears way of opening one using only my wit, my bare hands, and a conveniently sharp rock (see how-to here). Later I tried a new technique that I had heard about which I shall call smashy-smashy. Besides losing the delicious water inside, the smashy-smashy technique works amazingly and I might never go back*.

Continuing with the theme of culinary adventurousness, I stumbled across a uniquely Hawaiian dish called loco moco. After hearing the description, I couldn't pass it up: a huge pile of rice covered with 2 eggs, spam, and all drenched in gravy. Um, yes. The verdict ended up being meh on account of the gravy tasting like it was from a mix and the rice to everything else ratio being a bit high. But I'm glad I had a go!

Lastly, fittingly, comes dessert. I tried a shave ice with ice cream inside, which was quite nice. And our wonderful host* made us a delicious no-bake mamey sapote pie on macadamia nut/coconut date crust. But just as often as the good stuff, it was gas station ice cream and fast food milk shakes. After all, it's vacation and sometimes you just need some sugar.

Yep, it's fair to say the culinary portion of our trip was a success. Exposure to new eats has not only expanded my palate, it has expanded my waist line as well.
Monday March 2 2015File under: travel, hawaii

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Postcard From Hawaii


Hawaii is fun. Look at all the fun we are having. Fun fun fun!*

Monday February 23 2015File under: travel, hawaii

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Roses Are Red Poetry Slam No. 9

It's that time again—to reluctantly and hastily dash off a few Roses are Red poems for that special someone. Well, that special someone for me is you, dear reader. So here are a few hastily dashed off poems to celebrate year number 9(!) of the Blog du Wren Roses Are Red poetry slam. Please leave your contributions in the comments below. Or, if you're not feeling the poetry bug, have a read back at the previous years ('14', '13, '12, '11, '10, '09, '08, '07)




It's late in the game
To beg your contribution
But the Roses are Red blog post
Is a BdW institution

Roses are red
With a hint of green
You've stolen my heart
And also my spleen

Twelve words about roses
Not a bouquet
My gift to you
OK?*



The day before Rose Day
Is a Friday quite ominous
Another scary thought?
My love for you is bottomess

Roses are pokey
Like your fresh trimmed moustache
And them kisses from you
Are so worth the rash

Roses embed
A love tasty and true
And our love runs sweet
Like milk chocolate fondue

Friday February 13 2015File under: poetry, holidays

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Recent Comments:
*Jenn on Circus Club
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*Mom on A Wonderful Hawaiian Vacation

Recent Content:
*Puzzle Making Workshop
*Circus Club
*My Second Attempt at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
*Cards of Business For a Man of Business
*My Pi Day Crossword
*A Wonderful Hawaiian Vacation
*1000th Post!
*Hawaii Food Post
*Postcard From Hawaii
*Roses Are Red Poetry Slam No. 9

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New pictures!
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updated at 06:58 pm Apr 27th


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